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Review of “The Martian” (3D)

It’s better than Interstellar and Gravity, alright? Let’s just get that out of the way. In fact, you know what? I have a great comparison: this movie is essentially Gravity if Gravity had endearing characters. Or a worthwhile plot. Or, you know, a soul.The_Martian_film_poster

The Martian is the best damn space movie I’ve ever seen. That’s not saying much as I’ve never really loved a space movie before (Star Wars is fun and all, but let’s be real guys). Still, it’s a compliment that’s definitely due for a movie of this quality. Ridley Scott is back in the game baby, and he’s playing to win!

It’s a movie about Mark Watney (Matt Damon), a botanist who gets stranded on Mars and has to grow potatoes while he waits for a rescue team over the course of a few years. It sounds so stupid, I know, yet the execution is AMAZING. Potato-growing is really only around thirty minutes of the movie, with the other two hours consisting of the best bits of NASA drama I’ve seen on the big screen and a hell of a lot of cool Mars cinematography.

Matt Damon, as you can tell by his smarmy face on the front of every poster for this movie, is obviously the one carrying the brunt of the screen time. And you know what? He nails it. He’s solid. I liked him in this movie. It almost made me forget how much of a politically correct goody two-shoes tool he was in Entourage (which, honestly, is probably more profile than parody of his real-world self). So yeah, if this were real life I’d like Damon to reach earth again, is what I’m saying.

Everyone else in the cast was awesome as well. Kate Mara was great, Michael Pena (forgive the lack of an accent of the “n”, no idea how to format that in) was (Inter)stellar, and OH MY GOD IS THAT SEBASTIAN STAN?? He’s gone from Winter Soldier to Galactic Soldier and it’s pretty great. He’s pretty great. Stan’s the man. Oh, and everyone else in the movie was great (Kristen Wiig, the two [three, technically] Chinese actors, Chitiwel Adjakfoar [I am NOT googling how to spell his name properly, he just needs to cut that thing down to a syllable or two at max], the NASA director [was he the dude from Full House??], etc.).

The soundtrack is really good. And no, I’m not referring to the shitty ’70’s disco stuff… though it did work, in the movie’s defense. Yes, even Abba. Anyway, Harry Gregson-Williams (responsible for some shitty soundtracks, admittedly, like Black Hat‘s) nails the desolate Mars survival atmosphere of the movie with his original score, the pieces of music I’m really referring to when I praise this movie’s soundtrack. I’m going to make a point of mentioning worthy soundtracks in movies because people just don’t do that enough these days. This guy put in work and it shows.

My only real issues with the movie stem from the actual source material in the Andy Weir novel, which involves the plot advancing based off of one coincidence to the next. Circumstances align in such a way that Watney is given exactly the amount of tools he needs to succeed, no more or less, almost like he’s in a Portal testing chamber. And while this was bothering me at first in the movie, the fact that the plot implements one random negative coincidence against him for every freebie it gives him made me appreciate the overall narrative a hell of a lot more. Oh, Watney magically found a way to grow potatoes on Mars? Well, Mars says fuck you and tears your little garden in half during a sandstorm. Ha.

Speaking of fucks, Watney drops two of them verbally within the first half hour of this movie, and alludes to like four more usages later. I am digging this whole “MPAA doesn’t care about language anymore” theme. The sooner we stop being offended by goddamn spoken four-letter combinations, the sooner movies like this can be entertaining and realistic with their dialogue.

Lastly, let’s talk about the 3D of this film. While I’m usually a staunch defender of the anti-3D camp as I believe it to be a worthless gimmick, The Martian isn’t that bad of an offender (that’s the nicest thing I’ll ever say about 3D) in terms of useless usage of the tool. Some of the debris flickering early on looks nice in 3D, and to be perfectly frank, I actually caught myself holding my breath for the grand finale of the movie and I think the 3D played a small part in adding to that tension (though really, I think it’s just that the movie had gotten me to care enough about the characters by that point and implemented bad-ass cinematography for the final scene that really caused my suspension of disbelief to be that intense… though, I’ll give 3D the benefit of a doubt just this once).

