Tag Archives: matt damon

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.

PG’s Tips

Advertisements

Review – Interstellar (12a) [2014]

Interstellar - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

There are some directors whose movies are simply a cut above the rest. Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Alfonso Cuarón and Martin Scorsese do not necessarily make films often, but when they do their films are invariably of the highest quality. Christopher Nolan rightly has a place among these filmmaking giants and his latest movie, Interstellar, confirms this despite the film’s problems.

Professor Brand (Michael Caine) explaining the mission and its purpose to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)

Professor Brand (Michael Caine) explaining the mission and its purpose to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)

Interstellar is set in the not-too-distant future. The Earth will soon be unable to sustain life due to crop failures. Mankind needs to find a new planet in order to survive. With the situation desperate, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leads a team of astronauts into space so as to find another planet that can sustain habitable life.

Interstellar is an ambitious, innovative and stimulating movie. Like The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige and Inception, Interstellar is a film full of ideas such as Murphy’s Law, gravity, love, and how time bends in space to name but four. These ideas keep viewers fully occupied throughout the film’s 167-minute running time. As in the above-mentioned films, Nolan again illustrates his intelligence by writing an ingenious script that holds much realism and does not fall into the generic (and dull) intergalactic ray-gun war between men and monsters. Nolan must be applauded for it and for not patronising his audience (harrumph Michael Bay).

Cooper saying goodbye to his little daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) before he goes on the mission.

Cooper saying goodbye to his little daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) before he goes on the mission.

Granted, most viewers probably will not completely comprehend Interstellar’s dialogue as one may need to be a quantum physics professor and an astrophysics nerd for that. If viewers are neither of those and find the dialogue difficult to grasp, they can still easily enjoy the film simply by sitting back and admiring the awesome sceneries, the breath-taking special effects, and the phenomenal music. The CGI and the music, in particular, make audiences feel like they’re on a wonderful rollercoaster ride through space, and the length of the film enhances this riveting sensation.

However, not even this terrific sensation can override or conceal the gaping holes in Interstellar’s storyline (as a train could fit through them). These holes stem from moments of tension that are there solely for the sake of tension (and filler) rather than advancement of the storyline; and from the ending being too rushed and contrived for the movie to make sense. With most directors, viewers would generally accept these plot holes as par for the course. But with Nolan, viewers expect better. Scenes of tension in his previous films have had consequence(s) upon the storylines, and he has given us some of the most original, thought-provoking and satisfying endings in movie history. To see his film suffer from similar problems as those of (cheesy) action films and (second-rate) sci-fi movies feels wrong as Nolan is too smart a man to fall into such holes.

Cooper speaking with Amelia (Anne Hathaway) as they try to determine what to do next as they search for a habitable planet.

Cooper speaking with Amelia (Anne Hathaway) as they try to determine what to do next as they search for a habitable planet.

Yet, the above-mentioned holes are not the only issues staring back at Interstellar. Like Inception, Interstellar is so plot heavy it has no time for character development. For any film, it is excusable not to give peripheral characters proper story-arcs since that bloats the film’s running time unnecessarily and can render a film with a terribly swollen cast (like Interstellar) impractical to make. But what is not excusable for any film, including Interstellar, is for the major characters to not have proper story-arcs. This is because one of the most fascinating parts of a film is the journey the main characters go on and watching how the journey affects them, for good or ill. Without such story-arcs for the major characters, Interstellar feels like a large plate with little food on it: somewhat unsatisfying.

Over-all, Interstellar is a very ambitious, intelligent and challenging movie. Yes, it has plenty of plot problems. And, yes, it does not give its characters enough time for sincere character growth. On the flip side, though, the movie is made worthwhile by the stunning landscapes, the spectacular special effects, the spellbinding music, and the interesting ideas that are seldom explored in films. Suffice to say, Interstellar does not make for an easy 167-minutes and the film would have ended up as a total mess if it were to have been directed by anyone other than a master of his/her craft. This underlines why Christopher Nolan is such an extraordinary director and why he rightly stands among the best in the business in Hollywood.

