matt damon

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: Elysium (2013)

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I still remember how I felt after leaving DISTRICT 9 for the first time- surprised, shocked and utterly thrilled. I couldn’t count down the days fast enough leading up to the release of Neil Blomkamp’s ELYSIUM and when that day came it seems maybe my excitement got the best of me. I don’t want to say ELYSIUM is a bad movie- in fact I won’t, it’s perfectly fine, but DISTRICT 9 it is not. Blomkamp’s style is present, his ideas seem to be intact, but there is an undeniable stench of studio interference and an over saturation of Hollywood BS all over ELYSIUM.

I read endlessly about people complaining about the parallels to immigration and health care- all I have to say is who the hell cares? All year long I’m beaten down by movies that wear all their messages on their sleeve and beat it into my head. Sure, ELYSIUM is pretty transparent with all the immigration messages and health care BS, but along the way, it’s entertaining. The story isn’t nearly as strong as DISTRICT 9, but it is still something that at the very least is accessible. (more…)

Movie Review: Contagion (2011)

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I don’t know exactly what I expected when I sat down to watch CONTAGION but having seen the trailer and seeing all the big names attached to it I think the final product was close to my expectations. There are several very alarming aspects that the film depicts but overall I feel like it should have stuck with one or two of its central plotlines rather than adhering to such a massive amount of different stories. Each different character has interesting moments, it just becomes a bit much to deal with at times.

CONTAGION’s plot is nothing more than the emergence of an extremely fatal disease and the rapid spread of that disease in a short period of time. The film follows several different stories of people handling the disease from a dad dealing with his wife and young son contracting the disease and dying while he himself is immune and trying to keep his daughter from getting it, medical experts searching for a cure and all the way to a blogger causing a stir by reporting on conspiracies surrounding the disease and possible cure.

The film is very well done despite the vast amount of different storylines weaver throughout. I never got lost or bored by any story in particular, I just feel like adhering to one or two of the many stories could have engaged me a little more. I realize though that to tell a story on such a massive scale and the logistics of telling this type of story that keeping people all in one place would be hard so on that level the film does a great job at incorporating all of the main stories together while some of the side ones seemed a little less important and a waste of time.

The performances are all pretty decent- Kate Winslett and Matt Damon being the strongest of them. It’s pretty tough to come down and say anyone is particularly memorable though since they each only get a few minutes of screen time every ten minutes or so as it switches from one story to another, sometimes crossing paths. The more emotional aspects of the film come from Damon since he’s one of the only reoccurring characters that have an emotional story arc where as the rest only have one or two moments where the tragedy of what is happening truly affects them.

CONTAGION is a film that I don’t find particularly scary as far as the execution of its material- I do however find the plausibility of its premise and execution very frightening. What I mean is that there’s nothing about the film that will scare you on the visceral thrill level but on a psychological level it’s terrifying because the way the disease plays out seems perfectly capable of happening. What’s even more frightening is that I don’t have the confidence that in real life practicality that our medical community could solve the problem all that quickly. The scattering of resources and medical mumbo jumbo sound realistic- I’m no medical prodigy though so I’d take that with a grain of salt.

The script for the most part is decent though at times it makes the film seem like somewhat of a schlocky B-Movie. There’s a scene early on where medical examiners are cutting open a skull of a corpse that was killed by the disease and what they see prompts one of the examiners to furiously tell his partner to leave and when asked if he should call someone he replies, “Call everyone.” Its little things such as that which made me laugh pretty heartily because I immediately imagine the literal logistics of that line. Beyond those moments there are a lot of very engaging moments that are born from the political ramifications of characters actions, the human drama of other plotlines and the real life medical red flags and consequences that such a disease could set in motion.

Lastly, I loved the score of this film. Cliff Martinez created a score that often makes the film feel like a horror film while also making it even more entertaining to watch from scene to scene. The music also gives the film a bit of an old school horror vibe with the dark synth tones but at the same time a bit of a sci fi edge to it as well. All the while with everything going down the film is comprised mostly of dramatic tension between grieving families, stumped medical experts, a sleazy blogger and the panic of the millions of citizens feeling the fear of what could happen to them at any second.