Well, that about sums up my ramblings regarding The Martian. Go see it because it’s amazing. Yeah.

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Review of “Everest”

♪Oh baby there ain’t no mountain high enough-♪

Actually no I think this one is.Everest_poster

Everest is a VERY interesting movie that sticks true to the facts of the event it’s based on, the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. I’ve been reading up on the real thing (this movie is good enough that it makes you want to research the story afterwards), and I was shocked to find out virtually everything in this movie is accurate to the real accounts; virtually nothing is Hollywood-ized for the sake of a more dramatic movie. If anything, the movie actually underplayed some of the human vs. human conflict between Rob Hall’s expedition and Scott Fischer’s. Isn’t that nuts?

That’s really where a lot of my love from this movie stems. It is grass-roots-level accurate. It doesn’t follow the Hollywood cookie cutter mold of the human spirit always triumphing, it follows the real life events of how one mountain destroyed a group of overzealous climbers. SPOILER: Every death in the movie is as accurate to the real accounts as possible. This includes BIGGER SPOILER the hypothesized cause of Doug Hansen’s death via falling and the far more detailed and educated hypothesis regarding the death by HAPE of Scott Fischer.

To this movie’s massive credit: firstly, the soundtrack is great. It’s got the Nepal-style music found in Far Cry 4, also based in a region neighboring Everest, so the feeling of the local culture is definitely present. Secondly, the whole ordeal is handled super maturely. It can be grizzly, it can be upsetting. But at the end of the day, Hollywood doesn’t dig its claws into the story; rather, it lets the true events unfold onscreen. If there’s a single moment of this movie I’ll remember for the rest of my life, it’s a bit involving a photo at the very end that reflects a bit from early in the first act of the movie. It made the whole thing come full circle and was downright haunting (I’ll refrain from putting the spoiler-y details here regarding that scene, as you’ll know it when you come to it, when you go to see this movie in a theatre [which you really should]).

Unfortunately, while this was the single movie in my life I actually wanted to go see in IMAX, the cards aligned so that it was either a convenient 2D (or 3D but even for this movie 3D is the stupidest gimmick ever) showing or not at all. Still, if you have the opportunity to get that bigger-than-big screen experience, I totally recommend you do it. Just from the 2D viewing, I can imagine how intense the movie would be on an IMAX screen

My only real gripe with the movie is that the pacing in the final quarter of the movie is wacky. Everything up until that point is masterfully done, but once the storm hits the director kind of loses his grip on an otherwise cohesive, flowing story. But the amazing thing is, the movie’s good enough that you’re not even there for the storm. Well, I mean, maybe you were like me and decided to check out the movie BECAUSE of the storm in the trailer, but once you’re actually in the theatre you totally forget there’s a storm on the horizon until it actually happens. And that’s simply because the characters and writing are that good. You just enjoy the basic struggle of watching a band of people trying to reach the top of Everest for the first three quarters of the movie. One quote from Gyllenhaal’s character sticks with me hours later because of how great (and comic relief-y) it is: “It’s not the altitude, it’s the attitude.”. Bahahaha. Not to mention that the writers SPOILERRRRRRR really focus their efforts on humanizing the people who are destined to die. This means the sweet old Doug who just wants to fulfill a life dream that he failed on the first time around and whose funding for this trip comes from a fundraising mission by a group of school children is the one who must die. This means Yasuko Namba, the oldest woman to attempt to climb Everest and complete the final of the seven deadly ascents, won’t reach the bottom to tell of her success. This means Rob Hall, the group leader expecting a daughter two months down the line, won’t ever be able to see her smile. It’s gut-wrenching, simply because you know it was REAL.

So please, go pay for a ticket and see Everest in theatres. Support awareness of an emotional true story done complete justice by Hollywood. Show that we want to recognize the biggest heroes of humanity on the big screen through accurate depictions of their struggles rather than embellished versions.

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Review of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

Guy Ritchie!!!sM6KRdy

After a long hiatus (I haven’t personally seen him do anything since the second Sherlock Holmes), Guy Ritchie is back with the much needed style-burst flick I’ve been craving all summer. None of the “just clean enough to be family friendly” fun of Ant-Man, nor the staple series standard serving size of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Just plain ‘ol Ritchie making a ritzy, classy-as-fuck Cold War spy movie that goes exactly like you think it will, managing to impress even though you know all the beats before they happen.

