Hard to believe I saw The Martian just two months after it hit theatres. What took me so long? What took me so long to write this review? Anyways I’m glad I finally had the chance.
I’m sure by now most of you have seen the story of how Mark Watney got left behind on Mars. The sandstorm on Mars and the debris that hit him left everyone escaping mistaking him for dead. Mark would then have to survive by growing his own food and creating his own habitat. It would work to his advantage but NASA would eventually get the message he needed to be brought back home. It would take a connection with a mission, sheer determination and camaraderie with his fellow astronauts to bring him back to earth successfully.
The movie is based off the book by Andy Weir. I can’t judge for myself on how the film compares to the book. However I will say this is a very good adaptation of a story of a man and his fight to survive on a strange planet. One thing I will have to say is that even though this is a sci-fi fantasy, the film would still have to be true to fact in a lot of areas. It would have to know Mars’ oxygen levels or lack thereof, temperature levels, climates and terrain and even know how long transportation and even communication between Mars and Earth would take. Today’s audiences aren’t as welcoming towards cheap hypotheses of space like they used to be decades ago. Not only would they need those facts but they would have to be incorporated into the script and made to work into a story that was suspenseful but also entertaining. The Martian succeeds in doing just that and doesn’t lose its comedic edge in the process.
The Martian is a reminder of why films about space travel still fascinate us today. They remind us of why we like to imagine trips to outer space including domains humans have never set foot on. They even capture our intrigue when a mission fails and the astronaut’s lives are at threat. They get us wondering “Do they make it or don’t they?” You may remember how Gravity caught our imaginations just a couple of years ago. Now it’s The Martian with its story of an astronaut trying to stay alive yet eventually return back to earth.
Some may question the mix of humor into the story if it was a smart choice, especially with the inclusion of disco songs Mark hates but keeps him alive. No doubt it was an entertaining choice as it entertained crowds. Comedy is all hit and miss and I feel it made the right choices in terms of adding in the comedic elements. In terms of drama, it didn’t make the more tense moments of life-or-death too tense for the audience. It kept us wondering and brought our hopes up with each positive moment but the intensity was not all that thick and that’s what made it win with the crowds.
No doubt it took the direction of Ridley Scott and the writing of Drew Goddard to make this film work. Ridley knows how to bring out the best in unique stories and make them win with movie crowds. The story however rested on the shoulders of Matt Damon. His performance where he mixes humor with the will to survive helped the film achieve the charm it needed. Despite Damon owning the movie, it’s not to say supporting performances from Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels Michael Pena and Kate Mara didn’t have their importance. They helped too. Other top elements of the film included the music from Harry Gregson-Williams and the special effects team who were able to re-create life on Mars to a tee.
The Martian is a sci-fi comedy of the best caliber and has the best elements of a ‘popcorn movie.’ This is something only a director like Ridley Scott can pull off well. Very entertaining.
Interstellar is one of those movies one would not expect to be too big of a success especially with a November release but it has really caught on. I had my chance to find out why just a short time ago.
Normally I would go into an analysis of the plot but I decided to skip it since it was so widely seen by now. Instead I will focus on how the film did as a film and as a sci-fi movie.
I will admit that this is not an original concept. A story of a civilization in danger requiring a trip to save it has been done before. I haven’t seen a movie where it required a space trip to do so but I’m sure it’s been done. In order for a movie like Interstellar to work those themes, it had to have a well-thought out story. Especially with the situation where saving civilization meant travelling to another planet or even another galaxy. Already at the beginning we see aspects of a hopeless world with crop blight and dust storms. We see further chaos at the school as Murphy’s teachers teach liberal conspiracy theories as the truth and Tom’s grades are great for his career pursuit but not competitive enough to get into a university.