PG’s Tips

Review – Elysium (15) [2013]

Elysium - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Neil Blomkamp – District 9, Chappie

Cast:

  • Matt Damon – True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau, ContagionInterstellar
  • Jodie Foster – The Silence of the Lambs, Flightplan, Carnage
  • Alice Braga – I Am Legend, The Rite, Kill Me Three Times
  • Diego Luna – The Terminal, Criminal, Milk
  • William Fichtner – Crash, The Dark Knight, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Sharlto Copley – District 9, The A-Team, Chappie
  • Emma Tremblay – The Judge

Music Composer:

  • Ryan Aman

Science fiction films set in the future have a knack for painting a bleak picture for humanity. That is, until an American hero decides that he’s had enough and rips up the regime as he knows it. In I Am Legend, a cure for cancer led to a mutation that practically wiped out humanity, bar Will Smith who tried to save mankind; in In Time, the poor scrounged in squalor in confined areas until their short-lived clocks ran out, while the rich lived forever in their luxurious areas, until Justin Timberlake broke the system; and in Oblivion, a victorious war against aliens led to the Earth being uninhabitable, until Tom Cruise saved it. Elysium also portrays a depressing picture for mankind, only this time it’s Matt Damon playing the predictable protagonist.

Los Angeles in 2154, depicting a run-down, third world city in which crime is rampant and dogs must eat dogs to survive.

Los Angeles in 2154, depicting a run-down, third world city in which crime is rampant and dogs must eat dogs to survive.

Elysium is based in the year 2154 and centres round Max (Matt Damon). Max lives on the overcrowded Earth, along with all the poor people, while the rich live on a luxurious space station called Elysium. Working in a factory, Max sustains an (avoidable) injury at work. He is told he has only five days to live.

But there is an alternative. Max must go to Elysium, where his ailments can be cured because the rich on Elysium are so far advanced that they have found cures for all health problems. The difficulty for Max is getting to Elysium as he can only travel there illegally. But to do so, he has to get past the aggressive androids that control Earth, as well as Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), the Secretary of Defence for Elysium, who kills anyone attempting to illegally reach Elysium by using her mercenaries on Earth, such as Kruger (Sharlto Copley), to do her dirty work.

The premise for Elysium is good. Issues like why Elysium was built; how people came to be on Elysium; as well as class divisions and the practicalities of class mobility are fantastic starting points to engage audiences. Moreover, the special effects are brilliant. They look natural and give one a true feel for the world that director Neil Blomkamp has created.

The space station, Elysium, in which the crème of the crop of humanity dwell, with an awesome view of Earth to marvel over instead of a landscape.

The space station, Elysium, in which the crème of the crop of humanity dwell, with an awesome view of Earth to marvel over instead of a landscape.

But, oddly, Elysium fails to engross its viewers. The dialogue is cliché-ridden from three minutes in to the final scene, none of the above-mentioned matters are dealt with properly (if at all), and much of the plot is unoriginal and has been seen before; for example, emotionless (anal) robots controlling whole populations. This was handled in i,Robot (and Will Smith sorted out the problem back in 2004).

Apart from being derivative of other movies, Elysium’s plot rapidly descends into farce before the predictable futuristic ray-gun fight between the hero and the villain, and all the antagonists (all white as it happens) are unimaginative, one-dimensional swines.

The fact that all the villains in Elysium are white raises another problem with the film: its shamefully contrite thinly-veiled racist elements. All the poor, the ill-educated, and the criminals are either Mexican or black (bar Matt Damon), while the elites on Elysium are white with either English, French or white South African accents. Haven’t we moved on since the 19th-century? (Colonialism has ended after-all.)

Matters of racism aside, the acting is mixed by the cast. For the protagonists: Matt Damon does a decent job as the central protagonist without being noteworthy; Alice Braga plays okay as Max’s love interest/damsel-in-distress/the caring mother of Matilda (Emma Tremblay); and Diego Luna is fine as the leading gangster of the illegal (Mexican) underworld.

