Dog’s Movie House: “Game Night,” “Annihilation” Great Options Despite Getting Buried By The “Panther.”


Howdy Folks!  It’s The Kendog!

Rachel McAdams Gets Her Gun On In “Game Night”




Sometimes very good films have the unfortunate task of following a phenomenon.  “Black Panther” is breaking records and is rapidly becoming the cinematic story of the year, but it’s far from the only good movie out there!  This week there are two outstanding new films that deserve to be seen on the big screen and, unfortunately, will have plenty of seats available as “Panther” continues to dominate in its second week.  If you want something different, I recommend “Game Night” and “Annihilation” for your viewing pleasure.

Let’s start with “Game Night”  the latest from the writer/director tandem of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (“Vacation”).  Working from a nifty script by Mark Perez, “Game Night” tells the tale of Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) a young couple who take great pleasure in hosting fun but competitive game nights with their friends.  One night Max’s older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) shows up and since Brooks is living rent free in Max’s head, game night goes all to hell.  The next week, Brooks promises to make it up to them by hosting a murder/mystery kidnapping game with the grand prize being Brooks’ 1979 Corvette Stingray which just happens to be Max’s dream car.  Things go awry when two real thugs proceed to kidnap Brooks and hold him hostage, forcing Max, Annie, and their friends to actually save Brooks before he becomes fish food.

Now from a logic standpoint this film doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny and as a thriller “Game Night” would be an epic failure, but this is a comedy dammit, and boy is it funny.  The film spends over half it’s running time with its characters convinced the real kidnapping is just part of the game and having said characters act accordingly.   McAdams in particular gets to shine as someone just having a good time playing a role (her spot on recitation of Amanda Plummer’s threat at the diner in “Pulp Fiction” while at the bad guys’ bar is one of the film’s many highlights.).  When the film gets crazier, the laughs don’t stop and the reason why is the Perez’s script allows you to care about the fates of the characters.

It doesn’t hurt that Daley and Goldstein have assembled a crack team of comedic actors.  Bateman does snark better than anyone and manages to still create a believable portrait of a man struggling to get out of his older brother’s shadow.  McAdams gets to stretch her comic chops more than she has since “Wedding Crashers” and she and Bateman have great chemistry together.  Chandler, who usually plays straight-laced characters, has a ball as the ultra cool Brooks.   Other actors offering great support are Jesse Plemmons, Billy Magnussen (who’s hilarious as dim bulb Ryan), Sharon Morgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, and Michael C. Hall and Danny Huston along for the ride as bad guys.  If you looking for a good old fashioned R-Rated comedy with a lot of laughs and some interesting story twists, “Game Night” is for you!  4 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer!


On the other side of the subject spectrum we have Alex Garland’s superb science fiction film “Annihilation.”  Garland has already established his sci-fi credentials with 2015’s excellent “Ex Machina” and this film proves his directorial debut to be no fluke.

“Annihilation” stars Natalie Portman as Lena, a biology professor with a military background who is mourning the loss of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) who’s been missing for over a year.  When he returns suddenly and becomes very ill, Lena is taken to a compound called the Southern Reach and finds out her husband was the only person ever to come back from an ever expanding phenomenon called The Shimmer.  Created by a meter that impacted the coast three years before, The Shimmer is continually expanding, killing or changing any life that’s within its barrier.  Lena, in order to save her husband, volunteers on a mission into the heart of The Shimmer to figure out what’s going on.  She’s joined by mission leader Dr. Ventriss (Jennifer Jason Leigh), along with team members Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Josie (Tessa Thompson), and Cass (Tuva Novotny), each with their own abilities and, unfortunately, internal crises that could doom them in the strange world of The Shimmer.

To tell you any more would ruin a remarkable cinematic experience, especially if you are a science fiction fan.  The first two-thirds plays like a horror film, with the team encountering all sorts of alien flora and fauna, most of which are deadly as hell.  The team also deals with losing time and dealing with their own changing DNA within the refracting dome of The Shimmer.  This makes the film a surrealistic nightmare that really sticks to your ribs.

Then the last third takes a narrative right turn and the film turns either fascinating or downright weird depending on your point of view.  I for one was completely absorbed during the whole lighthouse sequence and didn’t even mind the ambiguous ending, but I know there are moviegoers who don’t do “ambiguous” and for those of you who feel that way, you have been warned.

The effects work and sound design on “Annihilation” are outstanding, creating a unique experience that pulls you into the film.  Garland, working from his script, tells a compelling tale that will put this film in the same science fiction hall of fame as “Forbidden Planet,” “Blade Runner,” and his own “Ex Machina.”  It may take a while for “Annihilation” to get there, but this film is destined to become a classic!  4 1/2 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer!  So Sayeth The Kendog! 

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