Friday, October 9, 2015

"The Martian" and the Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Martian" and DVDs "What We Do in the Shadows" and "Every Secret Thing." The Book of the Week is Erica Jong's new novel "Fear of Dying (Yes, believe it or not, I am reviewing a NOVEL this week)!"  I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Celebration (and let me tell you it is anything but!)"]

 


 
The Martian


During a mission to Mars, a space storm forces U.S. astronauts to abort their mission and leave the planet.  Unfortunately, they leave one of their own behind.

Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is separated from his fellow astronauts during a space storm on Mars and believing him dead, they leave him behind.  Finding himself alone, Mark marshals all of his skills to survive and to find a way to let earth know he is still alive.

Think MacGyver on Mars. 

Mark has some skills.  He knows that even if he survives, he has to wait many months before he can be rescued.  He needs food. He is a botanist so he figures out how to use the human waste left behind to fertilize plants and grow some potatoes.  I know, ew, but the guy's gotta eat.  He rigs up all sorts of contraptions to make his life easier on Mars and eventually is able to communicate with Earth.

If I was to judge this film on the basis of Matt Damon, it would be two thumbs up.  He does a great job with what he has to work with. 

But then there are the other issues.

This is basically a one man tour de force.  Why was it necessary to have such big names as Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean and Kate Mara in this thing when they had so little to do? These are A-List actors whose talents were basically wasted.  And mostly, what the hell was Kristen Wiig doing in this movie?  Duct tape had a bigger part than she did.  When she was seen in the movie, all she did was look concerned and utter a few concerned sounding words.  Speaking of duct tape, I think it should get billing since it played such a major role.

I won't complain about the other stars - Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor - since they at least had major storylines as NASA bigwigs trying to bring Mark home, but in general this was Matt Damon's movie so, in my opinion, anyone could have handled those supporting roles.  The other actors were just window dressing.  One wonders why they agreed to play supporting roles, but it probably helps their acting cred to be in a Ridley Scott film.

As for Matt, it is never easy to be a one man show, but he is an actor who can always be counted on to put in a great performance.  Similar stories come to mind: When I think of films where a man is all alone on a planet, I think of Sam Rockwell in "Moon."  Likewise, Tom Hanks in "Cast Away" comes to mind. Though not alone on a planet, Hanks was alone on an island and had to find a way to get home. Unfortunately, both of those films were one man shows that were much more compelling and dramatic than "The Martian," despite Matt Damon's excellent acting.

Director Ridley Scott notwithstanding, this film would have benefited from about 30 fewer minutes.  It was just too long and boring at times.  It wasn't until the the end that anything much happened.

However, based on the book by Andy Weir, the production values and special effects are first rate, especially in 3-D.  Filmed in the deserts of Jordan, the "Martian landscape" is breathtaking thanks to the cinematography of Dariusz Wolski.  And the science all rings true.  So much so, in fact, that social media has shown that many people think this film was based on a true story!  People, we haven't put a human on Mars yet.

And speaking of science, science geeks will probably love this.  However, I can't help but draw comparisons to "Interstellar," which I also didn't really care for and "Gravity," which I loved.  Ironically the science in "Interstellar" was lauded and the science in "Gravity," was not, so I guess that might say something about me.  But when I am watching a movie, none of that really matters to me.  What matters is the story and the dramatic effect and this film, despite its excellent science, didn't really have any drama until the end.  I mean, at least Tom Hanks in "Cast Away" had that damn soccer ball to talk to. And "Gravity" did win seven Oscars, so it certainly had something going for it.

But again, I enjoyed Matt's performance.  He was really, really good.  He just didn't need all of those other stars cluttering up his space.  Space, get it?

If you do want to see it, and like me, science doesn't necessarily turn you on, see it in 3-D, because the landscapes and special effects were breathtaking at times and seeing it in 3-D will keep you awake.

Rosy the Reviewer says...space nerds will probably love this.  Sadly, I am not one.



 

Some Movies You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)
 
***Now Out on DVD***

 

Modern day vampires - Viago, Deacon and Vladislav - find the routines of everyday life daunting - hilariously so.

