jessica chastain

Movie Review: The Martian

themartian_posterRemember that classic bit of dialogue from one of TV’s most acclaimed dramas Breaking Bad where Jesse Pinkman exclaimed in excitement, “Yeah science!” His boyish wonder is precisely how I viewed and how I imagine the world viewing Ridley Scott’s, The Martian. The film is a compilation of imaginative scientific ingenuity and human resilience that’s sure to put a hop in the step of all who gaze upon its beauty.

Matt Damonn stars as astronaut Mark Watney who is left for dead on Mars following a catastrophic storm that sends his team home early from their mission. Remarkably, Watney survived the incident and determined to survive until the next manned mission to Mars lands. However, his cohorts at NASA recognize that their astronaut is still alive through sattalite photos and move to find a way to bring him home safely before he runs out of resources. (more…)

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Movie Review: Interstellar

interstellar_posterI suppose it was only a matter of time Christopher Nolan would come out with a movie, I’d see that movie,  I’d not completely fall in love with it and not want to immediately see it again. I’m the guy who still loves THE DARK KNIGHT RISES in spite of the fact that it’s my least favorite of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I will still claim INCEPTION as one of my absolute favorite movies. I often won’t go to bat that Nolan’s movies are the best that have ever been made, but for my tastes specifically they fall perfectly into place. And then there’s INTERSTELLAR, a movie that should hit that proverbial sweet spot for me- Nolan, science fiction, drama and Anne Hathaway. So what went wrong? Well, before I get ahead of myself let me clarify that I did not hate this movie, but so far in the Nolan canon (granted it will take a few more viewings to say indefinitely), it’s very close to my least favorite.

The film begins in a non-disclosed future where the Earth and its inhabitants are in a real struggle. Farmer’s are Earth’s most valuable profession as the food supply is dangerously thin and the farmer’s struggle to keep crops alive. Violent dust storms roll in and eventually wreak havoc on people’s lungs. School curriculum trashes human exploration and only a certain percentage of kids are even allowed to go to college- the rest are designated farmer status. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is one of those farmers with a scientist’s brain who hates his profession. Cooper’s son is well on his way to taking over the family business while his daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), has her father’s curious nature. Murph clues her father in on a strange gravity anomaly in her room which leads them to coordinates to a facility in the middle of nowhere that turns out to be the defunct remains of NASA. The folks there have secretly been carrying out space explorations in search of a planet that can facilitate human life. Naturally Cooper has history with NASA and is then recruited to pilot a crew to the many planets other explorers have been staking out. (more…)

Movie Review: Mama (2013)

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It wasn’t even a year ago when I attended my first film of 2012 and was extremely optimistic about the rest if the year- that movie was THE GREY. January typically doesn’t offer the kind of films that are remembered all the way till the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, but I had my fingers crossed that my first choice of 2013 would bring luck for two straight years of bright optimism- in retrospect, maybe a debut feature wasn’t quite the right direction to lean. MAMA may carry the “Presented by Guillermo del Toro” tag, but I’m starting to wonder if that alone is something to get all that excited about.

The film is a dark modern day fairy tale that begins with a father that has snapped, killed his coworkers, ex-wife and has kidnapped his children. A snowy road causes an accident that leaves the father and his two children seeking shelter in a shack in the middle of the woods where he attempts to murder his children but foiled in his efforts by a mysterious entity. Three years later the children’s uncle, Luke, has spared no expense to find them and when he does they are feral from living in the wild eating nothing but cherries and being raised by someone they refer to as Mama. After Luke takes them in it appears that Mama has followed them and is none too pleased about someone trying to take them away from her.

The most disappointing thing for me about MAMA is the amount of missed opportunities- especially given how fantastic a lot of this movie is. The film opens spectacularly with an incredibly filmed sequence of scenes that build the mythology and tension greatly. The cinematography was stunning to me throughout the film, but never more so than everything leading up to the title credits. Unfortunately the other visual elements such as the CGI are incredibly weak and created a barrier between me and my overall enjoyment of the film.

