Movie review: Alien: Covenant

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of Alien: Covenant – an apology for Prometheus or its continuation?

IMDb summary: The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination and must attempt a harrowing escape.

Writing

Alien: Covenant was written by John Logan (The Last Samurai, The Aviator, Hugo, Spectre, Genius) and Dante Harper (a production manager), based on a story by Jack Paglen (Transendence) and Michael Green (Logan and Green Lantern – what a combo). Similarly to how the previous filmography of these screenwriters is a mixed bag, Covenant is also a movie of mixed quality. It just mostly rehashes the plot of the original Alien and throws in some Prometheus themes. I, personally, liked the ideas of the film Prometheus but didn’t feel like they were executed particularly well. Same happens in Covenant – the potential is there but the attempt at the backstory of the xenomorphs just convolutes the plot too much (how many unpredictable experiments have to happen for their final version to appear?). The idea to have a crew/cast of 10+ people also means that none of them receive any development. We do find out some traits of a few characters, but I am not even sure what roles did the majority of the crew members had on a ship. They all could have been scientists or sheep herders. The couples idea is also just plain stupid. Why would you have a bunch of couples on a dangerous space mission? Wouldnt’ they judgement in a difficult situation be impacted by the fact that their significant other is also on board?

Having bashed the plot, I would now like to praise a few good moments of the film. The discussion about creation was an interesting and promising concept. The faith and rationality divide was also a good idea to introduce. The decision to include another character played by Fassbender was the best judgment that the filmmakers made. While I am not sure when did David turn so purely evil, I liked seeing the David v Walter interactions, even if they were quite creepy.

Directing

Ridley Scott has made some amazing (Blade Runner, original Alien, and Gladiator) and less than amazing (Prometheus, Exodus) films throughout his career. His last picture – 2015’s The Martian – was one of my favorite movies of that year. Alien: Covenant falls somewhere in the middle on a quality scale. Visually, the film was gorgeous: the landscapes, the scope, and the scale were just breathtaking. (Prometheus was also visually stunning – I actually visited the filming location of the opening sequence – Isle of Skye). However, I felt that the action scenes could have been better – more suspenseful and intense. There also could have been more of them to replace some of the creepy dialogue sequences. And yet, at least Covenant was way grittier, gruesome, and more stylistically in line with the original two films than the squeaky clean Prometheus.

Acting

The cast of the film was quite big but not a lot of the actors delivered memorable performances (which was partially the blame on the script). Michael Fassbender (X-Men, Assasin’s Creed, Steve Jobs), not surprisingly, was the standout in his double role, while Fantastic Beast’s Katherine Waterston was also quite good. Billy Crudup (Spotlight, Jackie) and Danny McBride (Sausage Party) were the only two other actors from the cast who I remember as doing something of significance in the film. James Franco was probably featured more in the extra promo materials than in the actual film, while Noomi Rapace had a picture cameo only.

In short, Alien: Covenant was mostly disappointing. It had some good elements, but, ultimately, everything was ruined by the awful script full of laughable but not funny moments. If you want to watch a straight-up sci-fi horror, check out Life instead (even though it is just a knock-off of the original Alien), or if you want a more PG space movie, Passengers should do.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Alien: Covenant trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Genius

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before Star Trek Beyond, Jason Bourne, and Ghostbusters all roll into theaters, let’s review a smaller film – a historical British drama – Genius.

IMDb summary: A chronicle of Max Perkins’s time as the book editor at Scribner, where he oversaw works by Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others.

