The Martian- Review

14 10 2015
Mark Watney Astronaut NASA

Dr. Mann’s Return!

First things first- to enjoy The Martian, you have to separate it from Interstellar. Forget about the shared cast members and space cinematography. We aren’t supposed to despise Matt Damon here, and he’s not out for revenge on Matthew McConaughey’s daughter. However, it is another sci-fi storytelling and visual treat with an almost-too-large cast.

Matt Damon carries the movie, which is good because he’s the bulk of it. It’s easy to cheer him on through his optimism, ingenuity, and sarcastic humor in the face of overwhelming odds. He’s supported by a talent-filled cast who are criminally underused, due to there being so many of them. But it was fun to see Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, and Jeff Daniels in the same film. During the Earth scenes, I regularly forgot who had what title (besides the head of NASA), but luckily it didn’t really seem to matter. That pleasant feature can be said for much of the movie- most of us won’t understand all the science babble all the actors spout out (it’s not like they really get it either), but the story doesn’t demand we do to enjoy it.

Matt Damon Mars

Pretty.

As I mentioned, the effects and scenery are gorgeous and approach the beauty of last year’s space blockbuster Interstellar. The rugged, hostile beauty of Mars contrasts perfectly with the corporate, structured box of NASA. Come to think of it, practically everything contrasted between those two settings- Mars had Damon, while NASA had what felt like a dozen characters, plus background workers. The only real bridge between the two were the clever uses of models of the rover and explorer that NASA brought for hands-on research.

Any drawbacks were due more to personal taste for me- I basically squinted the entire scene where Damon un-impales himself because I’m squeamish. But dang, that scene was detailed, unflinching, and a bit long for my side. We get it, doctoring yourself on Mars is bloody and sucks, ok?! The other drawback I had was the soundtrack didn’t stand out in any way, at least compared to other space movies that seemed to catch the wonder of space with music (Gravity, Interstellar) . This isn’t a huge deal, since some would argue that the best soundtrack props up the movie without standing out and getting in the way (I would disagree though).

NASA the Martian Movie Wiig Daniels

It’s still hard to take Kristen Wiig seriously.

Side note here, but that whole Project Elrond bit was comedic gold for those inside the joke.Sean Bean and The Secret Meeting caused my theater to erupt in laughter (yay fantasy nerds!). Surprisingly, this whole scene almost didn’t make it into the final cut, but a higher-up in the studio liked it so much he demanded it be kept. Weird, a demand from the studio that actually improves the movie, right? Anyway, The Martian is a tense but entertaining ride through the unknown, and it looks great on the big screen.

Sean Bean Boirmir Joke LOTR

One does not simply go to Mars.

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Interstellar Review

7 11 2014

christopher nolan movie

(Disclaimer: I’ve been accused of being a Nolan fanboy before, but I’ll do my best to stay objective here.) Christopher Nolan’s latest work departs from the action-packed nature of Dark Knight Rises and Inception,  trading dreams for black holes and fist fights for time jumping. There’s the trademark blend of blockbuster and philosophical, and at nearly three hours, it takes a while for the space travel to even take off (zing!). However, the longer segment on Earth is time well spent, and it you can endure the marathon length, there are some great payoffs.

 

Cooper Nolan

Meanwhile, on Hoth…

Chris Nolan’s brother Jonah penned the script all the way back in 2008. At the time, he intended somebody like Spielberg to direct, but after his brother’s directorial rise in recent years he was able to take control instead. Basically, the planet has been running out of food/crops ever since The Blight (some sort of parasite) and the subsequent giant dust storms. This is a futuristic world that was thrown back into a situation not unlike the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. So when Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) finds out that there may be a chance off-galaxy to find a new livable world, he joins Emilia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and crew to jump into a black hole near Saturn. So yes, it’s a sci-fi plot, but it attempts to reach for higher themes then your typical sci-fi flick. Are we alone in the universe? What could we have wrong about science? What is mankind destined for, and what should and shouldn’t we sacrifice to get there? And finally, what does love have to do with all this? (Talk about a curveball).

