Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Martian, The Green Inferno, Sicario Reviews

The Martian
Dir. Ridley Scott

It's MacGyver in space! The Martian began as a serialized novel in 2011, released chapter-by-chapter online for free by Andy Weir, a computer-scientist with a passion for writing science fiction. Eventually it was sold in bookstores and the Kindle and became a huge hit: the story of a lone, presumed-dead astronaut trapped on Mars, using his botanist wit trying to stay alive and get home. It was written to be as scientifically-accurate as possible, which seems a perfect fit for Ridley Scott to direct. While we've seen quite a few of these kind of survivalist-space movies recently (Gravity, Interstellar), The Martian is considerably more fun. Watching Mark Watney's reaction to each setback isn't quite as harrowing as the aforementioned space films, but Matt Damon brings a level of charm and affability needed for what is essentially a one man show. So if you're tired of all these Earth-based movies littering the cineplexes - you can't go wrong with this one.

The story begins as Watney and his crew are caught up in a heavy Martian storm and are forced to retreat back to their ship. Struck by a piece of debris, it's assumed that Watney dies in the chaos. Fast forward a bit, and Watney discovers that he's alone on the red planet with a meager amount of supplies - not enough to last him until the next Mars mission - and no way to contact NASA. The film basically plays out like Apollo 13 meets Cast Away as eventually (spoilers, but it was in the trailer and poster) NASA and the crew figure out Mark's alive and try to rescue him. It's a very simple story and doesn't really dig deep into the psychology of a man who's the only person left on an entire planet. Damon brings out these qualities in his performance, but it would've been nice to have some scenes depicting more of his state of mind (here Watney is much more about getting the job done and surviving); similar to Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, Watney doesn't waste too much time thinking about his situation, he just tries to stay alive.

Overall, this is a solid adaptation of the book, and thankfully loses some of the overly scientific jargon that made this particular reviewer feel quite stupid while reading it. Matt Damon brings the character both a desperation and some much-needed humor that other films of this type seem to lack. It gets a little cliched and Apollo 13-y (music swelling in mission control, papers flying at every "success," etc), but it's a fun ride that doesn't feel like its 2.5 hour run time.

Rating: B

The Green Inferno
Dir. Eli Roth
Watch Trailer

Know right off the bat that I have an inherent bias when it comes to horror movies, especially those with effects-heavy blood and gore effects. When I was in high school, deciding on what to do with my life, what sort of inspired me to get into film school were low budget horror films by the likes of Dawn of the Dead and Dead Alive - even though I was a fairly quiet suburban kid from New Hampshire, I had an insatiable bloodlust! As a gore hound, I can never get enough blood and guts in a horror film. I cringe at anything in real-life: medical videos make me sick to my stomach, and I had to sit down after feeling lightheaded while walking through that damn "Bodies" exhibit - the one where you see the inside of the human body. But for whatever reason, I enjoy the extreme nature of practical special effects - they're almost used for comedic effect, only instead of laughs it's literal gags. Anyway, I don't exactly know why I felt the need to write this personal prelude, but I just want to justify my reaction to a film many people are reviling.

I have been waiting for The Green Inferno for close to 3-4 years now, Eli Roth's ode to 70's cannibal films, which he shot on location in the jungle of Peru with an actual cannibal tribe. I have a special place in my heart for Roth since Hostel: Part II was the first movie I ever reviewed (back in the "Myspace" days), and his enthusiasm for the genre he has in interviews is infectious. He knows his stuff so I expect a little more when I go into an Eli Roth movie. The Green Inferno is about a group of student activists that plan to save the Amazon. On the plane ride back, however, their plane crashes in the Peruvian jungle and those who survived are taken captive by a tribe of hungry cannibals.

I love that the film satirizes the "college protester," especially since the University I'm currently in seems full of these people who love to be passionate about causes they know jack shit about. It's deliciously ironic that the same sheltered group of "radical" student protesters who set out to save these indigenous peoples' jungle are those who are ultimately EATEN ALIVE!

Nowadays horror isn't even really horrific - it's about jump scares and fun times to bring your friends to (like The Visit recently). But Roth made a truly horrifying movie here - one that made me uncomfortable in my seat, which many people probably take as off-putting, but I found refreshing in a genre that's become less frightening than a bowl of cold spaghetti in the dark. I can't get over the fact that Roth actually went to this tribe in the middle of the Amazon, who didn't even know what the concept of a movie was, and cast them in the film. It lends to such a brutally realistic tone, and feeds into this fear of the "other" that Roth handled really well in Hostel Part I and II. We, like the characters, are unaware of what the cannibal's rituals are, so as they pick out their next victim, we slowly and torturously figure out what new horror is in store for them, one thing more gruesome than the next.

Now, The Green Inferno is not a great film, objectively speaking. In fact some of the acting is quite bad, some scenes are gobsmackingly stupid (the most ludicrous use of pot I've ever seen committed to film), and the digital cinematography makes the opening of the film (not in the jungle) feel really cheap. But in terms of the crazy-scary set pieces and the fact that I felt like Roth was capable of killing any character at any time made this an intense film for me. Don't bring grandma, but if you dare, I'd recommend The Green Inferno as a nifty 70's horror throwback - you just might want to bring a barf bag.

Rating: B

Dir. Denis Villeneuve
Watch Trailer

Ever since Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve has made it onto my list of "I'll see anything they make" directors. In Sicario, he teams back up with cinematographer Roger Deakins to tell a familiar-sounding story of an FBI agent caught in the middle of the war on drugs, but captured visually in a beautiful way. Sicario is a slow-building thriller that for the most part worked for me, but ultimately I thought it lacked the substance of Villeneuve's last couple films (even Enemy, which I didn't care for that much, has more to chew on). It's pretty much the drug version of Zero Dark Thirty, and left me feeling somewhat empty inside. Villeneuve doesn't write his own scripts, which may account for the radically different films he's recently made, but Sicario is a bit of a disappointment for me - albeit a masterfully produced disappointment.

The story follows idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) - essentially playing the Jessica Chastain character from Zero Dark Thirty: a "tough girl" in a male dominated governmental environment, after a single bad guy (in this case a big drug lord responsible for deaths in her unit). Macer's recruited by a mysterious, gum-chewing official Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to join a task force led by the shadowy Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) to take down the "big guy" by locating and flushing out one of the "smaller guys."

The film wants to be this really deep statement on the war on drugs, showing how both sides are corrupt like two sides of a coin, but really, is this anything we haven't seen before? I feel like we've seen so many "shades of grey" thrillers recently (on both TV and film) that Sicario feels like more of the same. The only thing setting it apart is a glacially-slow pace, which some might take as "tension," beautifully constructed shots, and some solid performances all around. I don't know why I'm down on this movie, but as opposed to The Green Inferno, which is an objectively "bad" movie I liked, Sicario is an objectively good movie I found a bit of a slog. I definitely recommend you see the film, but it's probably not one I'll revisit anytime soon.

Rating: B-

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