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?

FlixChatter Review: JUPITER ASCENDING (2015)

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This film was supposed to open in the Summer of 2014, but Warner Bros’ delayed it to give more time for post-production work. Heh, clearly they’re far more concerned with all the CGI extravaganza as what the film needed more is a script rewrite. I already had a bad feeling about this even from the unintentionally hilarious trailers. They included the dialog where Channing Tatum said he had more in common with dogs than humans, especially a supposed royalty, to which Mila Kunis replied, “I love dogs, I’ve always loved dogs.” Well, at least they’re consistent as the movie is as dreadful as the promos.

The entire film is a discombobulating and farcical mess, but what’s more baffling is the claim by The Lana Wachowski – as well as several bloggers on Twitter – that this is an *original* sci-fi. Huh?? What originality? The ‘chosen one’ type of plot is rehashed from stuff the Wachowskis themselves have done better with The Matrix, as well as a bunch of other sci-fis. Self-plagiarism isn’t uncommon among filmmakers and I’m fine with it if it actually improves on their previous work.

JupiterAscending_MilaChanningIn any case, the movie opened with the protagonist, Jupiter Jones’ narration about her life story and how she ended up being a cleaning lady in Chicago. Her late dad was an astronomer, hence the name, and a tragic event prompted her family to migrate to America. A lowly beginning to be sure, and she claimed repeatedly how she hated her life. But of course we know that’s not really her *destiny* as in a planet far, far away, three royalty siblings with a name that sounds like some household cleaning product, Abrasax, talk about claiming earth as their own now that their mother’s died. So apparently, their planet consumes earth’s resources in a process called planetary harvest, which basically is an extensive form of genocide in order for the aliens to live forever.

The first act is a long exposition telling us why Jupiter is special and why there are intergalactic bounty hunters as well as an army of weird-looking aliens are after her. But no fret, we’ve got an eyeliner-wearing man-wolf hybrid Caine Wise (Tatum, sporting a goatie & elven ears) with his anti-gravity boots to save the damsel in distress. The action sequences are cool for the first five minutes at best, but it long overstayed its welcome that it became aggravating. Cool visuals can only entertain you for so long when we barely care about the characters and their journey. So apparently Jupiter shares the same DNA sequence as the Abrasax’s late mother and that makes her special as she’s also heir to the throne and could potentially rule earth.

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This is a space opera at its most bloated and risible. It’s full of weird-looking space creatures which are humans cross-bred with elephants, alligators, etc. but they all seem to speak with British accent of course. All of them report to Balem (Eddie Redmayne), who should win a Razzie for the most annoyingly over-the-top performance, as an androgynous looking *royalty* could only whisper or scream and nothing in between. Redmayne seems to take this role way too seriously, but all the theatrical antics prompts grimace and laughter every time he’s on screen.

The protagonists fare slightly better, thought that’s not saying much really. I have to hand it to Mila Kunis, she’s not a particularly strong performer but she always comes across genial and earthy. She’s effortlessly likable though she appears mystified for much of the movie. Channing Tatum is pretty much hired for his physical prowess, as he appears shirtless for a good chunk of the time. He has zero chemistry with Kunis and he kind of has this constipated look throughout, perhaps thanks to the mouthpiece he had to wear during filming (per IMDb trivia) Heh, why they put an actor through that if it had absolutely zero purpose for his character arc nor the story as a whole??

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Poor Sean Bean as Tatum’s friend from his military days didn’t have much to do here other than offering more exposition and saying lines like ‘Bees don’t lie.’  Oh brother! I think this tweet pretty much sums up how I feel about his involvement:

It also pains me to see Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a half human/deer mutation who serves as Balem’s aide. I sure wish Hollywood would recognize talent when they see them. Douglas Booth looks like he could be Redmayne’s prettier younger brother, but both he and Tuppence Middleton who formed the three Abrasax siblings are pretty much fillers. But then again, what can you expect from the supporting characters if the main protagonist doesn’t even have an arc? It may seem like there’s theme of female empowerment here but Jupiter mostly plays a passive role in her own *destiny* [yawn], as she’s whisked away from one strange place to another.

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This movie would’ve probably been slightly more palatable if it had a sense of humor. There are several attempts at it, like Jupiter using a sanitary pad to patch Caine’s wound, ewww gross!! The only true comical moment is the whole bureaucracy process Jupiter has to go through, kind of like an administrative immigration procedure if you will, with Terry Gilliam‘s cameo. I didn’t realize it was him until later and I read that it was an homage to his fantasy satire of bureaucratic society, Brazil.