Steven Soderbergh has proven himself to be a skilled director in the art of the ensemble film and CONTAGION is no exception. However, I would argue that the ensemble nature of the film is one of the movie’s weaker aspects because it becomes difficult to connect with any one character in a story as frighteningly plausible as something like a disease epidemic that’s killing mass quantities of the world’s population. CONTAGION is a great depiction of the big picture created by the situation but I couldn’t help but feel there is a much more powerful personal story that could have been fleshed out and had a greater effect. Soderbergh’s film looks and feels like a prequel to the underrated viral thriller CARRIERS though CONTAGION has a much larger scope but accomplishes similar goals as far as the horror of our vulnerability to disease. I believe that CONTAGION is a film that will birth legions of new germaphobes and one that will send existing germaphobes into a state of absolute panic by how plausible the events in the film could be.

Rating: 7/10

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

When movies come along with seemingly over complicated plots and ideas they tend to alienate potential audiences with misleading trailers. The advertising for THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU might have had that impression on some but after watching it I can see both sides of feeling duped and getting almost exactly what I expected and more. Some movies sprint out of the gate and run out of gas well before the end, leaving all the ideas they set up before lingering behind or collapsing on top of itself. A movie like THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU has a lot in common with Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION; both films have a high concept with complex ideas going on and both keep the CGI effects to a bare minimum. THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU uses a slight of hand method kind of like a great magic trick; you might think you can see the strings but the experience is fun enough to ignore any doubt or confusion.

Rebel politician David Norris (Matt Damon) has his eyes set on a seat at the New York Senate and possibly more on the horizon. He has a chance meeting with the impulsive Elise (Emily Blunt), who immediately makes a distinct impression on him. David stumbles across a secret group of people tasked with keeping people on specific paths and orders him to never see Elise again. David cannot shake the feeling that he is meant to be with Elise and decides that he will stop at nothing to protect his free will.

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is a film that dips its toes into almost every genre it possibly can. There’s action, science fiction, comedy, thriller and just to round things out, romance. Throughout the film I kept waiting for one to take precedence over the others, but as time passed I loved how the constant shift between playful jabs of romance and comedy mixed with the thriller and drama of the rest of the film. I worried that by intertwining all these genres together would give the film a serious identity crisis but in the end THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU was engaging, exciting and even really moving at times. Don’t get me wrong, no tears were shed, but the message and the acting sold the drama and I really loved what the film was trying to sell.

Emily Blunt and Matt Damon really sell their instant connection and budding romance well. Once the film loses almost all the tension from the first half of the film things do slow down substantially before picking back up during the finale. The best parts of the first half are when Damon is interacting with the people from the adjustment bureau and learning about their world, then challenging them by making split second decisions to keep them on their toes. Unfortunately, first time filmmaker Nolfi loses grasp on what made that first half so great at some point during the middle parts of the film.

I don’t have any firm gripes about the logic of the movie universe that THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU operates in, I feel like if I really tried dissecting every frame of the story my head might explode. Instead I accepted the information given and while I feel like there’s something a little off at times I never let it bother me. Instead the biggest fault against the film is a section in the middle I can only describe as boring. It doesn’t derail the film and it doesn’t last long, but it’s there nonetheless. The film picks back up for the last act and comes to a relatively satisfying ending that I neither loved nor hated. The most important thing is that when the film was over I was extremely happy with the overall experience.

It’s rare to find a science fiction thriller with the heart of a romance and even rarer to find one and say that it wasn’t unbearable. THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is a film with a solid grasp on its ideas and uses them to near perfection aside from a slight detour in the middle. Damon and Blunt have great chemistry and they both give solid performances. Certainly it’s at your own free will to check this one out and since it’s not for everyone not seeing it isn’t a major deviation off your path. However, I have to insist by giving an extremely persistent yet gentle shove toward checking it out.

