Tag Archives: michael pena

The Martian – Review

7 Oct

Ridley Scott is known for his ability to craft some of the most epic movies in modern film. GladiatorKingdom of Heaven, and even the crime epic American Gangster all fit nicely into this category of huge films. Now we have a movie based off of a novel by Andy Weir, and in my opinion, this is a pretty absurd choice of book to make a movie out of. Not because it’s a bad story, but it’s actually too great of a story with different story lines that not only spans continents, but planets. If I was a major Hollywood film maker, a project like this would intimidate me, but leave it to Ridley Scott to take the source material and make it into one of the stand out movies of 2015.

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In the not too distant future, NASA sends a group of scientists to Mars to learn more about the desolate, red planet. When a violent storm cuts the mission short, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead. NASA releases the news, but are then shocked to learn that Watney is alive and well and has been stranded on Mars. Watney knows that it may be up to four years before the next mission can arrive to rescue him, so he begins working to make the dead soil of Mars into a place that he can live on. Meanwhile, NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and Ares III mission director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) start devising multiple different plans to not only provide food for Watney, but also find a way to rescue him from Mars as soon as possible. This may ultimately fall on Ares III commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and the rest of her crew, forcing them to turn back around and get Watney home.

I can’t stress it enough that the story of The Martian felt absolutely enormous. Not only does it cover over a year of time, but also involves so many different characters that each have very important jobs to do throughout the entire ordeal. There isn’t one character that felt wasted throughout the whole thing. It was also cool to see that even for some of the most minor roles, good actors would still fill their shoes. For example, one of the people that completely changes how NASA approaches the whole problem is astronomer Rich Purnell played by Donald Glover. This character is only in a few scenes for a few minutes, but they still casted a great actor to fill that role. Other than the people I already mentioned, there’s other actors like Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Benedict Wong, and Sean Bean. It’s one of the best casts that’s been assembled in recent memory.

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What seems to be surprising most critics and audiences is how lighthearted this movie actually is. Sure, it’s very dramatic and some of the scenes can get really intense, but I found myself laughing through a lot of the movie. The character of Mark Watney is literally what this story needs. Instead of letting his situation get the better of him, he remains optimistic and cracks jokes throughout the entire movie. If it wasn’t for him keeping his good humor, this would be an unbearably depressing movie. It’s also cool to see how his optimism affects the other characters and keep them from throwing in the towel before something can be done. Pretty much, this movie keeps you feeling great the whole time, and never did I feel like the situation was absolutely hopeless.

I can’t really find anything to complain about with The Martian. Not only is it very well written and acted, but it’s also a beautiful looking movie. In order to get the perfect look for his Martian landscape Scott and the rest of his special effects team filmed in Wadi Rum, Jordan, which has a red desert. That location shooting combined with excellent special effects makes this film visually immersive. Harry Gregson-Williams’ low key score also accentuates the drama very nicely.

While Ridley Scott hasn’t made perfect movies and has recently slipped a little bit, The Martian is proof that he is still able to take huge stories, compress them, and successfully put them on film. This film is an achievement of special effects, but also stands out with it’s quick writing, believable characters, and feeling of hope and good humor that spans the entire two and a half hour run time. Nothing in this movie feels wasted, which means everything feels important and that isn’t easy to do. This is an outstanding movie.

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Ant-Man – Review

26 Jul

Every years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps getting bigger and bigger, which I guess meant that the next hero had to be the smallest one of them all. Before watching this movie, I really had no prior experience with the characters of Hank Pym, Scott Lang, or Ant-Man. Just a few minor detail and notes were all I had to go on, so I didn’t really know what to expect, and I was actually a little bit nervous about the whole thing. Luckily, Ant-Man is a welcome addition into the MCU, and aside from a few minor complaints, this is one of the most fun films of the franchise that dons the same kind of feel that Guardians of the Galaxy did.

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After being released from prison, professional thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is working hard to find a job in order to pay child support for his daughter so that he can finally spend time with her again. He is finally backed into a corner and decides to take a job given to him by his friend Luis (Michael Peña), which involves breaking into a house to rob a mysterious vault. Turns out that this job was actually set up by former S.H.I.E.L.D agent and scientist Hank Pym (Micahel Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). They explain to Scott that they need him to don a special suit and become Ant-Man in order to break into Pym’s old research facilities and steal a prototype for a Yellowjacket suit that will be used by the villainous Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) to wage world wars. Of course, it’s never as easy as it seems with job culminating in a fight to the death between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket.

Just a few months ago I was writing my review for Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is probably the most epic film in this franchise thus far. So, we’re going from that to Ant-Man, which is (no pun intended) a lot smaller. Luckily, the creative talent behind this movie was more than capable for making up for all that. This is a Marvel movie the likes I’ve never seen before. It’s a lot more than just a good guy against a bad guy. In fact, I would argue that that isn’t even the main focus of the movie. The main focus is actually the planning and execution of the heist to secure the Yellowjacket suit. The bottom line is that this is a heist movie starring a superhero. How cool is that?

