Back To the Future Movie Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

Would you believe that I’m over 30 years old and I had never seen this movie? In honor of Back to the Future day (October 21, 2015) the other day, I finally decided to remedy that, and was really pleasantly surprised. I kind of expected the movie to be corny and/or have terrible special effects, but I ended up enjoying it a lot. The story held my interest from beginning to end and there were some extremely funny lines. (Two days later, I’m still occasionally bursting into random giggles over “it’s already mutated into human form!” and “better get used to those bars, kid.”) The special effects definitely weren’t up to modern standards, but they weren’t terrible or silly looking like some older movies either.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

[Read more…]

The Martian Movie Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

Topping my list of 5 Movies I’m Looking Forward To Seeing This Fall was The Martian, based on Andy Weir’s novel of the same name, which has been one of my favorite reads of 2015 so far. (Check out my review.) And I didn’t waste any time going to see it!

The Martian is the best space movie I’ve seen since Apollo 13, and it’s very similar in theme. There’s no human antagonist in this film, only the harsh realities of outer space, which Mark, his fellow Ares mission crew members, and scientists from around the world must struggle against in order to, in the words of the film’s tagline, Bring Him Home. Like Apollo 13, it’s full of really smart, competent people being really smart and competent. The science is quite a bit less detailed than the book (and there are fewer disasters and near disasters), but there’s more than enough to get a feel for it without overwhelming the audience with exposition dumps. Despite going in knowing the story, I thought the film did a great job of keeping the tension high.

The cast is amazing. Matt Damon as Mark Watney obviously has the largest role, but the supporting cast is also full of outstanding actors, including Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Donald Glover, and more, to the point that a bunch of them actually felt underutilized. I really appreciated how diverse the film was, with many women and characters of color presented casually and without comment as skilled and respected scientists and leaders.

Although I thought the other five members of the Ares crew (Chastain, Stan, Mara, Pena, and Aksel Hennie) were among the most underutilized as actors, they did provide much of the film’s emotional depth and heart. The mutual friendship and respect they all shared with Mark was palpable and resulted in several powerful and emotional scenes as they confronted together the possibility that he might not survive. At the same time, they weren’t afraid to tease each other. Pilot Rick Martinez (Pena)’s first message to Mark after the crew discovered that he’d survived was especially funny, and Mark’s distaste for Commander Melissa Lewis (Chastain)’s love of disco music made for a great running joke.

Most importantly, I hope this film is a huge hit because after spending trillions on wars over the last decade and a half, I’d really like to see the next decade and a half spend money on things that actually move humanity forward, like science and space exploration. A manned Mars mission? Would be awesome. And though the movie is unflinching about the harshness of life on Mars (and the book even more so), it’s impossible not to look at the amazing Martian landscapes (actually Jordan’s Wadi Rum) and not want humanity to someday set foot there. So go forth, watch this film and be inspired!

Note: this review is for the standard version – I hate how dark 3-D films are and avoid watching them whenever possible.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)


 

Apollo 13 Movie Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

Tom Hanks has had an almost universally stellar career, but he was knocking it out of the park even more than usual in the mid-90s. Philadelphia in ’93, Forrest Gump in ’94, and Apollo 13 in ’95 – outstanding!

Based on the true story of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission in 1970, this film, which also stars Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, and Bill Paxton, remains one of the most gripping and moving films about outer space ever made. The performances are outstanding throughout. I find it especially inspiring as a tribute to the power of human ingenuity to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but it also has a great deal to say about the power of the human spirit.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

[Read more…]

The Martian Book Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

I’ve been reading a lot of romance lately, so I decided it was time for a change of pace. While I was contemplating what to try next, the Sebastian Stan fans on my Tumblr dashboard (of which I have many, thanks to my current obsession with the Captain America films, where he plays Bucky Barnes*) started sharing a new viral trailer for his upcoming film, The Martian, also starring Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, and Jessica Chastain.