Where to start… it’s funny. Not Marvel funny, where it’s overt and in your face. Very clever dialogue and some beautifully dry humor (one particular scene where Henry Cavill is eating a sandwich in a truck is just the most absurdly funny thing) are all that U.N.C.L.E. relies on, and it works.

The character balance between Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill’s relationship is an odd one, as the dynamic I was expecting didn’t really exist until the end. Up until the final scene, you just feel REALLY bad for Hammer’s tortured Russian character Illya Kuryakin, rather than viewing him as a fun, evenly matched rival to Cavill’s suave American operator Napoleon Solo. But, even though the leads all act like massive assholes to each other (besides Illya, who sadly has to just sit around and take it like an abused puppy), it actually works and the necessary chemistry is there.

That last sentiment sums up the whole movie pretty aptly: somehow, it all works. None of it should, on paper. Guy Ritchie’s trademark style over substance coupled with a Cold War story we all know, overdone character dynamics accompanied by unorthodox unequal rivalry distribution; none of it should fit together. Yet somehow it all does. And I almost feel bad for supporting the popular opinion that Ritchie relies solely on style because he really doesn’t. His movies might have more of it than other directors’, sure, but that’s just an extra ace up the sleeve rather than his only playing card.

On a side note, Ritchie’s included a classy ‘ol cringe torture scene in this one just like he did in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. So yeah, understand that not only are there gasps, giggles and guffaws, there’s also a bit of gagging in U.N.C.L.E. But as with everything else in the movie, it works.

Update (8/24/15) It’s a day later and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on auto-loop. It’s fantastic. Daniel Pemberton is the MAN. This movie as a whole is like a rich wine, aging and gaining favor in my mind with each day I let it sit.

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Just Saw “Fantastic Four” A Second Time. Still Great.

Loved it just as much as I did in my initial review. I was worried that maybe my original perceptions of the film had been tainted by a desire to be contrarian to the masses. So, seeing it a second time and more acutely aware of its flaws, I have to say that by and large, my opinions on the movie are exactly the same. It’s essentially a better version of Interstellar‘s first two acts with some comic book action at the tail end, and I love that.

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Only opinion of mine that’s changed since my first viewing is that the final fight is somewhat lacking upon a second watch, though one-time viewers won’t really notice this as they’ll be too swept up in seeing it for the first time to really break down how weak it seems by comparison.

AND a second watch has helped me to reaffirm that people saying there was no Sue-Reed chemistry don’t know what they’re talking about. The library scene, the ear-flick/Doom is jealous scene, and at the end of the movie Sue puts her hand on Reed’s shoulder as they look at the *spoiler* massive crater from the planet Zero warp hole. Sure, it’s not obnoxiously in your face like most superhero movies, but it’s subtle and plants the seeds for a potential relationship. It’s… I dunno… REALISTIC. Pay closer attention, people. Understand that Trank made this a nuanced and subtle movie rather than the light, frothy action comic book flick you’ve come to expect.

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Review of “Fantastic Four” — Just See the Damn Movie. It’s Fantastic.

I’m kicking off this review with an informal letter to director Josh Trank: Come on, man. Don’t go cannibalizing your product by turning around and calling it shit just after everyone else started to. Besides, attacking the studio won’t help save your career. Just own what you made, because it was amazing.

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Here’s the truth of the matter: Fantastic Four takes a long time to get going. It’s only got a single action scene. Very few relationship tropes are achieved over the course of the movie. And for all those reasons, it’s probably the best origin story I’ve seen in ages.

Why do people hate it? Let’s go down the list. For each item, I’ll give a rebuttal of why I think it made the movie great.

1.) “The characters don’t develop.”

Some people are whining that Miles Teller and Kate Mara don’t bang by the end of this movie. Seriously, though? These kids have some brief moments of “will they or won’t they” in the beginning, much like any teens might have when they’re testing the waters. But priorities shift when they crack inter-dimensional travel, acquire super mutations, etc. Those are the sort of events that might stop a campy teen romance from developing, people. Biological anomalies and pressure from the government to be turned into a human weapon, as well as the impending threat of Doom, might impede on a shitty romance subplot. It’s a realistic sacrifice; get over your addiction to cliches.

