The Martian (Movie Review)

“Sailors, fighting in the dance hall. Oh man, look at those cavemen go…”

It’s kind of an atrocity that “Life on Mars” wasn’t played once during the movie. “Starman” was though, so I suppose that’s something.

The Martian

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Produced by: Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, Aditya Sood, Mark Huffam

Screenplay by: Drew Goddard

Based on: The Martian by Andy Weir

Genres: Science fiction, drama

Starring: Matt Damon, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie

Plot: In the (Hopefully not-so) distant future, NASA has put people on Mars.

And crackpot conspiracy nuts are undoubtedly denying it up and down.

So, who are the lucky bastards who get to leave everybody and everything that they know and love on a whole different planet a hundred trillion miles away (Or whatever the hell the exact measurements are)? Well, specifically, they’re scientists tasked with learning as much as possible about Marvin’s home turf.

Unfortunately, Marvin’s scenes had to be cut from the movie due to lack of cohesiveness. Look for them on the director’s cut!

One of these expeditions, Ares III, is forced to abort their mission because of a storm, and unfortunately, one of the crew members, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is killed by debris during the evacuation….

… Or is he?…

… I mean, obviously, he survives, because otherwise, we wouldn’t have a premise for the movie. I mean, we could have one focusing on the guilt the other crew members feel about leaving him dead on- ah, fuck that, I’m getting off track.

Watney survives, and eventually makes contact with NASA, but since it takes a shit-tonne of time to get from Earth to Mars, Mark can’t count on help arriving anytime soon, and must find a way to survive on the Red Planet as the good folks at NASA work to bring him home.

Truth be told, I’ve never been a huge fan of Ridley Scott’s. Yeah, I know that Blade RunnerAlien and Thelma & Louise are all great, and Gladiator is one of my favourite movies, but if you look at his filmography as a whole. there’s a lot of crappy stuff in there. His last couple of movies especially haven’t been kind to his reputation.

In fact, Ridley Scott was the one aspect of The Martian that was making me consider going to see Sicario instead. The near-universal acclaim that The Martian is getting swayed me back into its’ corner, though.

Good thing it did too, because The Martian is absolutely one of my favourite movies of 2015 so far.

This movie will make you want to quadruple NASA’s budget.

One can’t exactly make a movie where 50% of the action takes place in space, have it look like shit, and still come out of it with arms raised in a victory pose. Thankfully, like the the other major space movies of recent years (Gravity and Interstellar), this movie promises to show us outer space (Specifically Mars, obviously) and it delivers in spades. It maybe doesn’t reach the level of the other two movies in terms of pure CGI goodness, but the visual effects are still top-notch, and the beautiful cinematography and steady direction don’t hurt either. What it piles on top of the effects and cinematography though, is what really makes the movie for me. Specifically, the awesome, involving story from Drew Goddard (And I suppose Andy Reid’s novel, which I haven’t read, also deserves praise), of Cabin in the Woods fame. The dialogue and banter is surprisingly buoyant humorous, something one wouldn’t expect from subject matter like this.

Obviously, the movie makes a point to show the isolation and loneliness that Watney is feeling throughout, because holy shit, how could it not, but it also makes a point to have a sense of humour about itself, and not make the audience wallow in a sense of despair. Aside from the surprisingly good, solid, mood-lightening humour, the main character’s infectious optimism is such a welcome touch. It would have been so easy to have Watney sulk around in a haze of self-pity throughout the runtime, only having breakthroughs when it conveniences the plot. What he actually does is a million times more entertaining to watch, and what he does is attack every problem with such an unrelenting sense of positivity that makes you root for the guy to get home that much more. If life handed him lemons, he would not only make lemonade, he could probably somehow make Fireball.

No, university’s treating me fine. Why do you ask?