  1. I have told you many times that I’m a fan of British contemporary cinema, so I was really excited to see its newest creation. Moreover, I am an English literature student, so the picture’s topic peaked my interest even more. The authors of The Lost Generation are among my favorites, including Hemingway and Fitzgerald. However, I have to admit that, before seeing this film, I was not familiar with the works of Thomas Wolfe. I don’t think that he is as famous as the other two writers, whose works were edited by Perkins. Maybe the length of the novels or their hard subject matter are to blame or maybe I’m just making stuff up. Either way, after seeing and enjoying Genius, I will definitely try reading Look Homeward, Angel as well as Of Time and The River.
  2. Genius’s script was written by John Logan (who is responsible for masterpieces such as Gladiator, The Aviator and Hugo and other pictures like Skyfall and Spectre), based on a book/a true story Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. I did enjoy the writing for the film but I also had problems with it. Nevertheless, if these so called problems or gripes that I had with the plot are historically accurate, I don’t really have a right to complain. I liked the juxtaposition of the rational editor vs. the passionate writer. I enjoyed the literature references (‘War and Nothing?’) as well as the hints to the broader discussion of family vs. career and originality vs. self-discipline. The ideas regarding the role of the editor were also interesting – I do find the question whether the editor changes the book or makes it better rather interesting. In addition, whether the editor should be a ghost in the shadows or a visible part of the book, are both intriguing concepts to explore. The biggest problem/gripe I had with the writing was the character development – I felt that I did not find out enough about any of them and I also always felt that the bodies on screen were characters and not real people who have come to life. This might be the fault of the actors or the direction that the director took.
  3. Speaking about directing, this was the cinematic directorial debut for a Tony-winning  theater director Michael Grandage. I think that he allowed or asked the actors to go a bit over the top – the overacting was obvious. The color palette of the film was weird as well – neither colorful nor colorless – just kinda bland. I wish he would have made a clearer and stronger statement with the visuals, as he should be very skilled in that aspect, having worked with limited spaces of the stage. I also wish that he would have used the setting of Tthe Jazz Era and The Great Depression a bit more – both of these cultural and social epochs were only hinted at in a few scenes. The editing was also kinda uneven – some scenes ended without being resolved or fully explored. I did enjoy the montage where the characters were editing the second book – it was an efficient filmmaking technique, plot-wise. In the  end, I did enjoy the film but didn’t get enough info from it. Then again, it’s a biographical drama and not a documentary.
  4. The main roles of the film were played by Colin Firth (King’s Speech, Kingsman, Magic in the Moonlight) as Maxwell Perkins and Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes, Anna Karenina, Road to Perditionas Thomas Wolfe. I liked their performances, though questioned the slight overacting that Law did. The again, Wolfe was a passionate and energetic person. Nonetheless, the lack of energy on Firth’s side and the too much of everything on Law’s side made them into an odd pair. But maybe that was the point – they had contrasting personalities, but their friendship, although complex, difficult and straining, was indeed transformative and rewarding. However, the question remains, would Wolfe have succeeded without Perkins? He talked about legacy and he even blamed Perkins for changing his manuscripts too much, but they did remain friends until Wolfe’s death.
  5. Other supporting roles were  played by Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge!, The Hours, The Paperboy) as Aline Bernstein, Dominic West (Testament of Youth, Money Monster) as Ernest Hemingway, Guy Pearce (Memento, Iron Man 3) as F. Scott Fitzgerald. I didn’t like Kidman’s character at all – Bernstein was portrayed as quite a jealous and stereotypical woman. The scene with the gun was way too much. The again, maybe Bernstein was such a person. West’s portrayal of Hemingway was great – although he only had a single scene, his ironic lines about Wolfe were marvelous. The scenes with Pearce were also great – I really liked the juxtaposition of Fitzgerald and Wolfe.

In short, Genius, sadly, was not a genial film.  I think that fans of English/American literature will enjoy, while casual cinema goers won’t miss out on much if they skip it.

Rate: 3,5/5

Trailer: Genius trailer

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Movie review: The Legend of Tarzan

Movie reviews

Hello!

The final live-action fairytale of the summer of 2016 – The Legend of Tarzan – has finally hit theaters, so let’s talk about it.

IMDb summary: Tarzan, having acclimated to life in London, is called back to his former home in the jungle to investigate the activities at a mining encampment.

When I was younger, I would always mix up Tarzan and Mowgli (although they are quite different if you think about it – Mowgli is the weaker one that ultimately chooses to live with the humans, while Tarzan is very strong and, being the king of the jungle, he stays to live in the jungle). This year, both of these characters appeared on the silver screen in a live-action, though in very different forms. The Jungle Book was a very child-friendly film, while The Legend of Tarzan was significantly more adult. In general, Mowgli is usually portrayed as a child, while Tarzan normally appears as an adult, so I do think that the 2016’s cinematic interpretations of the characters were appropriate.

The animated Tarzan movie from 1999 was/is one of my favorites. The opening montage set to Phil Collins’s Two Worlds is magnificent. In general, the whole soundtrack of the film is superb. The sequence, where Jane and Tarzan first meet, is beautiful and emotional. The scene, in which the gorillas are improvising and singing, is super funny and my kind of comedic relief. Overall, this particular animated film (like many others) manages to portray a range of human values and vices realistically and believably.