A story like this also would have to make the time delay between space and earth work rather than look stupid and schlocky. Even for a space mission that’s doomed from the start to succeed, it has to be well-written and thought out with precision. One element that was rightfully included was the human element of the film. Cooper was to go on a mission to preserve the human race from a future of doom. It’s a trip where he ages one month for every seven years humans on earth age. It’s Cooper’s connection with his family over the spans of time–especially with Murph– that keeps the focus on why this mission has to be a success. It’s at the very end where Cooper who appears not to have aged a bit finally meets up with Murphy, elderly and on her deathbed surrounded by her family, that we see why this mission was so important. Even the images where Cooper talks with Tom and sees his grandson is an element that shows why this mission is necessary and why they have to succeed even when it seems all hope is lost.
The mission itself had to be smartly written from launch to activity to failures to battles and to returning to Earth in order for this film to be successful. The inclusion of TARS had to work. He can have his humorous moments but he can’t come off looking ridiculous as if he was trying to be a rip-off of C3P0 or Johnny Five. Also outer space and the terrain of the other planets had to look like a world unlike any other. That’s what makes a space movie: the ability to thrill as well as capture people’s imagination.
Overall, this is what Christopher Nolan had to do both as director and co-writer along with his brother Jonathan in order to make a film like this work. They not only had to show the hopeless state of the world but also make the mission work out even with its doomed failings and it had to keep Cooper’s connection with this family on earth while this aging gap was happening along the way. They had to deliver a film that was smart but also entertaining and mesmerizing like a film about space travel should be. They succeeded. Having a mission that was smartly planned out, making the staggered time lapsing happen and keeping Cooper connected with his family a galaxy away is what made this film not only work but win over audiences. It shouldn’t really be all that surprising that a smart sci-fi thriller should come from Christopher Nolan. He showed he can do a thriller that’s both intelligent and a box office winner with Inception. He does it again here.
The excellence of the film is not just that of Jonathan and Christopher Nolan. It also involved great acting from Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain and even minor performances from Casey Affleck, John Lithgow and Matt Damon. I’ve seen better acting from all of them in the past but they all did very well here. Newcomer Mackenzie Foy was also very good in portraying the daughter with her love for her father and her anger for him.
Other standouts of the film were the top notch visual effects. A space movie is supposed to capture people’s imaginations and take the audience to a different world and it succeeded here. The cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema delivered and the music from Hans Zimmer added to the feel and experience of the film.
Interstellar is a sci-fi movie that’s both imaginative and intelligent. It combines a smart story with a dazzling space mission and comes out a winner.
-So Patrick, be honest with me. You really believe this story? I mean…Osama bin Laden?
-What part convinced you?
9/11 movies aren’t very successful and rarely are they good. I don’t know if Zero Dark Thirty can rightfully be called a 9/11 movie but boy does it deliver well. Many can argue it’s the best film of the year.
The film opens in 2003 as a prisoner Amar, who is believed to have connections to Saudi terrorists, is questioned brutally by CIA officer Dan at the US embassy in Pakistan on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. He is joined by a young CIA officer, Maya, who has spent her entire brief career on intelligence related to Osama. Maya assists Dan in his humiliating torture on Amar at the black site until he confesses the name of Osama’s personal courier: Abu Ahmed. Other detainees corroborate the claim with some claiming there’s a middle-man between the two named Abu Faraj. Abu Faraj is captured in 2005 and Maya is able to interrogate him under torturous conditions. He denies Abu Ahmed but Maya suspects a cover-up.
The whole scenario is one long puzzle from 2003 to 2011 where Maya is trying to connect the pieces. Maya is trying to determine the identity of Abu Ahmed and trying to track his whereabouts or even existence with every piece of communication she can find. She interrogates prisoners. She searches for clues with every further incident associated with al-Qaeda that happens. During the time she’s able to go from a rookie CIA officer to a veteran over that period.
However the dark cloud keeps on lingering. Osama is still at large and sending tapes to al-Qaeda of his latest messages for broadcast. Terrorist attacks continue like the 2005 London bombings and the 2008 Islamabad Marriott bombings in which Maya is actually in the hotel dining with her friend Jessica and colleague. Both survive despite the explosion blowing a massive hole in the street. Even Maya survives being shot at.