With a story similar to Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive," where Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are also modern day vampires trying to get along in the modern day world, this is a hilarious comic take on that idea.

The film asks the question: What if four vampires from various centuries and cultures shared a flat and a documentary was made about it? What if a bunch of vampires from various eras lived together in a flat and had to take turns cleaning and doing the shopping and had to deal with all of the mundane activities of daily life that we humans have to deal with?

The film starts with Viago waking up all of his flatmates for a flat meeting to make sure everyone is pulling his weight.  It seems Deacon hasn't washed the dishes in years. 

Life is tough for these vampires. How do you get ready for a night out if you have no reflection?  How do you avoid sunlight?  Where is your next meal of blood going to come from?  Why can't they get into nightclubs?

A documentary crew from the non-existent New Zealand Documentary Board has been invited to film them for a "day in the life" as they get ready for "The Unholy Masquerade," a secret society party that meets once per year.  The flat mates want to do this documentary because they feel that vampires in general have gotten a bad rap.

The film crew follows them as they take a bus into town where they have trouble getting into a nightclub. They also run into some werewolves and get into it with them trading insults.  Hilarious.  "Say it, don't spray it, bitch!" This is what the Twilight series might have been like if it had been a comedy.  To some of us those films were comedies, but that's a different review.

Each of the housemates tells his story and how he ended up in New Zealand.

Deacon (Jonny Brugh) was a peasant who used to sell his wares castle to castle until he was abducted by a vampire.  And Deacon says, "And we are still friends today." That's because the vampire who abducted Deacon and turned him into a vampire was Petyr (Ben Fransham) who looks strangely like Nosferatu and who also now shares the flat but spends most of his time in his casket in the wall in the basement.

Deacon also has a "familiar," Jackie (Jackie van Beek), a suburban housewife who does his bidding in hopes that she, too, can become a vampire and thus have eternal life.

Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), is a medieval guy, a bit of a pervert, with some old ideas about things.  "Let's get some slaves."  Think Vlad the Impaler except here he says "I would poke people," so I guess he is Vlad the Poker.

Viago (Taika Waititi) is an 18th century dandy.  "He can be very fussy."  He asks his flat mates to please put down a towel if they are going to kill a victim on the couch.

Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) is a "recent" vampire so we also get to follow what it's like for a newly "born" vampire in the 21st century.  The old vampires don't approve of Nick, especially since his enthusiasm about his new status compels him to tell everyone.  However, they like Nick's friend Stu who is friendly and easy-going.  He's an IT guy so Stu (Stu Rutherford) introduces them all to technology in another hilarious scene where he shows them how to access porn.

Written and directed by Waititi and Clement (Clement was one of the creators and stars of the comedy troupe "Flight of the Conchords"), they take the clichés about vampires and vampire movies and suck the blood out of them.  These vampires are not romantic and eerie.  They are geeky and clueless and just plain hilarious.

Rosy the Reviewer says...If you are a fan of The Flight of the Conchords" or of Christopher Guest and his films ("This is Spinal Tap," "A Might Wind"), then you will love this movie. And just if you want to laugh out loud, this film is A MUST!  It's one of the funniest movies I have ever seen.

 


Every Secret Thing (2014)


Two young girls recently out of prison for killing a baby are now under suspicion when another child goes missing.

As little girls, Ronnie and Alice were neighbors and grew up together. They had uneasy childhoods:  Ronnie, because she came from "the wrong side of the tracks," Alice because she was overweight and unpopular and her own mother seemed to prefer Ronnie.  In fact, Alice's mother made Alice include Ronnie in her activities, one of which was a pool party where Ronnie caused a scene and was asked to leave. Because Alice brought Ronnie, Alice was kicked out of the party along with Ronnie, which didn't help their relationship.  Early on, you get the idea that Ronnie is a bit of a "bad seed."

Alice (Danielle MacDonald) and Ronnie (Dakota Fanning) were both convicted of killing a biracial baby when they were 11.   

Now the girls are 18, out of juvenile detention and trying to fit back into the community.  Alice is overweight, obsessed with fame and spends her time walking around town under the pretense of looking for work.  Ronnie is quiet and working at a bagel shop.  Both seem to be lost and blaming the other for what happened.

