THE MARTIAN (2015)
The Martian is a fun and suspenseful sci-fi adventure directed by Ridley Scott from Drew (The Cabin In The Woods) Goddard’s screenplay, based on Andy Weir’s book. It tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney who, while on a manned mission to Mars, is left behind after being lost in a storm and thought dead. Now Watney must find some way to let NASA know he’s alive and then survive till help comes…which would be long after his food supply runs out.
This is a very well crafted and really entertaining survival story of one man’s determination to overcome the impossible…living on a lifeless planet. There are some fun and clever ways Watney uses his knowledge as a botanist and astronaut to grow food, elongate the use of crucial equipment and communicate with Earth. Damon is great as the ever chipper Watney, who refuses to give up even when his food supply is damaged. Meanwhile on Earth it’s a race against time to try to figure out a rescue before Watney’s time runs out. If the film has any flaw is that as a crowd pleaser, we do feel manipulated when things go right…and wrong…at exactly a crucial time to elicit an emotional response or suspense…though it works more often than not. That and even at 141 minutes, it seems like certain things are rushed to keep the film at a reasonable length. The film does jump ahead a lot.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable flick with a totally engaging hero played by Matt Damon. It’s fast moving and cleverly written with just the right amount of sentiment. Damon is supported by great cast including Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Ant-Man’s Michael Peña and The Winter Soldier’s Sebastian Stan. Recommended!
A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014)
If there is ever an example of Liam Neeson’s ability to elevate a routine thriller and make a cliché character interesting, it’s here. Flick has Neeson as an ex-alcoholic, ex-cop with a past…wasn’t kidding about the clichés…who is now a private detective and is hired by a drug trafficker (The Guest’s Dan Stevens) to find the men who kidnaped and brutally murdered his wife. As a thriller, the film is well directed by Scott Frank from his own script based on Lawrence Block’s book. There is nothing new here, though, as we get an investigation that leaves to something much deeper and darker and we even get the smart-aleck neighborhood kid turned sidekick. Neeson is solid and intense and makes the whole affair seem much more important than it really is, despite that once it’s over you realize that nothing much was actually achieved. A movie that is far more entertaining than it should be, even though we’ve seen Neeson threaten people on the phone countless times by now. Thanks, Liam!
THE ZERO THEOREM (2014)
Some of Terry Gilliam’s early films are borderline brilliant, such as his cult classic Brazil and the award winning The Fisher King. Ex-Python Gilliam has seemed to have lost his way, though, after the dead-on Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and the collapse of his Don Quixote film…and this colorful but, convoluted Sci-Fi flick proves it. Despite a really good performance from Christoph Waltz as the eccentric Qohen Leth, the film meanders for over 100 minutes but, never really goes anywhere. There is the usual original and sumptuous production design, as is typical of Gilliam’s films, but Pat Rushin’s story of a futuristic corporate run society…a theme already overdone…where the loner Leth is asked to prove a theorem that everything is leading up to nothing, doesn’t really lead to much in itself. No more proof of The Zero Theorem than the actually film, which achieves little after almost two hours of Gilliam’s off-beat comedy and the antics of the story’s eclectic, cartoonish supporting characters. As a fan of Gilliam, I didn’t hate it. There were things to like, such as the visuals, Waltz’s performance and a delightfully sexy role from French actress Mélanie Thierry as a cyber-sex girl who falls for Qohen. As a complete film, however, it achieves little. Gilliam is still one of the most original filmmakers around but, it’s been awhile since he accomplished something noteworthy. Also stars Matt Damon as “Management” and Tilda Swinton as a cyber-shrink.