This is the Wachowskis’ third under-performing film in a row after Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas (which I actually quite like). I doubt they could easily get the kind of astronomical budget like this one ($176 mil), as they’d likely struggle to make half of that given the mere $19 mil opening weekend. Heh, no amount of money and crazy CGI-fest can camouflage a terrible story.

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Final Thoughts: Yet another style-over-substance sci-fi in the vein of Elysium which also boast some arresting space imagery. The costumes, especially Mila’s dresses, are gorgeous and the design of the planetary universe and spaceships are imaginative, if only they’d invest the same care to the story and characters. It amounts to one big dumb flick, not really a step up from those Transformers movie. Now, some dumb action flicks can still be entertaining but to add insult to injury, this movie is also quite boring, and the bombastic action/chase scenes just dragged on for far too long. I guess this one *lives up* to the reputation of being released in Hollywood’s dump month of February. Suffice to say it’ll likely end up in my worst list of the year.

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Well, what are YOUR thoughts about Jupiter Ascending?

Five for the Fifth: APRIL 2014 Edition

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Welcome to FlixChatter’s one and only blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. April Fools was just four days ago, man it seems like it was ages ago for Unbreakable_Postersome reason. Some of you caught the prank I pulled that day, and surely the interweb was full of fake news. One of them I read was this article listing three fake news stories we wish were real. One of those fake headlines says that M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable 2 Confirmed for 2015.

Per the article, ‘the studio indicated that the sequel will be set well after the events of the original film, and will follow Willis’ character as he learns more about his powers and the responsibility that comes with them.’ Oh man, if only that were true!! I’ve long been awaiting to see Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson reprise their roles, Unbreakable is my favorite M. Night’s film and one I’d wish to see a follow-up on. It’s been 14 years since its release and I still think it’d be worth revisiting the first truly *dark* superhero film.

Did you read any April Fools fake news you wish were real?
….

2. Switching gear to a superhero follow-up that’s been breaking box office record [pardon the pun]. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is poised to be the biggest movie of 2014 so far. According to Box Office Mojo, the Friday take of $37 mil would likely wind up to about $110 -$120 mil final weekend tally. I’m glad it’s doing well as I’ve said in my review it’s my favorite Marvel stand-alone movie yet, though I still have a special fondness for the first film.

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Surely everyone’s going to have a different opinion on this. So, just for the heck of it, how about we rank 10 Marvel Studios movies from 2000, but only those involving character that appear in The Avengers. That means we’re NOT counting the X-Men movies, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, etc. Here they are alphabetically:

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  3. Hulk
  4. The Incredible Hulk
  5. Iron Man
  6. Iron Man 2
  7. Iron Man 3
  8. Thor
  9. Thor: The Dark World
  10. The Avengers

So how would you rank these 10 Marvel movies?

……
3. Right now I’ll be watching a bunch of indie films at MSPIFF  2014. One of them I sadly have to miss because of a scheduling conflict is Tom Hardy‘s LOCKE.

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A successful construction manager’s life is drastically changed by a series of phone calls while he drives.

Now this film that puts one actor in a confined location, more of a one-man-show for the entire film if we’re to judge from the trailer that I posted here. We’re only seeing Hardy as Ivan Locke as he takes a series of phone calls as he’s driving in a car, but boy is it gripping! I really think that the casting is what make or break this types of films, as that actor would have to be charismatic enough to hold our attention whilst seemingly not much is happening. As I’m a big fan of Hardy, naturally I’m intrigued.

My question is two fold: What do you think of Locke? And which actor would you like to watch in a similar confined setting like this one? 


4. Any casting news involving Chiwetel Ejiofor always makes me smile as I’ve been championing him for some time. Last time he was rumored in Star Wars also made a Five for the Fifth subject, if only that were true! Now as a massive Bond fan, of course this casting news piqued my interest!

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Seems that lately, or at least since Sam Mendes was on board, the new plan seems to be only to hire Oscar winners/nominees as Bond villain, ahah. In Skyfall we’ve got Oscar winner Javier Bardem, and now, Ejiofor is reportedly the top choice for Bond 24 which is currently in production. I’m definitely stoked if he were cast, though my initial thought was that fellow Black Brit Idris Elba would also make a great choice, given he’s got that devilish charm about him. I’ve never seen Ejiofor’s sinister side on screen before but I’m sure the massively talented actor is more than up for the task! With Ralph Fiennes and Naomi Harris returning, boy this is going to be one heck of a Bond cast. This might be the case where I’d love the villain more than the hero, ahah.

Thoughts on this casting rumor? Who would YOU like to see cast as Bond villain?

5. What a perfect segue to the last topic as we’ve got a former Bond villain in this one. I just backed this Kickstarter project ENEMY OF MAN, starring Sean Bean, Rupert Grint, James D’Arcy, Jason Flemyng and Charles Dance.

