Tag Archives: kristen wiig

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

Diary of a Teenage Girl (Sundance 2015)

25 Aug

Very few themes have been examined more in teen cinema than that of sexual maturation and puberty. From classic films like Stand By Meto contemporary ones like Superbad or last year’s Boyhood, film culture seems to be obsessed with capturing that moment where children start see the opposite sex in a different light. Rarely though, are they done so skillfully through the eyes of a female protagonist, which is what makes Sundance Film Festival entry Diary of a Teenage Girl such a refreshing delight.

Our lead girl is Minnie (played by Bel Powley), a 15 year-old girl raised in the hippie culture of 70’s San Francisco. Raised by her single mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) who has since divorced Minnie’s father and is seeing a new man by the name of Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). The film quickly establishes that Minnie has just lost her virginity to Monroe, and the two form an unconventional and highly toxic relationship that fuels the drama for most of the film. Minnie’s newfound sexuality serves as her inspiration to start an audio journal, wherein she chronicles her sexual exploits and thoughts about life in general. As you can imagine, dating a man 20 years older has its share of compilations, especially when he is also dating your mom and you are still in high school.

While intensely uncomfortable at some moments, Minnie’s adventure is told so delicately and expertly by writer/director Marielle Heller (who, up to this point has been mostly known for her acting work in the underrated Liam Neeson vehicle A Walk Among The Tombstones) that it becomes hard not to fall in line with Minnie’s innocent view of what a romantic fling entitles her to. In her mind, dating her soon-to-be stepdad is perfectly natural because the two genuinely love each other, and according to Minnie “loving someone means you touch them all over”.  In the film’s first act Heller is arguably justifying a pedophilliac relationship, and we see how idealistic and good Minnie and Monroe are for each other. Later on however, Heller expertly shows us the complexity and devastation that comes with heartbreak.

The film’s plot does get weighed down a bit in the third act by a few unnecessary moments which tragically put the brakes on the free flowing and enthusiastic pace of the first half. Heller knows she has a great story on her hands, but perhaps she became a little too enthused about telling us how it ends. There is also a lot of crude animation that some people will really fall for, but I thought it was just a distraction.

Diary of a Teenage Girl is a superbly crafted and deeply affectionate film; you get a sense the story is intensely personal to Heller but still conveyed well enough so it’s instantly relatable to a wide array of viewers. Soft lighting and incredible production design reflect the youthful optimism and rebellious independent spirit of the 70’s.  It’s easy to see how this film took the Best Cinematography Award at the Sundance Awards Ceremony – every frame is overflowing with a romantic and dreamlike idealism. Bel Powley, a British theater actress, is absolutely fantastic in one of 2015’s biggest breakthrough performances.

Bottom Line: While a widespread theatrical run might not be on the horizon (I can’t imagine many megaplexes are looking for a film this unrelinquishing about such a taboo topic), Diary of a Teenage Girl deserves to be seen by many though VOD or some other platform where it will resonate with a large audience.

Rating: 8/10 

Film Recipe: Fish Tank (2010), +  It Felt Like Love (2014),  + Blue Is The Warmest Color (2013) 

Nasty Baby (2015 Sundance)

26 Mar

Veteran indie director Sebastian Silva (Magic Magic, Crystal Fairy) makes his return to the Sundance Film Festival with his latest entry Nasty Baby. Like he does with his previous films, Silva expertly creates a blend of genre fare and ultra-realism into something striking, bold, and memorable.

The story centers around a trio of characters living in central Brooklyn. Silva plays Freddy, a gay performance artist living with his partner Mo (Tunde Adebimpe from TV On The Radio fame). The two are desperate to have a child and team up with Polly (Kristen Wiig) who has agreed to have the child via surrogate. Unfortunately, Freddy’s sub-par sperm puts the shy-but-likable Mo under considerable pressure.  The film follows this trio’s baby delhema along with certain characters from the neighborhood including a fellow artist Wendy (Alia Shawkat), oldtimer Richard (Mark Margolis) and a grumpy homophobic man known as “The Bishop” (Reg E. Cathey). Nasty Baby proceeds as a witty, dialogue driven, Noah Baumbach-esc urban comedy until tragedy strikes within the neighborhood and things take a dark turn.

Always one to embrace natural performances, Silva directs the characters with an incredibly fluidity and gives an amazing debut performance himself. The script (also by Silva) is fantastic; interactions between our progressive trio of Polly, Mo, and Freddy feel so alive and fresh, giving the film an exciting, serendipitous quality. Things aren’t sugar-sweet for long however, as the film takes a bizarre tonal shift during its third act, guaranteeing to leave some viewers feeling cheated or manipulated. Despite the sudden brashness of it’s ending, Silva has created something truly bold within the recent subgenre that I like to call “urban millennials in a crisis”.

Bottom Line: With engaging dialogue and some killer performances, Nasty Baby really struck a chord with me, and should stand out as another original (but incredibly divisive) work from one of the most exciting new directors out there.

Rating – 7/10 

Film Recipe: Rachel Getting Married (2008) + Magic Magic (2013) + Hesher (2010) + Progressive Lifestyles 

 

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?