‘The Martian’ Review

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Director: Ridley Scott

Writer(s): Drew Goddard

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Askel Hennie, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, and Chiwetel Ejifor

Synopsis: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit, and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Andy Weir, director Ridley Scott takes the helm of telling a story of probably someone’s worst fear: being left behind alone on a different planet. Scott has been on slump lately, but The Martian is the film that may get him back on track.

 

The film really jumps right into the action and story. The film take place on Sol 18 (“Sol” is a Martian day) of a 31-Sol mission on Mars. Astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) and his fellow Ares III crewmembers are hit by a storm sooner than they anticipated. Seeing that they are left with no choice, Commander Lewis (Chastain) orders the crew to leave Mars, but while the crew attempts to escape, the storm hits and Watney is struck by debris and vanishes into the storm. Lewis stays back a bit to search for him, but the crew eventually assumes he’s dead and leaves. Of course, Watney survives – not without getting impaled in the stomach – and makes his way back to their base of operations known as The Hab.

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There Watney realizes besides his biggest problem of being left behind on an isolated planet has to deal with other problems. He has no way to communicate with NASA, he doesn’t have enough food and the food he does have only will only last a few weeks, and finally, the next mission to Mars won’t arrive for four years. So left on the planet with nothing but wits and need to survive, he’s going to, as he puts it, “science the shit out of this.”

I actually read Andy Weir’s book prior to watching the film and Ridley Scott and writer Drew Goddard keep the spirit of the novel intact, and while changes were made The Martian is a pretty faithful adaptation. The film leaves out a good chuck of the science that Watney talks and does about his time on Mars, and what he does to make sure he doesn’t run oxygen, water, or food. Instead, Scott focuses more on the immediacy of the issue that Watney faces, and while some of the science is there, it’s scattered throughout, and the focus becomes how Watney will survive on Mars and what NASA is doing to save him. It’s really a bad move really, even though the film marks in at about two and half hours.

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Despite this, a film like this lives and dies with the lead, and Matt Damon’s Mark Watney is great. Damon may have not been on everyone’s wish list to play Watney, but Damon brings everything to the character that he can and that task is not easy. Damon is pretty much alone for the whole film and thanks to Damon’s always reliable acting chops. We feel for Watney and want to root for him. The other thing that Damon brings to Watney, and the film that will surprise some people, is humor. The Martian is surprisingly funny and filled with humor throughout. If you’re wondering how Watney doesn’t go crazy – and how the humor comes into play – Watney video records everything for NASA’s log and much like a scientist, he is documenting everything he does taking us along for the ride.

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While The Martian is on Damon’s shoulders to carry, a lead is only as good as their supporting characters, and the film has great supporting characters and actors. The Ares III crew chemistry is solid and you believe that these people have been together for months with the banter being fresh and quick. Jessica Chastain’s Commander Lewis is the stern and no-nonsense leader, Michael Pena’s Martinez, the pilot, shares most if not all the banter between Watney and its pretty damn great to hear and watch. Sebastian Stan’s Beck, the doctor, and Askel Hennie’s Vogel, the chemist get lost in the shuffle a bit, but have their moments. Finally, Kate Mara’s Johanssen, the tech, gets her moment to shine too, but with Pena and Chastain getting more of the attention, she also gets lost.

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The NASA and Earth characters are as great as Damon. Jeff Daniels plays Teddy Sanders, the head of NASA, and is looking out the agency as a whole and while his decisions may look like he’s being a hard-ass or the suit bad guy, Daniels gives Sander a special feel. Chiwetel Ejifor’s Vincent Kapoor plays the Mars Missions supervisor and has some great moments especially when he’s across Daniels and Sean Bean’s Mitch Henderson, who is the Ares III’s supervisor. Anytime the three characters are together, the scenes pop because everyone is trying to pull the power away from each other. The scenes also bring the two different sides of the argument that people would face if this ever happened.

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Kristen Wiig plays NASA spokesperson Annie Montrose who has some funny scenes and honestly, I thought was great casting, although I wished they kept more of her lines from the book. Mackenzie Davis plays Mindy Park, who is the first to discover that Watney is alive on Mars and keeps track on him through satellites. Finally Donald Glover and Benedict Wong plays an astrodynamics engineer that tries to figure out a way to bring Watney home and an engineer that works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that tries to communicate with Watney on Mars and brings up an idea that could get Watney more food.

The Martian won’t be for everyone. The film does follow Watney as he’s on Mars and tries to survive, and while it’s great to see how he does it and not go crazy, the film is a slow burn and moves at pace that could make people lose focus. However, the pacing and the editing between Earth and Mars should make the film go by fasting that it really is.