In addition to loving the animated picture during my childhood, I also used to play a Tarzan video game, where I had to jump around and pick bananas or something, so the character of Tarzan is very near and dear to my heart, because of that childhood connection.

So, I have given you some context and my general thoughts on Tarzan, but now let’s see if Warner Bros have finally managed to launch a successful live-action fairytale after crashing and burning with Pan. The critics were really harsh on this film, which, to my mind, was highly unnecessary.

!SPOILER ALERT!

Writing

The Legend of Tarzan was written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer – two quite unknown screenwriters. I really hope that they get a career boost because of this film because I really liked what they did with the script. It was partially based on various stories by the original creator of the character Edgar Rice.

To begin with, the idea to tie in the story of Tarzan with real historical facts was brilliant. The 19th-century setting and all the ideas about colonialism, slavery, the diamond and ivory business and the wars between tribes (there are actually lots of people who live in the jungle) made the movie more topical and much more serious. I also appreciated the fact that the writers sincerely asked the question what would happen if a person grew up outside of civilization. They treated the story in a realistic and respectful way and, although the movie was a bit dark, it was dark for a reason. I complained about the dark tone of BvS because I felt that it was dark just to be dark, while a more solemn tone of Tarzan was actually justified.

I also really enjoyed the writing for each of the characters. The attention to details and all the flashbacks really gave the characters some needed depth in a clear manner. We saw Tarzan’s parents dying in the jungle, we got glimpses of his life with the apes, we saw his first meeting with Jane and how he left the apes to live with the tribe. The detail about Tarzan’s hands whose bone structure has changed was also a nice touch. I also liked the fact that we saw Tarzan or John Clayton III in England. He was an educated and intelligent person – a complex character who was dealing with his human and animal sides like all of us – and not just someone who happened to grow up in a jungle. The backstory, involving the killed son and a lack of honor were also sophisticated and exceptional ideas. Jane’s backstory was also great – I liked the idea that she grew up near a tribe and didn’t just come to Africa as an adult. I also liked that they did not make her a damsel in distress. She did actually manage to escape from her captors but chose to come back so as to save the animals. Samuel L.Jackson’s character’s backstory with the civil war and the extension of the races were also interesting. Lastly, the writing for the villain played by Waltz was amazing (definitely better than writing for Waltz’s previous villain in Spectre). Rom’s weapon of choice – the cross necklace – was so unique. The little detail, like the shot where he was rearranging the knife and the fork, after Jane has finished eating, also showed his pendantic side in a perfect way.

Other little details of the narrative that I welcomed were the portrayal of the elephants as gentle, wise, and alsmost god-like creatures, like in many stories (e.g. The Jungle Book) and the usage of a different language to show the communication inside the tribe. The scenes were the members of the tribe were singing the traditional songs and dancing their folk dances were also excellent. It was also interesting to see more of the life in the jungle – how the different tribes interact and how some of them are hostile as well as how the people of the jungle are also killing animals like their western counterparts. Nevertheless, as per usual, the European colonialists (civilized savages) were the real bad guys of the film and deservedly so. Just look at history. If you don’t like to read history books, I suggest you check out a few novel about colonial Africa. Any book or novella by Joseph Conrad will give you a European perspective but if want to see how the natives felt about the invasion, read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Lastly, I loved the film’s ending. The birth of Tarzan’s and Jane’s baby was not only a nice callback to the beginning of the film, where they were mourning their dead child, but also a hopeful way to end the picture. I hope that WB will actually make a sequel, just maybe with a smaller budget – The Legend of Tarzan cost $180 million to make.

Directing

The Legend of Tarzan was directed by David Yates, who did the last 4 Harry Potter films and is also directing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, coming out later this year. I thought that he did an excellent job with Tarzan. Firstly, the wide shots of nature, including the opening shot of the mountains in the fog, were absolutely beautiful and magnificent. In addition, all of the close-ups of the character’s faces and eyes were framed really neatly. The CGI of the animals was also amazing – realistic and detailed. The only CGI effect that wasn’t that great was the shot with the young Tarzan and Jane. It looked a bit fake. Nevertheless, all of the action scenes were exciting: my favorite ones were Tarzan swinging on the branches and lianas and the train fight sequence, which kinda reminded me of a similar scene in Snowpiercer. The 3rd act’s action piece with the running animals was also reminiscent of Spanish Corrida or running with the bulls/bullfighting. The film’s soundtrack by Rupert Gregson-Williams was good as well, especially the end credits song by Hozier.

