Review: The Martian

Although not as strong as the book it was based on, 'The Martian' still provided a fun ride in outer space. (20th Century Fox/

Although not as strong as the book it was based on, ‘The Martian’ still provided a fun ride in outer space. (20th Century Fox/

It’s not often that I get to discuss whether the book was better than the movie or the other way around, but look at this, I had actually read The Martian! Andy Weir’s book, while incredibly difficult to understand in some of the ‘science heavy’ parts, was exciting, extremely funny, and a true page-turner. Ridley Scott took on the challenge of turning a very complicated book into a major motion picture. Trying to balance a movie that primarily focuses on one person by themselves, as well as incorporating actual science and not dumbing it down too much, is a difficult thing to do. Through good visuals, decent acting, and a mixture of action and some humor, Scott succeeded in making The Martian a triumph on the silver screen, too.

The film, as I would imagine almost all films that are based on books do, cut out significant portions of the book which is frustrating but understandable. As with the novel, the audience is immediately, from the very first scene, sent into this journey as Matt Damon’s character is stranded alone on Mars. As NASA struggles to cope with the fallout of losing an astronaut, and the crew struggles even more with losing their friend and colleague, it’s eventually revealed that…you guessed it…he’s alive! With nothing but degrees in botany and engineering, and rations that won’t last very long at all, he must make himself last long enough until a plan is in the works. Through failed plans again and again, it’s up to one man on Mars, one crew in space, and thousands on Earth to bring him home.

The acting was OK, but nothing that was impressive at all. Whether the choice of the director or screenwriter (or Damon’s ability), the humor of the main character was well, well short of what was in the book. There were moments that made you chuckle a bit, as opposed to the laughing out loud that each chapter provided while reading the novel. The impressive cast, including Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena and more, were decent at best, which left a little to be desired. But perhaps in a science fiction movie based on Mars and in space, acting chops aren’t the things you’re really looking for. With that said, the scenery, the look of space and the red planet, were very impressive. Further, the movie kept a decent pace, holding my interest most of the way through. So while it ultimately did not come close to matching the book, The Martian was a fun and very cool looking movie that’s worth seeing.

THE MARTIANoriginal_barnstar original_barnstar original_barnstar (out of 4)


Review: Sicario

Benicio Del Toro steals the show in this tense, brutal look at the Mexican and U.S. drug cartel war (Lionsgate Films/

Benicio Del Toro steals the show in this tense, brutal look at the Mexican and U.S. drug cartel war (Lionsgate Films/

After seeing the movie Prisoners a few years ago, I knew that director Denis Villeneuve had a bright future in the movie industry. That film had a terrific cast, was wonderfully acted, looked perfectly dark, and was perhaps the most visually and emotionally intense and disturbing (in a good way) thing I’ve ever seen in theaters. So how could he follow it up? Oh, just a light, fluffy movie about the never-ending drug trade in Mexico. With brutal violence, much of which comes from subject matters in reality I’m sure, Villeneuve was able to craft Sicario into a heart-stopping brutal piece of action and drama, further cementing himself as someone able to deliver outstanding films in Hollywood. 

Once again, the audience is treated to a Villeneuve film led by some terrific actors. Emily Blunt plays an FBI agent who is brought on board by the CIA to help in their various missions south of the border. An all-star in her line of work (finding drug dealers in the U.S.), she is shocked and appalled at the specific ways in which her new team carries out their objectives. Her character is a bit static, and while not the most exciting type of character, Blunt was tremendous as a shaken, broken officer. But the true star of this movie was without question, Benicio Del Toro. A silent, intimidating, always one step ahead of you kind of assassin, with a history that is sketchy for the majority of the film, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His scenes were always the most impactful, and his acting was sickeningly good.