All in all, The Martian is a great human story about survival. What helps the film is the great cast, especially Matt Damon who carries the film with ease, and director Ridley Scott who shots the film in such a way that it does make you think they shot the film on Mars. The Martian is definitely one of the best films of the year.

 

The Martian

5 out of 5

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October Movie Releases

It is October ladies and gentleman!

This month looks pretty great and, yet again, some early Oscar nominations could come out. Of course, let’s not forget that it is the month of Halloween, so there are some potentially great horror films out this month. But let’s stop talking about them and actually get to them!

Also, Happy Early Halloween!

 

2nd

*The Walk gets an early/limited IMAX release before its wide release next week. So check out next week for my thoughts*

*Sicario gets its final theater release this week*

 

The Martian

Ridley Scott adapts Andy Weir’s critically acclaimed and best-selling novel of the same name with an impressive and awesome cast. The film follows Mark Watney (Matt Damon) as an astronaut that is left behind and presumed dead on Mars during a man mission. Watney then has to use his skills to surive on the planet while his crew (Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, and Aksel Vogel) find out from NASA that he is still alive and decide to go get him back. The film looks great and, like I mentioned, the cast is great. Besides the aforementioned cast members, The Martian also stars Kristen Wiig, Sebastian Stan, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jeff Daniels.

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9th

*Steve Jobs gets a limited release only in L.A and New York. It gets a wide release at the end of the month, so I’ll give my thoughts and info there.*

 

Limited Release: The Final Girls

Max (Taissa Farmiga) grieving the loss of her mother (Malin Akerman), a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself and her friends pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Reunited, the women must fight off the film’s maniacal killer. The film was a hit as Fantastic Fest and based on the trailer, it does look like it can be a fun time. The film also stars Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alla Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Adam DeVine, Angela Trimbur, Chloe Bridges, Tory N. Thompson and Dan B. Norris.

 

Pan

Joe Wright (Hanna) brings the classic J.M. Barrie characters to life in a prequel format. The films follows a young orphaned Peter Pan (Levi Miller) who gets transported to the fantasy land of Neverland. There, he finds both fun and dangers, and finds out that he is part of a prophecy by the people there that he will lead them to freedom by the fearsome Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). I’m not completely sold on Pan just yet, the trailers make the film look like it could be a lot of fun and Neverland looks, well, fantastical. Maybe it’s the prequel idea or that I wasn’t always the biggest Peter Pan fan, but I will probably end up watching it. Pan also stars Garrett Hedlund (Hook), Rooney Mara (Tiger Lilly), Amanda Seyfried (Mary), Nonso Anozie (Bishop), and  Adeel Akhtar (Mr. Smee).

 

The Walk

Robert Zemeckis tells the true story about French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s attempt to cross the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. The film looks great and Zemeckis apparently shot a lot of the film in IMAX and the stuff he filmed in it looks great (seeing the trailer in IMAX anyway). This one definitely is in a must-watch list. The Walk stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Schwartz, James Badge Dale and Ben Kingsley.

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16th

Limited Release: Room

Rising star actress Brie Larson stars in a modern-day story about the boundless love between mother and child; young Jack knows nothing of the world except for the single room in which he was born and raised. The film is an adaptation of the novel written by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the film) and is inspired off the real life cases of Jaycee Lee Dugard and Elisabeth Fritzl, who were kidnapped and held captive and hidden in rooms for 18 years and had children. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (who directed last year’s Frank) debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival recently to rave reviews, especially for Larson, who plays the mother and Jacob Tremblay, who portrays Jack. The film also stars Joan Allen and William H. Macy.

 

Goosebumps

R.L. Stine’s famous characters come to life in this film that follows Zach (Dylan Minnette), who teams up with Hannah (Odeya Rush) – who just so happens to be the daughter of famous author R.L. Stine (Jack Black) – to help her free their home town of Greendale, Maryland after Stine’s characters magically get set free. I’ve been split on this since it was first announced. I was for it when they said they were going to do, then Jack Black got cast as R.L. Stine and nothing against Black, he can be good when he wants to be and with the right material, but I didn’t buy it. Then the trailers came out, and it looks like it’s going to be a fun family movie or just least dumb fun, so I’m in again. Goosebumps also stars Ryan Lee, Halston Sage, Ella Wahlestedt, Jillian Bell, Kumail Nanjlani, Ken Marino and Amy Ryan.