Max (Matt Damon) trying to help Frey (Alice Braga) and her daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay) from aggressive androids and others.

Max (Matt Damon) trying to help Frey (Alice Braga) and her daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay) from aggressive androids and others.

For the antagonists: Jodie Foster gives an unusually wooden performance, adopting an unnecessary English accent that looks like it has been bizarrely dubbed post-production (evidently her lines were not contrived enough first time round); William Fichtner is awful as… (I’m not really sure what his role was meant to be); yet, Sharlto Copley is absolutely brilliant as the psychopathic henchman. Granted, his role is that of a sadistic villain that one has generally seen before, but Copley plays it frighteningly well and makes his audience feel uncomfortable whenever he’s on the screen, which is an achievement. Unsurprisingly, Copley is the star of this average movie.

Over-all, Elysium is alright. The film has superb special effects and a solid basis with which to make a genuinely interesting movie, even if it is a miserable portrait of a future for mankind. However, Elysium fails to build on its strong foundations and, instead, is stuffed with clichés, subtle racism, standard storyline developments and stereotypical characters for the genre. And to top it up, Elysium has Matt Damon playing the role that Will Smith and Tom Cruise have made their own: the all American hero.

PG’s Tips

Review – Contagion (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2/5

In the Middle Ages, pestilence and plague were semi-regular occurrences. Every fifteen years or so, the grim reaper would appear in the form of the Black Death and scythe down a not insignificant percentage of populations across Europe. Again, in 1918, after World War I (WWI), the world was struck by another form of pestilence: the ‘Spanish Flu’, which killed one percent of the then-world population. Despite being over-all quite poor, Contagion shows us once more that mankind is still not immune to new diseases and viruses.

Mitch (Matt Damon) in shock after suddenly losing his wife to the epidemic.

Contagion is a medical thriller about a virus that rapidly spreads across the world. The first known death in America is that of Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow – Se7en, Shakespeare In Love, The Avengers Assemble), who returns home to her family and husband, Mitch (Matt Damon – True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau, Elysium), from a trip to Hong Kong only to have a seizure and die soon afterwards. Rapidly, more people become infected. There is no cure for the virus either, and around one in four people are expected to become infected. (Although, one in three people who become infected are expected to survive.)

Scientists, from across the world, led by Atalanta-based Dr. Ellis Cheevers (Laurence Fishburne – Apocalypse Now, The Matrix I-III, Man of Steel) and his team, work hard to find an antidote. Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet – Titanic, The Reader, Steve Jobs) uses her knowledge to try and slow down the spread of the virus, whilst working in the field. Dr. Leonara Orantes (Marion Cotillard – Public Enemies, Midnight In Paris, The Dark Knight Rises) works with a team in Hong Kong to establish where the virus came from in order to facilitate the creation of an antidote.

But until an antidote has been tested sufficiently and is safe, nothing can be distributed. In the meantime, indirectly egged-on by a conspiratorially-inclined blogger called Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law – Enemy At The Gates, The Holiday, Side Effects), social order breaks down.

Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), a scientist under Dr. Ellis Cheevers, working hard in the laboratory to try and create an antidote.

The plot for Contagion has been done in a documentary style, similar to Cloverfield (albeit, without the camera wobbling). This entails that one watches the effects of the virus upon people and societies over a series of days. One images that the director, Steven Soderburgh (Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s Eleven & Ocean’s Twelve, Side Effects), did this to give the film a more realistic feel. If so, he succeeds. As a corollary of the realism, the speed at which the virus transmits and kills people has the impact of frightening the audience (in probably the same way that bubonic plague used to terrify people in Medieval times). Also, the timing of the chaos that subsequently unfolds, as a result of panic by those who have not yet been infected, seems quite natural. It is quite conceivable for law and order to collapse under the pressures that Contagion puts forward.