Much like Prisoners, the cinematography in Sicario was outstanding. From the sprawling car scene in Juarez to simple shots at a hotel in Tucson, the movie looked like it felt. It was dark, ominous, and a perfect representation of the savage drug trade. This flick also had scenes that will leave your mouth gaping from shock, and have you on the edge of your seat. Villeneuve has crafted a way to perfectly surprise the audience, and make them amazed at the reality and insanity of what’s going on, and you’re completely sucked into this world.

With all of this said, for a reason I can’t put into words, Sicario was tremendous, but not a 4-star, 10/10 type of deal. It had the acting, the intense sequences, and a great story. And yet for whatever reason, it didn’t quite grab me as much as say, Prisoners did. So while it was a smart action film, it wasn’t the movie of the year for me (which is, granted, an unfair expectation). I’ll give it three stars, but it’s a strong three.

SICARIO: original_barnstar  original_barnstar original_barnstar (out of 4)

Review: Trainwreck

Even Amy Schumer couldn't turn 'Trainwreck' into a true success. (Universal Pictures/

Even Amy Schumer couldn’t turn ‘Trainwreck’ into a true success. (Universal Pictures/

Well, I had written a full three-paragraph review of Trainwreck and it got deleted somehow. That’s frustrating! So, seeing as how I’m in the midst of planning a wedding and getting ready to move back to Philadelphia from Boston, I’ll give you a few sentences…

Judd Apatow has been steadily declining in his directorial efforts recently, and this is no exception. The first 30 minutes or so were fantastic: great story introduction, tons of laughs (some of them big), and John Cena absolutely stealing the show. But as the film went on, it got less and less funny, and dragged more and more. At times I was flat-out bored, with nothing much to even smile at. I wonder if the chemistry among the cast just wasn’t the same as it was in 40 Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up, where you could almost feel the incredible off-the-script comedy brilliance of the actors. Whatever the reason, this was certainly more disappointing than I would have expected.

With that said…the movie wasn’t bad. It really wasn’t! But when you have a director who’s directed and produced some modern-day comedy classics, and one of the hottest comedians in the world starring in the movie, you expect something great. I suppose for Apatow’s next film, it’s finally time to set my expectations a lot lower.


TRAINWRECK: original_barnstar original_barnstar half_barnstar (out of 4)

Review: Inside Out

'Inside Out' is maybe the best and most creative Pixar movie ever. And that's saying something. (Walt Disney Pictures/

‘Inside Out’ is maybe the best and most creative Pixar movie ever. And that’s saying something. (Walt Disney Pictures/

Before seeing Inside Out, I had only been to the movies three times this year: a sad decline from what I used to do. So being able to see a movie this extraordinary (to say the least) was such a treat. But I actually don’t imagine it would make much of a difference if this was my fourth film of the year or 24th. This particular movie was one of those ’10 out of 10’s’, those instant classics, those ones that will stay with you for years and years in the future. This wasn’t just a four-star movie, no, it was even better than that. And while it shouldn’t be surprising that Pixar created yet another absolute gem, it’s still an astonishing feat to think about.

Speaking of Pixar, which could very well be the best movie company on the planet, their unique, brilliant, fun, breathtaking movies over the years have always been so layered and incredibly written. Inside Out, however, is likely their boldest and most creative story yet. How Pete Docter and his team got this idea from head to paper/computer to movie screen is beyond me. While we’re able to live in the world of Riley and her parents, we’re also living in her mind and all of its inner-workings. It’s such a tremendous outcome, and it feels as if every single minute of it is flawless.

Pixar movies have always had the entertainment and fun imagery for children, which is still the primary audience one would imagine, but the themes have always had adult elements and jokes that parents can easily pick up on. In Inside Out, there is so much darkness for a kid’s movie, and so many moments of despair and heartbreak (not to mention the story being so wildly daring and successfully all-over-the-place), that I’m not sure it’s a good movie for kids to watch. Now, this isn’t to say it was all dark and that I didn’t laugh, because this is one of the most consistently funny films I can remember watching in some time.

