Tag Archives: Jeff Daniels

The Martian (2015)

9 Oct

So here’s the rub:

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is stuck on Mars – left for dead by his crew members during a freak sandstorm – and he has no way of making contact with anybody back on Earth. Supplies for food, oxygen, and water are extremely limited, and the next scheduled Mars landing isn’t for another 4 years. Fortunately, Watney is a highly skilled botanist (and apparently, amatuer comedian), very capable of growing his own food and creating a somewhat habitable space on the red planet – if he can summon the willpower to do so.

Based off the novel by Andy Weir and Directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator), The Martian is an inter-planetary survival story overflowing science, humor, and heart.  Unfortunately, the disjointed plot wears a little thin in lieu of it’s feel good spirit.

Scott, like some of his contemporaries Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, and Steven Spielberg, has always been a bit of populist, and here he carefully inserts his love of brainy science within a crowd-pleasing blockbuster format. It’s less ambitious than last year’s mind-melting Innerstellar, but it contains just as much optimism for the chemistry geeks who offer the most hope for humanity’s future.

While The Martian gives us enough hard science to make up an episode of Cosmos, it lacks much of the drama or narrative tension needed to sustain a film 140 minutes long. An ensemble cast that features Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristin Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Donald Glover, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, and Mackenzie Davis, give us little of actual characters and more of simple talking heads needed to relay technical information to each other.  Perhaps the most developed character is Matt Damon’s Mark “I’m going to science the shit out of mars” Watney. Damon has always been a likeable actor, but he is as charming as ever in The Martian with plenty of charisma and wittiness – even when he is facing death.

The little drama that exists lies with a Sean Bean/Jeff Daniels/Chiwetel Ejiofor corporate triangle, where NASA head Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) is faced with the moral dilemma of whether or not it’s justified to risk other astronauts lives at the expense of saving one. It’s a theme that’s never gets fully developed, with Scott instead opting for a style-over-substance epic that’s high on details but low on thematic material. The Martian does a good job at keeping things visually interesting, showcasing both Scott’s technical experience with tentpole films and the dynamics of (visual and interplanetary) space.

Bottom Line: With a story too simple for its lengthy running time, The Martian is a light hearted and extremely accessible crowdpleaser.

Bourne in space.

Rating: 7/10

Film Recipe: Interstellar + 127 Hours + All Is Lost

10 MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS 2015

2 Jan

Goodbye 2014 and hello to 2015.

 

Another great cinematic year has come and gone, and 2014 was one for the record books (you can check out my top 25 films of the year here). While we wait to see what film gets the Best Picture Oscar and who gets snubbed come February 22, lets take a look at some upcoming projects for 2015.

 

10 – Z For Zachariah 

Who’s in it – Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Directed By Craig Zobel.

Why? Zobel’s Compliance was one of the best micro-budget thrillers I had seen in a long time.  It looks like he is upping the ante here with some major A-list talent.

Release Date – Unknown for now, but I’ll be catching this at Sundance in late Jan

9 – STAR WARS EPISODE 7 

Who’s in it – All the original stars (Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill) along with an exciting batch of rising talent (Lupita Nyong’o, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega). Directed and written by JJ. Abrams.

Why? After the disappointing trilogy made up Episodes 1, 2 and 3, the pressure is on Abrams to revitalize the classic franchise and restore balance to the force (and our faith in big-budget franchises).  Besides, Hamill needs something to do with his career other than voice video games.

Release Date –  Dec 18 

 

8 – Black Mass 

Who’s in it – An ensemble cast of Johnny Depp, Juno Temple, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Sarsgaard, Sienna Miller, and Kevin Bacon. Directed by Scott Cooper.

Why? After Cooper’s terrific but terribly underrated Out Of The Furnace, I’m extremely curious to see how he handles this FBI crime novel adaptation with such a talented cast.

Release Date – an Oscar friendly Sept 18 

7 – While We Are Young / Mistress America 

Who’s in it – Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver / Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirk. Both films written and directed by Noah Baumbach.

Why? – Baumbach has two films in the pipeline for 2015, and they both look fantastic. While We Are Young received lots of praise after it’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last September, and Mistress America is slated for a Sundance Film Festival premiere.

Release Date – March 27 / no word yet on a theatrical release for Mistress America, but I’ll catch it at Sundance in late Jan.

 

6- Everest 

Who’s in it – Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Josh Brolin, Robin Wright. Directed by Baltisar Kormakur.

Why? – The story about a group of mountain climbers becoming trapped on the world’s tallest peak during a snowstorm has me all sorts of excited. Plus, Jake Gyllenhaal.

Release Date – Sept 18 

 

5 – The Martian 

Who’s in it – Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara. Directed by Ridley Scott.

