Film Review: SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (USA 2018) ***

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Sorry to Bother You Poster
Trailer

In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a macabre universe.

Director:

Boots Riley

Writer:

Boots Riley

 

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU are the words one often hears on the telephone when called by an annoying telemarketer.  Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfiled) has just landed the job as one after an interview where he is discovered for bringing in fake trophies and prizes.  He is told that one only needs to read and come to work with a smiling face to get a job.  But one has to stick to the script (STTS), the most important motto and one that is pinned everywhere in notices around the office cubicles.

The film is set in an alternate present-day version of Oakland, where Cassius is having a rough life—living in his uncle’s garage with his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and struggling to find a job.  Strapped for cash and desperate, he lands a position as a telemarketer, but has difficulty getting people to listen to him—until he discovers a magical key (introduced to him by a fellow telemarketer played by Danny Glover) to customers’ attention: using his “white voice”.   David Cross does Cassius’ white voice.  Cash quickly rises to the top of the telemarketing hierarchy, but risks losing sight of his morals as he achieves greater and greater success.

Things get crazier when Squeeze (Steven Yeun) organizes a strike.  But Cassius is singled out to become a power seller.  He gets to meet the big guy, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) and begins working in a stranger environment when the film becomes weirder and weirder as a satire.  Nods are given to the George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” where Boxer the horse is a hard, tireless worker but eventually turned into glue when unable to work any longer.

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is a complex satire that obviously had a lot of work put into it.  When Cassius gets to work in his cubicle reading his script to a customer in a home, Cassius literally drops into the homes and catches them in odd positions including making love. 

The film contains no real insightful message of things that people do not already know.  Besides having really impressive sets and art direction, and really hard effort put, the film is a mixed mess.  One has to complement the superb coordination of work by the set and art director and writer/director Boots Riley.  Riley follows the company’s motto of sticking to his script though diverting into surrealism as much as opportunities arise.  One thing to be learnt from this effort is that there need be some order in the creation of a satire on disorder.

For all that has been described this overlong feeling film running at 105 minutes feels really boring for the first 30 minutes or so, as Riley sets up the stage for his satire.  His film then kicks into action and pretty crazy action at that.

Though Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU might be a textbook example of maximum effort and minimum results, one cannot help but give the man (who is supposed to be an activist, musician and artist) credit for trying.  It is this trying and effort that gives his film the most pleasure.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_5cO6RU3nw

 

 

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Film Review: ANNIHILATION (USA 2018) ***1/2

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Annihilation Poster
Trailer

A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply.

Director:

Alex Garland

Writers:

Alex Garland (written for the screen by), Jeff VanderMeer (based on the novel by)

 

Alex Garland is known for his sci-fi scripts that have gone on to make memorable films like THE BEACH, 28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE, my favourite NEVER LET ME GO and EX MACHINA which he also directed.  The latter brought him prominence and the chance to make his first big budget $55 million Hollywood movie.  But the film was shelved 2 years ago after production was completed when Paramount was unsure what to do with the film after test audiences found it too ‘intellectual’.

By intellectual is meant ‘hard to follow’ and ‘difficult to make sense’.  Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s award-winning novel, (supposedly the first of a trilogy) the film is filled with stunning visuals, scientific propositions and biological concepts of human and alien integration.  The fact that plants can transform to another different type means that the idea of DNA integration is not that far-fetched.

The story can be simplified in a few lines.  A biologist’s husband (Oscar Isaac) disappears while on a mission.  He reappears suddenly out of the blue and begins going into convulsions as if possessed by aliens.  Lena (Natalie Portman) puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone, but does not find what she is expecting.  The expedition team is made up of herself,  the biologist, a psychologist (Jennifer Jason Leigh),  an anthropologist, a surveyor and a linguist (Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Tessa Thompson). 

Garland directs his film as a horror sci-fi.  At times, ANNIHILATION plays like a cross between ARRIVAL and ALIEN.  The horror scenes are particularly gory, Garland going all out to scare his audience.  The best segment in the film is the one where a member of the previous crew gets his stomach cut open with a short, sharp knife to reveal his insides being occupied by some alien parasite.  The scene ends up with a joke that had the entire audience laughing out loud in a second right after being grossed out to death.  I cannot recall what was the joke but the change in mood shows Garland’s skill at playing with the audience’s emotions.

ANNIHILATION also marks a solid female film with a female heroine and a full female team saving the world.

It s true that the film becomes intellectual (there is even a debate on self-destruction vs. suicide) especially when the audience is expected to interpret the goings-on and what is happening with regards to the transformation of the expedition team.  It is clear that only Janet survives on the inset (as she confesses to her interrogator (Benedict Wong) that the rest of her team are no more.  Still, ANNIHILATION is suspenseful, scary and tense despite its relatively slow pacing.  An additional bonus is the trippy visuals (the film perhaps being the perfect one to watch while on a brownie) and gorgeous photography, courtesy of D.P. Rob Hardy.

ANNIHILATION opens in Canada and the U.S. and internationally on Netflix after a few weeks.  But this is a film that should be seen on the big screen but being on Netflix, would reach a larger audience, as Garland admitted.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89OP78l9oF0

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Happy Birthday: Tessa Thompson

tessathompson.jpgTessa Thompson

Born: October 3, 1983 in Los Angeles, California, USA

Got “discovered” as a child walking down Hollywood Blvd. with her father.

Grand-daughter of actor/musician Bobby Ramos, one of the first Mexican Americans to have his own television show (“Latin Cruise” for KTLA).

 

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