Runstedler’s DVD Pick of the Month: Annihilation

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Alex Garland (Ex Machina) makes a fantastic return as director/writer with Annihilation, which is based on Jeff VanderMeer’s novel. It’s about five female scientists who enter a seemingly alien, jungle-like quarantine zone searching for the lost expedition. Only one of its members returned, and he happens to be biologist Lena’s (Natalie Portman) husband Kane (Oscar Isaac – good to see the Star Wars cast together and clever homage to Kane in Alien), or so it seems. After Kane lands in the hospital, Lena teams up with the seemingly icy Dr Ventress (played excellently by Jennifer Jason Leigh), who leads a team into the Shimmer (as the quarantine zone is called) to find out what happened. The film juxtaposes the current chronological timeline with flashbacks and flashforwards, and it works quite effectively, questioning our sense of identity and self-destructive impulses. Also interesting is the relationship between Lena and Kane as well as the nature of the extramarital affair that further drives them apart (Daniel has a shockingly low moral compass too ftw).

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The Reviewinator: Star Trek – Discovery (Season 1)

For Star Trek, there’s been nothing but prequels since 2002, with Nemesis still trekking at the tail-end of the original timeline. Over at the beginning of said timeline, Enterprise was famously cancelled before it had the chance to make its mark, or at least bridge any gaps to The Original Series. And this is where Discovery hopes to succeed, taking place 10 years before the time of Captain Kirk and dealing with the much-talked-about but never-before-seen start of the Federation-Klingon War.

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Runstedler’s DVD Pick of the Month: Ma vie de Courgette (My Life as a Zucchini)

Ma vie de Courgette (a courgette is a zucchini for North American folks) is a delightful and heartwarming little stop motion film, and probably my favourite animated film since Finding Nemo. Courgette is the main character, a sensitive and intelligent little boy who is abused by his alcoholic mother and likes to make kites. After his mother dies, a benevolent police officer/social worker Raymond, who genuinely understands and cares about Courgette’s well-being, sends him to a nearby orphanage/group home. Is is there that he meets a medley of interesting children from other abused backgrounds, including Simon, who initially bullies Courgette before becoming his dear friend.

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Review: My Next Guest Needs No Introduction (Episode 1)

In the format of his friend Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Car Getting Coffee, ex-talk show impresario David Letterman is chronicling his post-fame exploits. With the guerilla-style camera tilting up to his desk, Letterman fields a phone call with President Barack Obama to be the inaugural guest on his latest Netflix interview venture. When David politely exchanges goodbyes and hangs up the phone, we see the haggard look of tentative disappointment on his beard-encrusted mug as he immediately jumps to the conclusion that Obama is too preoccupied for his formal, no-frills chat.

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Runstedler’s DVD Pick of the Week: Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia

David Munro’s 1979 ITV documentary Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia (written by John Pilger) captures the horrors and atrocities of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79) firsthand from the front line. While it is a hard watch, it is a compelling one, featuring interviews with survivors from the camps and detailing the ongoing suffering of the people after Pol Pot’s fall. Munro’s main argument is that the Khmer Rouge arose as a direct consequence of Nixon and Kissinger’s bombings of neutral Cambodia during the Vietnam War; while I do agree that this is an aspect of it, it is a limited view, and I personally think the conflict in Cambodia is much deeper and more complex. The Khmer Rouge were also very opportunistic, seeing the end of the Vietnam War as a chance to exert their power, to use a vision of socialist utopia to fulfil their ultra-nationalistic ends, reverting civilisation to an agrarian society and basically killing off everyone in the process in horrific and sadistic ways (no one was spared; they even killed children and babies, taking photographs of everyone before they killed them).

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Runstedler’s DVD Pick of the Month: I, Tonya

Craig Gillespie’s mockumentary biopic (and first directed film) I, Tonya tells the story of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), an Olympic figure skater from an abused and unloved background who is the first to successfully complete the triple axel, before being accused of sabotaging the competition and banned from figure skating altogether. Robbie shines as Harding, who is ambitious, direct, and full of life, yet in need of love and a friend. This is probably her best performance to date; she’s such a gorgeous and charming actress, but she really transformed herself almost unrecognisable for the role and really becomes Harding (sort of like when Charlize Theron became Aileen Wuornos in Monster). For what it’s worth, I also think the actress who plays Harding as a little girl was excellent too. Alison Janney (American BeautyFinding Nemo) is also outstanding as Tonya’s narcissistic, horrible, abusive, lunatic mother LaVona Golden, a miserable old hag who uses her daughter as a vessel to fulfil her own inadequate life, and yet cannot recognise her daughter’s immense talent or display any forms of affection or acknowledgement for her. I appreciated the mother’s subversiveness, but hated her callousness and abusiveness, but Janney gives such a strong performance as Golden, and their chemistry was really interesting to see. I also hated her loser, piece of shit, abusive husband (I can’t even remember his name). The film indicts him as the one who arranges his loser friends to take out rival figure skater Nancy Kerrigan’s kneecap (and it basically falls to shit like everything else in their lives).

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Before They Were Stars: A Teenaged Seth Macfarlane in a “Star Trek” Fan Film

Seth Macfarlane can currently been seen as a starship captain in The Orville, a TV series that both parodies and pays homage to Star Trek. It’s pretty clear that Macfarlane has been a lifelong Trek fan, as we can see him here at around 15 years old in a Star Trek fan film that he made with his friends in high school.

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The Reviewinator: Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

It’s been exactly 40 years since the original Star Wars introduced audiences to a galaxy far, far away, and Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Princess Leia became household names. A lot has happened in that time; a Prequel Trilogy, a spin-off, not to mention a great deal more in the Expanded Universe. But now, with the franchise advancing like a runaway train, we get to the middle of the Sequel Trilogy with The Last Jedi.

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Other Masters of Disasters

We know on any given Sunday, the football will be tossed around on the NFL gridirons across America. But in other pockets of the US, people are passing the pigskin back and forth for an entirely different bloodsport. These hardcore sadomasochists are devotees of so-bad-it’s-good cinema and this weekend, they’re lining up in droves to peak behind the curtain of Tommy Wiseau’s infamously abominable, yet eminently quotable brainchild The Room through the colander of James Franco’s fictionalized making-of The Disaster Artist.

The reason The Room is so renowned is based on the inflated self-aggrandizement and utter ineptitude behind it. Justice League was atrocious but, in a very corporate, conventionally homogenized fashion. The Room is a unicorn of awfulness. It did provoke a thought on what other productions I’d love to see the behind-the-scenes contretemps of. Here are my top 3…

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Review: Stranger Things 2 (Episode 1)

Forgive me legions of 80’s leg-warmer enthusiasts for I have committed cardinal sins of my generation. I never swayed to the Truffle Shuffle. I never shouted “Goonies for Life.” I never sought a treasure hunt with a deformed behemoth. As a point of fact, I never felt a kinship with The Goonies despite my age bracket. Movies in which an entourage of kids are quippy and unfathomably resourceful  have always rubbed me raw (Monster Squad being the exception to the rule). Due to my bias, I was adamant not to succumb to the hype of Stranger Things Season 1. Now Halloween is upon us and I’m swallowing my pride and jumping into the deep end of the mythos and hoping to stay afloat. Did Season 2 work on a neophyte like myself?

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