The Martian Movie Review

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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 / 5)


Ricki and the Flash Movie Review

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Meryl Streep’s latest is not her greatest, but she is, as usual, a joy to watch. In Ricki and the Flash, Streep stars as a former housewife who left her husband Pete (Kevin Kline) and children Julie, Josh, and Adam to pursue dreams of rock stardom. Years later, her children are grown, her husband is remarried, and she’s making ends meet by working as a grocery store clerk while singing in bars with her boyfriend Greg (Rick Springfield) and their cover band The Flash. Then Julie (Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer) attempts to commit suicide following a divorce, and Pete calls her home to try and help.

The acting was really top notch throughout. You expect excellence from actors like Streep and Kline, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well Mamie Gummer and Rick Springfield held their own, having expected them to be overshadowed by the famous pair at the top of the billings. The other standout in the cast was Audra McDonald as Maureen, Pete’s new wife and the children’s second mother. She had an outstanding confrontation with Ricki that was probably the single best acted scene in the film.

On the other hand, Sebastian Stan (of the Captain America films) and Nick Westrate (of TURN: Washington’s Spies) were both underutilized as Ricki’s sons Josh and Adam, respectively. I’m admittedly a fan of Sebastian, but I would have liked to see a little more of his character in particular. Of the three kids, he was outwardly the least embittered, but I did not get the impression that Julie was lying when she said he didn’t want Ricki at his wedding, so it might have been interesting to see that tension explored a little more. I couldn’t get a great handle on Josh’s fiancee Emily (Hailey Gates) either. She was clearly intensely uncomfortable with Ricki’s sudden arrival in her life, but I couldn’t tell if some of her behavior at the wedding was supposed to be discomfort or an alarming slide into Bridezilla-ness.

Written by Diablo Cody of Juno fame, there was lots of clever and snappy dialogue (fortunately it was also, for the most part, less precious than Juno‘s) and lots of laugh out loud moments despite the heavy themes the film touches on. I thought it handled the heavy issues regarding regrets, absentee parents, and abandonment issues relatively well for most of the film. Greg had an especially good line: “It doesn’t matter if your kids love you or not. It’s not their job to love you, it’s your job to love them!” However, I thought the ending felt too pat and simplistic. I suppose it was supposed to be some sort of “music brings people together” message, which may be true, but also sits a little uncomfortably in a film about a family literally torn apart by music.

Speaking of music, the soundtrack is a fantastic mix of classic rock and more modern hits, though I have to say I was disappointed when the film cut away from Streep’s rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” about 30 seconds in. (The full version is available on the film’s soundtrack.)

Overall, an enjoyable film, but not as memorable as it should have been, given its cast.

My rating: (3 / 5)

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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:

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