Acting

  • Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan / John Clayton III was astounding in the role. He was great in the action scenes as well as in the slower shots with the close-ups. His sad brooding face was awesome too. Skarsgård is mostly known for his small screen work – the TV series True Blood. He has had a few supporting roles in indie and small-budget films but hasn’t had any big screen hits yet. I hope that Tarzan is his game-changing role.
  • Margot Robbie as Jane Porter Clayton was really good as well. She even kinda sounded like Minnie Drive (the actress who voiced Jane in the animated picture). Robbie’s career is on fire right now. Since starring in the Wolf of Wall Street, Robbie appeared in well-received movies like Z for Zachariah, Focus and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. She also had the Suicide Squad film coming up next month.
  • Samuel L. Jackson as George Washington Williams was also good. His reaction face was priceless, especially in the scene where Tarzan was greeting the tigers. I have no idea how does Samuel L. Jackson has time to appear in at least 3 films per year. I reviewed 3 of his movies from last year: Kingsman, Age of Ultron and The Hateful Eight. Later this year, he will be in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
  • Christoph Waltz as Captain Léon Rom was a good villain. Waltz will probably always play a villain, I just wish that sometimes, a writing for his character would be better. Since his character in Tarzan had good writing, Waltz actually could do something interesting with it. However, I don’t think that he will ever be able to top up his Inglourious Basterds performances. Next year, Waltz will appear in Tulip Fever. 
  • Djimon Hounsou as Chief Mbonga was okay as well. The close-up of his face during the fight and that single tear in his eye and on his cheek made for a beautiful picture. Hounsou has appeared in movies like GladiatorGuardians of the Galaxy and Furious 7. He will also star in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword next year. 

To conclude, The Legend of Tarzan was probably my favorite live-action fairytale of this summer. It had a great narrative, good effects and exciting action and great acting. Don’t really see why the critics are destroying this film in their reviews.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Legend of Tarzan trailer

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Movie review: Spectre + a look back

Movie reviews

Hello!!!

The latest (24th!) James Bond film – Spectre – has finally hit theaters in its native UK and this is going to be my review!!

To begin with, as some of you may know, James Bond franchise is one of 2 spy/agent/espionage film series that I adore (other being Mission Impossible). And while MI films only had one interpretation of Ethan Hunt, James Bond has been played by a huge variety of actors and all fans have their favorite one. Mine is Daniel Craig’s Bond, just because it is the one that I’m most familiar with and that I actually grew up watching. In truth, I have seen one or two Pierce Brosnan’s Bond films on TV as a child, but they weren’t that good while Craig’s first outing as Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale was amazing. I would also love to check out the earliest editions of Bond and read the original novels by Ian Fleming someday.

Let’s go over the 3 previous films in a franchise, before moving on to talking about Spectre!

SPOILER WARNING

Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale is one of my favorite movies ever made. I still cannot believe that Martin Campbell directed it and did such an amazing job and then moved on to making Green Lantern. Casino Royale was the origin story of 007 and it had amazing action (the parkour chase) and wonderful suspense (the best poker scene ever put to film – made me want to learn poker). It also had amazing callbacks to the lore of Bond: the ordering of Martini, the iconic line to end the film and so forth. It was also the film that pushed the boundaries of violence – the torture/whipping scene was something that I have never seen before. It was really uncomfortable to watch but you could not take your eyes off the screen at the same time. This film also had the best Bond girl  – Vesper played by Eva Green. Vesper was resourceful and strong female character, who also had femininity and softness to her. She was just an overall great, well-developed character. It sad that she had to die for 007 to become the real Bond.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

This sequel to the majority of fans was a bit of a disappointment and I have to agree with them. While I really liked how this film based its story on the things that happened in the first film, it wasn’t up to par with its predecessor on any level.The plot was really messy and hard to follow. Quantum was directed by Marc Forster, who later made World War Z, which a lot of people hated while I kinda liked it.

Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall was the big comeback of this series as well as the commemorative film of Bond’s 50th anniversary. While Casino Royale was the origins of Bond and the Quantum of Solace was the Bond-y Bond, Skyfall was all about the broken Bond. It was great seeing a different side of the character as well as being able to glimpse into his past and his family – a theme which will be very important in Spectre. In addition, this film allowed us to spend more time with Judi Dench’s M and introduced 2 great new characters: Ralph Fiennes’s Mallory and Ben Whishaw’s Q. Lastly, as a new inhabitant of Scotland, I really appreciated the setting of the last part of the film, when I’ve re-watched it only recently: Welcome to Scotland!