 

Bridge of Spies

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks reunite to tell a true story about an insurance salesman (Hanks), who is brought in by the government to help them negotiate the return of a soldier that shot down behind enemy lines during the Cold War for a spy that is in America. Written by the Coen Brothers, the film looks like a great drama-thriller that is suited for Spielberg and Hanks, and with these two fronting it, it should be good. Bridge of Spies also stars Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Eve Hewson, Peter McRobbie, Austin Stowell, Sebastian Koch, and Mark Rylance.

 

Crimson Peak

Guillermo Del Toro goes back to his gothic horror roots with this film. That sees Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring author who is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds and remembers. The film looks creepy as hell and del Toro is a master of his craft and with a cast that also includes Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Leslie Hope, Burn Gorman and Jim Beaver, this has been on my must-see list since it was announced.

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23rd

Burnt

Bradley Cooper stars as Adam Jones as a chef that ruined his career with drugs and his diva begavior that tries to clean up his act by going to London and starting a new restaurant so he can gain three Michelin stars. I’ve seen the trailer a few times now and I’m not completely sold on it yet. Maybe it’s because Jon Favreau’s Chef was so good that it has tarnished me watching another chef movie, okay not really, it’s just that the trailer hasn’t grabbed me yet, which doesn’t sit well with me because the cat is great. The cast includes Alicia Vikander, Lily James, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Matthew Rhys, Uma Thurman, Sarah Greene, Omar Sy and Emma Thompson.

 

Rock the Kasbah

Bill Murray fronts this musical comedy about a down-on-his-luck music manager (Murray) who discovers a teenage girl with an extraordinary voice while on a music tour in Afghanistan and takes her to Kabul to compete on a popular TV show, Afghan Star. I’ve only seen the trailer once at a movie theater and it looked pretty funny. But, I think I’ll have to watch another trailer to really get me into the film. Yeah sure it’s Bill Murray, but, that can’t be enough to carry a movie – at least for me. The film also stars Zooey Deschanel, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Scott Caan, and Danny McBride.

 

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

The last installment of the Paranormal Activity films brings everything full circle, or at least that is what producers are saying. The film follows the same format from what we’ve seen so far. A family finds old and weird tapes from Katie and Kristi’s childhood and eventually weird things start to happen around their home and around their young children. They then find a special camera that shows us, for the first time in the series, “The Ghost Dimension” where we can see things that human eyes can’t. Personally, I just hope that it doesn’t disappoint because the series has kind of gone downhill since the third outing.

 

Jem and the Holograms

A modern day adaptation of the popular 80s musical cartoon directed by Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation)tells us the story of a small town girl (Aubrey Peeples) who goes from video sensation to global superstar known as Jem. She and her three sisters (Stefanie Scott, Hayley Kiyoko, and Aurora Perrineau) begin a journey to of self-discovery and family. A lot fans are up-in-arms about the adaptation because it doesn’t look like the Jem they knew growing up. Just basing it off the trailers, I’m not really looking forward to this. It could be that I’m not the demographic they are trying to reach, but something about the trailers doesn’t pull me in. The rest of the cast includes Molly Ringwald, Ryan Guzman, Nicholas Braun, Nathan Moore and Juliette Lewis.

 

The Last Witch Hunter

Vin Diesel stars as, well, the last witch hunter that was cursed with immortality and now in present-day New York he must team up with another witch (Rose Leslie) to take down a plot that plans on releasing a more powerful witch upon the world. The movie doesn’t look that bad really and I think we can all know what to expect, but the trailers do make the film look like it could be at least a cool time while watching. The film also stars Elijah Wood, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Julie Engelbrecht, Rena Owen and Michael Caine.

 

Steve Jobs

Danny Boyle-directed and Aaron Soarkin-written biopic about, well, Apple innovator and face of the company, Steve Jobs. Jobs is played by Michael Fassbender that will follow Jobs through three, 30-minute scenes spreading across sixteen years of the life of Steve Jobs. The scenes will dramatize backstage events before three major product launches and will employ some flashbacks depicting key moments of Jobs’ life. The film debuted at film festivals recently and has been heavily praised by many, and not surprisingly, has been said it could be nominated for Oscars when the time comes. The film looks great so let’s see what happens. The films also stars Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Ortiz, and Jeff Daniels.

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30th

Our Brand Is Crisis

A feature film based on the documentary of the same name, focuses on the use of American political campaign strategies in South America. The film is being labeled as a comedy-drama, and while I haven’t seen the trailer, I’ve seen bits of the documentary online and it gives me an idea on who they will go with this. The cast is rather impressive with Sandra Bullock leading the cast with Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Scott McNairy, Zoe Kazan and Joaquim de Almedia.