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Like with Guardians of the Galaxy and both of The Avengers movies, the writing in Ant-Man is really sharp and quick. I credit a lot of this to the original screenwriter and director Edgar Wright, but I can’t discount the rewrites done by Adam McKay and Paul Rudd. All of these guys have shown their talent for both comedy and drama, and all of that comes together in a nice clean package here. This film is both funny and often dramatic, but never overwhelming in either of these departments. There’s a healthy balance between the two ends of the spectrum, and between those two ends is a lot of really great and inventive action. The character of Ant-Man may seem a little silly, but seeing him in action, wether he’s riding on ants or shrinking down to utilize his super strength, is just a joy to behold.

I just want to take a moment to address some of the not so great parts of this movie, because unfortunately there are some. For example, Darren Cross isn’t exactly a great villain. They just sort of explain that his brain has been poisoned by the formula that can make the suits shrink, but they don’t actually dive into that and examine him as a character. All you need to know is he’s bad and Scott Lang is good. That’s kind of disappointing. Also, there gets to be a point in the movie where things just start to happen so the story can keep progressing. I get that that may have been done to make sure the movie didn’t get overly long, but it also just felt kinda weak at the same time. These are, thankfully, pretty minor complaints overall.

So in a world where superhero movies have flooded theaters all over the world, I’m happy to say that Ant-Man is a more than welcome addition. It’s filled with humor, action, nice drama, and all of the references you would come to expect watching a movie that’s part of the MCU. Not only is it a great stand alone film, it also makes me really excited about what’s to come. Don’t miss out on this one.

Fury – Review

12 Nov

In the latter days of World War II, much of the fighting involved the tactical brutality that was tank warfare. As any historian or buff of the second world war knows, the American tanks were completely outdone by the far superior Nazi tanks, and while this was terrible for the soldiers in the war, it makes for a great idea for a movie. That movie is finally here with David Ayer’s Fury. This is a movie that has its flaws in its predictability and a pretty messy middle section, but I’d still have to say that it is one of the best, if not the best, war film since Saving Private Ryan.

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The year is 1945 and victory for the Allied forces seems like a good possibility, but that doesn’t mean that the German army isn’t using everything it has to defend Berlin, including women and children. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) is a tank commander with the best team he could possibly ask for. There’s the gunner, Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf); the loader, Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal); and the driver, Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña). When one of the team dies, he is replaced by Norman (Logan Lerman), who has to work hard to prove his loyalty to the crew but also his bravery in battle. When the team receives the important mission to defend a vital cross road, they treat it as if it’s a mission that they’ve all gone through before, but this is the mission that will truly test their metal as a vast German platoon advances on their position.

After seeing the movie, it has become more obvious that Fury means a lot more than just the tank’s name. While I figured this going into the movie, I wasn’t sure exactly how Ayer was going to treat the war. It’s easy to make a war movie where you sympathize with the good guys and cheer them on, while it’s much easier to hate the bad guys and hope their soldiers will be defeated. This is even the case in Saving Private Ryan, what I consider to be the greatest war film ever made. Fury takes an interesting stance in this case. It isn’t easy to like the characters in the American tank, even Pitt’s character which you would think would be the knight in shining armor. Every character, other than Lerman’s, has been changed by the war at the start of the movie, making them seem like vengeful, bloodthirsty warriors rather than the heroic soldiers marching into battle, as World War II movies often depict them.

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Probably the best part about this film is actually the sound design. When I found out the sound was done by Paul N.J. Ottosson, I realized why it was so good. Ottosson is responsible for the near deafening, if not astoundingly perfect sound work in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, having won the Academy Award for both of those films. If he wins again for Fury, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. Shells whistle and machine guns roar with such depth and power that it feels like you’re really in the middle of a tank battle. Sound can make or break a movie, and it really bolsters this one. The costume and set work are also really excellent, especially at the various American camps and the claustrophobic interior of the tank. It’s an effectively depressing looking movie.

Now, as I stated before, there are some major problems with Fury that made me pretty uncomfortable in my seat. For one thing, it’s a very predictable movie. For all of its unconventionality, the films still follows a core formula where you can more than guess the ending. That was something I could live with, but there is a section in the middle that lasts about 15 minutes that was almost unbearable. There’s so much intensity in the first part of the film that when it slows down, it feels like somebody slammed on the breaks without thinking to slow down a little bit first. While this is a short part of the movie, it’s so boring and drawn out that it feels a lot longer. Luckily, the insane third act more than makes up for this awkward middle section.

Fury is an intense war film that takes the glamour out of everything Hollywood ever tried to put into a war movie. While we cheer for the American soldiers, it’s hard to like them at the same time while there is signs of humanity in the opposing forces, something that hasn’t really been seen except in a film like The Pianist. This is a brutal, devastating, but really entertaining movie that is worth seeing more than once. The sound, sets, and score were all equally fantastic and it does my heart good to see a film that’s so easy to like.