Having an actress like Jessica Chastain would be a huge boost for just about any film right now, but for most of the movie she has nothing to do but walk around and stare suspiciously at doors. The relationship she builds with the kids is actually kind of sweet given how against having kids she happens to be, but I still had to take a few leaps to get everything out of that emotional arc. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is pretty well useless in this film- he plays both the father at the beginning and the children’s Uncle, but the most demanding part of his role comes in the opening scenes as the father. Coster-Waldau disappears for a vast majority of the middle act and then has very little effect during the finale. Speaking of the finale- it’s indicative of a lot of my problems with the CGI and stuff things that don’t make a whole lot of sense. There’s a chase through the house that has a really cool haunted house vibe and again the cinematography looks great but the makeup on Mama as well as the CGI are horrid.

Sadly MAMA does not disprove the fact that mostly lackluster films litter the month of January, but with everything I loved about it the film is also not a complete waste of time. The movie is filmed incredibly well- it’s just that a lot of the stuff happening on screen severely lacks the same quality. Jessica Chastain as a punk rock chick isn’t nearly as great as she’s been in the past, but she has moments towards the end that hint at something great. MAMA is not without some effective jump scares and creepy imagery, but Muschietti’s debut feature shows the signs of a director with some room to grow and that the very least is a name to watch out for.

Rating: B-

Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

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Kathryn Bigelow’s latest feature has been basking in endless praise since its limited Oscar qualifying release in December while also being criticized for its perceived glorification of torture as a means to attain important information in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. I do not fully buy into either aspect surrounding the film- by that I mean while I think the film is kind of great, it’s also not a perfect film and I think in no way shape or form glorifies the acts people commit to get the information they seek. ZERO DARK THIRTY is intense and engrossing, but it drags due to its bloated runtime and lacks emotional depth.

The film details the decade long hunt for the mastermind of the September 11th attack and begins with a pitch black screen as we hear 911 calls on the morning of the attacks. Using that as a backdrop alone does not earn the film the emotion I wanted from the crescendo of intensity at the end of the film when we finally get our man, but it starts it off in an engaging fashion. Just because it didn’t focus on the emotional depth from the characters that I would have preferred doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the skill of Bigelow’s direction. The introduction and the final half hour of film are marvels of tense filmmaking, while the middle of the film I found myself drifting in and out as far as my interest in the events. At first I mistook my feelings as boredom, but essentially I feel it’s just indifference and the fact that the information exchanges happen in such a whirlwind that instead of being in control of my understanding of the events I was just sort of along for the ride rather I connected with it or not.

I’m not a news junkie and I don’t follow current events as closely as some more involved in this story might, but I’m not ignorant to the portrayal of an event I’m perfectly aware of the ending to. I wanted nothing more than to be fascinated by the investigation involved in tracking Bin Laden and there were stretches that I was just that, but certain techniques used by Bigelow and the way the script is written/performed felt a bit more overwhelming and garbled. Essentially at times I felt like I was in a conversation with someone who tends to mumble and rather than ask them to repeat themselves when I didn’t understand what they said, I just kind of nodded, smiled and moved on to the next subject.

Jessica Chastain as a character evolves from someone fresh off the boat in a situation where she has to become comfortable with CIA torture techniques to do her job, to someone who may or may not be too personally involved with the tracking down of a subject to the point that we question if the ethics involved is truly the right thing. Her character is the most developed in the film and you still know almost nothing about her- with no back-story or insight to what is really driving her, the obsession she develops seems more dangerous than ethical and the last shot allows for any number of assumptions about the toll the investigation really played on her. Chastain herself plays the role great and towards the end delivers one of the best lines of the year.

I also really loved Jason Clarke’s performance, but again he’s a character we know nothing about. We know he’s effective as a device to torture detainees and that he loves monkeys and his demeanor is that of someone doing what he’s got to do to get information. Then there are the folks in S.E.A.L. Team 6 that we spend the final half hour with and again there’s not enough time to care about them as people. Sure there’s tension in the staging of the climactic raid on the compound that Bin Laden may or may not be in, but as characters there’s no connection with anyone one of them where you could pick one out and hope nothing bad happens to that one specifically. The raid itself is a legit piece of tense action cinema and well worth the price of admission- the score during the buildup gets the pulse pumping and sound design during the raid is phenomenal. This is a scene that is intricately detailed and paced in an authentic and harrowing way.

