Tag Archives: Jeff Daniels

The Martian (2015)

The Martian Launch One Sheet

After a long and agonising delay brought on by unforeseen circumstances (sick kid), I finally got to see Ridley Scott’s The Martian, one of my most anticipated movies of the year. And it was well worth the wait.

I had been hoping to see the film before all the positive buzz hit (93% Rottan Tomatoes, 81% Metacritic) hit the web so I wouldn’t develop unrealistic expectations. That didn’t happen, and yet the film somehow managed to live up to the hype for me.

If you’ve heard anything about this movie at all, you’ll know it’s about an astronaut named Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who finds himself stranded on Mars. The premise can’t be a spoiler. I knew a little more than that before going in, but for the most part I was prepared for anything.

There have been a lot of comparisons thrown around. Most would have heard of the inevitable comments regarding Interstellar because — spoiler-alert for those who haven’t seen it yet — both films star Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain. And in both films Damon happens to be an astronaut stuck on a distant planet.

There are also many who have called it “Castaway on Mars” or “Life of Pi in Space” and so forth. It is true that The Martian has elements of all these movies, but it is also vastly different and stands very well on its own.

Personally, I would say that the film is like the perfect love child of Interstellar, Gravity and Apollo 13. It has the big ideas and spectacle of Interstellar without all the fantastical/theoretical mumble jumbo that turned a lot of people off. It has the beauty, tension and thrills of Gravity without the eerie silence and lack of character interaction and development. And the Apollo 13-esque tactic of cutting back and forth with ground control on Earth makes the story about more than just one person and breaks up the monotony of space travel and a life of solitude on a barren planet.

There are so many things to like about this movie. For starters, The Martian is ingenious. It’s one of the smartest films I’ve seen in recent years. I’m not sure how legit the science is (and there’s a lot of it), but all of it feels credible. I would imagine you’d need to be at least a semi-expert or very knowledgeable in certain fields to be able to poke holes in the story; for most general audiences it wouldn’t matter. And as a member of the uneducated general audience I found it all absolutely fascinating. I was engrossed.

I know the book on which the film is based, written and originally self-published by Andy Weir, has been panned by many for alleged “bad writing.” Be that as it may, the thought that Weir has built into the story and the science behind it is remarkable. It’s at least as impressive as say the work Dan Brown (a fellow oft-criticised writer) puts into blending history, religion and architecture into his novels. I can’t help but be happy for his success.

Secondly, the “action” sequences — if you can call them that — are well-executed. When you feel the tension and the adrenaline even when you know what is going to happen, and when you don’t notice the CGI even though you know most of it probably is, you know they’re doing a good job.

The other thing that stands out about The Martian is that it is surprisingly funny. That is not to say that the film is a comedy by any stretch, though it is without a doubt filled with more laughs than Interstellar, Gravity and Apollo 13 — combined.

The main reason is because of Watney’s personality, which is, for the most part, optimistic and stoic despite the odds against him. He’s a guy who tries to see the lighter side of things and can find humour in the most dire of predicaments. Because sometimes, that’s all you can do. It fits in well with the uplifting and occasionally fun tone the film tries to convey. Some might complain that it glosses over the darker aspects of the tale — the isolation, the stress, the fragile emotional state — but ultimately this is not that kind of movie, and I am glad it didn’t go down that path.

As clever and funny The Martian is, I also found myself unexpectedly moved by the drama. At its heart, it’s a simple story about one man’s unrelenting will to survive. It’s about finding solutions to problems as they arise, one at a time. It’s about human kinship and international solidarity. Ridley Scott does a great job of developing the characters into likable people we care about, not just Watney but the entire extended cast. There’s no real villain in the story, just a bunch of people doing what they think is best in a very difficult situation. The relationships and dynamics are set up early and skilfully so the emotional payoffs work when they eventually have to.

Kudos of course to the spectacular cast. Apart from Damon and Chastain there’s also Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor as NASA’s Mars mission director, Sean Bean as the spacecrafts’s crew commander and Kristen Wiig as NASA spokesperson, plus Michael Pena, Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan as crew members. Everyone’s fantastic, and I also enjoyed the witty references to films that some of the actors have been in it are affiliated with.

At 2 hours and 22 minutes, the length is perfect. It never feels too long; there is always something going on, and I was always either being amused or thrilled or educated. I was certainly always entertained.

While The Martian doesn’t necessarily have the feel of a masterpiece — it’s not as epic as say Interstellar or as majestic or awe-inspiring as Gravity — it delivers as good of a time as I’ve had at the cinemas this year or any year.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Dumb and Dumber To (2014)

dumb_and_dumber_to

I had a lot of trouble deciding which Oscar-nominated film I should watch next, so I did what any reasonable person would do: I watched Dumb and Dumber To instead.

Hard to believe, but it’s been 20 years since the Farrelly Brothers brought us the original Dumb and Dumber (it was actually their first movie), a comedy that has its fair share of critics but has somehow withstood the test of time with many die hard fans still able to recite the film’s famous lines. I’m not sure if I had even hit puberty when the original was released, but I do recall it being largely forgettable albeit with a couple of huge belly laugh moments.

The sequel starts off strong, with Harry (Jim Carrey) having been in a vegetative state and relegated to a mental institution since pretty much the end of the first movie after his romance with Lauren Holly fell apart. It’s a brilliant way to allow the film to pick up right where the first one left off after 20 years, and reminds the audience just what kind of nitwits we are dealing with.

It is then revealed that Lloyd (Jeff Daniels), who had been looking after Harry all this time, might have a hot young daughter named Penny (Rachel Melvin), whom he conceived with an old girlfriend (Kathleen Turner). And so begins a wacky adventure cross-country to track this long lost daughter down at a KEN Convention, while an evil duo (played by Laurie Holden and Rob Riggle) tries to get their hands on some priceless invention created by Penny’s adopted father. Trust me, it’s a lot less complicated than it sounds.

If you’ve seen the original, you’ll know what type of humour you’re in for. Most of it is really stupid, juvenile stuff most people won’t find funny, though like the original there is the occasional moment of genuine wit that harks back to some of the Farrelly Brothers’ best work. I admit I laughed a good half a dozen times, the rule of thumb for an acceptable comedy. However, it remains to be seen whether there are any iconic scenes in this film that people will still remember years down the track (I don’t think there are). There were of course many more misses than hits, but because they came so fast and furiously it was easy to just move on to the next one.

Carrey’s career has tapered off, but he is in his best form as Harry. It’s like he hasn’t missed a beat. As for Daniels, it’s great to see him being a moron again after witnessing his Emmy-winning turn in The Newsroom. Kathleen Turner is surprisingly good too, while Rob Riggle is always a welcome addition to any comedy ensemble.

My guess is that Dumb and Dumber To will probably enjoy the same fate as its predecessor. Those who love it will love it and watch it over and over, while those who don’t find the humour endearing will think it is the worst thing ever. I do feel, however, that it is the type of film that people will tend to remember for the handful of classic gags rather than for all the other failed or lame jokes.

3 stars out of 5

PS: I was surprised to discover that the Farrelly Brothers have actually had a very stellar career (perhaps it was the atrocious Movie 43 that threw me off, though that POS was only produced by one of them so it doesn’t technically count). They have obviously fallen from their peak since 1998 after There’s Something About Mary, but even7 their worst effort, most likely the remake of The Heartbreak Kid, is just below average by today’s lowly comedy standards. The original Dumb and Dumber is arguably their second or third best film — depending on your thoughts of Kingpin. As for Dumb and Dumber To, I’d like to think it falls somewhere around the halfway mark if you were to rank all their films in order.