Movie Review: True Grit (2010)

It was pretty hard to gather my thoughts on TRUE GRIT and resist the urge to continuously make reference to jokes about “Dude goes to the wild wild west” or other bad references such as that. I had prepared for such feelings since I was never familiar with the original starring the legend John Wayne or the novel it is based on; so based on my unfamiliarity with both formats I had no expectations for the film beyond knowing the talent involved. What I came away with wasn’t a feeling of being blown away by the experience the Coen brothers have put together, but satisfied with the dialogue driven old west revenge drama and some Coen humor liberally drizzled on top.

TRUE GRIT follows a young 14 year old girl, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), coming to Fort Smith to identify the body of her murdered father. While there she looks to employ the duties of a U.S. Marshall to go in search of the murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who has ventured into Indian Territory. She enlists the services of the tough but drunken U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and a tag along Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon). The trio head off in search of Chaney and the gang of bandits that he is traveling with in order to bring them to justice.

I do not have any huge complaints about the film, but that’s not to say that it’s flawless. I never found myself bored, I enjoyed all the characters, the performances are all solid across the board and the film looks phenomenal. I am a fan of dialogue driven character pieces and this delivers dialogue in spades, with characters that are all unique and interesting. The Coen brother’s humor is undoubtedly present and accounted for and delivered in natural and organic style. I can’t quite pinpoint why exactly I wasn’t completely in love with the film except that the western genre isn’t exactly my top choice, but aside from my personal preference the film is very well done.

Jeff Bridges performance is the anchor of the film, but it’s Hailee Steinfeld that stepped up and caught me by surprise. In the trailers I got somewhat of an annoying vibe and I feared her character would bring the film down, and I’m pleased to say I was wrong. Steinfeld does a great job at appearing strong and confident through her line delivery while also letting the delicate and vulnerable nature of her youth show slightly. Her strength is shown when she outwits and argues with the men around her and never backing down when they push her down and away, but her weakness is displayed when violence takes over and she’s not strong or quick enough to defend herself. The other surprise for me was Matt Damon, who I didn’t expect to have much of an impact in the film, again due to the trailer, but I found myself really enjoying his character. The give in for me was that Jeff Bridges would knock it out of the park once again and he does. It’s almost impossible to not like the characters he plays even when they aren’t supposed to be good guys. The trio of main characters all steal the show so when we are introduced to Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper’s characters our time with them is so short that I wanted to have more time to get to know them a little better as well. Each and every character has their moment to shine and each characters arc is wrapped up in such a way you should not feel cheated in the end, which is why I can’t complain too much about not having more time with some of the secondary characters.

I’m a sucker for gorgeous scenery and on that alone TRUE GRIT won me over. The desolate look of the dry desert town, the wide open plains and the snowy set pieces all had me engaged. Nothing grabs my attention more than having a setting that looks and sounds amazing no matter what’s happening on screen, my attention will be focused and enjoying it on any level I possibly can. The Coen brothers stage every scene so beautifully that on that aspect alone it is worth the time I spent in this world.

The more I talk about the film and replay it in my mind the more I feel I enjoyed it more than I would originally put on. However, I have to say that while I enjoyed the drama, the laughs and the heavy exposition that when the short bursts of violence and shootouts occurred the more I realized that I think what could have made me enjoy it more was more of the fun western shootouts and standoffs. One of my favorite scenes happened so quick in the midst of a cabin interrogation, you can feel the tension building and when the violence occurs it’s done a lot more graphically than me and the rest of my audience had expected in a PG-13 film judging by the audible gasps. My point is not that I was offended by the violence but almost disappointed that there weren’t more scenes like that in the film; as it stands though having the scene there at all is just another reason to recommend it.

All in all TRUE GRIT sails on the three main performances and the gorgeous cinematography. The script is fantastic and delivers unique and engaging characters while dishing out some great laughs and still sticking strong to its western sensibilities. The star making performance by Hailee Steinfeld, another great performance by Jeff Bridges and the phenomenal visual style from Joel and Ethan Coen make TRUE GRIT one of the best films of 2010.