If it sounds a little heavy, it is (and thank goodness for the fair amount of humor included). And some of these themes and elements (especially the time manipulation) cause some logical leaps in the movie. For example, why is Anne Hathaway’s character not decades older than Cooper in the film’s final act? Did the black hole slingshot slow time down for her too? Or heck, the ending is pretty ambiguous, so maybe what we’re shown of her was in the past? Also, the whole “other civilization” thing is sort of an easy way to explain plot developments, but is not fully explained. I don’t need to know everything, but I would have liked to know why Murph was so important to them in the first place.

Amelia Brand

You’ve got some explainin’ to do…

Potential plot (black) holes aside, let’s get to one of the strongest parts of the movie- the cast. The heart and driving force of the movie is unquestionably Cooper and his daughter Murphy (played very well by both Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain). Their scenes together in the first act of the movie kept the later parts from falling apart. We could believe Cooper’s drive to see them again, and this was a huge source of the film’s emotional impact. It was so effective in fact, that I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed at the less-than-ideal way this plot was resolved. I’m not saying it was a negative; I just like happier endings, okay?  It was a huge surprise to me when Matt Damon showed up near the third act, and kudos to them for keeping it a secret from most of the audience. His portrayal of Dr. Mann effectively sold that he had lost a few screws up there during isolation. The fact that he was Matt Damon distracted a little, especially considering the initial surprise of such a big actor appearing out of nowhere. I may have complained about the ambiguity of Anne Hathaway’s final state, but she carried her weight as Brand, somehow selling us on her love for a man we never physically see. Finally, it’s always nice to see Michael Caine in a Nolan project, but I wish he had a little more to work with during his shorter screen time. Topher Grace and John Lithgow must have just wanted to be in a Nolan film, because their parts were so small I barely had time to notice them.

Matthew Cooper Interstellar Nolan Foy

He did give her a terrible name though…

 

The musical score (once again by the great Hans Zimmer) and special effects were top-notch. My serious advice is to see it in IMAX, because I did not (yet). Nolan loves using those rare, expensive cameras, and around a whole hour of this space epic was shot with IMAX cameras. Besides the spectacle, I could have also benefited from the superior speakers in an IMAX theater. The speakers in my auditorium were so janky some higher musical moments were all but ruined. Hopefully this isn’t widespread but there have been some reports of faulty sound experiences.

 

Murphy Nolan

Somebody really hated Signs…

To sum this all up, Interstellar is a deeply introspective film that trades the action and pizazz of Inception or Dark Knight Rises for an emotional and philosophical sci-fi journey through the stars. You’ll laugh, you’ll tear up, and you’ll definitely look up the plot explanation later just to figure out everything that was happening. But that’s a typical Nolan movie, right? Because of the slower pace, it lacks the re-watch potential of some of his other movies, but this is one trip you don’t want to miss.





Elysium Review

22 08 2013

matt damon poster

Everyone has that one family member who loves to jump into any interesting conversation and steer it towards their view on what’s wrong with the world. For a while everyone humors him/her, but after a while it becomes grating, and soon everyone is checking their watches and realizing why nobody eats dinner together anymore. Elysium is that family member. We start out with a promising premise (the earth is trashed, the privileged flee to orbiting space station to keep their posh lifestyle), throw in some capable stars (Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner) and then use it as a one-note platform to advance…whatever it is this movie is trying to tell us.

Photo from Halo 5.

Some writer’s been playing Halo.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure what this movie is trying to convey. The Rich in this movie are pretty much all jerks- as in, every single one in Elysium would shoot a puppy if it meant money would fall out. So, are we saying there are only the poor and the rich and no middle class in the USA? The Earth we are shown is comprised almost exclusively of Hispanics who want to get to Elysium, even if it means paying for dangerous shuttles. Okay, that’s easy- immigration, right? So, is director Blomkamp saying countries shouldn’t have borders? Or is this about healthcare, since Elysium has miracle machines that heal everything but a bad attitude? The problem is everything is so hyperbolic it’s over-simplified so much it loses any practicality. Elysium has strengths, but subtlety isn’t one of them.

jodie foster

Hates poor babies.