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Enemy of Man is an ambitious feature length retelling of William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Macbeth.

This will be the feature directorial debut of actor Vincent Regan. I really like him in TROY and 300, I thought he gave one of the best performances in 300, as well as the most heart-wrenching. Regan is no stranger to Shakespeare, he’s a veteran of the Royal Shakespeare and National theaters. Sean Bean apparently played Macbeth on London West End and this gave him a chance to revisit the character for a larger audience.

All money raised from this campaign will go towards taking the film into pre-production. You can read the details on the Kickstarter link above as well as a preview to the teaser trailer. Below is Sean Bean talking about his involvement in this project:

This looks pretty promising and the talented British actors involved are quite underrated. I hope they’ll meet their goal and get this film made! As of right now, there is only 15 hours left and they still need about $33K to meet their goal.

Whether or not you choose to back it, what do you think of this project and the cast involved?


Well, that’s it for the APRIL 2014 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks.

Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 😀

Question of the Week: Which actor(s) would you like to see as Bond villain?

It’s been fun reading all the Bond posts spearheaded by ParagraphFilmReviews’ James Bond January event. A few of my blog friends Marc, Ross and Darren are participating… props to all of ’em for saying nice things about my favorite Bond 😀 But it’s this particular post that inspire me to write this post… “Sean Bean should be the bad guy in every Bond film,” Ross McG brilliantly quipped, and y’know what, I can’t exactly disagree w/ that idea. But of course we can’t have that, and I’ve always despised films that somehow bring back dead characters in some absurd dream sequence or something of the sort.

Sean Bean as Alec Trevelyan in Goldenye

Anyways, what we already know so far with Bond 23 is that it’s finally back on track again with Sam Mendes directing. Daniel Craig will be back, as well as Judi Dench as M. Yay! (I love that the best MI-6 director is a woman). Even though I grew up watching the larger-than-life villains in various Bond films, I kind of want a more ‘realistic’ villain that’s less of a caricature like say Carl Stromberg or Hugo Drax (though I’m contradicting myself as I quite like the latter as I mentioned here). I’m thinking those more in the vein of Sean Bean‘s Alec Trevelyan in Goldeneye and maybe even Robert Davi in Licence to Kill, essentially someone whom I can picture Bond actually being friendly with in another life, y’know. I’d also like to think that with an acclaimed Oscar-winning director like Mendes at the helm, why not get a real thespian to portray a more complex and intellectual baddie, but without taking the fun out of a Bond flick of course (yeah I know, aren’t I picky).

Anyhoo, here are just a few names that came to mind as I’m writing this post:

  • Alan Rickman
    Though I love Rickman in his good guy–even romantic–roles as much as the villainous ones, let’s face it, he’s such a bonafide, reliable baddie. Plus he can imbue sophistication and elegance into any role, always a nice criteria in a Bond villain IMO. I know he probably won’t go into iconic-villain territory after his classic turn as Hans Grubber in Die Hard, but oh, wouldn’t it be nice?
  • Gary Oldman
    Here’s an actor who can play practically anything believably, the ultimate chameleon. I wholeheartedly agree with this astute commenter on the post about Oldman … “He’s a brilliant actor who makes every role his own and has managed to avoid being pigeonholed by Hollywood. Yeah he often plays baddies/heavies, but he never plays a certain TYPE of bad guy, he brings something new to the table every time.” Exactly. He could be a figure that Bond looks up to, who in the end turns out to be the one who betrays him.
  • Clive Owen
    I said in Ross’ post that why not cast a villain that’s just as smooth and cool as 007 himself? With all the casting rumor and Clive being in a bunch of people’s wish list for the role (including mine), it’d be such a treat to see him on the opposite side, going toe to toe as Bond’s arch nemesis. With a shrewd script, it could be the best Bond ever. With a villain like this, it’d be tough to root for the hero!
  • Cate Blanchett
    There’s barely a memorable woman villain in a Bond flick (Elektra King is close, but not quite), but with Blanchett I think she can do the job and maybe even warrant an Oscar nomination, ha! She’d be reunited with Judi Dench, who’s her co-star in Notes of a Scandal, and maybe her character is has a connection with M somehow which creates a rift between her and Bond.

    And last but not least, my ultimate dream Bond villain:
  • Timothy Dalton
    Andy @ Fandango Groovers once had this splendid idea of casting Dalton as an older, retired Bond. Now, the chance of that dream coming true is unfortunately zilch to none. Not that this one has even a slightly bigger chance of happening either, but think about it, it really would be awesome, wouldn’t it?