2.) “Not enough action.”

fantastic-four-human-torch

There’s no argument that there’s little action. A single fight at the end is all that the movie builds up to. But there are two things worth mentioning here: the final fight is a worthy conclusion to an extremely solid, slow-burn origin story and secondly, rumor has it there were meant to be more fights. Now, I’m not going to regard that last point because it doesn’t matter what was meant to be rather than what’s actually IN the final product, but understand that the rumor mill claims Trank wanted three fights and Fox chopped the third act in some weird ways. Regardless, I honestly loved the single fight aspect. It made the event feel far grander than it actually was, when for the first time in the whole movie, the heroes had an obstacle as great as them to overcome. If they’d managed to fight three different fights by the end of this movie, it wouldn’t really have been an origin on them getting their collective shit together, now would it? A single fight to unite them once and for all, though, was awesome. It capped off a slow sci-fi flick with some comic book elements about five young adults going through some insane shit together.

3.) “The main cast is bad.”

While I will admit I was a little let down by Miles Teller who occasionally gave off the impression that he was just in it for the paycheck, the other five main members of the cast were great. Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell and Reg E. Cathey all brought their A-game, and blended well together. And sure, they might not have been written as the overly common in-sync super team we were expecting, but that’s because they were written as individuals with flaws that needed overcoming. They were written as REAL PEOPLE, and most audience members can’t accept that, it seems.

4.) “Doom sucked.”

Shut up, right now. Doom was honestly the best comic book movie antagonist I’ve ever seen, tying with the Joker (TDK) and Zod (MoS). Some might call that statement blasphemy, but hear me out: *SPOILER ALERT* he does what no Marvel antagonist has had the balls to do thus far, which is actually try to achieve his goals. Douchey government guy standing in his way? Doom just stares at him and BLOWS UP HIS HEAD. Innocent nurse blocking his path? Head blown up. Red was painting the walls by the time Doom started his killing spree, with little chunks bursting and shit. It was gruesome, and for the first time in comic book movie history, I was actually slightly frightened (the primary goal of a comic book villain!!!). The Joker wasn’t scary because we knew Batman would win, with the same caveat applying for Zod, though the latter did tear shit up before the inevitable save-the-day sequence. Doom, though, managed to suspend my disbelief to the point where I genuinely thought he had a chance at winning and ending the movie on a sour cliffhanger. I’ll be surprised if I ever feel that kind of suspense again. Not to mention his origin of being a computer nerd who plays Assassin’s Creed Unity wasn’t unbelievable, far from it. It was a classic tale of a kid with great potential squandering his life away behind a screen. An overall excellent modern adaptation of Doom.

5.) “The movie is too slow.”

Fantastic_Four_poster_2

Boo-hoo! I’m sorry this couldn’t be Spider-Man reboot #36 for you, where within the first thirty minutes he’s knocking out subway goons, zapping the Green Goblin’s mouth shut, etc. This movie tried to be Interstellar with a comic book conclusion, which meant that cheap action would have to be exchanged for a slow-burn sci-fi build. And, in my opinion, the gambit paid off. I cared more at the end simply because I hadn’t seen the heroes tested up to that point. It was methodically slow, in the best of ways.

Those are my retorts as a contrarian. I honestly liked this movie just a hair more than Ant-Man, to give you a frame of reference as to how I really feel (and I absolutely loved Ant-Man) about Fantastic Four. The soundtrack is phenomenal, the CGI is effective (and looks slightly more real based solely on how little of it crops up until the finale), the characters are believable and great, and everything is just awesome. Yes, if you want a run-of-the-mill action-churning, light-hearted origin story Fantastic Four will let you down. But if you want something unique, a movie that tried to be more than just a regular shitty comic book flick, give F4 a try. Just like Ant-Man was more heist than it was comic book, this is more sci-fi than superhero. And against all the critics, I for one will say it was a fantastic ride.