I’ve heard great things about the book, which was written by Andy Weir and originally self-published, and it’s been on my to-read list for awhile, but then one of the aforementioned Sebastian Stan fans bumped it up to the #1 spot it by describing it, essentially, as the “square peg in a round hole” scene from Apollo 13 expanded into an entire book:

To which I was like, “heck yeah, baby!” because that is my favorite scene in one of my favorite movies, and so I bought The Martian and started reading it straightaway.

Bonus: it turned out to be only $5.99 on Kindle! Yay! So many traditionally published books try to charge $9.99 or even more for the Kindle edition, which is just stupid. I’m not going to pay as much as a paperback for an ebook. But $5.99 is within reason.

So, the plot of the book is that humanity has managed to get its act together with NASA funding (hint, hint) enough to do manned missions to Mars. On the third mission, the astronauts are forced to abort the mission six days into their time on Mars due to a powerful dust storm, but during the evacuation, astronaut Mark Watney, the mission’s botanist and mechanical engineer, gets hit by a flying antenna and is presumed killed. The crew attempts to recover his body, but are forced to leave the planet before they can find it.

However, Mark’s not dead, and once he regains consciousness and realizes what happened, he sets about figuring out how to survive alone on Mars for four years until the fourth mission can come along to rescue him.

The description of the book as the “Square peg in a round hole” scene from Apollo 13 was not misleading at all. I was in nerd heaven, especially reading Mark’s log entries. Although I’m not enough of a nerd to know how accurate some things were, the stuff I knew anything about seemed reasonably accurate, and I thought that Weir did a really good job overall of describing extremely technical stuff in an understandable and entertaining way.

In addition to the delightful nerdiness, the story was really tense and gripping from beginning to end, and very hard to put down. The great pacing and consistent tension was especially impressive considering that a lot of what Mark had to do was pretty damn mind-numbing. Crossing 3000+ kilometers of barren wasteland at 25 km/hr? Kill me now.

Where I thought the novel came up a bit short was the characterization. You get a pretty strong sense of Mark’s personality – as you’d expect, since you’re basically reading his thoughts (via the log entries) for most of the book – but the other five astronauts and the various NASA staff were less well defined and the dialogue between them was very basic and functional at best. However, this isn’t exactly an unusual complaint with hard sci-fi novels, and I thought the great pacing and fascinating survival story made up for it.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

I definitely plan to see the movie, which is scheduled to be released October 2, 21015, and am now really looking forward to it. Here is the official trailer:

[Read more…]

Ant-Man Movie Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

This review contains minor spoilers.

Marvel’s latest film, Ant-man, is formulaic and predictable (even down to some of the lines of dialogue), but entertaining. Like many Marvel films, it is at its best during its humorous moments and action sequences. I especially enjoyed the final fight between Ant-man and Yellowjacket, which made clever use of a child’s train set. The use of the actual ants was also pretty cool.

Some of the other scenes were too talky (sadly, Peggy Carter’s brief appearance was among these) and the occasional attempts at emotional depth were fails all around. Frankly, I never felt attached enough to any of the characters to care about the emotional pain they felt over their dead/imperiled/estranged wives and daughters. Yawn.

The romance, such as it was, was tacked on to a degree that was actually ridiculous. Coming so fast on the heels of the disastrous Bruce/Natasha in Age of Ultron, I’m tempted to say that Marvel should just give up on romance entirely – its best films, including Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers, are notable for having little or no romance at all. Though I am fond of Tony/Pepper and Steve/Peggy, nearly all of Marvel’s most interesting and best-written relationships are canonically platonic friendships (i.e. Steve & Bucky, Clint & Natasha, Tony & Rhodey) or family relationships (i.e. Thor & Loki), not romances. Most of the romances are bland at best. Ant-man‘s romance didn’t even manage to qualify as bland: it was so minor and added so little to the film that it would have been better to leave it out entirely.