However, many aspects of the storyline are either left unexplained or fall by the wayside, which undermines the film considerably. Moreover, as the movie has no central protagonist, one cannot build any sympathy or empathy (or care) for any of the characters. Worse, the dialogue, at times, sounds contrived (if not risible) and none of the actors play particularly well. Even the normally excellent Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne and Matt Damon do not do themselves justice here.

Allan Krumwiede (Jude Law), wearing a ridiculous ‘wannabe’ Buzz Lightyear outfit so he doesn’t contract the virus, spreading his new-found insight about why the government has not distributed the cure as yet onto a random car.

Due to the lack of a dominant performer, the audience may struggle to maintain interest in the film. At 106 minutes, Contagion is an average length for a movie; yet, viewers may find themselves yawning or looking at their watches (long) before it is over, which is never a good sign for a film. Not even the music, which adopts a standard fast beat for much of the movie, has the ability to keep the audience’s eyes concentrated on the screen for long.

On the whole, Contagion has many deficient features, as several of the sub-stories are forgotten about and there is a distinct lack of a central and well-defined character. Nevertheless, Contagion appears scarily realistic and shows us that, irrespective of how advanced medical treatment may be, humanity is still potentially defenceless against new and ever-mutating epidemics.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Adjustment Bureau (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2/5

Some critics proclaimed that The Adjustment Bureau was a fine amalgam between the Bourne series and Inception. Well, it bears no resemblance to either film. Moreover, it is a poorly executed movie in just about every sense.

The Adjustment Bureau begins with Congressman, David Norris (Matt Damon – The DepartedTrue Grit, Contagion), running for a seat in the Senate. On election night, he goes to the toilet to prepare a speech when he bumps into Elise (Emily Blunt – The Devil Wears Prada, Young Victoria, The Wolfman). Attraction is instant, but Elise leaves without giving David her contact details.

The agents who work for the Chairman. It is their job to 'adjust' peoples' fates to ensure they fit in with the Chairman's grand design for humanity.

Coincidentally, soon afterward in the film, they meet again on the bus; and this time David acquires her number. Yet, after leaving her, David comes across some people he was not expecting to meet. These men are agents who ‘adjust’ people’s futures in order to follow the plans set forth by the Chairman (God?). They inform David that he was not supposed to have met Elise for a second time and that he can never see her again. But David is determined to be with Elise; even if it means forfeiting his political ambitions. This, in turn, sets him on a collision course with powers greater than mankind.

The plot for this movie rapidly descends into a cliché love-story that tests the patience of those who believed that they were going to watch something a little more original and intellectually stimulating. The director, George Nolfi, to some extent tries to play to a more academic-minded audience by including the debate of free-will vs. God’s divine master-plan in the film. (Although, if anyone thinks that this debate is new, let’s bear in mind that it has been discussed regularly since the Middle Ages or, even more likely, since the Bible was written.) Yet, by only dealing with this debate vis-à-vis the love-story, Nolfi has ensured that all highly complex discourse on the subject appears only at a superficial level. It could have and should have been done better; especially when one bears in mind that this is the same man who wrote a well-crafted script for The Bourne Ultimatum.

David and Elise running frantically from the Chairman's agents so that they can be together.

Alike the debate, the dialogue is equally vain throughout The Adjustment Bureau. The acting is not much better either. Matt Damon gives his role a decent punt. Nevertheless, one questions why he chose to do this role in the first place. For the lesser known Emily Blunt, it is obvious why she has been chosen. But apart from looking pretty and having an over-all good physique, her performance is little better than her showing in the dreadful film, The Wolfman. Indeed, if it were not for her above-mentioned featured, plus her striking blue eyes and wonderful English accent; it is hard to see how she will ever be able to reach the dizzying heights that Natalie Portman has achieved in recent times.

The rest of the cast, particularly the Chairman’s agents, are woeful. Similarly, the special effects are pitiable because they look unreal. (Special effects have to at least give the façade of looking like they might be genuine.) The cinematography is not worth commenting upon as it is virtually non-existent. The choreography, on the other hand, has been pieced together smoothly, which enables the viewer to follow the plot easily.

