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The Martian

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Like the astronaut the film is named for, The Martian is very focused and practical. It doesn’t match the ambition or spectacle of Gravity or Interstellar, but The Martian is a no-nonsense science fiction film that knows exactly what it needs to do. Director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard adapt Andy Weir’s fantastic book with the same grit and humor of the writing style and keep it close to earth, resulting in a satisfying film full of awe.

Survival stories are one in a million, yet what makes The Martian different is that Mark Watney is literally thousands of miles away on Mars. There’s little human drama, not many tears, despite the fact that this situation is life or death and couldn’t get much more dire. Matt Damon brings Watney to life with the same sarcastic wit of Guardians of the Galaxy’s Starlord but with the practicality of Macgyver. He’s a brilliant protagonist, never wasting any time as he awaits rescue on the red planet.

While reading “The Martian,” I was surprised to see that Mark wasn’t the only main character. The trailers gave that away, but the supporting characters in The Martian are doing just as much heavy lifting as Mark. It’s an ensemble piece with a stellar cast despite being about one man. The way everyone unites around bringing Mark home gives the film a sense of community. We have three main camps: Mark on Mars, the Hermes crew in space, and the NASA crew on earth. These three different perspectives make the film never feel repetitive, as I couldn’t imagine being stuck with Mark for 150 minutes.

The Martian is a love letter to space exploration, and it shows. The film is an impressive craft, with strict attention to detail and scientific accuracy. Every character gets to shine, whether its the devoted Hermes Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain, always magnetic), to the behind the scenes work of satellite specialist Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis). Apart from a miscast Donald Glover as the eccentric Rich Purnell, the supporting cast is terrific, especially Chastain and Chiwetel Ejiofor. I also wanted to especially give a shoutout to the score from veteran Harry Gregson-Williams, which creates tension yet keeps the pace steady the entire way through; add The Martian to the list of sci-fi films with impressive scores.

Still what I love about The Martian is its ability to balance all of these elements without feeling overlong. It’s a long film, to be sure, but I never grew tired of any individual element. Sure, the script could use a few less sci-fi cliches – I can’t stand when a character says “in English, please” to any technological talk – but The Martian wisely avoids the pitfalls of other survival stories. I recently saw the film Everest, another survival film of a different nature, and it was a mess of a film. What sets these two films apart is that I actually cared for Mark Watney. He made the best of a bad situation, and its his engineering and botany skills but also his attitude that got him back home in one piece. The Martian is a smart film made for smart moviegoers with an impressive cast and awe-inspiring 3D moments, overflowing with character.

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Posted by on October 1, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

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Best of 2014: Movies

With Oscar season upon us, I’ve caught up on about all the movies I want to see this year. This list was difficult for me, because there are a few shockers that I didn’t think would make the cut. There were many movies this year that let me down, but just as many that surprised me. There’s quite a mix of indie and blockbuster here, as well.

First, some honorable mentions that unfortunately didn’t make the cut:

American Sniper

Begin Again

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Into the Woods

Neighbors

Nightcrawler

Unbroken

And without further ado, here’s my official top ten:

10. The Imitation Game

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While British biopics are plentiful this year, The Imitation Game stands out. Telling the story of Alan Turing, a mathematician brought in to crack the Nazi code at Bletchley Park, The Imitation Game honors his legacy as it should be. Benedict Cumberbatch gives the performance of his career as Turing. Morten Tyldum keeps the pace afloat, as it’s a tense and calculated film, but also a beautiful and uplifting one.

9. Obvious Child

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Female-led dramedies tend to get lumped into two categories: Lena Dunham, or mumblecore, but every once in a while a movie breaks through and puts all of those tropes through the wringer. Obvious Child is that movie. Full of wit and raw emotion, Obvious Child is a story of relationships; those that go bad, but also those that flourish. As comedienne Donna finds herself at a crossroads when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, we find ourselves not just along for the ride, but right there next to her.

8. Whiplash

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A completely different kind of music drama, Whiplash is the little indie that could. Courtesy of newcomer Damien Chazelle, Whiplash touches on themes of passion and the pursuit of excellence, and features a tight script and great music. But most of all, Whiplash gives us JK Simmons as drum instructor Fletcher, who pushes Andrew (Miles Teller) to his limits. He’s terrifying, and Fletcher is the best villain of the year. It’s a role that came late in Simmons’s career, but one that solidifies him as a great force.

7. Interstellar

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Christopher Nolan’s best film to date, Interstellar is one of the most ambitious films I’ve ever seen. But Nolan pulls it off, delivering sweeping sequences and jaw-dropping space imagery that will blow you away. It’s no Gravity, but Interstellar is something different. A deep and personal drama that just happens to be set in space. The stakes are high, and knockout performances from McConaughey and Chastain keep it afloat, leading up to a finale that will leave heads scratching and viewers hungry for more.

6. Boyhood

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I went back and forth on Boyhood multiple times after seeing it, but I’ve finally seen the light: Boyhood is an astounding achievement that will go down as one of the best movies of the 21st century. Directed by Richard Linklater, Boyhood was shot in 12 year intervals, as we see Mason’s development from boy to man. It’s risky, to be sure, but the beauty of Boyhood lies not in its “plot,” but rather in little moments. Little moments between father and son, between brother and sister, that add up to mean something more. It’s something beautiful.

5. Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow

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The best action film of the year, Edge of Tomorrow is just straight fun. But this never comes at the expense of the story, which is both razor-sharp and exciting. Newly minted sci-fi star Tom Cruise pairs brilliantly with Emily Blunt, and the two are the most unlikely duo of the year. With breathtaking action sequences and great visuals, Edge of Tomorrow is new old-fashioned fun.

4. A Most Violent Year

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An excellent crime drama, JC Chandor’s third film is as bleak as they come. Taking place in the most violent year in New York history, A Most Violent Year tells the tale of a struggling businessman Abel and his wife Anna as they navigate the dark world of entrepreneurialism. Gripping performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain keep the crime drama always entertaining, and the film creeps up on you in a way unlike any other. Every sequence is calculated, every frame telling a tale. It’s masterful and smart filmmaking.

3. Wild

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Based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild is the journey of Strayed to recover after her mother’s death, and rediscover herself. What could have been a one-note story like Eat, Pray, Love, Wild is exhilarating filmmaking courtesy of director Jean-Marc Vallee. Told in fragments, Wild zeroes deep into Strayed’s psyche, and we get a personal and deep tale of redemption and forgiveness. Reese Witherspoon gives the performance of her career, as she dives deep into what made Strayed tick. A faithful adaptation of the novel, Wild is just as exciting as it is moving.

2. Birdman

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From Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Birdman is one of the most original movies I’ve seen all year. The story of Riggan Thompson, who stages a comeback in the form of a broadway musical, touches on themes of redemption and family, but most prominently, Birdman is affecting and  intimate. Michael Keaton delivers an outstanding performance as the main role, and Edward Norton and Emma Stone provide excellent support. Comically bleak and often times laugh out loud hilarious, Birdman is cinematic perfection.

1. Gone Girl

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A mainstream hit with intelligent plotting and intrigue around every corner, Gone Girl is a miracle. Director David Fincher keeps you on your toes for the entire 150 minutes, and surprises and twists abound. But it never feels cheap. Gone Girl is the product of smart screenwriting from Fincher and book author Gillian Flynn, who wisely adapted her novel. Couple the excellent screenplay with amazing cinematography, score, and performances from Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, and we have a new classic on our hands.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2015 in Other

 

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Ridiculously Early Oscars 2015 Predictions

It’s never too early to be thinking about next year’s awards season. Well, actually it might be, but that isn’t stopping me from compiling what I think could be potential front runners come December this year. They range from Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi drama to an adaptation of one of today’s hottest books from David Fincher, and everything in between. Let’s take a look:

Gone Girl

David Fincher achieved similar success with his adaptation of Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2011, so expect him to get some praise for his latest. Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl stars Ben Affleck as a husband whose wife disappears on their fifth anniversary. Called “impossible to film,” Gone Girl should combine the star power of recent winner Ben Affleck with Fincher’s similar style, and we could be looking at something great.

Buy Gone Girl on Amazon today

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Unbroken

Angelina Jolie takes a seat behind the camera with her new film, Unbroken. The film depicts the life of Louis Zamperini, former Olympic athlete, who became a Japanese prisoner-of-war and endured hard times. With a script written by the Coen Brothers, and a timely release date given the recent Olympics, expect Unbroken to make some noise when it releases this December.

Into the Woods

From Chicago director Rob Marshall comes the film adaptation of the popular musical starring Meryl Streep. Need I say more? But with an all-star cast featuring Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, and Emily Blunt, expect to hear a lot from Into the Woods.

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Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson’s films have received mixed praise from the Academy, but his latest, Inherent Vice, seems poised to make a splash this December. Based on the detective novel by Thomas Pynchon, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Larry Sportello, as he investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend in 1970s Los Angeles. The film combines crime with comedy, and could net itself a few Oscar nominations.

The Imitation Game

Harvey Weinstein has been hard-gunning for awards with his latest, The Imitation Game. The film is inspired by the life of Alan Turing, a cryptographer during World War II who was later prosecuted for being homosexual. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, the film could score him his first Oscar nomination, if Weinstein has anything to say about it next year.

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Interstellar

Hell will freeze over before the Academy recognizes the work that goes into crafting a beautiful sci-fi film. While Gravity swept up the awards this year, it ultimately failed to win Best Picture, leaving the slot open for Christopher Nolan’s latest. Interstellar features a team of scientists who explore wormholes, and stars recent winner Matthew McConaughey and Academy-favorite Jessica Chastain. Nolan’s films are loved by the Academy, and this could be the year when a science fiction film wins top prize.

Get on Up

Directed by The Help’s Tate Taylor, Get on Up stars Chadwick Boseman as James Brown in the late-summer biopic. With an cast featuring both Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis, Get on Up looks to be this year’s The Butler, except it might have a chance at scoring a nomination.

Foxcatcher

While the Bennett Miller film suffered a release date change last year, it may have been for the best, as Foxcatcher could score big in the acting categories next year. Based on the life of Olympic medalist Mark Schultz, the film stars Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum, and the film could even be next year’s Dallas Buyers Club.

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Other possible contenders: Kill the Messenger, A Most Violent Year, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mr. Turner, Exodus

 

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2014 in Other

 

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