Then another biracial child goes missing.

Through a series of flashbacks we see the uneasy forced relationship between the girls, Helen's disapproval of Alice ("Sometimes I think you were switched at the hospital") and her approval of the skinnier Ronnie and just what really happened when that first baby went missing when they were 11. 

MacDonald is not a sympathetic character, but are we unsympathetic towards her because she is overweight? I think the filmmaker was commenting on that. Fanning is always good but isn't given much to do here as Ronnie.
 
Diane Lane plays Helen, Alice's mother, who is a bit of a free spirit and a bit of a lush and a bit of a nut.  Lane is almost unrecognizable here and once again shows herself to be one of our most underrated actresses.

Elizabeth Banks is the detective looking for the missing three-year-old and we discover that she also has a past.  She was the detective who found the dead baby seven years before.  One wonders when Banks will have that break out role that will bring her to the status of a Julia Roberts.  She has played a wide range of roles in the last couple of years: the character part of kooky Effie Trinket in "The Hunger Games" series, a comic role in the romantic comedy "Walk of Shame," and her dramatic role here.  She seems to be able to do anything.

Based on the book by Laura Lippmann with a script by Nicole Holofcener and directed by Amy Berg (her first feature film), this movie is about secrets, lies and jealousy.  Before this film, Berg directed the acclaimed documentary "West of Memphis," which explored some of these same themes, looking at the case of the West Memphis Three, who were wrongly convicted of killing some young boys. 

Though the crime is different, I can't help but draw comparisons between the characters in this film and the young girls in the compelling "Heavenly Creatures."

There seems to be a racial theme running throughout the film, but it doesn't go anywhere and the twist ending is  a bit too pat and melodramatic.  There is a bit of a Lifetime Movie feel to this, but, hey, I like Lifetime Movies.

All in all, a compelling psychological true crime drama.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you liked "Heavenly Creatures" or enjoy true crime dramas, you will like this film.




***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

 
277 to go!

The Celebration AKA Festen (1998)


It's Helge's (Henning Moritzen) 60th birthday and the family has gathered to honor him.  But he gets an unexpected "present." 
 
All of Helge's children have come together to celebrate Helge's birthday. Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) is seemingly the most successful child and Helge has asked him to give the toast.  He is a twin and hanging over the celebration is the recent suicide of his twin sister.  When Christian gives the toast, a bombshell is dropped and all hell breaks loose.
 
Putting people together around a table creates a claustrophobic effect where all kinds of things can happen.  It reminded me of another classic film I reviewed recently, "The Exterminating Angel" where people are forced together in a room and eventually their worst natures come to light.
 
This film reminds you why family reunions are so scary. And also funny in a black humor sort of way.  There is a Bergmanesque feel to this film.

The acting is sensational as truths are revealed and the family secrets laid bare.

"[This film is the product of]...Dogme95 -- a Danish film manifesto that calls for location shooting, handheld cameras, direct sound, [no music] and an avoidance of special effects...[and uncredited director] Vinterberg's work...is genuinely explosive and powerfully executed...The extreme forms of aggressive behavior that emerge from the onset and Vinterberg's jagged style of cross-cutting disguise the fact that this is basically a very well written, acted, and directed piece of psychodrama rather than the revolutionary experiment it was proclaimed to be..."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...A celebration?  It's anything but!  If you like Bergman, you will like this film.
(In Danish with English subtitles)
 


***Book of the Week***




Fear of Dying by Erica Jong (2015)
 

Vanessa Waterman is a woman of a certain age and she is not happy about it.  Her parents are dying, she is about to become a grandmother and her spouse is experiencing the dreaded ED.  Should she try Internet dating or just decide to accept where she is in life?

Though this book is listed as a novel, it's less a novel and more of Jong's own musings about no longer being young and vital. It is a testament to the fact that even uber-feminist/sexual enthusiast Jong is not immune to the plight of all of us Baby Boomers: our parents dying, our becoming grandparents, our fear of dying, our search for meaning and the loss of sexuality in our partners. Her dog is even dying. Getting old sucks and Erica wants us to know that.

