FlixChatter Review – ANNIHILATION (2018)

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Directed By: Alex Garland
Written By: Alex Garland
Runtime: 1h 55min

Annihilation, based on the book trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, follows biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) join a group made up of an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist to investigate mysterious environment after her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns from an unexplained year-long disappearance. Lena, along with Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Cass (Tuva Novotny), and Josie (Tessa Thompson) soon learn that the laws of nature don’t apply in this strange and dangerous location.

This movie made me want to read the books immediately, because the screenplay is so well-written, and I can only imagine how fantastic the source material must be. It’s such an imaginative and suspenseful story. It’s tense and unpredictable without feeling messy. I especially like that it’s a female-led sci-fi movie, which is rare. It’s not the focus; it’s commented on once toward the beginning of the film, but otherwise the characters are interesting and well-developed without being defined by their gender. The fact that they’re portrayed by phenomenal actors makes it even better. The group has amazing chemistry, and they all give strong performances, although Gina Rodriguez as Anya is definitely the stand-out; she goes from likable to terrifying to heartbreaking seamlessly.

This film is visually stunning as well. The CGI is incredibly detailed, but not overused to the point of being over-the-top. The designs are beautiful, unsettling, and in some cases, horrifying. Even the more mundane scenes are beautifully shot; there’s a moment with a close-up of Lena holding Kain’s hand, filmed through a glass of water distorting the image, that is so subtle but so effective.

That said, it’s not a perfect film. There’s a subplot about Lena cheating on Kane with her colleague, Daniel (David Gyasi) that doesn’t really have any effect on the overall plot and doesn’t fit the movie’s tone. Maybe it’s more important in the books, but it doesn’t feel necessary in the movie, and the time wasted on it could have been better used developing the alien nature the group is exploring.

I was also a little distracted by how many times different characters exclaimed over how impossible everything in this alien area is. I understand expressing surprise and initial disbelief, but they are so adamant about things being impossible that it’s kind of ridiculous. I wanted to yell “You just saw a mutant crocodile attack your friend in a fairy garden swamp, all surrounded by a shiny bubble of science fiction! Maybe accept that everything you’ve learned until this point doesn’t apply anymore!” Maybe I’m being nitpicky, though.

Overall, though, Annihilation is excellent. It’s beautiful, it’s frightening, it’s brilliantly acted, and if the two-hour movie is that good, I can only imagine how amazing the story is when it’s fleshed out over three books. Definitely check this out.

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Have you seen ‘Annihilation’? Well, what did you think? 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets review

Luc Besson is not a filmmaker I would consider a favorite of mine. In fact, the last film I saw that he directed was The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc way back in 1999. Sure I’ve seen the films he produced and wrote such as the Transporter and Taken series, while I did enjoy some of those films, I would only consider them “guilty pleasures”. I was never fan of his cult favorite Leon: The Professional and I mildly enjoyed The Fifth Element. He’s now back with another big budget sci-fi adventure film that’s based on a supposedly popular French comic books; although I’ve never heard of these comics before.

Set in the 28th century, the film opens with a group of alien beings who looks kind of like the Navis from Avatar and skinny human super models, enjoying their peaceful lives on a distant planet when suddenly space ships started clashing into their lands. Then we’re introduced to a couple of very young looking humans named Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne). At first it looked like they’re on vacation at some remote beach but it turns out they’re special agents whose mission is to find something important and bring it back to their superiors. They met up with other agents on some planet and got in some trouble while trying to retrieve the product they were told to retrieve. Once they got what they needed, they headed to a planet that’s full of alien beings and humans living in harmony and the film spent most of its runtime on this city/planet.

If it sounds like I’m not sure what the film’s really about then you’re correct. The film has no coherent story or character development. It’s full of cool 3D effects and that’s pretty much it. Written and directed by Besson, I believe his only motivation was to make a very cool looking film and show off his 3D shooting skills. I love film that has great visual and 3D effects but I also want to see good story and interesting characters; this film contains neither. The film also lacks, of all things, good action scenes. In fact, I don’t recall any memorably action sequences at all.

I’ve never read the comic books but I assume the lead characters probably look quite different from the actors who portrayed them in the film. DeHaan and Delevingne both look like they’re 16 year olds and I find that hard to believe they’re some kind of special agents. Also, they have zero chemistry and their bantering throughout the film sounds forced. The supporting characters were also forgettable except Clive Owen, who happens to be the villain but he’s on the screen for only like 5 minutes, such a waste of his talent here.

I wanted to say something positive about this dreadful film but I couldn’t think of anything else besides the cool looking 3D effects. It’s one of the most excruciating films I’ve sat through. I would highly recommend you stay away from it.