My initial reaction to ZERO DARK THIRTY was that I felt the film was overhyped, but I think it’s important to clarify that I do not mean that it’s overrated. Bigelow’s film is worth the praise many people are bestowing upon it, but the extent that I personally believe in that praise is dialed back a bit. At over two and a half hours I feel there’s quite a bit in the middle of this film that could have been chopped down and it would have been better for it. The length is also why I feel the lack of character development for the majority of the cast is as disappointing as it was for me personally. However, even in spite of my issues with the film it is definitely a nail biting procedural that climaxes with a heart pounding action sequence. In the end, for me ZERO DARK THIRTY falls just short of being one of the best films of the year.

Rating: B+

Movie Review: Lawless (2012)

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Say what you will about John Hillcoat’s THE ROAD, but for my dollar that film is a haunting and emotional film that as much as I hate voiceovers in movies at least has Viggo Mortenson delivering the monologues in a way that struck me emotionally. With LAWLESS Hillcoat neither has Mortenson or that great emotional connection and instead we have Shia LeBouf delivering flat boring monologues with a great period piece drama breaking through the surface just long enough to tease and the rest of the time it hovers just out of reach. There are a lot of good things going on in LAWLESS, but a lot of extremely flawed aspects as well that suggest maybe Hillcoat drinking out of those mason jars in the middle of filming.

Set in the Depression Era with prohibition in effect and based on the book The Wettest County in the World and billed as a true story LAWLESS follows three brothers in the business of selling moonshine until an aggressive city cop comes to town looking to shut them down. For the most part the story is pretty one note as the three brothers played by Tom Hardy, Shia LeBouf and Jason Clarke square off against the law while trying to run their business- along the way other things also happen, but nothing that really progresses the story any further. Also, I have a hard time accepting LeBouf in a lead role and also have an aversion to excess voiceover and this film did nothing to make me rethink my position on either of those aspects.

Based on performances alone the film is well worth seeing- in spite of my issues with LaBeouf, who is decent yet I still just can’t force myself to like him. Hardy continues to cement himself as an incredible physical force and a man of many voices although at times I found his voice here slightly more comical than in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Based purely on his physical presence, Hardy helps the film carry a tense tone that breaks only when some extremely farfetched and unintentionally funny moments come along. I hate the fact that Gary Oldman has such a small role in this movie, because when he shows up he is so memorable and engaging that it made me dislike moments that he showed up and didn’t talk and eventually disappointed after he disappeared from the film entirely. Jessica Chastain is great, although one scene in particular when she ‘bares all’ will be the biggest takeaway for a wide margin of the male audience. There isn’t a bad performance to be found really, I just wish that anyone else had been cast in LaBouf’s role- I would have even liked to see Dane DeHaan in that role instead of the one he’s in and is also great.

There are a generous handful of strange things going on in this film that kept me from knowing what to take seriously and what was supposed to be intentionally off-beat and funny. The first has to do with the two best performances in the film from Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce- opposite in their overall tone and effect, but similar in the cartoonishness. Hardy’s a man of few words, but his voice is very gruff sounding and he says “Umm” a lot- he also mumbles a lot and what he says when he mumbles also provides a great deal of humor. Pearce on the other hand as the snidely city cop is a top hat, handlebar mustache and a short cape away from being a stereotypical cartoon villain. Don’t get me wrong it makes the film entertaining and the performance is great, but man is his character strange to listen to and look at. Some other odd things have to do with some of the editing and one thing in particular that happens to a specific character that should kill him, but doesn’t and a lot of the scenes that immediately follow that I was laughing at because it just seemed incredibly silly.

Hillcoat does really know how to shoot a beautiful movie though and LAWLESS is no exception. There are a lot of great shots throughout the film and some are as small as the framing of trees, or a man that’s been tarred and feathered. No matter how grimy and dirty the film gets the cinematography just look gorgeous and was enough to carry me through my least favorite scenes. The scenery works in cahoots with the performances to lift a script that if given to lesser actors would have been an even bigger problem. There are lines that are on the verge if something great and then when the character stops talking I kept thinking something cut them off when in reality the line or monologue just seemed to stop in mid thought.

With a movie called LAWLESS that stars such names synonymous with big loud blockbusters as of late one might expect something with more bang for their buck when in fact what we have is a drama with moments of action. There are moments of extreme violence that add to the underlying sense of dread in the film that hit me like a freight train and kept me involved from beginning to end. The fact of the matter is that as great as a lot of things in the film are they could have been so much better. Anchoring performances by Hardy and Pearce, beautiful cinematography and hard hitting moments of action make LAWLESS a late summer release worth seeing, but one that makes it evident the fireworks are starting to fizzle out.