Overall, this franchise has great acting and really good villains – in the first and third films to be precise. It also is an internationally set franchise which is always a plus for me. It also has a great soundtrack: my favorite theme song (not counting the original James Bond theme song) is still Adele’s Skyfall, but I do like Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall as well. Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name and Jack White’s and Alicia Keys’s Another Way to Die are also great songs, worth the listen.

SPOILER WARNING FOR SPECTRE

IMDb summary: A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.

Overall, I’ve definitely enjoyed Spectre but not as much as I thought I would. Casino Royale is still the best Bond movie, to my mind, and, sadly, Spectre is not as enjoyable as Skyfall. Quantum of Solace, not surprisingly, takes the last place on the list.

Opening credits

Spectre had my favorite opening credits of the last 4 Bond films. Skyfall had amazing opening as well, but this one had even a better one. I loved how they started with the theme of fire and then played off of the Spectre’s logo – the octopus. I also really enjoyed the references to the previous films (or at least to 1st and 3rd films – everybody wants to forget Quantum): images of Vesper, M, Le Chiffre and Silva appeared in a breaking glass.

Tone

Spectre was probably the funniest Craig’s Bond film. It had a lot of laugh out loud moments and these were set up not only by dialogue punch lines but by action scenes. For example, I loved how Bond fell onto the sofa after that building crashed at the beginning of the film. At the same time, this movie was really dark and conveyed emotions like hopelessness and loneliness perfectly.

Story

The film’s script was written by a group of people: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth. All of them, except Butterworth, have previously worked on other Bond films. Logan has been nominated for an Oscar for writing Gladiator, The Aviator, and Hugo. Purvis and Wade have worked on other films together and Butterworth wrote Edge of Tomorrow and this year’s Black Mass. All of these accomplished writers did an okay job, however, I believe that they could have refined the story a bit more. A few supporting characters could have fared better with some more development and the plot could have made more sense: at times it felt that Bond was going from point A to B to C for no reason. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the dialogue of the film, which was brought to life by amazing performances from the whole cast. The way Spectre’s story tied the whole series together is also worth praising. The theme of modernity versus tradition was an interesting idea to introduce into the Bond franchise as well. Lastly, I do not know about you, but I would definitely not feel safe if I am constantly being watched.

Directing

Skyfall’s Sam Mendes returned as a director for Spectre. He did an amazing job in 2012 and did not disappoint this year as well. I loved the opening crowd chase scene in Mexico as well as the car chase in Rome. I also liked how the ending of the film was set in Bond’s home – London. It was nice seeing the old MI6 base. Speaking about Mendes’s other films, I really want to watch American Beauty, which earned him an Academy Award for best director.

In addition, not only the action scenes were exciting, but the whole film was visually appealing, glamorous, luxurious and elegant. Praises for this go to cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema.

Acting

  • Daniel Craig as James Bond, agent 007. This was Craig’s 4th time playing Bond and it was yet again a different side of Bond. If Skyfall showed us a physically broken Bond, Spectre gave us an emotionally damaged one. It also showed that even though he is a stone cold assassin, he would like to change his way and find his ‘happy ending’. I’m sure that that ‘ happy ending’ won’t last long since Craig’s contract states that he has one more movie left (at least according to the Internet). However, there has been some rumors that Craig will refuse to play Bond moving forward, so I guess we will see what happens.
  • Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavro Blofeld was a good villain, who could have been great if we just have spent more time with him. I believe that it was a wasted opportunity not to put more of C. Waltz in the film because he is amazing in villainous roles. Just watch Inglorious Basterds if you don’t believe me. Check out Django Unchained as well if you want to marvel at how great of an actor Waltz is.
  • Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann. Finally, a Bond girl (well, not really) who challenges Bond and who was actually as good as Vesper! I loved her character and would have wanted to spend more time with her as well. Seydoux is an accomplished French actress with films like the aforementioned Inglorious Basterds, Midnight in Paris, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Blue is the Warmest Color and The Grand Budapest Hotel on her resume.
  • Ben Whishaw as Q. I loved how Q’s abilities were crucial to the plot of Spectre and I, once again, wish that we could have spent more time with him. I have talked more about him in my Suffragette review.
  • Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny. I quite liked the brother-sister relationship that she and Bond have. However, her character was kinda wasted in this film – it is a shame that they didn’t give more things for her to do.
  • Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra. I have always been skeptical about Bellucci as an actress and never really paid any attention to her. However, she was perfectly fine in this film as the sex toy-Bond Girl. You see there are different types of Bond girls and she played the most stereotypical one.
  • Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory aka the new M. As much as I like Fiennes as an actor, my favorite M will always be Judi Dench. Having said that, Fiennes did a nice job in the role and I did love his serious facial expression.
  • Andrew Scott as Max Denbigh – C. He was a really unlikable character even before it was revealed that he was working for Spectre. You could sense his douchebagness from miles away, so the twist was not that surprising.
  • Jesper Christensen came back as Mr. White and I really liked the fact that his comeback was meaningful and not just a random cameo to please the fans.
  • Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx – the assassin of Spectre. He was not really developed as a character but, not surprisingly, did an amazing job in the fight/action scenes as in Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • Lastly, it turns out that a Lithuanian actor (I’m Lithuanian also) Gediminas Adomaitis, who I have never heard before, was one of Oberhauser’s Right Hand Man, according to IMDb. That’s pretty cool.