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So have you seen Valerian? Well, what did you think?

Guest Review: LIFE (2017)

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Directed By: Daniel Espinosa
Written By: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Runtime: 1 hr 43 minutes

I wish I could at least pretend to be as cool as the other writers who sit around me at these press screenings. I wish I could go to a genuinely scary movie like Life and calmly take notes, looking up at the screen dispassionately as I mentally critique some of the lamer dialogue. But I’m not cool, so instead I sit there cringing for an hour and a half, fighting the urge to put my hands over my eyes during a couple especially gag-worthy moments, “ohmygodohmyohmygodohmygod” written all over my face. On the bright side, any movie that can elicit this kind of reaction is pretty impressive.

Life follows a crew on the International Space Station (Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Murakami, Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams, Rebecca Ferguson as Miranda North, Jake Gyllenhaal as David Jordan, Olga Dihovichnaya as Ekaterina Golovkina, and Ariyon Bakare as Hugh Derry) that has obtained a Martian soil sample containing a living organism dubbed “Calvin.” While initially thrilled at their discovery of life on another planet, the crew soon has to fight for their lives as Calvin quickly evolves into a terrifying creature that threatens both them and, if they don’t stop it, life on Earth.

While fighting a terrifying extraterrestrial is hardly an original concept for a film, it is still incredibly well done here. Both the pacing of the movie and the soundtrack create a suspenseful atmosphere the whole hour and forty-three minutes. The CGI is impressive, and Calvin is a truly spooky creation; the design isn’t over the top, but it’s still genuinely scary, and the way it moves is so unnerving. The whole cast gives a strong performance, especially Hiroyuki Sanada and Jake Gyllenhaal, who have a couple stand-out moments during some particularly emotional scenes. However, the actors do tend to mumble some of their lines, making them hard to understand at times. There is also some lazy dialogue-clichéd jokes, comments stating the obvious- that falls flat and sometimes distracts from the overall feel of the movie.

Despite the couple issues I had with this film, I really enjoyed Life. I can see myself watching it again and being just as creeped out as the first time, which, for a sci-fi/horror movie, is no easy feat. If you want to be on the edge of your seat for most of the run time, definitely check this one out.

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Have you seen ‘LIFE’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Passengers (2016)

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Directed By: Morten Tyldum
Written By: Jon Spaihts
Runtime: 116 minutes

I heard about the premise of this one a few years ago when the project was still stuck in development hell and for some time it was meant to be a vehicle for Keanu Reeves. Well, now we’ve got two of the biggest young A-listers as leads, but what attracted me was still the premise of what could’ve been an intriguing psychological sci-fi thriller.

Well, if you have seen the trailer or tv spots, the studios pretty much marketed this as two passengers who’re stuck in a spacecraft traveling to a distant planet when they’re awakened 90 years early. Within 10 minutes of watching it, you’ll realize that isn’t quite the case. A giant asteroid hits a part of the spaceship, causing a malfunction that triggers Jim’s sleeping pod to open 90 years early. Apparently in the future we still age as we do today, so of course Jim is going to die of old age before he reaches his destination. The first 15 minutes or so are pretty entertaining when it was just Chris Pratt‘s Jim Preston all alone on the ship wondering why he’s the only one awaken on board. There are some funny moments, i.e. how it takes 50+ years for his SOS message to reach earth and the machine says ‘we apologize for the delay.’ Ha! It helps that Pratt has that aw-shucks likable charm that the film puts to good use, but he could only sustain it for so long before he’s starting to get on my nerves.

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When does Jennifer Lawrence enter the picture, you ask? Well, to talk about it would spoil the premise, so I’ll discuss that later in the spoiler section. I could tell you that her character’s name is Aurora Lane. Heh, the Sleeping Beauty reference is just way on the nose it’s lazy. And is ‘Lane’ meant to be an homage to Lois Lane as Aurora is a writer? [shrug] Speaking of Lois, there is a space *walk* halfway through that evokes the flying sequence in the first Superman movie… and of course Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. In fact, Passengers made me recall so many other [read: better] sci-fi movies: 2001 Space Odyssey, Sunshine, Ex Machina, etc. but in a bad way because it could barely hold a candle to those films. Oscar-winner Lawrence herself doesn’t really get much to do in this movie. She’s pretty much reduced to a damsel in distress, one with questionable principles no less, by the end of the movie.