Of course, also to be thanked for Watney’s incredible likability is Matt Damon’s performance, which is great. , because he’s Matt Fucking Damon, and he’s great. However, lost in the fact that Damon is the one with his face plastered on all the publicity is the fact that the cast assembled for The Martian is one to be reckoned with. Jessica Chastain doesn’t have as much to do as she did in Interstellar, but she’s still great at what she does, and she shows it here. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig and Sean Bean are all A+ as the dedicated, underfunded (AHEM) folks at NASA, and Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie and Michael Pena all have excellent chemistry with each other and Matt Damon as the crew members of ARES III. Somebody I was really surprised and happy to see appears in the middle of the movie, but I won’t say who it is to preserve the surprise.

It’s kind of like Matt Damon in Interstellar. Except, y’know, good.

The Martian is one of those movies  where it really takes a lot of effort to find any flaws whatsoever, but if I had to nitpick, I would have to say that, as welcome as Watney’s optimism is, it can skew a bit on the unrealistic side at times. That said, the movie does make a point to frequently show his discouragement with the situation, so I guess that argument’s pretty much moot.

I dunno, would anybody have a problem with me labelling it as the closest possible thing to a perfect movie? Because that’s pretty much all there is to it.

Overall: Excellent visuals, terrific performances and a cheerful sense of humour and positivity make The Martian one of the best movies of the year.

Rating: 9.5/10

Now, who else can’t wait for Prometheus 2!?!?

Interstellar (Movie Review)

I can now believe that this movie was filmed here in Alberta.

Christopher Nolan is brilliant. Let’s make that abundantly clear. This review is not meant as a middle finger to the man who made Batman cool again. That said, the combination of pulse-pounding suspense with intellectualism that seemed to be so easily achieved in The Dark KnightInception and Memento is not exactly a given in Nolan movies, apparently.

Mmmm… I can already smell the fanboy hatred brewing.

   Interstellar

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Produced by: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, Lynda Obst

Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan

Based (In part) upon: Kip Thorne’s theories

Genres: Science-fiction, adventure, drama

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael    Caine, Ellen Burstyn, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Mackenzie Foy, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Topher Grace, Timothée Chalamet, Matt Damon

Voices of: Bill Irwin, Josh Stewart

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Plot:  As is the case in seemingly every high-concept science fiction movie, it is the near future and the Earth is, slowly but surely, dying out. Due to unspecified issues, the planet is ravaged by dust storms, and the entire planet has reverted to an agrarian society. One of the many farmers whose plots of land litter the devastated American landscape (Which brings to mind the Dust Bowl) belongs to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former engineer and NASA pilot who lives with his father-in-law (John Lithgow), his son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and his eccentric daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy).  When Murphy leads him on a wild goose chase to find her imaginary friend, Cooper stumbles upon a yop-secret NASA base, especially shocking, considering that NASA was thought to have been disbanded years ago.

The NASA facility is led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a brilliant scientist who, along with the rest of the tattered remains of NASA, is desperately trying to find ways to save humanity. Driven to desperation, Brand’s Hail Mary plan is to send Cooper up to space in a spaceship with a couple scientists (David Gyasi and Wes Bentley), Brand’s daughter (Anne Hathaway), and a couple of robots ( and shoot ’em up into a recently-discovered wormhole around Saturn, taking them to a whole other galaxy, where humanity could find another place to settle down.

Seriously, before I get into this movie’s problems, I must stress that I did like the movie, despite its’ shortcomings, I enjoyed myself for, oh let’s say, 75% of the movie.  The movie’s almost three hours long, but throughout the first bit, it actually felt like it was breezing along, although not fast enough for me to miss out on the ever so important interactions between the characters. The score is composed by Hans Zimmer, who I have to thank for the soundtrack to The Lion King and Gladiator, meaning that he is one of my favourite human beings of all time. Unsurprisingly, he delivers some beautiful, atmospheric music that may not be hummable upon leaving the theatre, but it sure as hell worked in the context of the movie.