However eye-rolling it was, the romance was so minor it doesn’t really deserve to have the longest paragraph in this review. My bigger beef with the film was that it sidelined Hope (and almost completely erased Jan), who was experienced and competent, in favor of (essentially) a random guy off the streets. This is not exactly an uncommon trope, but it felt especially irritating in light of the continuing failure of Marvel to make a Black Widow movie, or any movie with a female protagonist, until Captain Marvel, which isn’t projected to be released until 2018.

Overall, I’d put Ant-man about on par with Thor as an intro solo film (though lacking the benefit of a virtuoso performance comparable to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki) – enjoyable, but not something I’m likely to rewatch over and over.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

Adventures in Marvel Movie-going

I have never been a comics fan. First and foremost, I find the the physical act of reading them really difficult. I suspect they’re too visually busy for me, causing me to get distracted easily and have problems following the narrative thread, but I’m not really sure, as I don’t have the same problem with newspaper-style comics, even the more visually experimental ones like the later Calvin & Hobbes strips. On top of that, I haven’t been overly impressed with the writing of most comics I’ve attempted (which is, to be fair, not many, thanks to the aforementioned problem reading them). To me, they read like something halfway between a novel and a film, but with neither the depth of a novel or the immersiveness of a film. (Sorry, fans, I’ll turn in my geek card now.) On top of that, I don’t like the typical plots of traditional comics – superheroes gifted their powers by some bizarre accident involving radiation (or whatever) are inherently less interesting to me than someone who’s developed their natural abilities to the highest level via hard work and dedication. And supervillains with grandiose plans to destroy the world are even worse. So yeah, nothing against those of you who do like them, but comics so far have just not been for me.

Comic book movies haven’t been that much better, in general. Spider-man and Spider-man 2: yawn. Batman Begins: yawn. The Dark Knight: better, but only when Heath Ledger was onscreen. The Dark Knight Rises: on my list to watch someday on account of Tom Hardy, but not very high on my list. Supermannever watched in any form, unless you count this Smallville humor vid. X-men: on my list to try, but again, not exactly high on the list.

Marvel’s recent oeuvre, on the other hand, has started to pique my interest a bit more. It’s managed to produce not one, but two entire movies based on comic books that I really liked. I’m not sure how long this will continue, considering that the contracts on its biggest stars are running out, but for now, I’m enjoying it.

My adventures in Marvel movie-going, so far:

[Read more…]

Battlestar Galactica, Season 4 Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

Sooooo, season three of Battlestar Galactica was a bit of a mess, but had some redeeming points. Season 4? I don’t even know. I disliked it so much that I’ve never gone back and rewatched any episodes. I suppose if I did, I might find myself liking it better?

But then again, maybe not. As I said back in my review of season one, I got invested in these characters. I cared about them. And I feel like almost all of them were completely shat on by the final season.

In retrospect, some of this started as early as season two, but it accelerated in season three and was practically intolerable by season four. Characters that were once lovable turned gross. Characters that were once fascinating got boring. Yet others broke so badly and so completely that the pieces were impossible to put back together and it was not a tragedy but a relief when they died.

Buy at Amazon

And that’s not even getting into the ludicrous mess that was the series finale.

So the question becomes, can I in good faith recommend that people watch Battlestar Galactica when I and a significant percentage of its fanbase were not just dissatisfied but actively infuriated by the final season? Maybe I’m masochistic, but I think the answer is yes. Battlestar Galactica may be a cautionary tale about how badly a great show can go astray, but when it was great, it was really great. As painful as it was watching them fall apart, my imagination would be a poorer place if Starbuck and Roslin and Adama and Six and Cain and Shaw and the rest had never flown in and taken up residence.