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I have to admit the visuals of the movie, which is basically just the set design of the spacecraft Avalon, is stunning and sleek. It’s like a pristine, futuristic mega mall, complete with state-of-the-art rooms and all kinds of amenities such as bar, dance studio, swimming pools, etc. The special effects of the pool losing its artificial gravity whilst Aurora’s swimming in it is pretty cool to watch. But it’s to be expected from a movie with a $100+ mil budget, and this movie is pretty much all style no substance. Director Morten Tyldum (whose gone Hollywood since making the Danish indie film Headhunters) seems more concerned with the actors’ physicality/physiognomy than their psychology. In a dramatic moment where Aurora’s supposed to be feeling emotionally distressed, the director shows off her svelte physique in a snazzy bathing suit that tells you nothing of what she’s feeling. Apparently Jon Spaihts‘ script was from the coveted Black List, though you wouldn’t know it from the final result.


For a movie built on the romance of the characters, there’s zero emotional resonance here. Mostly it’s because most people wouldn’t be able to easily reconcile the fact that a bored, lonely man basically does something so selfless. Obsession is NOT true love, no matter how slick Hollywood tries to package the story nor how attractive the actors they hired to sell it. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read): At one point Aurora calls Jim a murderer for waking her up to keep him company, and that description is absolutely justified. There’s no denying that Jim basically stalks Aurora in her pod, then proceeds to robs her out of her future and deceives her into falling for him. No matter how you look at it, he’s a creepy dude who doesn’t deserve our sympathies, yet the filmmakers want us to root for him.

Aside from the unethical decision of the protagonist, it’s hard to root for either of them as we just barely knew them. No character development than mere superficial hints of their professions prior to their space journey. There’s also no real threat for any of the characters, even at the most dire scenario when all hell broke lose in the spaceship. Don’t even get me started with the bombastic finale. The mechanical failures in the ship feels like a cop out plot to avoid facing the morality of the story, while also conveniently give the protagonist a ‘get out of jail’ free pass. As for the rapport between the two leads, well they may seem like buddies in interviews, but there’s no chemistry between them as a couple. The hyped-up sex scene is pretty lame and I never believed them for a second as two people falling in love.

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Well, I’ve described this movie in the worst possible way and I actually like it less the more I think about it. The only bright spot here is Michael Sheen as the android bartender, but he’s barely around often enough and his talents is wasted on this role. It’s also nice to see Laurence Fishburne popped up briefly, though his appearance can be considered a cameo. He did have one memorable line in the film delivered the only way he could, which only vexed me that he’s not around longer.

There’s really not much to recommend this movie. But the biggest disappointment of Passengers for me is that there’s an intriguing story here buried under studios’ meddling. It has the potential to be a haunting sci-fi that makes us ponder on our humanity, but all the thought-provoking bits gets swept under the rug [or more appropriately here, thrown out to space] in lieu of a generic space action adventure. No amount of star power can save a flawed script, pair that with studio meddling and you’ve got yourself a real cinematic misfire.


Have you seen Passengers? Well, what did you think?

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FlixChatter Review: ARRIVAL (2016)

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Sci-fi films involving aliens coming to earth is a dime a dozen. So it’s so refreshing to see a film that treads a familiar ground, yet still manages to be original and truly thought-provoking. Based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, the premise of ARRIVAL is deceptively simple. One day, twelve alien ships land all over earth, one of them in is Montana, USA. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) was teaching at her college when the world came to a standstill watching the breaking news reporting the aliens arrival. Soon Louise is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

The linguistic aspect is something I haven’t seen before in a sci-fi movie, or not one I remember well anyway. Apparently director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer created a fully functioning, visual, alien language, which is utterly fascinating to see on film. It looks like a circular thing made out of black ink called the logograms. The alien creatures (which they dubbed ‘heptapods’) have a squid-like form with tentacles that they use to ‘write’ these logograms onto a frosty glass wall that separate them from the humans when they visit their spaceship. There’s quite a suspense the first time we saw these heptapods, but as the film progresses, it’s apparent that this film is so much more than an alien movie or stories about aliens. With any great science-fiction, the best ones are those that remind us of our humanity, and that is the case with Arrival.

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The story also deals with the notion of time, which I can’t quite begin to explain. I have to admit it took me a while to grasp just what is going on, as Louise’s time decoding the alien language is interspersed with remembrance of Louise’s daughter. To say more about this might get into spoiler territory, but let’s just say that the mother/daughter story is an emotional one. By the end of the film, we’re not asking so much about how and why the aliens got to earth, but it makes us ponder about love, loss, and the ‘choices’ that we make in life.