 

Movie Review: Hereafter (2010)

Take a second and think about all the things that you can accomplish in a span of two hours. Now think about trading all that productivity in to sit in a theater and watch a movie. The redeeming factor of movies is the feeling of being entertained and to escape day to day headaches, so losing out on a couple hours of productivity isn’t always a total loss, unless of course you go out to see a film like HEREAFTER, in which case you’re giving up your valuable time to have a talented filmmaker present material so dull and lifeless you’d just as well sit at home and watch static on your television.

HEREAFTER is the story of a French newswoman who has visions of the afterlife after nearly being killed in a tsunami, a former psychic that traded in fortune and fame for a thankless blue collar factory job, and a young boy in London whose brother is killed in a car accident and struggles with life after the incident. Each character deals with death in their lives in different ways, and view death with three very different points of view, fascination, resentment, and sadness.

The synopsis is simple, and has the possibility of being fascinating and entertaining, but sadly it simply falls incredibly flat. The film kicks off with a spectacular disaster sequence of a tsunami causing incredible destruction through a village. At that moment I was pretty excited at what might be in store for the rest of the film, since I knew very little about it upon sitting down to watch it. The following two hours after that first five to ten minutes was some of the effective yawn inducing cinema I’ve seen in quite some time.

The most I can say for the performances is that they are adequate for what the film is. There isn’t a single stand out performance to be had, nothing that makes a certain scene stand out or improve the film at any level. I cannot commend any of the actors and actresses on their efforts because it feels like they, along with me, were very close to nodding off at any second. Matt Damon has some of the only halfway enjoyable scenes involving an Italian cooking class in which he’s partnered with a young chatty woman looking to make some new friends. The scene where one of the partners is blindfolded and the other feeds them and they guess what they’ve just ate has moments of charming humor. The young boy struggling with the loss of his brother also has some extremely brief endearing qualities, but only because of the child’s situation, his performance isn’t a breakthrough and all feels rushed. That is part of the problem, for as long and boring as the film is, the storylines all progress over a year’s time and the characters feel incomplete and extremely two dimensional. It is extremely hard to care about any of their plights.

I more than realize the caliber of director that Clint Eastwood is, so I can’t say completely that there wasn’t a single aspect here to enjoy. The film looks very good; the opening tsunami is done extremely well, it induced a feeling of dread and peril and definitely kicked the film off with a bang, so clearly Eastwood knows how important it is to get the audience’s attention right off the bat. At the same time, maybe that’s the biggest crime of the film, it starts off so spectacularly and you are presented to nothing near as grand for the rest of the film. Eastwood presents the next two hours that jump around at several points, not saying how much time has passed except for a few lines here and there that tell you a year or a few weeks have passed, it gives the impression that the film is very unfocused. The structure doesn’t give us enough time to build a connection with any of the characters. Eastwood tries to fit so much into the film that it starts to seem obvious there is so much left out. With Damon’s character the Italian cooking class becomes a prominent thing in his character’s life then just disappears, we don’t even know if he ever wins the cooking competition that they talked about several times. The French newswoman goes from doing a book about a political figure to writing three chapters of a book about afterlife to having a finished and published book in no time whatsoever. The little boy from London disappears from his foster parents and child services actually advise not to call the police, he narrowly escapes a brush with death and visits with several psychics to talk to his dead brother. The film touches on so much in such a quick amount of time that instead of being entertaining it basically is seen then forgotten almost instantly. I have one last brief and vague comment about the little boy from London though, and it’s that Eastwood really wanted to make this poor kid suffer; there was hardly a good thing to come out of that whole storyline.

For a film about death and its different effects on us HEREAFTER is dark and depressing, but for all the wrong reasons. After a grand opening the film hits a wall and drags for the remaining two hour runtime. Eastwood is a very influential and talented director, but there likely won’t be another film to come along this year with so little to offer. Wooden performances and a dull unfocused story make for an extremely wasteful night out to the movies; the only way it could have been worse is if it was in 3D.