The Martian Movie Review

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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

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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)

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The Martian Book Review

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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:

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Battlestar Galactica, Season 4 Review

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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.

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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)

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Battlestar Galactica, Season 3 Review

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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.”

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My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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Battlestar Galactica: Razor Review

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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.

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My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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Battlestar Galactica, Season 2 Review

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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.

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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)

Battlestar Galactica, Season 1 Review

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Review:

I heard rave reviews of the 2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot for a couple years before I actually sat down to watch it. This was partially because I was confused about where to start, so just in case somebody else has the same question: you start with the miniseries. The miniseries is included with the season one box set, so you don’t need to buy/rent it separately (although that is an option).

Once I finally sat down to get started, I was quickly captivated. In fact, I think the miniseries and first couple seasons of Battlestar Galactica are some of the best science fiction ever committed to screen. The storyline focuses on the captain (Edward James Olmos) of an outdated starship that is about to be decommissioned and turned into a museum. Shortly before the ceremony is scheduled to take place, the ship’s crew receives word that human civilization is under attack by their former robot slaves, the Cylons, who have attained sentience and turned on their former masters. The massive attack is carried out so swiftly and comprehensively that within hours, the human race is reduced to just 50,000 survivors.

Battlestar Galactica never struggled to find its footing, as some shows do early on. The writing in the miniseries and first season is solid throughout, the special effects are excellent, and the large ensemble cast, led by Olmos and Mary McDonnell, is outstanding. Like many great sci-fi series, the show grappled thoughtfully with serious real world religious, philosophical, and ethical quandaries, even as its characters wandered alien star systems in search of a legendary planet called Earth where they hope to find safety. At the same time, it held the interest of less philosophically inclined viewers with gripping storylines and plenty of space battles.

For me, one of the main strengths of Battlestar Galactica is its characterization. I thought the writers did a great job juggling the many different arcs and storylines and making each one both individually and collectively interesting and appealing. I quickly grew to care about nearly all the characters and even though I became increasingly unhappy with the direction some of the character’s arcs took in later seasons, I never lost my fundamental investment in the characters and their fates. This turned out to be both good and bad in the end, as I’ll discuss in my reviews of the later seasons, but it was unequivocally a good thing in the miniseries and season one.

Not going to lie: eye candy is an additional bonus of the show. I started watching the miniseries one evening without my husband. He passed by the tv at one point and practically got whiplash from Number Six, who is played by Tricia Helfer, a rare model-turned-actress who can actually act. (Grace Park, who played Number Eight, also got her start as a model.) For the ladies, you have Jamie Bamber (though the infamous towel slip is in season two), Tahmoh Penikett, and others.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Movie Review

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Review:

My dad isn’t a Trekkie, but he is a Star Trek fan, and he tried to introduce my siblings and me to the series with slightly mixed success when we were kids. For example, we got sort of traumatized by the Ceti eel things in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (I didn’t attempt to watch that film again until I was an adult), but we absolutely loved Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In fact, it became one of our favorite movies and we watched it many, many times as kids. It remains one of my favorite films to this day, and is definitely my favorite Star Trek movie. The Voyage Home is hilarious, highly quotable, and ultimately touching, as the crew of the Enterprise travels back in time to 1980’s San Francisco to bring back a pair of humpback whales in an attempt to repopulate the species (which has become extinct in the 23rd century). Also, I still kind of want to be Gillian Taylor.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Star Trek (2009) Movie Review

Review:

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I wouldn’t describe myself as a Trekkie, but I do enjoy Star Trek, and like many fans more dedicated than myself, I have somewhat mixed feelings about this film.

On the one hand, it’s a lot of fun and I thought they did an excellent job with casting. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, and the rest all did a great job bringing a fresh energy to their characters without sacrificing familiarity.

On the other hand, it’s very flashy and pretty to look at without having much underneath. Large chunks of the plot and worldbuilding for the reboot are blatantly, almost insultingly, ridiculous.

In short, it’s a fun movie to curl up with on a rainy afternoon, but I hope in future that the reboot films will be taken over by someone with more respect for the soul of the original Trek. Meanwhile, the best thing about the reboot universe is the top-notch fanfiction it’s inspired.

A couple personal favorites:

Yeah, I like Uhura.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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