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Amy Adams‘ quiet yet affecting performance is superb here, she is truly the heart and soul of the film. I have seen quite a few of her stellar work and this could be her best performance yet. Perhaps 2017 would be the year the 5-time Academy Award nominee is finally a ‘bride’ instead of the the ‘bridesmaids’ at the Oscar. Jeremy Renner gives a strong supporting performance here as the mathematician partner of Louise, he has a pretty effortless chemistry with Adams and was quite the comic relief in some scenes. I thought the Abbott and Costello reference was quite a hoot. Unfortunately Forest Whitaker isn’t given that much to do in this film, neither is Michael Stuhlbarg.

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I have to say that people who have little patience for slow-paced films could be potentially frustrating. In fact, the guy next to me actually dozed off and snored loudly after about a half hour, it’s too bad as he missed out on the best parts of the film. For me, it’s such a treat to see a visceral and emotionally-complex film, especially with a female protagonist at the center, so I was engrossed from start to finish. The eerie music by Jóhann Jóhannsson adds a creepy and mysterious feel to the film, it’s deliberately somber yet enigmatic. I still prefer Jóhannsson’s work in Sicario but this one is certainly excellent in its own right.

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Québec-based filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is one of the few emerging directors (like Jeff Nichols, Taika Waititi) whose work have continued to impress me. I love his emphasis on character development instead of wham-bam action. The use of special effects here is utterly fascinating, especially in the design of the alien spaceships and the otherwordly logograms language and how they’re transmitted. I’m now even more psyched about Blade Runner 2 just on account of having Villeneuve at the helm.

Arrival is one of those films that will stay with you long after the end credits, and that’s always a good sign. It certainly has a haunting quality that is always a positive thing in my book. Whether or not this will be a sci-fi classic remains to be seen, but without a doubt this is one of the best films of the year.

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What are your thoughts on ARRIVAL?

FlixChatter Review: Midnight Special (2016)

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I’m a big fan of science fiction films, and the ones that are more *grounded* in our reality, meaning it’s not all sleek and drowned in special effects are usually the most compelling. Midnight Special is certainly one of those films, which in essence is a father/son story.

Right from its opening scene, this film instantly grabbed me and never let up. Two men are on the run with a small boy Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) and the people in a cult organization are hot on their trail. Who the boy is and why he’s so important to the devout followers of this group is not known right away. The only thing we know from the marketing promos is that perhaps he’s from another world as we don’t shoot laser beams from our eyes, nor could we make a satellite fall from the sky. Soon the FBI arrives in the small town in Louisiana and from the interrogations with the cult members, we’re given glimpses of why Alton is so special. As if being on the run is not hard enough, there’s a certain date looming that the runaway group absolutely can’t miss.

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I feel that it’s best to experience this film knowing as little as possible. I love discovering more and more about the characters as one layer after another is peeled away. Alton has a very close relationship with his father Roy (Michael Shannon), who we knew in the beginning is his adopted dad. But who is Lucas (Joel Edgerton), the guy helping them get away? I’ll let you figure that out, as that’s part of the fun of discovering the story.

Jeff Nichols wrote and directed this movie and I’m so impressed by his talent as a storyteller. The story is intriguing albeit not completely original and treads some familiar grounds. It reminds me a bit of Spielberg’s E.T. but with its own twist as well as look and feel. Though the story deals with a kid’s special powers, it’s not really the main focus. Instead, it’s more about the relationship of Alton and Roy and why Roy would risk everything, even his own life, to get Alton to where he needs to go. It’s a bond that transcend understanding.

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The performances are excellent all around. I haven’t seen Lieberher in anything but despite his young age, this isn’t his first film. He’s able to convey a lot without saying anything, which is tricky even for adult actors. Shannon is truly one of the best actors working today as he’s excellent in everything I’ve seen him in so far, including this one. There’s something enigmatic about him but here he shows a tender, vulnerable side as well. He shares a convincing emotional bond with Lieberher which makes you so invested in their journey. Edgerton is another actor whose work I admire, so it’s cool to see both him and Shannon’s continued collaboration with Nichols (both are featured in his latest film, the Sundance darling Loving). Adam Driver has a supporting role as the NSA officer, sporting geeky chic glasses a la Snowden. He’s quite memorable here and at times provides some comic relief. I have to mention Kirsten Dunst and Sam Shepard as well in small but key supporting roles.

Though mostly serious, the film isn’t devoid of humor and some amusing scenes thanks to some of the roles some of the actor have portrayed. I’m not going to say what that reference is, but let’s just say it has something to do with a superhero from another world who’s also adopted by an earthly father. I appreciate that the film has plenty of quiet moments but by no means slow or tedious. The fact that there’s not much action happening, but when it does, it’s quite effective.