The performances were also great, which is kind of a given with Matthew McConaughey as a lead these days. Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine were both good in their role, as was Jessica Chastain in her role as an aged Murphy, and I never once felt the urge to strangle the child actors in the movie, which is always a positive in my book. Mackenzie Foy, especially, was really terrific as young Murphy, and surprised me by displaying a lot of chemistry with McConaughey. Especially surprising, since her breakout role was in the goddamn Twilight saga.

“Don’t listen to him, guys. I’m sure we won’t be working at a car wash within five years.”

I gotta say, though, the character of Tom, Murphy’s brother (Ably played by Timothée Chalamet and, later, Casey Affleck) seemed completely unnecessary to me. It could just have easily been a household comprised of Cooper, his in-law and his daughter, completely eliminated the character of Tom, and there would have been no less of an emotional impact to the proceedings in the movie. I dunno, I guess it was nice to see Casey Affleck in something.

It also bears mentioning that the movie is really, really gorgeous. From what I’ve heard, they actually had Kip Thorne be a sort of consultant on what things in space would look like (For lack of a better noun), so when you see a black hole, that’s what scientists are pretty sure  an actual black hole looks like. That’s pretty frickin’ rad.

Christopher Nolan has done a pretty solid job at incorporating shorter, emotional scenes in mainly serious movies, but he has set a new bar for himself with Interstellar in terms of emotional punch. I wouldn’t say it emotionally wrecked me, but holy crap does it get intense. Go ahead and skip to the end of this paragraph if you really don’t want to know anything about the movie going in, go ahead and skip to the end of this paragraph, but my favourite scene in the entire movie was when, due to the theory of relativity, Cooper discovers that his kids are now older than him. It’s not only a brilliant way to explain relativity to somebody, but also the best scene of the movie thanks to its emotional resonance.

Fuck me, that was the saddest damn thing.

However, it can work to the movie’s detriment too. The movie, for the most part, does a really good job of accurately portraying the science that would go into a space voyage, which makes sense, given that theoretical physicist Kip Thorne served as an executive producer. However, as much as I appreciate the science behind the movie, it loses me a little when it starts emphasizing the main theme in the film, that love transcends space and time, being, essentially, the strongest force in the universe.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against that being a theme in the movie. My problem is when the characters start spewing some bullshit about “quantifiable love”. I’m not going to go much more in depth for fear of venturing into spoiler territory, but seriously? I’m no physics major, that’s for damn sure, but I’m fairly sure that’s not actually a thing. The “power of love” crap may work in a movie such as Harry Potter, when the real-world applicability of the movie is non-existent, but in a movie such as Interstellar that puts such a large influence on the science, while keeping the human element mostly separate, you lose some brownie points from me when you try to spoon feed me with “quantifiable love.” It’s just too much of a stretch for a cynical bastard like me.

“Is…Is this love you’re feeding me? What the fuck is wrong with you!?!?”

Also, the dialogue seemed really clunky at times. I had to restrain myself from exclaiming “what!?” after Cooper explained to Murphy why he named her after Murphy’s Law. Most of the time, it’s a pretty typical, slick Nolan screenplay, but at other times…Ugh.

Another thing that was working against me was the length of the movie. Whenever a movie goes beyond the 160 minute range, it’s already gotten on my bad side. It’s not like I automatically hate it (The Lord of the Rings movies are three of the best movies of all time. Try and dissuade me of that, hipsters. I dare you.), it just has to do a bit more in the way of keeping me interested in the story to keep me distracted from the fact that I just blew three hours of my precious time. This movie did not do that. There were several times during the last 30 minutes of the movie when I felt that it should’ve ended, but it just kept trudging along, and it got to the point when I was just willing the movie to end, which is a pity, because looking back on it, it was a damn smart ending to a pretty damn good movie, but the ending was presented in such a hectic and drawn out way that I just got lost. Maybe I’m just stupid, I dunno.

One cursory look at my physics grade should have probably told me how much I would understand this movie.

Overall: It’s overly long, complicated, and occasionally displays stiff dialogue, but it’s a visual treat and an engrossing experience as well. It may not be for everybody, but it’s worth a watch. Just plan your day around it.

Rating: 7.5/10