All in all, Spectre was definitely an enjoyable film, however, it could have been and should have been so much better. I don’t know whether my expectations were too high and that’s why I am so harsh on this film. Still, I firmly believe that the film’s script was its weakest part. While I loved the tone and the dialogue, the plot could have used another revision. Nevertheless, the acting and the visuals, both in the opening and in the actual film, were splendid.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Spectre trailer

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Movie review: The Martian

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!!

I have missed you so much!! I haven’t written in a while because I was buried underneath piles of work. Living on my own while studying is way harder than I expected it to be. I already cannot even look at pasta and I still have 4 more years to go eating it. Anyway, we are not here to talk about my mundane problems. We are here to review the latest space opera – The Martian. I have actually seen it during the opening weekend but only managed to review it a week later…Sorry…

Also, I would like to give a spoiler warning for The Martian if you have not seen it yet.

BTW, it’s been a month since I started taking Introduction to Film course, so tell me in the comments if my reviewing style has changed somehow (maybe it improved, hopefully?).

Comparison

It is not a secret that in the last few years, we had a few high production astronomical blockbusters – 2013’s Warner Bros’s Gravity and 2014’s Legendary’s Interstellar. Now, 20th Century Fox takes its shot and creates a mixture of those two films (even borrows some actors): The Martian has a plot-line of a ‘lonely astronomer lost in space’ from Gravity and ‘his team trying to save him’ from Interstellar. While I have enjoyed both of these films, The Martian might be my favorite out of all 3. I have also seen this film described as Castaway meets Apollo 11, which, I agree, is an accurate representation.

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The tagline for this film was Bring Him Home and it was definitely true to the film because Mark Watney’s attempt to go home was the scientific and emotional core of the film. Also, for me as a newly created emigrant, it’s a theme near and-and dear to my heart. Yes, I’m not stranded on another planet, but being away from home is hard no matter the distance.

Water on Mars!

This movie had perfect time!! Just before its release, scientists actually found flowing water on Mars. Now, we are one step closer to turning The Martian from Science Fiction to Science Reality. If you like to learn more about this exciting development, I suggest you watch this Sci Show explanatory video.

Story & Writing

The Martian’s screenplay was written by Drew Goddard who has written mainly for TV before this. His credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost, and Daredevil, which he also helped to produce. His last film script was for World War Z, which I, personally, really enjoyed but sadly been in a minority of moviegoers. Going back to The Martian, I really liked his treatment of this story. Although the movie has no real action, for the most part, a lot of crucial things still happen during the middle of the film and keep the viewer engaged and interested. Nothing happens and a lot of things happen at the same time (we actually just studied films like this in my film class last week). Moreover, it needs to be mentioned that this is not an original story but an adaptation of Andy Weir’s book with the same name. I added it to my reading list and you should too.  I have seen it in bookstores, re-released with the cover that looks like the movie’s poster, so it should be quite easy to get your hands on a copy of it.

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Realism

This movie has been praised for its scientific accuracy and it’s probably the most accurate of the 3 recent astronomical blockbusters. I am not expert on astronomy, physics, botany or any science but I am interested in these fields (that’s one of the reasons why I like sci-fi so much). Anyway, I found this Screen Junkies video on The Martian to be really interesting and helpful in thinking about Movie Science. I love all of their stuff on YouTube , but Movie Science videos are at the top of the list.

