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Friday, October 9, 2015

The Martian

Let’s go save Matt Damon again.

Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead and left on Mars after a storm sent his crew back to Earth. Once Watney discovers he’s alone, the story becomes a deserted planet version of Cast Away.

This is not one of Ridley Scott’s great movies. But it’s not Prometheus either.

The Martian is a faithful retelling of the bestselling book and it delivers a mildly fun night at the movies. It doesn’t hit the spiritual beauty of Gravity, but it doesn’t land in the congested world of Interstellar either. It’s somewhere in between.

For example, while scientific plot points unfold, the characters say things like “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this” and “we ran the numbers and it checks out.” It was a wise choice for a crowd pleaser. This film is surprisingly light-hearted and Damon pulls off most of the subtle comedic bits — but misses when they go too far. When a scene calls for reactions to disco music, you wish Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) was the hero singing along.

If you’re wondering why I keep comparing this film to other space movies, it’s probably because I kept wanting more out of this film given the hype it has received. It’s an average film and a not-so-stellar option in the fall when better movies are available.

Simply put: Not bad. Not out of this world either.

Award potential: Maybe some nominations for FX. If this slides into the comedy category for the Golden Globes, they might nominate Damon so he’ll attend the TV show.

The ten buck review: Consider buying the book instead.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Walk

what films are worth 3D
An elevated thriller.

2008’s Oscar-winning Best Documentary, Man on Wire, told us almost everything we needed to know about Frenchman Philippe Petit and his illegal high-wire act between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Man on Wire is a superb documentary (available on Netflix at this writing), but it was missing one thing: footage of the walk.

Enter Robert Zemekis (Forrest Gump, Back To The Future) to put us on that wire 1,360 feet above the ground — in IMAX 3D. The Walk is a seamless CGI beauty onscreen and a nail biting thriller. Turns out, we did need two movies.

The film starts out a bit wobbly. It begins with a fast paced carnivalesque sequence of quick cuts, camera tricks and some odd comedy that threatened to distance me from having any emotional connection to Phillippe Petit (Gordon-Levitt) and his entourage. My guess is that Zemekis needed to provide theater excitement early, before audiences settled in for the slow build story.

Not helping the first third of the film, the script includes at least two contrived bits of dialogue that literally explain why Philippe is speaking English in each scene. This is followed by other unnecessary voice-over explanations.

The film settles in when the characters arrive in New York, and it soars once the balletic Phillipe hits the wire. It is here that Zemekis has created the type movie magic that I’m not sure I’ve seen since the Titanic cracked or the Jurassic Park dinosaurs were first revealed.

Simply put: A wobby start, but it quickly finds balance and soars.

Award potential: The Walk has a chance at one of the many Best Picture shots, but I think it will fade by nomination time. I don’t expect an acting nod either. Gordon-Levitt is getting unfair critique for his lively French, which was actually perfect to character (Phillippe Petit had a very strong accent). This film could easily win some well deserved Visual Effects and Cinematography prizes.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.