    In the comment section the post, Ross lamented “… 20 odd films, and in not one of them is the audience at any stage worried about the fate of the lead character…” Well, I always thought Dalton’s Bond got that sense of danger and ruthlessness that makes us believe he’s capable of killing in cold blood. With the right direction and script, perhaps we could at least add more tension and suspense in the Bond/baddie dynamic and actually believe at least for a moment the seemingly-indestructible super spy is in serious peril.

Well, feel free to add to the list, or supply your thoughts about any of my picks.

FlixChatter Spotlight: The Red Riding Trilogy

I came across this when I overheard hubby playing the trailer on Apple site. I don’t like scary movies, I’m not talking about horror which I detest, but even some intense mystery stuff would haunt me for days. This one sounds like it might be that kind of film, see the trailer below for yourself. But it piqued my curiosity enough for me to learn more about it and here’s what I found.

From the Apple trailer site:
Sure to be one of the cinematic events of the year, RED RIDING is a mesmerizing neo-noir epic based on factual events and adapted for the screen by Tony Grisoni (FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS) from David Peace’s electrifying series of novels revolving around the manhunt for the “Yorkshire Ripper,” a serial killer who terrorized northwest England in the 1970s and ’80s. The three films are directed by three notable filmmakers — Julian Jarrold (BRIDESHEAD REVISITED), James Marsh (MAN ON WIRE) and Anand Tucker (SHOPGIRL). Each boasts a stellar British cast that includes Andrew Garfield (THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS), Sean Bean (LORD OF THE RINGS), Paddy Considine (DEAD MAN’S SHOES), Rebecca Hall (VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA), and Peter Mullan (TRAINSPOTTING). The RED RIDING TRILOGY screened at the Telluride and New York film festivals and will open in New York on Friday, February 5 at the IFC Center, with a national release to follow.

One of Dark Horizon’s picks of 2010 Notable Films, this one apparently has already been released on DVD & Blu Ray in Europe. ScreenRant posted the excerpt from the official Press Release that explains what each of the three films cover:

1974, Yorkshire – a time of paranoia, mistrust and institutionalised police corruption. Rookie journalist Eddie Dunford (Garfield) is determined to search for the truth in an increasingly complex maze of lies and deceit that characterises a police investigation into a series of child abductions.

In the second episode, directed by Marsh and set in 1980, The “Ripper” has tyrannised Yorkshire for six long years, and with the local police failing to make any progress, the Home Office sends in Manchester officer Peter Hunter (Considine) to review the investigation. Having previously made enemies in the Yorkshire force while investigating a shooting incident in 1974, Hunter finds himself increasingly isolated when his version of events challenges their official line on the “Ripper”.

In the final instalment, directed by Tucker and set in 1983, another young girl has disappeared and Detective Chief Superintendent Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey) recognises some alarming similarities to the abductions in 1974, forcing him to come to terms with the fact that he may have helped convict the wrong man. When local solicitor John Piggot is persuaded to fight this miscarriage of justice he finds himself slowly uncovering a catalogue of cover ups.

The last time I saw a similar collaboration piece was Paris Je T’aime, where 12 different filmmakers tell their own story about love in Paris. But this is different in that each film is interwoven together instead being a standalone piece that share a single theme.

According to the Dark Horizon’s article, this movie is “… described as grim, extremely violent and ‘unrelentingly bleak,’ reviews for the series were mixed but generally positive…’ I definitely will check this out on DVD mostly for the excellent UK-based cast. Paddy Considine was excellent in In America and I’ve always liked Sean Bean even before he was Boromir in LOTR. David Morissey is another English actor I wish would get more roles here in the US, I first noticed his excellent performance in Framed opposite Timothy Dalton. I’ve never seen Andrew Garfield before but he’s been getting some mentions by movie sites as one of today’s rising stars.

Recently gaining praises at Colorado’s Telluride Film Festival, the buzz didn’t escape studio execs as Columbia has bought the rights to create a feature film version. Variety reported that workaholic director Ridley Scott has been tapped to direct, not sure when he’ll find the time given the 20+ other projects he’s got in development, including the Alien prequel, a Gucci biopic and a movie based on the board game Monopoly (yep, I’m just as puzzled as you are). He might be working with screenwriter Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List), who’s worked with Scott in American Gangster. The film will be a compressed version of the five-hour running time of the trilogy, and it’ll also be set in the U.S. instead of Britain. Hmmm, the filmmakers sure have high credence behind them, we’ll see if they can match the quality of this one, but of course it’ll be a more mainstream & marketable version.

Anyhoo, check out the trailer below if you haven’t already. Is this something worth checking out to you?