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A team of women investigates an anomaly in this fascinating sci-fi drama
After going missing for a year, her soldier-husband returns to biologist Lena (Natalie Portman: Song to Song). But he is acting so strangely that she worries he has been traumatized. Soon he’s coughing up blood, and a SWAT team whisks the couple to a black site.
Imprisoned and seeking to help her dying husband, Lena learns where his last mission sent him — an anomaly in the swamplands. A dozen teams have been sent into The Shimmer. None has returned.
Lena volunteers for the next mission. She joins cagey team leader Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh: Twin Peaks), physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson: Thor: Ragnarok), EMT Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez: Ferdinand) and Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny: Borg McEnroe).
At first, all seems idyllic, and they marvel at the odd flora and fauna. Soon, though, the women begin losing time. The flora and fauna are mutations in progress. They race to discover the secrets of The Shimmer before the anomaly changes them, too.
Smart, engaging and breathtakingly beautiful, Annihilation is the type of sci-fi movie that rewards viewers who pay attention. Writer/director Alex Garland (Ex-Machina) crafts a visually engrossing film. It is both striking and unsettling. Creatures and plants are familiar, yet altered, like objects seen through warped glass. Garland also plays with visuals, framing shots through water and experimenting with perceptions.
The investigative team works well together. Each has a reason for taking a mission no one has returned from, and each has to question whether she should trust the others. Portman masterfully balances wonder with guilt as she seeks answers. Leigh excels as an odd psychologist with ulterior motives.
Annihilation is complex, intriguing and atmospheric. Its meticulously detailed frames offer lots of clues as to the bigger mystery. Go with a group so you can discuss the clues and the ending.
Great Sci-Fi • R • 115 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Mild-mannered Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) is sent to Mexico to secure the formula for a medical marijuana pill. Though the job is supposed to be easy, he is kidnapped and chased by a mercenary and cartel lords while his indifferent colleagues haggle over the worth of his life.
A zany comedy with an all-star cast, Gringo has potential. Oyelowo is joined by Charlize Theron, Sharlto Copley and Joel Edgerton. With a deft hand behind the camera, it can dance between farce and satire. If you’re a fan of comedies where increasingly ridiculous events compile, this should be a film for you.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 110 mins.
The Hurricane Heist
A group of criminals plans the perfect heist. They’re going to rob a U.S. mint as a Category 5 hurricane bears down. But they’ll have to get past a plucky Treasury agent (Maggie Grace), a meteorologist (Toby Kebbell) and his gun-nut brother (Ryan Kwanten).
Prospects: Bleak • PG-13 • 103 mins.
The Strangers: Prey at Night
A road-tripping family stays overnight in a deserted mobile home park. It’s not the ideal situation, and it gets worse when three masked strangers turn up. The trio of menacing toughs tortures the family with the promise of painful death.
The sequel to the sleeper hit The Strangers, this movie may lack the breathless tension of the first. Since the stakes, and the ending, are fairly clear, there isn’t much to worry about.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 85 mins.
A Wrinkle in Time
Since her father’s disappearance, Meg Murry (Storm Reid) has struggled in school. She feels she doesn’t belong in her brilliant family of two physicist parents and a parcel of prodigy siblings.
Though Meg doesn’t know her worth, the universe does. Three celestial guides tell her she is the only hope to save the universe — and find her father. She learns how to wrinkle time to travel vast distances.
Based on the beloved book, A Wrinkle in Time is a hotly anticipated family film. Brilliant director Ava DuVernay and a diverse female-driven cast give this film potential for greatness.
Prospects: Bright • PG • 109 mins.