Jong's first book, "Fear of Flying" was a book of major importance to this Baby Boomer.  It awakened my feminism (not a dirty word) and my power in this world. It was one of the most important books of my life. Since then, Jong has talked about her journey into midlife in a later book "Fear of 50" and written countless other works of nonfiction, novels and books of poetry, but now she resurrects her heroine and alter ego of yore, Isadora Wing (from "Fear of Flying,") in this latest book which is not so much a novel as her ruminations about getting old and facing her mortality.

Isadora Wing, who we first encountered in "Fear of Flying" and associate with the "zipless f**k" is here as Vanessa's friend. Isadora represents Jong's sexual and feminist alter-ego, but her heroine here, Vanessa, is now her geriatric one who is looking into that great maw called death.  So now Jong's heroine is more interested in relationships, spirituality and what comes next rather than the zipless f**k.

Vanessa is dealing with dying parents, a pregnant daughter (so she is going to be a grandmother), a sexually dysfunctional husband who also has health problems, growing old and facing her own mortality.  She briefly toys with the idea of Internet dating but runs into too many men who either want to put her in a rubber suit or want to be her slave.

There is no real story here unless talking about your parents and dog dying, your husband's ED and wondering about the hereafter and whatever happened to sex is your idea of a novel. It's more like real life for many of us in the "over the hill gang."  Erica/Isadora/Vanessa can hardly believe she is a member of that club and that the aging thing has happened to her.

This is not a groundbreaking book like "Fear of Flying." All of us Baby Boomers seem to be writing about how shocked we are about getting old.  We thought we were going to live forever.  Jong is no exception.  She has always denied that her books were autobiographical, but it's difficult to think that "Vanessa" isn't Jong pontificating about the realities of getting old and what we aging Baby Boomer women have to look forward to and already know.  Getting old sucks.  And Jong can't quite believe she is there.  Welcome to the club, kiddo!

Rosy the Reviewer says...even our feminist idols have to face reality.



Thanks for Reading!

 

That's it for this week.

See you Tuesday for

"Things Husbands Don't Know How To Do"

 

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5 comments :

  1. Well you answered my concerns about The Martian. I have two friends who are wild about the book and wanting to see the movie. I was at lunch with one of them and each of us was pushing our current book recommendation on our other friend. Mine was "A Man Called Ove" and my much younger friend kept saying to ignore that book and get "The Martian". I figured it was our age difference but then my high school bud in Colorado just sent me the Nook link to the book saying it's a must read and she is going with friends next week to see the movie. It all just feels ho-hum to me.

    Guess that's what makes life interesting...we are all different...but I am sticking with your reviews!!

    sazzy

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    1. Thanks, sazzy. I have to say that Hubby liked it much better than I did. I have a woman friend reading the book and she said she could get why guys would like it but she wasn't impressed and she is VERY much the reader. But I have to say, "The Martian" is worth seeing. I just hold movies that like - "serious" BIG movies to a higher standard than I do the indies. That's how I can criticize "The Martian" while at the same time recommending "Every Secret Thing." In the end, it's all about how satisfying a movie experience one has and in the case of "The Martian," for me it wasn't satisfying.

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    2. So I should add, you are so right about everyone being different.

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    3. What's odd is my friend who is my age and female was up half the night finishing the book and really pumped up about it.

      sazzy

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    4. I get that. I didn't read the book so I can't comment on that. BUT here's what I think about book vs. movie. They are both different art forms and should not, in most cases, be compared. You hear people saying, it wasn't as good as the book. OK, I get that people can be disappointed, but a movie is not a book. It's a movie. How was it as a movie? A movie can't possibly have all of the detail that a book has. And a book creates its own world. A movie creates its own. So it's possible to love the book and not like the movie and even vice versa. For me, as a film, it didn't live up to what I expect from a great movie experience. But that is not to say that the book is not wonderful. So though "The Martian" should stand alone as a movie experience, I would be interested to know what your friend thinks of the film because she loved the book so much.

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