It isn’t until the 2009 Camp Chapman attacks where a suicide bomber kills nine CIA agents including Jessica that marks a turning point. It’s there in a meeting with all those involved including Jessica that the head is disappointed with all and even humiliated that these many years have passed and Osama is still not caught. Terrorist attacks continue. None of the traces come up positive. Agents even concluded that Maya’s claim of Abu Ahmed is long dead and now a false trail. Soon Maya receives a lead from a researcher of the identity of Abu Ahmed. It isn’t until Maya is able to get a trace to the mother’s phone and even a sense of the use of tradecraft that the man really is Abu Ahmed and residing in an urban compound near a Pakistani military academy.
Months of heavy surveillance by the CIA fail to prove that bin Laden is there. Even Maya writes the number of ongoing days on her boss’ window. Finally a mission is planned to capture bin Laden in the compound but can only receive approval from Obama if it’s confirmed he’s there. Most of the CIA agents give certainty estimates ranging from 60 to 80% but Maya is 100% certain he’s there. The raid is given approval by President Obama on May 2nd. What takes place is history in the making. What is shown in the film will surprise even those most knowledgeable of the hunt for bin Laden.
The best thing about this movie is that it’s many things in one. It’s the story of the trace for the most wanted man in the world. It’s the story of a nation on a mission that’s long, complicating and frustrating as time goes by without success. It’s the story of one woman and her search to find that man. This is a multifaceted story that packs a lot into it. We see with each passing year and each passing additional terrorist attack committed by al-Qaeda how the search for Osama has to be done and how frustrating it is. We see from the people inside the government agencies the frustration they go through to find Osama with each passing year and with each additional terrorist attack. We also see from Maya her pursuit to find Osama through her computer work, questioning of those connected with al-Qaeda and her mappings out. But we also see her own personal involvement in the matter. She witnesses and questions the tortured prisoner. She’s with her friend and colleague in a hotel when an explosion happens. She loses that friend in another bomb explosion. She’s at the camp site when the mission to catch Osama is launched. This is as much Maya’s story and the U.S.’s story as it is about the hunt for Osama.
The funny thing is no one knows the identity of Maya. Many say she’s a certain different woman. Some say Maya is actually a combination of characters. All I can say is after this movie, she will be to the hunt for bin Laden what Deep Throat was to Watergate and we may never know her true identity until 30 or 40 years or even after her death. Only time will tell.
One thing to say about Zero Dark Thirty is that it has a lot of furious message board activity wherever anything to do about the movie is discussed; not just IMDB. I myself believe that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda did in fact cause the 9/11 invasions and destruction. I refute the claims of the 9/11 ‘truthers’ because I’ve done my own research. I’ve known of terrorist acts before 9/11 committed by al-Qaeda ordered by Osama and of terrorist acts since. I have read the news and have kept on top of things from the start of 9/11 to the various intermittent terrorist attacks to al-Qaeda’s acknowledgement of the death of Osama bin Laden. I’m not afraid to dismiss the claims of “9/11 was an inside job” for the garbage that I see it to be.
I’m not sorry I believe this and I refuse to consider myself a sheep. In fact I consider the ‘truthers’ that declare 9/11 to be an inside job out loud to be propagandists instead of truthers. They care more about media attention through their opportunistic public demonstrations and violent destruction of public property than they do about the truth coming out. Sometimes it left me wondering if left-wingers love calling everything a lie. Hey I’m from Vancouver: the leftist crap-disturber capital of the world–Right, Harsha Walia?– and they’ve given me every reason to think that way about them. Osama and al-Qaeda carried the acts of 9/11 out. Osama was brought to justice by being killed May 1, 2011. They should keep their media whore cravings to themselves. Hey, don’t get me wrong; I’m all for free-thinking. But don’t shove it down my throat as the truth! I’ll decide the truth for myself. Besides I’ve been on message boards long enough to know message boards are so full of clowns, who needs a circus?