The roughly hour and a half journey this movie takes you on (I never wanted it to end), is such bliss from the first scene through the end of the credits. I went into the theater excited and happy, and I left with a huge smile on my face, astonished at how one movie can be that remarkable. What’s so impressive, perhaps above all else, is its’ ability to elicit so many feelings in such a short amount of time. I laughed my head off, but I also shed a whole bunch of tears. There were moments of anxiety, and ones of simplistic joy.

The emotional roller-coaster that is Inside Out, left me happy that I came to the movies for a fourth time this year. But more than that, it made me happy people like Pete Docter and the team at Pixar are around making movies in this world. This one was an all-timer, and it’ll stay with me for long, long time.

INSIDE OUT: original_barnstar original_barnstar original_barnstar original_barnstar (out of 4)

Review: Jurassic World

Not even Chris Pratt, and his robot acting, could save this failed sequel. (Universal Pictures/

Not even Chris Pratt, and his robot acting, could save this failed sequel. (Universal Pictures/

Have you ever seen one of those movies that you just wish hadn’t been made? And not just any kind of movie, but a sequel, or ‘reboot’ from a popular franchise. Ever seen one that was so mediocre and at times poor, and your only wish was that it had never gotten the green light? Of course you have, because that’s the majority of summer movies these days. And unfortunately, Jurassic World fits this category perfectly, and comes nowhere even remotely close to the magic of the original film, and made me sad that they have to keep churning out installment after installment just for money’s sake.

There’s a lot wrong with this movie, but for a brief moment, I’ll say what I did enjoy: some of the action sequences. And given the budget and scale of this thing, it’s good they at least got that right some of the time. At times during the movie, there were sequences that were quite gripping and fun to watch….but they were very few and far between. One other bright spot I suppose was Jake Johnson who provided what I thought was the only comedic relief. So, what went wrong? Whoa boy…

For starters, it felt like all the main actors – especially Pratt and Howard – just met each other and only have one chance to get each scene done. The acting was sort of painful to watch, like watching robots interact. There was nothing fluid or natural about any of it: the jokes fell flat, the love story was uninteresting, and it also felt like they were reading right from the script. And is it mean to say the two main child actors were bad, or annoying? If you remember the original, Jurassic Park, the two child actors were actually really good in their roles.

The plot turns that kept coming up were really kind of silly (even for a summer blockbuster, popcorn type of film). I mean…dinosaurs for military use? It took years to write out a script for this sequel and that’s what was used? Furthermore, I know that almost every big movie does this, but for a movie in the line of Jurassic Park to have Mercedes-Benz, Starbucks, and other product placement so blatant just felt wrong.

This isn’t an awful movie, as much as my review may paint it as one. It’s just so horribly disappointing and so…so far removed from the sheer brilliance of the original film. To compare the two might be unfair, but even by itself, Jurassic World has flaws aplenty. The acting, the premise, the ‘humor’, and even some of the action, it just wasn’t good. My only hope is that this is the last sequel in this catalog. But I know that can’t be true, because this one’s already making too much money for Hollywood not to green light yet another one.

JURASSIC WORLD: original_barnstar original_barnstar (out of 4)

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

The entire movie was one continuing, very bizarre, car chase. (Warner Bros. Pictures/

The entire movie was one extremely, very bizarre car chase. (Warner Bros. Pictures/

To tell the simple truth…I really had no interest in this movie until about a week ago. I’d never seen any of the originals from decades ago, and wasn’t entirely sure what this one was about. But then the reviews happened, and oh did they happen in a big way: 98% on Rotten Tomatoes! Summer blockbusters don’t get that kind of rating, heck, movies as a whole rarely get that high. Couple that with good word of mouth from some friends and the fact that Tom Hardy plays the lead, and I decided to give it a try.

The newest Max is set in a desert landscape/world where civilization has already fully collapsed. Survivors are more or less slaves to a ruler at ‘the Citadel’, where fresh water and greens are found. Charlize Theron plays the true lead in this film, a character named Imperator Furiosa, who deviates off of a plan to save five wives of the evil overlord. Trust me, it’s as weird as it sounds. From there, Max joins her race across the barren lands to get these young women to a safer place, and as you might expect, the overlord and his minions are chasing them the entire way.

