The Martian – A Review

Ridley Scott direct Matt Damon and an impressive ensemble of supporting cast of Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wigg, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Mackenzie Davis, Sebastian Stan in The Martian.

Based on the book by Andy Weir, screen writer Drew Goddard manages to keep the humor and sarcasm from the book and translates that to screen without making it sound cheesy or making light of the actual science involved. From story and screenplay point of view The Martian strikes a perfect balance of keeping the science real and still ensuring that casual moviegoers are not overwhelmed and ultimately disinterested. Comparisons calling this Apollo 13 meets Castaway aren’t far off the mark.

The story sees Mark Watney and his band of Astronauts exploring the inhospitable martian terrain when a storm looms ahead and the team is forced to return to the safety of the MAV and leave as the strength of storm was underestimated. Watney gets stranded and is assumed dead as the crew unwillingly decide to leave him behind and return to Hermes to embark on the journey back home. Turns out Watney isn’t dead but is left to his own devices as he tries to survive on the planet where nothing survives. Watney tries his hand at farming, foraging for the pathfinder and setting up a communication link back to earth using primitive techniques. Damon is perfectly cast as Watney as his dry humor and wry smile carry the entire movie on his shoulders. I could go on discussing the several hilarious scenarios he is faced with but it is best experienced first-hand on the big screen.

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The support cast is jam packed with talented names but there are so many that they are almost callously handled. Jeff Daniels as the director of NASA phones it in, there is no undercurrent of passion that we saw him demonstrate in The Newsroom. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor also seems badly written, Sean Bean as the guy who heads the mission to mars is also underwritten and his talents of dying in every movie he stars in are also criminally wasted. Donald Glover is stereotypical Nasa nerd. Benedict Wong and Kristen Wigg do a fine enough job but could have done so much more in trying to infuse more humor than they do. The only one from the support cast who left a lasting impression was Mackenzie Davis who is the first one to report that Mark Watney might actually still be alive on Mars. Jessica Chastain as the 80s disco music obsessed but cool and detached commander is also perfectly cast.

Supporting cast weakness aside, where The Martian triumphs is in its casting of Damon and his portrayal of the eternally optimistic Mark Watney who promises to “science the shit out of this” as he does everything possible to survive – I wish there was Eye of the Tiger playing in one of the scenes it would have been perfect but Hot Stuff and Fonz from Happy Days more than makes up for it. Technically the movie isn’t anything ground breaking in terms of the space-y visuals but it is adequate and does the job.

The movie shines for its light hearted and tongue in cheek look at the sci-fi which more often than not takes on a far too serious a tone and nothing against it but this one works just as well. And Matt Damon is brilliant. He reminds me of Soderberg’s underrated The Informant and that is a very very good thing. And the 80s music is a guilty pleasure so give me more disco any day of the week and I will be a happy bunny!

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Lucy – A Review

Lucy Movie PosterLuc Besson directs Scarlet Johansson in and as Lucy – ironically named after the first woman ever ( a fact shared in the film of which there are many). Lucy is the first human to ever access more than 10% of their brain power. Morgan Freeman joins along for the ride as the a professor who specializes in similar subject matter.

Besson dreams up themes which have been part of many a spirited debate in the theoretical sciences which argue that human’s aren’t done evolving yet and that once we are able to unlock the additional capacity that our brain possesses, we shall be able to accomplish hitherto unimaginable feats. But the choices Besson makes turn this sci-fi high concept into nothing more than a high adrenaline slick action caper.

Scarlet Johansson who accomplished so much more in last year much loved sci-fi romcom Her with just her voice, channels her inner Keanu Reeves with the mandatory wooden expression. I am yet unable to understand why do sci-fi creators always feature protagonist with no ability to express emotions? If we are going to be more evolved in the future wouldn’t we be more expressive? More emotive? More human? But she packs a serious punch as she whoops ass wushi ( that’s samurai in chinese) style.

Morgan Freeman can recite the phone book at it would sound exciting as hell. Here he reprises his role as the voice over for IMAX documentaries and acts as a narrator so that the audiences can garner some semblance of what the hell is going on. Is Freeman really the go to guy for any science related stuff in Hollywood? Or perhaps he is chosen for his abilities to make the most inane of mumbo-jumbo sound legit.

