Monday, October 26, 2015

Movie review - The Martian - review by Emily Maier

Run time: 141 min

Based on the book of the same name by Andy Weir, The Martian is a science fiction film that takes place on – you guessed it – Mars. Instead of little green men, however, the movie focuses its attention on a team of astronauts known as the Ares III. Among these astronauts is a botanist named Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon), who becomes stranded after a sudden storm forces his crew to vacate the planet without him. Alone and assumed to be dead, Watney is forced to survive on a desolate planet with limited resources while he attempts to contact NASA for help. 

Ridley Scott already has a few space epics under his belt with Alien and Prometheus, so it was easy to tell he was in his element while filming The Martian. Though I’d never really considered the red planet to be beautiful, certain shots of the sun cresting over distant, crimson mountains were outright stunning.
One aspect that had me concerned going into the movie was its likeness to Interstellar, which only came out a year prior to The Martian’s release. Interstellar is a cinematic masterpiece in its own right, but no one likes seeing a regurgitated plot thrown back at them with a slightly different cast. Luckily, the only real similarity is that Matt Damon’s character is once again stranded on an inhospitable planet. Unlike Interstellar, The Martian takes a much more lighthearted approach in its storytelling. Even though Mark Watney is faced with innumerable odds during his stay on Mars, he never loses his sense of humor. 

However, the film still retains enough tension (or should I say gravity) for the audience to take it seriously. 

The movie already had an impressive cast with faces like Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, but Matt Damon stole the show. His straight-faced humor gave the movie that extra dimension it needed to stand out in a horde of intergalactic films, not to mention the comic relief that was necessary to break up all the suspense throughout. 

With a run time of almost two and a half hours, The Martian is a bit lengthy, but it never had me glancing down at my watch. I was so engaged throughout the movie that I didn’t even notice the length until leaving the theater. 

One of the best things about The Martian is how desperately you want Mark Watney to survive. He’s got enough ingenuity to make his character interesting, but he makes enough mistakes to be human and – perhaps most importantly – relatable. 

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that had me so genuinely worried and invested in the main character. No matter what, The Martian will have you rooting for Mark Watney from beginning to end.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Movie Review - Sicario (R) - Review by Gardner Reed

121 minutes

From its hard hitting first scene to an undeniable thought provoking ending, Sicario builds its brooding tension and suspense with almost graceful patience to keep us on the edge of our seats thought the entirety of the film. I anticipated viewing this movie and how it would tackle the much debated issue of border conflicts and the ongoing U.S. war on drugs. The film handles these social issues with almost uncanny attention to detail by portraying the conflict from both sides to give the audience a broader and clearer view of the conflict.

The movie stars Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow) as a FBI agent who volunteers to join a team of elite US agents and operatives tasked with hunting down a cartel and disrupting drug trafficking operations around Juarez, Mexico. Attached to the team as an advisor is Alejandro Gallik portrayed by Academy Award Winning actor Benicio Del Toro (Traffic, The Usual Suspects). 

Del Toro’s performance stands out among the rest because it is not only extremely vivid and gripping, but eerily mesmerizing. His character’s back story is never fully revealed but a personal tragedy by the hands of the cartel drives him endlessly to methodically exact revenge on those responsible. His screen presence is utterly absorbing and completely unpredictable which only made me more enthralled and shaken at times. His ability to portray a character that’s brutal and ruthless yet fascinating is equal to that of Javier Bardem’s performance in No Country for Old Men.

 Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music score helps and builds upon the films dark nature and adds biting suspense to scenes that captivate like no other I’ve seen in a while. Dennis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Incendies) directs the film in his usual fare of heavy character drama and gripping set pieces added on with stark and complex imagery thanks in part to cinematographer Roger Deakins who doesn’t pass up on the beautiful, yet ominous landscapes of the desert surrounding the film’s location. 

Movie review - Everest (PG 13) - Review by Emily Maier

Run time: 121 min

The story of Everest follows two groups of climbers who dared to scale the 5½ miles of the tallest mountain in the world. Their audacious endeavor is made even more perilous when a massive storm catches the mountaineers off guard at Everest’s peak. The drama film accompanies the group as they fight to survive in the harshest place on Earth. Perhaps the most heart-rending part of all is that their story is a true one.

Overall, I came out of the theater feeling pretty neutral about the movie. There were many aspects that I liked, but there were also a lot of moments where I found myself critiquing things. One of the biggest issues that I have with the movie is the choppy style. Even though the story is so undeniably tragic, the entire film feels like a disjointed documentary and I think this drains a lot of emotion out of it. Certain parts of the movie also become muddled simply because it’s so hard to differentiate between all the characters. With all the beards, oxygen masks, and billowing snow, it’s next to impossible to sort out what is happening to whom. 

One of the best things the movie has going for it is the phenomenal cast, including Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley and Emily Watson. Each portrayal is completely believable, and the only downside is that the meager backstories make it hard for the audience to really get attached to the characters. Another thing that stood out in Everest is (of course) the mountain. The austere visuals of Everest – the rocky peaks, the blinding snow, the gaping crevasses – make it feel as though you are actually standing with the team of climbers. The sheer presence of the mountain is so domineering that it’s easy to forget the battle is one of man versus nature. Instead, it feels as though the characters are combating with a physical adversary and, as one climber ominously states, “The last word always belongs to the mountain.”

All in all, the movie is worth the watch, especially considering it’s based on true events, but it’s definitely not for the faint-of-heart. Between frostbitten fingers and more than one on-screen death, Everest leaves no cheery mood in its wake. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Movie review - Black Mass (R) - By Daniel Kilgallon

Run Time: 122 min

Black Mass is a new crime film directed by Scott Cooper and based on the same-named book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill. The movie features a talented cast led by Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Kevin Bacon. There are several reasons why I was extremely excited to see this movie, including the fact that I am a huge fan of the mob genre. For example, I strongly believe that the first two Godfathers stand among the absolute greatest movies ever made and Scorsese classics such as Goodfellas and The Departed are right there too. Having said that, the biggest intrigue for me was the presence of Johnny Depp in this perfectly cast lead role. The three time Academy Award nominee is easily one of my favorite actors and I just couldn’t wait to see what he was going to do with this project.

In this true story, Depp portrays James “Whitey” Bulger, a former kingpin of South Boston and one of the most notorious criminals in United States history. Beginning in the year 1975, the early portion of the film chronicles Whiteys rise to power as the leader of the Irish-American Winter Hill Gang. Meanwhile, his brother, William “Billy” Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) is working as a Massachusetts state senator. Before long, Whiteys rule of organized crime in South Boston is challenged by the Italian Mafia. Reuniting with his old friend named John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who is now working as FBI agent, Whitey agrees to operate as an informant in order to bring down his only competition. 

For the most part, I thought that Black Mass was an excellent gangster film with some truly amazing acting across the board. For starters, Johnny Depp completely blew it out of the park with his portrayal of Bulger and he flat out owned every scene he was in. Putting aside his character of my childhood hero, Captain Jack Sparrow, this is the best Johnny Depp performance I have ever seen. 
Even considering his already amazing body of work, I think this could be the role that earns Depp his well-earned Academy Award. Moving along, I really loved the way this movie was filmed and as expected there was plenty of brutally realistic violence and language. Overall, the acting clearly shines bright in Black Mass and it is an award worthy film that certainly shouldn’t be missed.