Tag Archives: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Review – The Martian (12a) [2015]

The Martian - title banner3

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Harry Gregson-Williams – Shrek I-IV, Kingdom of Heaven, Unstoppable, Blackhat, Life Briefly

On this blog, much has been made of the paucity of Ridley Scott’s films over the last fifteen years. For a director who once made Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator, it is astonishing that Scott has made terrible film after terrible film since Gladiator was released in 2000. So going into The Martian, what was one to expect? Another terrible film to add to Scott’s bloated collection? Actually, nothing of the sort: a pleasant surprise.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) with the NASA crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, sitting down), before they go out to explore.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) with the NASA crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, sitting down), before they go out to explore.

The Martian is based on Andrew Weir’s 2011 novel with the same title. Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is exploring Mars with a NASA team, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). The team are out on the Red Planet when a freak storm occurs, knocking Mark away. Believing that he is dead, and fearing that the storm will destroy the team’s means of getting home, Melissa orders an evacuation.

However, Mark is not dead and wakes up to find that the team have left Mars without him. Considering that the next NASA flight mission to Mars is not for another four years, Mark knows he’s going to be stuck on his own on Mars for a while. Yet, he only has enough food for a few months. So how will he survive?

At its core, The Martian has a simple premise: how Mark, all on his own, is going to keep himself alive. One might ask oneself how interesting such a plot could be. Yet, surprisingly, The Martian is an entertaining, innovative and engaging movie. Undoubtedly, it is Ridley Scott’s finest film since Gladiator! (Then again, with Kingdom of Heaven, Prometheus, The Counsellor and Exodus among his recent films, that is not saying much at all.)

The sudden (contrived) storm that knocks Mark away.

The sudden (contrived) storm that knocks Mark away.

Part of the reason why The Martian is so good is because the desert scenery of Mars (or, rather, of Jordan, where the movie was filmed) is beautifully shot. Seeing the landscape of this foreign planet is as wondrous as any awe-inspiring place on Earth, as evidenced in The Way Back, True Grit, Sanctum and Macbeth, to name but four. Moreover, The Martian is an extremely interesting film. Our main character, Mark, is a (genius) botanist, and it is fascinating watching him carry out scientific experiments using natural elements in order to survive.

But while the scenery is wondrous and the experiments are ingenious, The Martian would not have been half as engrossing without really good acting. Matt Damon has such a magnificent screen presence that he, alone (quite literally), can hold audiences’ attentions. Sean Bean is good as the honourable (Ned Stark-like) man, as is Chiwetel Ejiofor. Jeff Daniel’s is also decent as the NASA director, with the (legitimate) counter-arguments to Bean’s and Ejiofor’s suggestions. And, lastly, the crew (headed by Jessica Chastain) play decently enough with the little time that they’re given on screen.

Assisting the cast, however, is a really good script, which ensures that The Martian surpasses recent, phenomenal space films such as Gravity and Interstellar. This is because the former was let down by a B-movie script, while the latter suffered from an incoherent storyline. The Martian, by contrast, has all the best elements of those movies, plus humour. The humour, in itself, warrants that viewers empathise with the characters and (cleverly) enables audiences to ignore the scientific technicalities if they don’t understand them.

Upon waking up and returning to the base, Mark sits alone and wonders what he is to do. Not least, what will he do about food as his supplies are low?

Upon waking up and returning to the base, Mark sits alone and wonders what he is to do. Not least, what will he do about food as his supplies are low?

Scott gets a lot right with The Martian. Nevertheless, that is not to say that the movie is not without its faults. First, the storm at the beginning of the film is massively contrived to get the plot moving. And, second, the movie is predictable and the ending is an utter cliché. Yet, if these are the main flaws of the film, they are quite trivial, thereby emphasising just how well Scott has done with this movie.

All-in-all, The Martian is a very entertaining film. It has no significant faults, it is innovative and it is funny. To think that the movie is predominantly about a man stuck on Mars on his own, trying to survive against the elements, underlines how impressive The Martian is. It also highlights that Ridley Scott still can direct excellent movies, despite his atrocious recent record. Let’s hope that The Martian can inspire Scott to cease making films of the poverty of Prometheus and Exodus, so that he can return to making films of the brilliance of Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator.