My rating:2 Stars (2 / 5)

[Read more…]

Battlestar Galactica, Season 3 Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

So, after two seasons of exceptional television by really any measure, season three of Battlestar Galactica is where it started to go off the rails. After a fairly strong start on New Caprica with what is probably the single most spectacular battle scene in the show’s run, the rest of the season frequently floundered. It became increasingly clear that not only did the Cylons not have a plan, the writers really didn’t either.

What the plot lacked in logic and continuity, it did make up for in shock value, especially in the killer season finale: “Crossroads, Part 2.” Unfortunately, a few big shocking moments don’t make up for the muddled mess that was most of the rest of the season. The season was partially salvaged by some great character work from the actors, but overall, it was a disappointment.

Season three does, however, seem like a good time to point out something I was remiss in not mentioning earlier: the music! Battlestar Galactica has an absolutely beautiful score composed by Bear McCreary, whose blog posts also offer some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits. Here’s the show’s opening credits music as a sample:

Why is season three an especially good time to mention the music? Another of the most memorable music choices in the series takes place in the aforementioned season finale as the Final Five are revealed to the immortal strains of Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

Buy at Amazon

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

[Read more…]

Battlestar Galactica: Razor Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

As I mentioned in my Battlestar Galactica season two review, the Battlestar Pegasus arc is one of my favorites in the entire series, so I was really happy when I heard that they were going to make a movie about the Pegasus and her crew.

Pegasus’s story is told through a series of flashbacks from the point of view of Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen), one of Pegasus’s officers under Admiral Cain, and interspersed with scenes after Lee Adama names Shaw his XO when he takes command of Pegasus. Jacobsen does a fantastic job with her role, and there’s lots of great material with Cain and Gina in the flashbacks, and lots of good stuff with Starbuck (among others) in the later scenes, so I enjoyed the movie a lot and definitely recommend it for fans of the show. Despite the fact that you already know the outlines of Pegasus’s story (assuming you’ve watched season two, of course), the acting is so compelling that it draws you in and makes the actions undertaken by Cain and her crew in the aftermath of the attack on the 12 Colonies shocking even though you already know they’re going to happen. Razor also includes flashbacks from Adama’s backstory as a young pilot in the First Cylon War, when he stumbled on some gruesome early experiments with making humanoid cylons.

When should you watch Razor?

The movie was released in between seasons three and four, but takes place chronologically in season two, after “The Captain’s Hand.” There are no spoilers for season three in the movie, so personally I’d recommend watching it between seasons two and three, closer to where it fits chronologically. The only caveat is that some fans feel that a few lines of dialogue at the very end of the film suit the tone of season four better than that of season three, and may affect your impression of season three if you watch it first. If you’re concerned about this, fan Thunderpeel2001 has advice for how to skip those few lines.

Buy at Amazon

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

[Read more…]

Battlestar Galactica, Season 2 Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

Season two of Battlestar Galactica was just as outstanding as season one. It’s my favorite season of the show, largely because of the intense Battlestar Pegasus arc in the middle of the season, when the Galactica unexpectedly finds another ship that survived the Cylon attacks but has taken a very different moral path in the intervening months. The discovery of the Pegasus was the catalyst for some of the best performances of the whole series, including Tricia Helfer’s as the Number Six copy called Gina Inviere and guest star Michelle Forbes’s remarkable work as Pegasus’s Admiral Helena Cain.

I also enjoyed some of the stand-alone episodes this season, especially the uplifting “Flight of the Phoenix” and the considerably angstier “Scar.” As a huge fan of Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), I thought this was Sackhoff’s best season, thanks to her performances in those two episodes, the Pegasus arc, and the Caprica arc.

Buy at Amazon

While season two itself is great, I was kind of annoyed that they chose to break it up into not one, but two DVD box sets when they released it. I mean, they managed to fit season one into a single box set and it had the extra three hour miniseries on top of the regular episodes. It kind of seems like a way  to charge fans almost twice as much for the same amount of content. Nevertheless, I clearly fell for it, and evidently so did plenty of others, because they did the same thing with season four.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)