 

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Originally titled Scouts vs. Zombies, the film sounds ridiculously yes, but after watching the trailer, it actually looks like a fun movie. The red-band trailer really doesn’t hold back and the movie doesn’t look like it’s going to hold back. I can’t believe I’m looking forward to this, but I am. The film stars Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sarah Dumont, Joey Morgan, Halston Sage, David Koechner, and Cloris Leachman.

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What are you looking forward to?

‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails’ Review

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Director: Wes Ball

Writer(s): T.S. Nowlin

Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Jacob Lofland, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Alan Tudyk, Katherine McNamara, Nathalie Emmanuel, Lili Taylor, and Patricia Clarkson

Synopsis: After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

I have to admit, when I went to go watch The Maze Runner, I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it was and how much I liked it. So when the sequel was coming out, I was looking forward to watching it. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails keeps up the action set-pieces, but takes a tumble that it takes a while to come back from. Besides that, it should go without saying, but Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails doesn’t play pick-up, so you should brush up on your history or remind yourself what happened in the last one before watching this.

 

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails starts off pretty much where The Maze Runner left off. The Gladers, Thomas (O’Brien), Minho (Hong Lee), Newt (Brodie-Sangster), Frypan (Darden), Winston (Flores), and Teresa (Scodelario) are bought to a new facility by an unnamed group that is lead by Janson (Gillen). Janson promises them they are safe from W.C.K.D – the company that put them in the Maze – and tells them he can get them to a safe place, along with other survivors. However, Thomas doesn’t fully trust Janson and his suspicion is heighten even more by Aris (Lofland), who has had his own suspicion since he arrived at the facility too. Thomas eventually uncovers the truth and leads his friends and Aris out of the facility and into barren landscape that Janson and others call “The Scorch.”

 

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Once out, Thomas, Aris and the Gladers run into different obstacles along the way to their destination, meeting a resistance group. They run into “Cranks,” people that have been infected by a virus that turns them into mindless killing monsters, they run into Jorge (Esposito) and Brenda (Salazar) who have their own group and share a common interest with Thomas and the Gladers in finding the resistance, but for a different reason, and finally the group is being chased by Janson and W.C.K.D.

 

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One of the big things with the sequel is that it takes us out of the Maze, so now director Wes Ball has time to build up the world that we are now a part of and that was written by author the novel’s being adapted, James Dashner. The world outside the Maze is pretty big. There isn’t much signs of life and everything has been taken over by sand. There are zones that seem to have people there to try to live some sort of their old life. Thomas and Brenda eventually end up at one that is run by Alan Tudyk’s character. That particular scene is one of the biggest missteps of the movie though, and actually crashes the film to a stand-still. It took me a while to get back into the movie after the scene because it felt a bit out of place and, dare I say, unnecessary.

 

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The cast is hit-and-miss. Dylan O’Brien’s Thomas takes on more a leader role here and you can clearly see he’s struggling with that, but embraces it because we find out a little more about Thomas’ past. Kaya Scodelario’s Teresa, who was the only female character in the last film, has a big plot point, but it takes a while for it to really flourish. Ki Hong Lee’s Minho has a bigger supporting role here, but gets lost in the shuffle along with returning characters Newt and Frypan – although they have their moments too – because of the new characters. Jacob Lofland’s Aris starts off as a strong character, but once the movie starts moving forward, he gets pushed to the wayside. However, his character could have a bigger role in the final installment along with other characters that I’ll get to in a second.

 

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Leading the charge for new characters is definitely Giancarlo Esposito’s Jorge and Rosa Salazar’s Brenda. They bring some freshness into the film and they will do whatever they have to survive, and are a welcomed addition to the series. Aidan Gillen’s Janson does a serviceable job of playing a deceitful character as only he can. Lili Taylor and Barry Pepper pop in as Mary and Vince, leaders of the resistance group, but their character aren’t introduced until the last act of the film, so their characters don’t feel as big as they should be or intended to be. Nathalie Emmanuel and Katherine McNamara also appear as resistance fighters Harriet and Sonya, but like Aris, their characters could have bigger roles in the sequel. Finally Patricia Clarkson has a “bigger” role here than she did in the first film.

 

Another problem that I had with The Scorch Trails is like the first film, it suffers a bit from leaving things a bit too open for a sequel. It’s not as bad as the first film, but it is clearly there and bothered me just a tad. Thankfully, The Scorch Trails is a bigger and ambitious film that has great moments of action and drama scattered throughout and avoids most clichés and tropes of the genre (well, for the most part).

 

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All in all, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails is more ambitious, fun, and slightly better than the first film, but still suffers from being the middle film in a trilogy (they thankfully won’t be splitting the third book into two movies) and leaves more things open than it should.

 

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails

3.5 out of 5

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