Film and drama

Screen Themes: Annihilation vs Game Night

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It’s a diverse selection of movies this week as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out the trippy sci-fi 'Annihilation' and the adult comedy 'Game Night'.


Directed by Alex Garland (2018)

Director Alex Garland has had an interesting history. He started his career as a novelist turned screenwriter, writing The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Never Let Me Go. He also wrote, produced and directed the pretty awesome Dredd in 2012 starring Karl Urban, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at IMDb. The fact that Garland didn’t get credited for co-directing (sole credit went to Pete Travis) was probably due to studio politics, but he finally broke out in 2014 with sci-fi mind-bender Ex Machina.               

There are a lot of similarities between Ex Machina and Annihilation, the main being that both are better enjoyed knowing as little as possible about what happens. Which makes writing a review slightly tricky.

Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Oscar Issac, Annihilation is not a movie for everyone, but those who make the effort to watch it will be rewarded with a movie that inspires contemplation and wonder in equal measure. Deliberately paced, occasionally violent and thematically complex, this isn’t a movie to watch with the kids.

Annihilation could loosely be classified as a sci-fi movie, but not in the sense of Star Wars or Planet of the Apes. It’s probably closer to something like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or 12 Monkeys (without the quirky overacting), in that it questions the nature of reality and our connection to the earth and each other. But I’ve already said too much…

Also starring Tessa Thompson, David Gyasi, Benedict Wong, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny, Annihilation is available via Netflix in Australia. This is due to a play-it-safe distribution strategy from Paramount, undoubtedly influenced by the traditionally tough selling combination of female leads in the sci-fi genre.

But thanks to those conservative studio execs, you get to watch it for free with a Netflix subscription — which isn’t a bad thing. Trippy and thought-provoking, Annihilation is well worth a look for fans of intelligent sci-fi.

Verdict: 9/10

Game Night

Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathon Goldstein (2018)

Let me get this out of the way to start with: Game Night is a very silly movie. It’s not quite as silly as The House or Anchorman, but it’s decidedly sillier than Blade Runner or 12 Years a Slave. The only thing that Game Night has in common with Annihilation is that both are better if you don’t know what’s going to happen, but at least this one’s a bit easier to talk about.

Starring Jason Bateman as a more competitive version of the character that he almost always plays and Rachel McAdams as his equally competitive wife, Game Night is an action/comedy/thriller movie about the fear of getting older. Bateman and McAdams are Max and Annie, regular hosts of a game night that excludes their creepy police officer neighbour Gary, played by Jesse Plemons — an actor so naturally off-putting that he is surely this generations’ Peter Lorre.

In between driving a lot and quoting lines from Pulp Fiction, Bateman and McAdams display a genuine chemistry, which is fortunate because this is pretty much a two-person show. The only other person who really makes an impression is Max’s brother Brooks, played with characteristic smarm by Kyle Chandler.

Other characters in the movie are played by Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnussen, Kylie Bunbury and Lamorne Morris, but they might as well be called "mismatched moron and smart lady" and "generic black couple" for all the character development they get. But to be fair, Game Night isn’t really the sort movie you watch for character arcs and complex motivations. It’s all about the laughs.

And make no mistake, Game Night is a funny movie. The ratio of laugh out loud moments to flat spots is positive and there are even a couple of twists and turns that are great in the moment, but best not to think too deeply about afterwards.

Which pretty much sums up this movie: fun in the moment, but won’t keep you up late thinking about it.

Verdict: 7/10

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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