Look, I’m fine with a movie to have its own worldview- it’s natural. But (much like this review) the actual plot and characters seem to get left behind in favor of The Very Serious Message. That’s my main hangup with this movie- it could have been fun. I was promised Matt Damon in a mech suit, fighting robots, then flying to Halo- in that order. Instead, we have an overbearing script that keeps pulling us aside to remind us how Very Serious this all is, just in case we’re starting to enjoy ourselves (maybe I’m just upset there was a total of one robot fight). This doesn’t matter to everyone, but there are also a few very gory sections, most notably one facial injury that makes the Dark Knight’s Two-Face look like Pretty Pretty Pony.

Max and Kruger

We needed more of this.

The effects are great (in the case of the violence, almost too good), and the acting is generally Very Serious but effective. Sharlto Copley as Kruger stands out in particular as a complicated psycho you wouldn’t want to cross. Again, the sci-fi elements are creative, but underused. It’s not a bad movie- I just personally didn’t enjoy it. The first thing I did after the movie was to try to remember one joke- not a particular joke, just any joke. Maybe it was the endless seriousness or violence or overblown social commentary, but I was unable to conjure up one memory of comic relief. Heck, even Les Miserables had funny parts/lines/characters. Instead, the film turned into a fairly straightforward story, with a mood as drab and serious as its post-apocalyptic Los Angeles.

This would have been made me laugh.

This would have livened things up a bit.





The Bourne Legacy Review

28 08 2012

One thing The Bourne Legacy does wonderfully is putting the audience in the shoes of those corrupt CIA agents who are always trying to track down Jason Bourne, and how frustrating it is when he can’t found. As in, when you can’t find him in the entire movie. Like those CIA spooks, I wanted nothing more than to see Matt Damon car-chase himself onto the screen, even if for nothing more than a cameo. Fine, I admit I knew beforehand this wouldn’t be the case, but a fanboy can hope. Universal Pictures never intended Bourne to be in the movie, leading some (myself) to label this The Bourne Cash-In. What’s next, a Bond movie featuring Larry Nelson, agent 008?

You will not see either of these characters.

Harsh? Probably. I’ve seen the (mostly) perfect original trilogy countless times, and I enjoyed the satisfying resolution, darn it. Back to that in a second, but the question everyone had going into the movie was,” how will this fit into the Bourne story?” The answer is: not very well.

I’ll put it out there- The Bourne Legacy is a good movie, just not a good Bourne movie. To be honest, the fact that it compares itself to a Bourne movie actually makes it worse. Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, and Rachel Weisz all give convincing performances, and the action scenes are well done. However, everything about the movie, from the cinematography to the pacing to the music, all feel “off.” Good grief, the soundtrack of any movie series/trilogy is what ties them all together. For example, the money monster known as Star Wars has common, John Williams-composed (or inspired) musical theme themes in all of its movies, video games, television shows, etc. With all these different interpretations out there, the musical style helps tie everything together and give the feeling that, yes, this is still in the same universe.

For better or worse.

What do we get in this movie? A completely generic action soundtrack that is the polar opposite of the trilogy’s stringed themes. The Bourne character punching wolves, hearkening more to The Grey than any Bourne movie (Liam Neeson should have had Aaron Cross on his team). Gone without a memory (zing!) are the intricate amnesia plots, replaced instead with different colored pills. These gems apparently make agents super smart, super strong, or super berserk, depending on which color. I thought the film’s use of the last effect was the most out-there logically, as one character pulled a complete 180 and went crazy, but also in the way that the baddies wanted. But seriously, punching wolves.

Liam Neeson punches wolves

At least Renner found the most interesting way to kill a wolf.

The climax of the movie took me by surprise, mostly because I didn’t know I was watching the finale until it was over and the credits rolled. It featured a long, drawn-out chase with about twenty minutes of ultra-shaky camera work. The brief appearance of classic characters, along with a re-worked “Extreme Ways” by Moby, reminded the audience that they had just watched a Bourne movie, darn it. Seriously, when cameos from classic characters are some of the best moments, something’s wrong with your movie.

Jeremy-Renner-Hawkeye

Amazing what those CIA pills can do to you.

Will I watch the inevitable sequel? Of course. But only if Matt Damon co-stars with Renner. Come to think of it, that’s the only way I think Universal Pictures could justify this unnecessary sequel.  Here’s hoping that they re-resolve everything they unresolved just to make a new plot.

It’s not like Matt Damon has any better movies on his plate.