Natalie Portman

  • annihilation c849b
    As the February 23 release date for the sci-fi thriller Annihilation has drawn closer, film critics have speculated about its quality: is it being released in the “dump month” of February, right after the box office hit Black Panther, because it’s bad? Or because it’s a masterpiece that’s too intellectual to appeal to the masses?

    Well, Annihilation isn’t quite a masterpiece, but it’s definitely an ambitious, enjoyable movie — and a creative story that we haven’t seen before. Loosely based on the novel of the same title by Jeff VanderMeer and directed by sci-fi pro Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Never Let Me Go), Annihilation follows a soldier-turned-biology professor named Lena (Natalie Portman) whose soldier husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) suddenly reappears in her home after being missing and presumed dead for a year — with no memory of where he was or what he was doing. When Kane suddenly begins coughing up blood, soldiers kidnap him and Lena en route to the hospital and bring them to a mysterious building outside “Area X” — a wilderness surrounded by a mysterious “Shimmer,” into which many teams of soldiers have disappeared. Kane is the first person to come back from the Shimmer, and nobody knows how he did it. Worse: “Area X” is expanding, and no one knows how to stop it.

    With Kane unconscious, Lena decides to do something other than wait around for him to wake up. She joins a team of scientists going into the Shimmer. The scientists are all women, which is treated as no big deal. Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a terse, detached psychologist who is the leader of the group. Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez) is an outgoing, tough-talking medic (and yes, you read that undercut right: she’s into women). Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) is a soft-spoken, brilliant physicist and the emotional center of the group. Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) is an anthropologist and the most observant of the women — she’s the one who tells Lena that each member of the group decided to go into the Shimmer because none of them feel like they have much left to live for.

    Garland tells the story nonlinearly. We see three timelines — Lena being interrogated by a scientist (Benedict Wong) after somehow escaping the Shimmer; Lena and the team of scientists entering the Shimmer, four months earlier; and, a year before that, Lena and Kane saying goodbye before Kane embarks on his own mission.

    The world Garland has created inside the Shimmer is visually stunning, intriguingly strange, and often terrifying — as Lena soon realizes and explains to her team and the viewers, inside the Shimmer, every organisms scells mutate. That means some beautiful sights — vines covered in a variety of multicolored flowers; tiny white deer with twigs for antlers — and some terrifying monsters that threaten the group’s lives. But the monsters aren’t all external, and as the scientists go further into the Shimmer, they discover disturbing messages left for them by Kane and his team.

    Some of Garland’s sci-fi creatures are scarier and more fascinating than others, but the film is definitely a thriller — I grabbed my face a little too hard at one of the jump scares and have a small scratch below my eye now. I admire how ambitious and creative the film is, but the real strength is the cast. It’s refreshing to see an action thriller led by five women — I can’t think of a single one I’ve seen before — especially when the women play complex and very different characters. Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson especially stand out, and though they get a decent amount of screentime, I wanted even more. It's also refreshing to see Oscar Isaac play a “wife”-type character — he’s unconscious for most of the movie, his mysterious illness drives Lena’s action, and he’s primarily seen shirtless and in flashbacks.

    Garland has been criticized for casting Portman in the lead role, because in the second book of Jeff VanderMeer’s trilogy, her character is described as being of Asian descent (none of the characters' races are mentioned in the first book). In a recent interview with Yahoo, Portland said that she wasn't aware of her character's race in the books and has not read the second book; she also agreed that we need more roles for people of color in Hollywood. In other interviews, Garland has said he hasn’t read the other books in the trilogy, either — though the books had been released by the time production began, so you’d think that someone could have read them and filled him in. The supporting cast primarily consists of people of color — Thompson, Rodriguez, Isaac, and Wong, as well as David Gyasi as a hot professor and Lena’s colleague. But though Portman’s performance is a good one, I can’t blame anyone for wishing an Asian American actress had been cast as the lead — there are many who would have been excellent in the role.



     top photo: Annihilation

    More from BUST

    BUST's 10 Best Bets For February And March 2018

    Stephanie Beatriz Plays Against Type As A Unicorn-Obsessed Witch In “Half Magic”: BUST Interview

    "Irreplaceable You" Is The Perfect Romantic Dramedy For 2018: BUST Interview


  • 48470842306 566482a37a k 3e430

    Los Angeles is about to get a new professional women’s soccer team, thanks in part to Natalie Portman. On Tuesday, June 21, the National Women’s Soccer League awarded a group led by Portman the rights to form a franchise in LA. The team has not yet revealed the official name although it is tentatively named Angel City, and is still in early stages of development. The NWSL only has about nine teams throughout the United States.

    The group that’s led by Portman also has some other notable names such as America Ferrera, Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria, Alexis Ohanian, Serena Williams, Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, among others. Portman told PEOPLE, “We started going to games, and we quickly became really passionate fans of the sport. But we slowly started seeing that it wasn't getting the celebration it deserved.”

    This is not something that comes as a shock, as women’s sports only get four percent of sports media coverage. Despite the fact that the US women’s national soccer team has won four World Cups while the US men's national soccer team has yet to win one, there is a reported gap in pay which led to a lawsuit from USWNT.

    Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and husband to Serena Williams, is the lead investor of this group through his firm Initialized Capital. The investment group is majority woman.

    Having a women’s soccer team in Los Angeles would be huge, considering that L.A. is home to the second-largest sports market in the country. Of having it in Los Angeles, Portman commented, “We just started thinking about, what if there was a team in L.A.? We're the center of entertainment in this country for media. What can we do to change the way people are paying attention to this sport? Obviously, the players themselves have been incredible and have brought so much attention, but everything hasn't always followed their success and their popularity.”

    Portman says, “[We want to] expand those sports heroes — and those sports modeling behaviors — to have women in those positions, too. To celebrate women at the same level as the way we celebrate male athletes is culture-shifting.”

    The soccer team is expected to come to L.A. in the year of 2022.

    Header image via Flickr Creative Commons / Gage Skidmore


    More from BUST

    The U.S. Men's Soccer Team Is Rallying Behind The Women's Team

    The U.S. Soccer Federation Offered An Explanation For The Pay Gap — And Yes, It's A Load Of Sexist Bullshit

    U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Faces Sexist Expectations Of “Sportsmanship”