The 300 Week 8: Portman Kombat: Annihilation


Welcome back to The 300, a recurring feature that chronicles my attempt to see 300 movies in theaters in 2018. I’ll be watching new releases, classics, and hidden gems as a way to explore the wide world of cinema in all of its forms. Hopefully you’ll find something worth watching as well.

As always, there are three rules for The 300:

  • The movie must be at least 40 minutes long, meeting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ definition of a feature film
  • I must watch the movie at a movie theater, screening room, or outdoor screening venue
  • While I can watch movies I’ve seen before 2018, I cannot count repeated viewings of the same film in 2018 multiple times

I’m at 59 movies of 300 as of this writing. I’ll hit 60 by the end of tonight, which puts me slightly ahead of schedule by the end of February. That’s good, because I’ll have a slight slow down soon because of travel and finishing a personal project.

Anyways, a little less conversation, a little more 300.

And so, onward.

54 of 300: The New Girlfriend (2014)
(aka aka Une nouvelle amie)

Director: François Ozon
Starring: Anaïs Demoustier, Romain Duris, Raphaël Personnaz
Country: France
Seen at Quad Cinema (New York, NY)
Thursday, February 22nd

While Ozon’s In the House owed a lot to Rear Window, The New Girlfriend owes a lot to Vertigo. When a woman’s best friend friend dies, she learns that her friend’s husband has been dressing up in his late wife’s clothes. Is he trans or mourning or crazy? And does our heroine secretly lust after her best friend’s husband, or is she coming to terms with unresolved romantic feelings for her friend who’s passed? There’s a jumbled perversity of doubles, replacements, and mirroring that’s oh so French. I’m still not sure how I feel about The New Girlfriend despite finding it sexy and clever, though maybe that’s the point.

55 of 300: Annihilation (2018)

Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson
Country: USA
Seen at Regal Battery Park (New York, NY)
Friday, February 23rd

Watching Annihilation, I was reminded of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker. Garland’s meditative existential slowburn draws characters into a otherworldly space where the environment and its inhabitants wind up commingling in unexpected ways. The horror of the film affects the body and the mind, and even impacts the characters at a metaphysical level. The pervasive sense of disorientation (present from the opening scenes) captures the fogginess of a severe bout of depression, or a nagging sense of guilt, or a terminal case of despair.

I admire what Annihilation does and what I think it’s trying to say about the way we’re changed by grief, and yet I feel emotionally detached from the film. The movie is on a different wavelength from me. It’s the difference between passively watching a movie about depression and actively seeing a metaphor for my own depression on screen. That’s what makes Annihilation a solemn affair for me rather than a melancholy one. I never felt quite attuned to the film’s heartaches or fully stricken by its pastel-gray despondency.

56 of 300: Lu Over the Wall (2017)
(aka 夜明け告げるルーのうた; Yoake Tsugeru Lu no Uta)

Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Starring (English dub cast): Christine Marie Cabanos, Michael Sinterniklaas, Stephanie Sheh
Country: Japan
Seen at SVA Theater (New York, NY)
2018 New York International Children’s Film Festival
Friday, February 23rd

If Ren & Stimpy animator John K. were to collaborate on an anime with Mamoru Hosoda, it might look a little something like Lu Over the Wall. This imaginative story of a brooding teenage boy falling in love with a mermaid pixie dream girl is such an oddball delight. The animation reminded me of television anime given the thin linework and goofy expressiveness of the characters, and also Tex Avery and classic Looney Tunes given the noodly fluidity of movements. The music in the movie—oh yeah, the boy and the mermaid play music in a rock band, because of course they do—is earnest and catchy. The story may be all over the place, but the film’s heart and boundless inventiveness is always on its sleeve.

57 of 300: All That Heaven Allows (1955)

Director: Douglas Sirk
Starring: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead
Country: USA
Seen at Roxy Cinema Tribeca (New York, NY)
Saturday, February 24th

All That Heaven Allows is Douglas Sirk’s Technicolor anti-classism masterpiece hidden under a kitschy soap opera frock. A rich widow falls for a younger man who does yard work. Clandestine romance and gossip ensues. Wyman humanizes her character’s struggles with reputation and desire, and her path gives Sirk the opportunity to critique provincialism and elitism. Today, Hudson’s character would be considered a hunky lumberjack hipster (sans beard) rather than a low-class brute. A few scenes seem to comment on Hudson’s real-life sexuality, which got some subversive laughs out of me.

58 of 300: Tall: The American Skyscraper and Louis Sullivan (2006)

Director: Manfred Kirchheimer
Country: USA
Seen at Metrograph (New York, NY)
Monday, February 26th

Tall can be a bit dry at times as it explores the history of the skyscraper in Chicago and New York. The documentary is at its best when Kirchheimer turns his film into a exaltation of geometry and architecture. The screen fills with poetic imagery of vertical lines, terracotta ornamentation, and vintage prints depicting flying machines aloft and astride these towering giants of steel. The most haunting moment comes early in the movie when we’re shown old footage of the Twin Towers. The voiceover, elegiac, asks the audience if the dream is still alive.

59 of 300: The Party (2017)

Director: Sally Potter
Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall, Cillian Murphy
Country: UK
Seen at Angelika Film Center (New York, NY)
Tuesday, February 27th

At 71 minutes, The Party is brisk and black, skewering the hypocrisy and outdated bourgeois values of the upper middle class, politicians, and the academic world. The film unfolds like a stage play. Guests gather at a friend’s house for a celebration that becomes an awkward space for confessions and airing of grievances. But at 71 minutes, the movie also feels much too short. The situation becomes more absurd, the stakes much higher, and the tension (and comedy) heightened. And then it ends. I would have liked another 20 minutes; The Party felt like it was over just when it was getting really good.

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.