Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Martian


The Martian was one of the more highly critically acclaimed movies of the year in 2015, and garnered a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. 70% of the time, I'm actually not into movies that were nominated for Best Picture, so that's hardly an accolade in my book. That said, it still piqued my interest when it first came out into theaters and everyone said it was good, so I still figured I needed to see it. 

This movie takes place in a present-day world where NASA actually has full funding--enough to send manned missions to explore Mars for several days (since they actually have the technology to sustain themselves over there for that long). During one such expedition, the crew of the Ares III is caught in a massive dust storm and one of their members, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is left behind thought dead. And yet he survives. 

With the Ares III long gone, he realizes he'll be there for a while and is forced to create supplies including food and water on his own while NASA tries to make a plan to get him back home. Good thing he's a botanist. "Mars will come to fear my botany powers," he declares in one of the more cheesy lines in an up-and-down screenplay that ranged from clever to awkward. 

Some of the things he does to survive make more sense than others; his production of water makes sense, for one. But at another point in the film, he is somehow able to to reboot an old Pathfinder probe that's been dead for 20 years using nothing but power cords and some other mumbo jumbo that would not work no matter how you slice it considering that it had been deactivated for two decades *and* buried under Martian sand for God knows how long. 

That's really one of the problems with this film; I am unsure whether I am expected to suspend disbelief or not, and if so, how much. There's actually some valuable survival skills in here, so at times it kind of wants to feel realistic, but other times it just says "screw it" and goes for the impossible in the midst of what they're appearing to sell as a scientific film--at least to a degree. (Heck, we could be sending manned missions to Mars for similar purposes as the ones in here decades from now, so you never know.)

That said, it's still a pretty entertaining film at times, although some parts drag on during the first half. The cast is pretty good, and the cinematography/special effects are brilliant--they do a very good job of depicting the world of Mars. The tension actually gets somewhat decent after a while as obstacle after obstacle rises, and you can't help but be riveted as the film flies to its conclusion. 

The Martian certainly isn't a bad film at all. Probably my biggest gripe about it is its inconsistency at times. And some parts drag on more than others, which do admittedly make one wonder why it had to be a 140-minute film. It's still an entertaining film that's mostly well made and keeps you interested throughout the whole thing. It's not a classic, but it's not a movie that makes you switch the channel when it comes on either. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Mission: Impossible 5: Rogue Nation


I really don't know how Mission: Impossible has managed to stay afloat *and* good for as long it has. It's been an incredibly inconsistent franchise that, aside from Ethan Hunt and Ving Rhames's character, seems to be changing all its characters and setting and stuff every movie. We have a new secretary/supervisor all the time. We have a new female lead all the time. We have a new film director with a wildly different style all the time. I mean, that first movie was more of an action thriller (and it was a darn good one); then there was whatever the heck the second one was; then there was the JJ Abrams (nothing more needs to be said) third one; and then there was the fourth one that was just a fun action movie that didn't take itself *too* seriously. 

That said, all these movies so far have been quite entertaining. (Except that second one. We're still trying to forget that one existed.) And here we have a fifth one; that, stunningly enough actually brings back the same characters from the previous installment (save for the female lead). Benji is back. Brandt is back. And Luther is back in the full role he deserves as well. The new female lead, Ilsa, is probably the most interesting one we've had thus far; she's a complex character that keeps you guessing with regards to her allegiance. 

In this fifth film, Ethan Hunt has been going after a terrorist shadow organization called the "Syndicate," which is described (at least in the trailer) as an anti-IMF. Speaking of the IMF, it's being disbanded, thanks to Alec Baldwin (the CIA director). So once again, Ethan and his guys are on their own to deal with these guys. 

Rogue Nation is actually stunningly entertaining, and much less forgettable than Ghost Protocol (even though that one was certainly still enjoyable); loaded with awesome action sequences including the "plane takeoff" scene and the motorcycle chase and a storyline that actually keeps you guessing somewhat. And having a group of returning characters we're familiar with is nice for once, as is having Luther back in a full role (maybe that's why the fourth one was less memorable, since he was only in it for two minutes). Those things said, sometimes some things feels slightly improbable, and the movie doesn't really have much of a beginning or an end. It just happens. 

*That* said, though, Rogue Nation is really a fun action/adventure movie that manages to stand above the other sequels pretty well. It doesn't have a convoluted plot, nor does it feel just silly/ridiculous at times. I still personally think the very first movie is the best, but Rogue Nation isn't all too far behind. It's definitely the best sequel in the series thus far, and that plus the fact that Christopher McQuarrie (the director) is actually returning for M:I-6 actually gives me reason to really look forward to future sequels. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Fantastic Four (2015)


Let's begin off by saying that I don't exactly know a whole lot about the Fantastic Four. I never watched the previous two movies (watching the trailer for the first one kept me away), and I pretty much only ever knew the Four's abilities--and that's essentially only because The Incredibles' powers ripped off much of the Four's. 

That said, I had always heard good things about them in the comics, so I was of course interested in seeing these guys on the screen. A promising trailer was released for the new one, and it wasn't until the reviews came flooding in that the "uh-oh" factor came in. 

We'll cut straight to the chase. This film is about as stereotypical and predictable of a superhero origin story as it gets. The only real different twist is that we see a bit more of the characters as kids and how they got to the point of the accident that changed them than usual. But it's pretty straightforward from there. Four people go to another dimension (which is a little different, I suppose), and end up coming into contact with alien energy... or something. That transforms them into new beings. And they are forced to work together when one of the guys who went with them but supposedly died comes back insane with power trying to destroy the world (Dr. Doom, of course). 

What, no spoiler alert? Well, it's not like any of that was surprising, right? And you're probably not going to watch this film anyway unless you're a massive superhero movie fan. 

Now, aside from its plot, the film has another host of problems. Due to a lot of changes during production (more on that later), the film feels awfully inconsistent at times in tone. There are some parts that actually feel somewhat intelligent, but then other parts that are either derivative or dull. The screenplay is awful; and at times it almost seems like the actors are falling asleep from having to be in this movie (and there's no chemistry between them either). Miles Teller in general is an awful choice for Mr. Fantastic--a guy who seems like he's supposed to be the intelligent leader of the group. The problem is, Teller's only good at one type of role: the jerkface arrogant role that he plays in Divergent (and even there, he's still annoying as crap). *Really* bad choice in casting there, Fox... 

Unfortunately, many of the reasons this movie falls short of the mark fall upon the chaos that happened during production. There was Josh Trank's questionable behavior during production, which led to 20th Century Fox redoing much of the movie (the finale itself wasn't even written or done by Trank) on their own. The result isn't exactly glamorous. 

So what are the redeeming factors of this movie? Well, the visuals and special effects are pretty good. Toby Kebbell does pretty well as Dr. Doom (though his powers sure are vague). And in all honesty, many would probably like it more if we hadn't already seen this type of film done over several times. If the film hadn't been so badly butchered during production, maybe that would've helped too. And really, it's not a film that is straight up horrible; it's just not very good either. 

Fantastic Four feels like a film that could've been a lot better, but it just isn't; it's one of those films that you kind of have to put an asterisk next to because of the chaos in production. It's quite sad that characters like these from superhero comics with such promise have such bad things happen to them in cinema. Maybe the third time will be the charm for them.