I wouldn’t say the film is perfect however, there are some predictable moments that somewhat lessen the impact. The fact that there are still a lot of unanswered questions about Alton by the end is a bit frustrating. Why did he end up on earth in the first place, why is the daylight harmful to him, why the cult thinks Alton is who they think they are, and so on. That said, there’s enough going for it that Midnight Special was a satisfying ride. Oh and that finale is quite a heart-pounding one. Given all the suspenseful build up, nice to see a pretty powerful pay-off.

Overall it’s an impressive film that offers a unique twist to an often-told sci-fi tale. This one is actually Nichols’ first studio film (with Warner Bros), but given that it’s budget is only $18 mil, the studio still agreed to let him have the final cut. I sure hope that he’ll continue to get as much creative control over his work even as he inevitably transition into bigger-budget films.

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So have you seen ‘Midnight Special’? Let me know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: The Martian (2015)

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It’s a testament of a truly good film when two weeks after I saw it I’m still thinking about it fondly and can’t wait to see it again. I mentioned in this post that I had been anticipating this film for a couple of reasons, but deep down I still wished it’d be good as I like Ridley Scott. Well, glad to report that the 77-year-old British thespian certainly still got it.

If the plot makes you think of Saving Private Ryan because it involves saving Matt Damon, well you wouldn’t be wrong, but the similarities pretty much end there. The film doesn’t waste much time to get to the part when Mark Watney is left alone in Mars following an accident that made his teammates presumed he’s killed. It turns out he survives the accident but that’s only the beginning of his journey being stranded in a desolate planet. The first act pretty much contains scenes of Watney dealing with the concept of surviving on whatever resources is left on the space station, as the next Mars mission would take at least four years.

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There are similarities to Gravity and Interstellar, but I think The Martian is a heck of a lot more entertaining than both. It’s an intelligent crowd pleaser that doesn’t dumb down the audience, but it also doesn’t bog us down with scientific mumbo jumbo or bludgeon us with over-sentimentality. Even the scenes in NASA with a terrific ensemble cast doesn’t feel at all boring or obligatory and has its share of amusing and fun moments. The emotional moments throughout the film feels natural and not at all manipulative, a testament to the shrewd script by Drew Goddard and Scott’s direction.

The whole concept of an astronaut growing potatoes inside a space station certainly make for some amusing and highly entertaining scenes. Whether it’s actually possible or not doesn’t really matter, and that’s what I find about this film. I find that I don’t pick apart the science as much as I did with say Interstellar, as I was completely invested in Watney’s journey from start to finish. It helps too that the script is really focused about the ‘bring him home’ storyline and keep it frill-free from unneccessary subplots.

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As for that ensemble cast, I’ll mention those who impressed me most, starting with Jeff Daniels as NASA chief Teddy Sanders. He made him memorable even though he’s not the most interesting characters. The same could be said with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong as two lead scientists tasked to help bring Watney home. Sean Bean is always great to watch but there is one particularly memorable scene involving a very famous fantasy trilogy that made his casting even more perfect. They actually have more to do in the film than Watney’s fellow team mates including Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie, though they are all pretty good in their roles. Donald Glover also has a brief but memorable role as a young genius astronomer who provides a key theory for the recovery mission. But the real star here is obviously Damon, who has the most screen time and most of his scenes are basically a one-man-show of him talking to the camera.

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The Martian looks phenomenal and has some breathtaking *aerial shots* by Dariusz Wolski of the red planet, shot in Wadi Rum, Jordan, which has a red-colored desert. That said, it’s not a style-over-substance film, in fact, it’s a story and character-driven piece, which is what every film should be. It must have been hellish for Watney to be stuck up there on his own, but thankfully, watching him being stuck there isn’t. The survival story is more akin to Tom Hanks’ Castaway, given the humorous tone and amazing survival skills of the protagonist. This is perhaps one of my favorite roles of Matt Damon, and he’s as likable and funny as he ever as astronaut Mark Watney.

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As with any survival story, there is an element of inspiration that make you appreciate what you have on earth, from profound things like spending time with your family to seemingly-trivial things like duct tape. But the film does it in such a droll and fun way, which seems to be faithful in terms to tone to Andy Weir‘s sci-fi novel, described by one book critic as “…sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery” (per Wiki). I also love that The Martian is not dark and brooding despite the rather grim subject matter of a man being trapped alone in space. It’s also not nearly as violent as Scott’s other sci-fi film, apart from an earlier scene that definitely made me avert my eyes. This could very well be the most enjoyable theatrical experience from Ridley Scott since Gladiator, so yeah sir, we’re definitely entertained. And thanks for making another epic film that I can watch and appreciate for years to come.

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Have you seen The Martian? What did you think?