This movie is insanely over-the-top in every single scene, or, almost every single scene, and it doesn’t try to shy away from that fact. It fully embraces its weirdness and steps on the gas to keep on moving. There were things that were so odd and so unexplained that I can’t even really describe them because I don’t think they had a huge impact on what was going on. But, a number of times, I did question…what the hell is going on? It’s a gigantic, steroid-infused car chase, but there were problems that I couldn’t get over.

For one, I just couldn’t get over the bizarre nature of the entire spectacle. Now, there are scenes and action sequences that are pretty fun to watch, that’s for sure. But from start to finish, it just struck me as being way too bizarre for no exact reason, and I never bought into it. I wanted to like it, I really did, but the story and the characters, the names and the guitar player shooting fire out of his guitar during a car chase, and….well you get the point. And secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I felt nothing towards any of the characters. One of the most important things in any movie is to feel some sort of emotion or attachment towards someone on the screen, and that never happened in Max. Theron was stone-faced and had a back-story that was brought up as what almost felt like a tiny addition at the last-minute of writing the script. And Max himself…almost nowhere to be found in terms of dialogue. There were moments I thought it was Hardy doing his Bane voice again with all the guttural noises, grunts, and very short speaking moments.

I was hoping Max would be a surprise hit of the summer for me, and that 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and positive word-of-mouth would all be true. However, it was just not my style I suppose, as I sort of expected. There were enjoyable moments, but, collectively the film itself wasn’t as entertaining as I wanted, and provided very little in terms of characters to like (or dislike). And yeah…it was too weird for me.

MAD MAX: FURY ROADoriginal_barnstar original_barnstar (out of 4)

Review: Ex Machina

Expectations were certainly exceeded in this tense sci-fi thriller. (A24/

Expectations were certainly exceeded in this smart, tense sci-fi thriller. (A24/

Yesterday, my brother texted me and asked if I was going to see a movie called Ex Machina, because he thought it looked terrific. Not only was I unaware what this movie was about…I didn’t even know it existed or was out in the first place. So I went home, watched two trailers, and next thing you know, I’m seeing my first new movie of 2015. And my god, it did not disappoint. What a creative and suspenseful sci-fi treat this turned out to be.

A secretive CEO of a search engine company has given one lucky person the opportunity to spend a week at his ‘in the middle of absolutely nowhere’ house to study his A.I. invention. This CEO, played by Oscar Isaac, is a genius, a drunk, and a douchebag it would seem. The ‘lucky’ winner, Domhnall Gleeson, is a young coder who lives near New York. Over the next number of days, he’s astonished at the A.I.’s intelligence and capacity to think, appalled at her captivity, and blown away by things I can’t say because it would completely ruin the movie. But for a film that for me, started slowly, it soon picked up speed and never slowed down until the credits began to roll.

This is a sci-fi story that’s original and feels completely fresh. It’s not that artificial intelligence has never been done before, but not in this type of way, not that I can remember. The aesthetics of the film are beautiful, and the way it’s shot is just really terrific. But what’s most outstanding to me is that a movie with three people (well, two people and one A.I.), it manages to bring about so many intense emotions and crazy, but planned, plot turns. It’s extremely well thought out, and will likely leave the door open for lots of discussion on A.I. as a whole.

At first I thought the acting was a bit, well, stiff, particularly on Gleeson’s party. But as things progressed, he improved somewhat. Isaac was very good, as was Vikander in her very unique role as a robot. In the end however, I’m just so impressed by how well this movie kept me wide-eyed and intrigued. It’s thrilling, suspenseful, funny at points, smart, and looks great. You can’t ask for much more than that…especially from something you’d never heard of until yesterday.

EX MACHINA: original_barnstar original_barnstar original_barnstar (out of 4)