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Review – 12 Years A Slave (15) [2014]

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Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Steve McQueen – Hunger, Shame

Cast:

Music Composer:

It is with great relief and pride that state-sponsored slavery has been consigned to history in the West and in most other parts of the world. From ancient times through to the mid-20th century, enforcers of slave-based systems at times demonstrated the worst aspects of human nature. Despite America’s ideology of freedom and democracy for all peoples, the country started off with a terrible stain on its record due to the racially-aggravated slave-based system that was predominantly practised in the South of the country. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave brilliantly gives us a window into the harrowing world of the treatment black people suffered at the hands of white slave masters in the South before the Thirteenth Amendment came into force in 1865.

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as a free man, with his family in New York.

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as a free man, with his family in New York.

12 Years A Slave is based on the true story and memoirs of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Born and raised in New York as a free man, Solomon is invited by two ‘artists’ to share his skills with the violin and make some good money by playing in Washington DC.

But after making some money in the capital, Solomon is drugged one night and wakes up in chains in a dank underground cell. Despite his protestations of being a free man, Solomon is shipped to the South and sold into slavery.

Somehow, Solomon must stay alive, maintain his dignity, and return to New York to see his wife and two children again.

12 Years A Slave is a powerful, tear-jerking and distressing film from the off. Nothing by way of raw brutality is left out to illustrate how badly black people were treated under slavery. By starting the film with Solomon in slavery, having all his moments as a free man via flashbacks, Steve McQueen immediately enables audiences to sympathise and pity Solomon’s situation.

Sometimes (to be really pedantic) in order to rub salt into Solomon’s sorrowful predicament, the film indulges itself a little. This has the dual effect of giving Solomon so much screen time that it is as if the world revolves around him (especially due to the fairly long scene sequences that McQueen favours); and it pads out the movie’s running time to 134 minutes by putting in scenes that have no material effect on the plot. But these minor criticisms should not undermine the effectiveness of 12 Years A Slave.

Epps (Michael Fassbender), the nastiest of all the slave owners, shouting crazily at an enslaved Solomon, tormenting him.

Epps (Michael Fassbender), the nastiest of all the slave owners, shouting crazily at an enslaved Solomon, tormenting him.

The movie, however, would only be half as potent if it were not for the great performances from all the cast members, but in particular from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender. Ejiofor captures the anger and the despair of his character. Moreover, he portrays the sheer willpower of Solomon to survive with (some of) his dignity intact splendidly. Whenever Solomon looks back at the life that was taken from him, viewers cannot help but feel Solomon’s pain, and credit must be given to Ejiofor for enabling audiences to feel such strong emotions.

On the flip side, Fassbender also makes viewers feel strong sentiments with his performance as Edwin Epps, the ‘N*****-Breaker’ as his character is proudly nicknamed. It would have been easy for Fassbender to fall into the trap of a pornographic nastiness (as Ramsey Snow from Game of Thrones and the villains in Hostel and The Human Centipede all gleefully jump into). But by Fassbender playing Epps as an eccentric and quasi-comical human being, with problems of his own, Fassbender provides us with a powerful performance of a sadistic, yet troubled soul that feels entirely natural under the circumstances.

Fassbender can be seen to represent some of the worst facets of slave owners (and humanity in general when given licence). Nevertheless, 12 Years A Slave makes a point to show audiences that some slave owners were not as bad as Epps, and that they lived in fear of men like Epps and their own henchmen because of it.

Black slaves hung for the crime of running away from their cruel masters, and to deter others from trying to do the same.

Black slaves hung for the crime of running away from their cruel masters, and to deter others from trying to do the same.

Being afraid, of course, does not excuse keeping slaves or their actions. But as honest as the film is regarding the cruelty of the slave-system in the South, it is equally honest about why some people, who would have probably been good citizens in the free North, perhaps did not do enough (or anything at all) to help bring down the system. Steve McQueen must be applauded for this, like he should be for virtually everything else in this movie, as it would have been easy to inaccurately portray all slave owners as the Devil incarnate.

Over-all, 12 Years A Slave can be best summed up in the words of one of the actors in the film: “amazing… and none of it good.” Through outstanding performances from the cast, the film powerfully reveals the horrors and brutality of the slave-based system in the South of America in the mid-nineteenth century. One is likely to leave the film feeling numb and distressed, but also with the knowledge that not all the slave owners were wicked and that good men like President Abraham Lincoln put an end to the reprehensible system almost 150 years ago.

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