Also on message boards are people saying how the movie doesn’t denounce violence towards prisoners of war. Let me remind you this movie is to tell the story as it happens. It owes nobody an anti-prisoner violence message. Besides as far as war goes, we are living in a time with the closest to humane methods of war. We didn’t have ‘smart’ weapons back in the past as we do now. Up until 50 years ago we didn’t show concern for innocent civilian deaths. And back then we didn’t care how prisoners of war were treated. War was war, the enemy was the enemy and a POW was a POW. Osama had a huge network of colleagues carrying out his actions and torture was necessary. Besides have we forgotten this is prison?
Without a doubt the movie was all Jessica Chastain’s. Her performance of Maya was a very 3D role of a woman who had feelings but had to be tough both emotionally and mentally to find Osama after such a long search for him. That scene at the very end when she sees ‘her mission accomplished’ was especially remarkable. It will be no surprise if Jessica wins the Oscar this year. It’s not to say that Jessica was the only good performance. Jason Clarke’s performance as Dan and Jennifer Ehle’s performance as Jessica was also good too. Chastain’s brilliant performance however couldn’t have been done firstly without the excellent direction of Kathryn Bigelow and the writing of Mark Boal. I have to say that Kathryn Bigelow has to be the most fearless director in Hollywood and Zero Dark Thirty shows how fearless she can be in touching very touchy subject matter. Mark Boal is also just as fearless. He’s a former journalist who has written books and news articles on the Iraq War. He would also go on to write the screenplay for Bigelow’s other fearless film The Hurt Locker. Its critical accolades and Oscar success helped make a name for both Boal and Bigelow. Both team up again here and they both deliver excellently.
Another interesting note is Zero Dark Thirty’s box office run. The first Bigelow/Boal film The Hurt Locker won the 2009 Best Picture Oscar but only grossed $17 million at the US box office: the lowest gross for a Best Picture winner since 1960’s The Apartment. Zero Dark Thirty is another Bigelow/Boal film that packs a lot of punch and this time it pays off at the US box office as it currently has grossed $78.6 million as of press time and its chances of passing $100 million look healthy. Great to see.
Zero Dark Thirty takes a piece of history that we all know and gives us some things we didn’t know. The outcome is the most fearless film of 2012 and one of the best films of the year. Definitely worth seeing.
The Tree Of Life won the Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. The film isn’t the typical drama you’d come to expect. Instead it’s more introspective and delivers a message of a common theme of the human existence.
The movie’s story starts upon Mrs. O’Brien receiving the news of her son’s death. Mrs. O’Brien had always been taught everyone must choose between the path of grace or the path of nature. The son’s death would throw the family in turmoil. The movie then focuses on present-day Jack O’Brien, now an architect. When a tree is planted in front of his building, he reminisces about his life as a young boy during the 1950’s.
A pre-teen Jack is living with his family in suburban Waco, Texas and is now forced to choose the path for himself. His parents have equal bout opposite influences on him. His mother represents grace as she is gentle and nurturing but authoritative, presenting the world as a place of wonder. His father represents nature as he is loving but strict and authoritarian as he tries to make his boys tough for a world here perceives as corrupt and exploitative. He often questions giving up his passion of becoming a musician and instead became an engineer and hopes to achieve wealth through filing patents of his inventions.
Before Mr. O’Brien goes on a trip to market his inventions, a drowning death of a child at the town pool happens. Mr. O’Brien suddenly turns violent and unleashes an abusive rage on his boys and Mrs. O’Brien. While he’s away, Jack and the boys are raised exclusively by their mother and his feelings of rebelliousness start happening. Jack follows along with the other boys in his town and commits acts of vandalism and animal abuse, even theft of women’s underclothing from a neighbor’s house. It’s after that where Jack gets the first natural sense of his consequences and throws the stolen underwear in the river. Mr. O’Brien returns home having failed to sell his inventions. His plant closes and is given the option of staying with the company with an unpromising job or be terminated. He chooses the unpromising job which means the O’Brien family would have to move away from Waco. Upon leaving he asks Jack to forgive him for the harsh treatment of him.