As a huge fan of writer/ director Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, I couldn’t wait to see what he came up with next. Now after a 4 year wait, his sophomore flick Elysium has arrived. I liked Elysium. I was certainly entertained but, it does have some problems that keep it from reaching the standard set by District 9 such as, a bit of an overloaded story and some surprising overacting by a few principles. Elysium tells the story of the future Earth of 2154. The planet is overpopulated and ravaged and the rich and powerful have moved off planet to the enormous space station of Elysium where they have every convenience and luxury, while the rest are left to labor and wallow in the mess. Enter ex-con Max, (Matt Damon) a man trying to work hard and stay out of trouble and prison, while dreaming of reconnecting with childhood sweetheart, Frey (Alice Braga). An accident at work leaves Max fatally poisoned with radiation and with 5 days left to live, Max needs to get to the only place where he can be cured, Elysium… which is off limits to the poor inhabitants of Earth. Max turns to crime-lord and hacker, Spider (Wagner Moura). Spider will get Max on Elysium if he helps steal the information about all it’s access codes stored in the brain of one, John Carlyle (William Fichtner) who, unknown to Max and Spider, is working with Elysium Secretary Of Defense, Delacourt (a surprisingly miscast Jodie Foster) to overthrow Elysium’s president (Faran Tahir). Still with me? Needless to say Max now has information that Delacourt will kill to get and is being hunted by her henchman, Kruger (Sharlto Copley) all the while trying to find his way to Elysium to heal himself. Throw in strength enhancing exo-skeletons, Frey’s sick daughter and we have a Sci-Fi action soup with a lot of ingredients. Elysium does have a bit of an overcomplicated story and while it is not hard to follow, it just has a lot of elements to it as, once again, Blomkamp tackles the theme of ‘the haves and the have-nots, as he did in District 9. We get the contrast of the over populated slum Earth has become to the spotless and perfect living conditions the wealthy enjoy in Elysium which, floats above in Earth’s orbit as a constant reminder of how little we all are to them and how they are so above us. The message is not subtle but, Blomkamp skillfully keeps it from overwhelming things with so much else going on. There is a lot of fast paced action and with a complex story as we have, the director keeps things moving very quickly. The excess of plot doesn’t slow things down though one feels it might have served the film if things were streamlined a little bit and there weren’t quite so many players in the game. And as for the players, Damon and Braga are strong though Braga’s Frey really doesn’t get that much screen time till the last act so we don’t identify with her as much even though we do get treated to flashbacks of she and Max as kids in an orphanage. Damon proves once again he can be an action star yet with some nice depth, giving Max some layers that enhances his character much like his surgically attached exo-skeleton enhances his strength and agility. Sadly it’s veteran actress Foster who seems to be miscast here. She never quite strays into camp but, plays Delacourt like one half stereotypical bureaucratic douche and the other half Roger Moore era Bond villain complete with unidentifiable accent. It sticks out awkwardly in what is a serious Sci-Fi flick as does District 9 star Sharlto Copley, who is completely over the top as Kruger. Which is disappointing consider how good he was in D9. A calmer demeanor would have made him more threatening. Neither characterization seems to fit in with the more grounded performances of the leads and more serious tone of the film. Joining them is Wagner Moura who is just weak and tries to compensate by over doing it as Spider. An actor with a bit stronger presence who doesn’t need to try as hard would have worked better. But, there is still plenty to like about this film. It’s story may be complicated but, there is a lot of action to move it along and some delightfully gruesome moments splattered here and there as this future’s weapons do make a mess. The last act especially is quite thrilling and has a nice emotional impact to go with all the explosions, gunfire and mechanically enhanced hand to hand combat. The SPFX are flawless, the design is breathtaking and the film could easily take place in District 9’s world. The score by Ryan Amon suits the film well, though reminded me of Dark Knight Rises a bit, but, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. So, all in all I liked Elysium and recommend it especially if you enjoyed District 9. It’s a bit meatier then most summer fair so, those who are tired of moody superheroes might like being given a bit more to chew on. Just be prepared that there is a complex story to digest along with the action and that a few of the veteran cast members just don’t seem right for their roles. Entertaining despite it’s flaws and another strong role from the versatile Damon.
A solid 3 mechanically enhanced Matt Damons