How The Adjustment Bureau has been advertised as ‘Bourne meets Inception’ is beyond belief and nothing more than a marketing con. The Adjustment Bureau looks like it has been done on the cheap. It may try to be intelligent; yet that does not mean that it warrants comparisons to the aforementioned high-class films. The Adjustment Bureau needs a more original storyline; plus better acting, dialogue, special effects and care as a starting-point before it can be put into in the same bracket as the Bourne series or Inception.

PG’s Tips

Review – True Grit (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 5/5

Less than four years since they made the Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel (A Simple Man, Burn After Reading), have returned to the ‘cowboy genre’ with a bang (pardon the pun). No Country For Old Men was a brilliant film. True Grit is even better.

The plot for True Grit is quite straightforward. Based in a small town in Midwest America in the late-nineteenth century, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin – No Country For Old Men, Wall Street 2, American Gangster) killed Frank Ross in cold murder. Frank’s extremely intelligent, precocious fourteen-year-old daughter, Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld), is determined to have her father’s death avenged. After the local law enforcement agency refuses to chase Chaney, Mattie employs Rooster (Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart, The Big Lebowski, Seventh Son), a drunk and ruthless cowboy to find Chaney.

A drunk Rooster, played by Jeff Bridges, trying to shoot accurately on the back of a horse.

As Mattie strikes a deal with Rooster; Laboeuf (Matt Damon – The Bourne Identity, The Departed, Invictus), a dumb but wily Texan Ranger emerges. Laboeuf also wants Chaney. The latter is wanted in Texas for the murder of a senator. Despite some differences on where Chaney should be tried (Mattie wants him to be put to justice in her town, while Laboeuf needs to bring him back to Texas or else he won’t get paid), Mattie, Rooster and Laboeuf head off together in search of their man.

If the storyline does not make one believe that True Grit should have been a five-star film, the flawless and Oscar-worthy acting certainly will. Jeff Bridges splendidly captures the attitude, habits and language of an aging, drunk-but-funny, Midwest, trigger-happy cowboy. Similarly, Matt Damon illustrates that being a far-from-bright ranger on a horseback comes just as naturally to him as being the secret agent, Jason Bourne.

Yet, the performances of Bridges and Damon are cast into the shadows by that of Steinfeld. If the star of No Country For Old Men was the frighteningly serene villain with red-rimmed-eyes, played by Javier Bardem, then Steinfeld is the stand-out entertainer of True Grit. Mattie’s ability to understand the complexities of law; her ability to see through people as if they were opaque, plus her witty tongue are all down to the proficiency of Steinfeld. It almost beggar’s belief that Mattie was played by a fourteen-year-old! Indeed, one will struggle to witness a more assured and mature performance from someone of her age over the coming decade.

Mattie attempting to feed the ill-tempered Laboeuf beside a campfire one night.

The acting, however, would not be half as impressive if the characters would have been without well-written scripts. They might have got away with it provided they’d have just maintained strong Midwest accents (like Russell Crowe and Christian Bale did in 3:10 To Yuma); but the three main actors do more than that in this movie. Bridges, Damon and Steinfeld adopt a dialogue that one can realistically imagine ‘Middle Americans’ once using (or even still use in some places today). That there are no lapses whilst they talk in this semi-alien tongue makes their performances all the more remarkable.

The magnificent acting and dialogue are matched by the choreography, music and landscapes throughout the film. Each scene smoothly slots in, one after another, without interruption. In addition, the music is always fitting for the scene; as are the differing sceneries the Coen brothers have employed, showing us that Midwest America is more than just a desert with a dozens of cacti.

In short, True Grit is a model of a film and a realistic portrayal of how cowboys used to go about their business. One does not need to be a fan of Western-style movies to appreciate that from the directing; to the production; to the writing of the screenplay and the music scores; to the acting, True Grit is as close to perfect as a film can be.

PG’s Tips