What I just stated in the above synopsis was of the events that happened in the drama. That’s only half of it. The other half is what happens in the more sublime parts. The opening image of the movie is the mysterious flame that flickers in the darkness. We see it at the beginning of the film as it leads to the opening scene of Mrs. O’Brien receiving the news of her son’s death. Just as soon as an older Jack O’Brien reminisces of his childhood in the 50’s, the movie doesn’t shift back to Jack in the 50’s but of the very beginning of the universe. Galaxies are formed, planets are formed, volcanic activity and the existence of life begin on Earth, dinosaurs fight to survive and fight to conquer, an asteroid hits the Earth, and then the O’Briens marry and have Jack and his two brothers. This leads into the main drama of the story.
After Jack reconciles with his father the sublime returns as it fast forwards to an Earth five billion years later incinerated and shrunken by the sun and left completely devoid of any life. The movie returns to the present as Jack leaves work and encounters a vision of walking on rocks. As he walks through a lone wooden door frame, which is probably the door from the house in Waco which doesn’t exist, and is reunited with his family and all those who were in his life. Even those that died including his brother have been resurrected. The movie ends with the mysterious flame seen at the beginning continuing to flicker in the darkness.
For those who’ve seen the movie, there’s no question that the movie is very much thematic and gets you thinking. The biggest theme of the movie has to be the constant dilemma of the way of grace vs. the way of nature. It’s a constant choice everyone has to face in their life. It’s also made present in the movie that this dilemma has existed ever since there was life on Earth even before the human race. It’s a dilemma Jack is forced to confront as a child and witness his parents representing the two opposites. The way of grace is given additional support by the messages given by the priest. The way of nature is given additional support by all the rough, even destructive games the boys play. That theme and the various part of the film, both in terms of the plot and the sublime, focus on the theme of grace vs. nature being the universal pulse.
If there’s one weakness of the film that stands out, it’s that it tries too hard to be artistic and creative. I actually admire films that try to be original and take artistry to new levels. The only problem is all too often, many artistically inclined films look like they forget they are to be shown in front of an audience. When I critique movies, my attitude towards the more artsy films is: “Okay, I know you are trying to be artistic and creative but don’t forget you’ll be seen in front of an audience.” I also have a tough attitude towards commercial movies: “Okay, I know you want to make big money but give the audience their money’s worth.” Overall I feel a film doesn’t have to be entertainment but it should do something with the audience, like connect with them or get them thinking.
Enough about my critiquing guidelines. The problem with the Tree Of Life is that firstly it takes a subject matter that is common. It also tries to connect the dealings of loss and lost innocence with the existence of earth and the universe itself and even the spiritual world. Yes, it makes for some creative film crafting and original themes but it doesn’t succeed in grabbing the crowd or make them involved in the story line. Often the story tries too hard to let its sublime side get inside the audience that the story comes across as humorless and even unwatchable or confusing at times. That has to be the biggest glitch and that’s why I feel it doesn’t deserve to win Best Picture. Terrence Malick does his best to write and direct a watchable movie about lost innocence and reconciling with the past that tries to get inside the audience, but it misses in a lot of ways.
The best acting performance overall had to come from then-newcomer Jessica Chastain. It was her performance as Mrs. O’Brien, the struggling housewife, that was the most complex as she plays a character who struggles to keep the calm of the family despite the many fierce adversaries that come their way. Even though Chastain earned an Oscar nomination in The Help, I felt her supporting performance here was much scronger and deeper. Brad Pitt also did well but it was not his best acting performance. Actually his performance was more of a supporting performance as was that of Sean Penn. The leading performance of the movie actually comes from young Hunter McCracken. As young Jack O’Brien, he embodies the loss of innocence unraveling through its joy, anger and its heartbreak. Through young Jack, we see the embodiment of what being a young boy is all about in both a boy’s toughness and tenderness. Young Jack sees all that is happening and what would lead to the decline in relationship with his father that would pave the way for the reconciliation. The film’s best qualities are the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki and the musical score by Alexandre Desplat.
The Tree of Life tackles familiar themes of coming of age, loss of innocence and reconciling with the past. The problem with it is it tries too hard to connect it with the existence of the universe, all life on earth, the end times and even the spiritual world. Although it didn’t really appeal to me, I’ll just sum it up by saying it’s a love-it-or-hate-it film.