Directing and Visuals

The Martian is directed by the fan favorite Ridley Scott. His filmography includes Allien, Blade Runner (got its DVD from the library today), Gladiator, Prometheus and last year’s Exodus. Lots of people had problems with his last film and the whitewashing issue while I loved it. The interpretation of a biblical story was done in much better way than in Noah and the visuals were just stunning. Scott didn’t disappoint with The Martian as well. The Mise-en-Scene (I’ve learned a few fancy words in film class) was just stunning and really realistic while the futuristic technology was realized in a believable fashion as well. The action both on Mars and in the outer space looked amazing too. The NASA base was also a cool set, whose backgrounds could be analyzed separately from the narrative/on their own.

Acting

The titular character of the film and the main start, of course, is Matt Damon. It’s not the first time that Damon is playing a lost astronaut – he had a similar role in Interstellar. However, while he was an extreme douche-bag in that film, here he is a loveable, funny, witty, intelligent and self-efficient character who carries the whole film. Damon’s performance blew me away and definitely turned me into a fan of his. I’ve seen a few of his films and was always on a fence about him, but his role as Mark Watney changed my perspective. I also loved that he was a botanist – you never really see movies that focus on plant biology scientists, films usually tend to pick physics or chemistry scholars, so this was a nice and refreshing change.

While Matt Damon as Mark Watney is the central character of the film, he gets great support from a very diverse, established, and extensive supporting cast. I’m going to divide these characters into Space team and Earth team.

Space team includes:

  • Jessica Chastain as Melissa Lewis, Ares III commander – another Interstellar alumni. Loved her in that film as much as this one.
  • Michael Peña as Rick Martinez, astronaut – the scene-stealer of Ant-Man shined in this film too. Can’t wait to see more of his work.
  • Kate Mara as Beth Johanssen, astronaut – played a similar role to the one she did in Fantastic Four. While they definitely messed up Sue Storm in that film, her character was a great addition to this motion picture’s cast.
  • Sebastian Stan as Chris Beck, astronaut – the Winter Soldier can be more than Marvel’s next Captain America. I am a fan of Stan, so loved seeing him popping up in this film.
  • Aksel Hennie as Alex Vogel, astronaut – rounded up the space part of the cast. Sadly, I’m not familiar with his work, so cannot really comment much, except to say that he was great in this film.

We didn’t get to spend much time with these characters and they didn’t get a lot of development. However, I believe that they served their purpose for this specific film perfectly by providing Matt Damon’s character with great support.

Earth team includes:

We did get to spend more time with the Earth-based part of the cast which had a few surprising performances.

  • Kristen Wiig as Annie Montrose, NASA spokesperson – was the biggest surprise. I have never imagined Wiig in not a comedic role but she blew me away. I wish she would do more action/drama films, but sadly her next movie is Ghostbusters remake, which I have mixed feelings about. Furthermore, I loved her character because she brought the public into the film. I haven’t seen the theme of public’s affect of NASA and NASA’s manipulation of public explored before.
  • Jeff Daniels as Teddy Sanders, head of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor, a NASA mission director, and Sean Bean as Mitch Henderson, a NASA mission director were the powerful trio of NASA and for me, they worked best in their scenes together, because they played off of each others energy. Surprisingly, Sean Bean did not die. Also, seeing him make Lords of the Rings references was amazing!!
  • Donald Glover as Rich Purnell, a NASA astronomer and Mackenzie Davis as Mindy Park, a satellite planner in Mission Control were the 2 younger actors in the Earth team. I liked the nerdy-ness that Glover’s character brought to the film and I appreciated the introduction to Davis as an actress.

Lastly, this film had a few international actors from China: Eddy Ko and Chen Shu. While I don’t know if this side-plot was the part of the original story of the book, but I guess we all know why it was included in the film. Get that Chinese Box Office, Fox!

All in all, this fall is proving to be one of the greatest movie seasons ever! I haven’t seen a film which I didn’t enjoy so far. The Martian is a great adaptation of (I’m sure) an amazing book with wonderful acting from the whole ensemble cast, especially the leading man – Matt Damon. In addition, it has stunning visuals and a strong emotional appeal as well as is scientifically accurate as much as sci-fi film can be accurate.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: The Martian trailer

The Martian movie poster