Why? – Besides the big-name cast and director, this adaptation about the colonization of mars could continue on the trail of smart Oscar-friendly sci-fi films like Gravity and Interstellar. Or it could be a total flop like The Counselor or Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Release Date – Nov 25

4 – The Revenant

Who’s in it – Leo Dicaprio, Tom Hardy. Directed by Alejandro Inarritu.

Why? Birdman showed that Inarritu could directed something in another genre besides the super-serious drama, and this western thriller will surely showcase the talent of two of today’s biggest actors.

Release Date –  Dec 25 

3 – The Hateful 8 

Who’s in it – Samuel Jackson (of course), Channing Tatum, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Zoe Bell, Bruce Dern. Directed by Quientin Tarintino.

Why? –  Besides being one of the most recognizable auteurs among non-cinephiles, Tarantino is one of those directors that just seems to get better with age. I’m curious to see how he tackles a more traditional western post-Django Unchained.

Release Date – Nov 13 

2  – Knight of Cups 

Who’s in it – Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Antonio Banderas, Cate Blanchett. Directed by Terrence Malick.

Why? Terrence Malick’s epic made my list last year only to be shelved for a Berlin Film Festival premiere in 2015. A teaser trailer shows Malick’s typical visual style paired with an eccentric cast and wild party tone reminiscent of Spring Breakers. Hopefully, it will be worth the extra wait.

Release Date  – Unknown for now but likely to have an awards run Late October or November

 

1 – Silence 

Who’s in it – Adam Driver (again!!), Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson. Directed by Martin Scorsese.

Why? – Scorsese’s adaptation of a Japanese novel about Christian priests enduring persecution overseas is sure to be one of his most personal and controversial films. And this is from the guy who directed Willem Dafoe as Jesus.

Release Date – Unknown, but likely sometime in November 

 

So there ya go. Good stuff on the horizon. What upcoming films are YOU most excited to see?

 

 

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

15 Jun

The Squid and the Whale is the third film from writer/director Noah Baumbach, who has mostly been known for his collaborations with fellow filmmaker Wes Anderson.  Like Anderson’s films, The Squid and the Whale is a dark comedy of sorts but one with a truly unique and cynical outlook on divorce, sexuality and family life.  What makes this film so great is the superb writing.  The characters are multilayerd and complex, brought to life by an amazing cast (Jeff Daniels, Jesse Eisenberg, Laura Linney, Owen Kline, William Baldwin and Anna Paquin), and the story is rich and engaging. The film’s unique style, production design and soundtrack creates a vivid image of a moving New York during the 1980’s and the editing is fast paced, which constantly keeps the audience on-edge.

The way this film builds tension is incredible. What starts out as a seemingly simple premise quickly escalates into an unpredictable and deeply-moving drama that reaches an emotionally human core.  I was surprised at how much I laughed during this movie considering how terribly depressing it really is. The film is also loaded with carefully-placed subtleties that give new insights into the characters, making repeated viewings a must.  Independent film really doesn’t get much better than this.

 

rating 9/10

Similar to: Synecdoche New York, Blue Valentine, Happiness

Looper (2012)

28 Sep

Looper is the best Nolan-esc movie that Christopher Nolan didn’t direct.

In case you are unfamiliar with its premise let me fill you in:  the year is 2044.  Time travel enables criminal organizations to send people back into the past for a hit-man- a looper – to take care of.  The film revolves around one particular looper named Joe who is unexpectedly faced with an older version of himself.  The older Joe avoids being killed by the younger version and begins his own plan of manipulating the past in order to create a better outcome for the future.

Looper is great; the two leads in this film (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis), are at the top of their game.  A lot of people have been complaining about the make-up used to portray Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a younger Bruce Willis, but I thought the artists did a spectacular job.

Supporting actors Emily Blunt, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels, and Paul Dano each do a wonderful job and contribute to the plot significantly in their own separate ways.

This film is an entertaining ride from start finish with one of the most original plots I have seen recently.    It opens up with an assassination scene and never slows down from there. While it does rely on some typical action-movie cliches, Looper never allows the action to get in the way of its storytelling, and remains an unpredictable joy throughout.

Looper even has a dash or two of good humor. The film’s greatest strength is that it always is unpredictable, but never unrealistic or over-the-top like your typical action blockbuster (that is, if you can accept the idea of time-travel and multiple universes as realistic).  Of course with a film like this, you are inevitably going to have your nit-picking science geeks who will try and tear down the film’s ending with logic.  The film does slow down a bit during it’s second half, and goes from focusing on it’s logic to it’s morals, but this never stops Looper from being an interesting, and at times, puzzling movie.

My only regret with this movie is that it left me wishing for a time machine of my own.  That way I could travel back 24 hours in time and enjoy this introspective mind-bender all over again.

rating 8/10