Rating: B

Movie Review: Take Shelter (2011)

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Quiet, subtle and sometimes without much warning- that’s how some of the most devastating storms sneak in on us. TAKE SHELTER is a similar type of storm as it is very subtle and patient and eventually it just explodes with the rage of Michael Shannon’s fantastic performance.

Many times in the course of our lives when something bad happens to us a support figure then proceeds to say, “Well it’s not the end of the world.” Curtis (Michael Shannon) struggles with that ideology quite literally on a daily basis in his head here in TAKE SHELTER. Curtis has a lot on his plate outside of his job as he has a daughter that is deaf and the insurance from his job has afforded them the possibility to make things easier on them as a family. Approaching the middle years of his life he begins to have dreams and visions of an apocalyptic storm and even his loved ones turning on him- so Curtis indeed feels as though the end of the world could be coming. The visions take their toll as he begins missing a lot of work and makes the decision to build out the storm shelter in their back yard in preparation for the storm he feels is coming. The result is a financial burden and Curtis feels as though he can’t explain what he’s going through for fear of people believing he’s crazy including his wife and surrounding family.

I love this film and to expound on why I will do my best to avoid huge spoilers but just be warned that some of my thoughts could give a few things away. For the majority of the film Shannon’s character is facing each of these visions and the consequences thereof by himself because he doesn’t feel people will understand which is why he chooses to not tell anyone about them. When those visions involve people he loves turning against him he in turn tries to subtly deal with the thing or individual by finding a way to get them away from him or put a barrier between them. As the film progresses and the family has huge financial concerns placed upon them he struggles more and more and his wife (Jessica Chastain) struggles to find out why he’s doing what he’s doing and does her best to support him but is not fully on board with what he’s feeling she just knows she has to try and be there for him. As you move into the final few scenes how you interpret the ending weighs heavily on how much you connect with Shannon’s character that the film either works or it leaves you with an ending you’re not sure what to do with.

I was on board 100% with Michael Shannon’s character which made the emotional journey he goes through so devastating at times. He’s a nice guy that loves his family unconditionally but is soft spoken enough that he doesn’t want to burden them with stuff he feels he can handle. I identify with that type of character through and through and when people don’t understand why he makes the choices he does I find myself on the opposite side with an understanding of why he would do it. It’s an understanding that as the film winds down the perfect storm of his wife feeling as though she’s left in the dark and finally being let through the walls Curtis has put up just left me floored right up to the decisive ending which only sealed the deal of how much I adore this movie.

TAKE SHELTER is a slow film and takes quite a bit of patience to carry the viewer to the end. Despite Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain’s fantastic performances the film is a slow burn comprised of small moments that build into an overall picture that has a great deal of emotional depth. The ending proves to be polarizing and has a few different ways to interpret and I feel that no matter the interpretation the film is easy to recommend to others just to see how they viewed the ending.

There’s a sense of dread that carries through the entire film as we experience Curtis’ “delusions” and nightmares when no one else either sees or hears what he does or can feel what he feels from his nightmares. The nightmares have a tendency to make the film come off as a horror/thriller just by how frightening they are and how real they feel to Curtis. On the other side of the relationship you can also connect with the frustration of Jessica Chastain’s character because of how bizarre her husband’s actions are and the fact that he gives no reasonable explanation for any of it. Chastain also doesn’t come off as an overbearing shrew when she lets her frustrations out but as someone genuine in their concern and as a woman who despite her reservation cares for what struggles her husband is going through. I felt the two leads played their characters as perfectly as they could to create an engaging relationship that you fear for and can connect with on an emotional level.

As “losing my mind” movies go, TAKE SHELTER is one that doesn’t attempt to hold your hand from beginning to end by explaining one way or another of a character really is crazy or not. The film washes over its audience in a subtle way while its actors give knockout performances. TAKE SHELTER is haunting at times, sweet and funny at others and overall for me a deeply emotional experience. The ending has potential to split audiences, but in the end I couldn’t have thought of a more brilliant note to end the film on.