Besson makes a lot of poor choices which even under the guise of sci-fi creative license are inexcusable. Like the first time lucy walks into the hospital she just suddenly develops the ability to read Mandarin?  Couldn’t Besson just provide Lucy with some light reading on the taxi ride to the hospital so that it seems like she learnt Chinese? I mean even Small Wonder had more sense than Besson shows here.  The action is fine and fun and at 88 minutes the movie never ones drags but at times feels like logic was sacrificed at the floors of the editing room.

Despite the minor flaws the movie is entirely entertaining and Scarlet Johansson is on the screen slowly walking up and down corridors for a good part of the 88 minute run. And just for that go see Lucy.

Gravity – A Review

Alonso Cuarón directs George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in the space adventure Gravity. Set at 200 km above the surface of the earth Gravity tells the harrowing tale of a crew of spaceship out on a regular mission that gets hit with the debris from a Russian satellite and the horrors that ensue in Zero Gravity.

Gravity has been hailed as the visual masterpiece and the movie event of the year – believe the hype.  From the opening shot till the final closing one not one frame lets you take your eye off the screen. The scenes of the vast open blackness of space interspersed with  stars and other celestial bodies make you realize how tiny we are in the grand scheme of things and at the same time the minute you are on terra-firma the tracking shot shows us what a giant we are when it comes to our existence on earth.

The story is simple – George Clooney plays Matt Kowalski a veteran astronaut on his final mission is joined by the first timer Ryan Stone played by Sandra Bullock. While trying to place the scientific experiment that Dr Stone has been working on in to an orbiting satellite they get news that there is debris from a destroyed satellite headed their way. While they try to abandon their mission and return to safety they get hit by the debris and are set adrift with no communication back to the command center or the international space station. Left with only each other they try to survive in space with depleting oxygen and try and get to a escape pod to return to earth.  Without going into too much details the story is simple as they try against staggering odds to return to earth they get hit by one problem after another and the single shot camerawork draws you into their plight as you stop breathing while they are trying to reach out and grab hold on to a space craft and heave a sigh of relief when they do while getting increasingly frustrated as another crisis looms right ahead.

Sandra bullock in my opinion has never been better. As the harrowed first timer in space who kept crashing her simulator you feel for her and want to her to make safe passage to earth as it begins to appear that the chances are fast diminishing.  George Clooney has a small role to play but he does it like no one else does. There is a certain ease with which he plays every character on screen that no matter what the stakes you are sure he will make it out smiling that smug smile.

But this is a movie that is so much bigger than the big name stars involved. This is a movie which is dead certain to bring Emmanuel Lubezki his first Oscar for his magnificent work behind the camera. Lubezki has been credited with one of the most remarkable scenes ever filmed- the creation of life scene from The Tree of Life for Terrence Mallick. Here he essentially takes the viewer into outer space and spins you around like a sock in a tumble dry washing machine while still allowing you to marvel at the beauty of our planet as viewed from outer space. There are beautiful solitaire sunrises and pulsating Aurelia Borealis. A majority of the visuals are computer generated yet never once do you feel like you are not seeing the real thing. Also essential to the visual experience is the surprisingly effective music by a relative no-namer Stephen Price – however the use of silence is just as effective as is some of the other soaring soundtrack by Price.

There are those who are questioning the veracity of science involved in the making of Gravity and while doing so are missing the point that there are elements that have been exaggerated for dramatic appeal. What lies underneath is the essential human instinct for survival, survival against the greatest odds, odds that sometimes are the demons inside our own mind. Not giving up when there is nothing left to live for and trying with all your might to live to tell your story.

Don’t miss Gravity as it is a masterpiece of why we watch movies – it is to go where few men have ever gone before to be able to experience it for yourself without having to leave the comfort of your plush push-back chairs. Seek out the biggest screen possible and watch it in 3D but put the pop-corn away because when you are not looking there is satellite debris coming your way and you better watch out.