The Martian

October 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Prometheus”)
Written by: Drew Goddard (“Cloverfield”)

In recent years, director Ridley Scott has gone from Oscar-nominated visionary director, to that guy who made that movie where Cameron Diaz copulates with a car windshield, among other recent cinematic atrocities. It’s a cold streak that, save for the unfairly over-criticized but still average “Promethus,” has firmly moved Scott out of the list of prestige directors. “The Martian,” which is adapted from one of the best received novels of the last few years, tests the theory that perhaps Scott still has the talent and just needed some help tapping into it again.

During a storm on a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by debris and separated from the rest of his crew. Presumed dead, the crew takes off and heads back to Earth. Hours later, Watney wakes up realizing he has been stranded on Mars. With no communication, no clear way to let people know he is alive, and limited supplies, Watney is forced to find a way to stay alive and get in touch with Earth before he runs out of resources.

The sprawling cast of “The Martian” is impressive, with strong supporting turns from actors like Jeff Daniels and Chiwitel Ejoifor. The film, however, belongs to Damon. Displaying why he is the movie star that he is, Damon devours every second of screen time he gets. Watney is a character that, despite his situation, stays in relatively good spirits, which is a testament not only to the character design, but to the nuances of Damon’s performance as the sarcastic botanist.

The other star of the film besides Damon is the screenplay by Drew Goddard. Filled with tension and artfully told through the use of video logs, Goddard is able to bring life and humanity out of isolation. Perhaps the greatest quality of Goddard’s fantastic script is its use of humor. “The Martian” is legitimately funny, largely thanks to the way Damon’s smart-ass, witty character is written, but is even successful with a few sight gags. It adds a level of levity to an otherwise serious situation, keeping the film engaging, thoroughly entertaining and striking a tonal balance between drama and humor that few movies are able to accomplish. It also helps bring out the best in Damon, who delivers his dialogue with comedic ease. He radiates charisma.

Another great quality of the screenplay is how time is split between Damon on Mars and NASA back on Earth. There are little pockets of parallel storylines that unfold and keep things engaging, primarily between Watney’s ingenuity and NASA trying to avoid a PR catastrophe. It’s edited well enough that neither story goes untold for too long and each is fascinating in its own light.

“The Martian” is the total cinematic package. It’s humorous, gripping, intelligent and extremely entertaining. It could have possibly use a touch more of an emotional pull, especially in terms of what is at stake and relationship building, but that feels like a nitpick considering everything else that “The Martian” masterfully accomplishes. Welcome back, Ridley Scott. Perhaps next time you should make sure you bring Goddard along with you.

The Cabin in the Woods

April 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson
Directed by: Drew Goddard (debut)
Written by: Joss Whedon (“Firefly”) and Drew Goddard (“Cloverfield”)

The horror-film collaboration from cult-favorite Joss Whedon (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly”) and “Cloverfield” writer Drew Goddard has been long discussed. Completed in late 2009, “The Cabin in the Woods” had been shelved for three years due to the financial woes at MGM. But with a new home at Lionsgate, and the not-so coincidental impending release of Whedon’s “The Avengers,” the film is finally seeing the light of day. With Goddard stepping behind the camera for the first time and Whedon penning the screenplay, “Cabin” is a somewhat meta horror/comedy that unfortunately falls into the same trappings of the genre it’s satirizing.

As a group of five friends travel to a remote cabin in the woods, they find strange and sinister things beginning to happen all around them. Meanwhile, in a secret bunker underground, a group of scientists watch the group of campers on video screens. Their task? To play a sort of puppet master to the horrors happening inside the cabin.

Led by Kristen Connolly (TV’s “Guiding Light”), “Cabin” features a large cast of lesser known actors. While none of the characters are particularly fleshed out, Connolly does a decent job as the typical innocent virgin you’d find in other cliché horror movies. A pre-“Thor” Chris Hemsworth joins the cast and is given the role of the stereotypical high-school jock. Even though he looks way too old to be in high school, the character is poked fun at by always carrying a football and wearing a letterman jacket. The most interesting characters are Bradley Whitford (TV’s “The West Wing”) and Academy Award-nominee Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”), who play the two scientists watching the events take place from their mysterious base. A lot of the winking and jabs at the horror genre are written into the script for Whitford and Jenkins. Their dialogue almost serves as a kind of commentary track you’d find in the special features of a DVD.

From early on in the film, it is obvious that Whedon and Goddard aim to present their audience with a familiar horror movie set-up and then turn everything on its side and change the game. The issue? Even though it’s by design, it’s still painfully familiar. The kids are picked off one by one in traditional slasher- movie style. The kids fall into traps horror fans are accustomed to and nothing is very original. The early twists are also extremely obvious from the get-go. Whedon and Goddard try to separate their film from the typical horror movie by subtly making fun of the situations, but the concept fails because many of its working parts are far too similar to generic horror to register as parody. The humor is extremely hit or miss and the film isn’t particularly frightening, save for the occasional cheap jump scare. While the audience should know that things are cliché by design, it’s hard to tell when they’re supposed to be in on the joke.

Without giving away the ultra-protected details, the final act of the film culminates into what amounts to every genre fan’s fantasy.  Although underwhelming and gimmicky, the scenes that take place around this particular event are the first in the film that felt remotely original. It’s pretty clear Whedon and Goddard made this film to ridicule what modern horror has become. The problem, however, lies in the execution. They end up spending far too much time (at least an hour of the 95 minute runtime) creating a generic horror film. Unfortunately, their commentary isn’t sharp or engaging enough and as a result, they’ve created a mediocre entry of their own.

This film was screened as a part of SXSW 2012.

Cloverfield

January 8, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan
Directed by: Matt Reeves (“The Pallbearer”)
Written by: Drew Goddard (debut)

In an age where idiotic creature features like “Primeval” and “Skinwalkers” are getting greenlit for production, you have to be a bit surprised when someone actually gets it right. Sure, the new monster flick “Cloverfield” is a bit gimmicky with its delivery, but make no doubts about it, it’s an entertaining addition to the genre.

Set in New York City (like a number of monster movies of the past), “Cloverfield” opens with a group of young adults throwing a going-away party for their friend Rob Hawkins (Stahl-David), who has accepted a job in Japan and will be leaving the next day.

The get-together gets a bit dramatic when Rob’s best friend Beth (Yustman), who he recently realized he has fallen in love with, brings a date with her to bid him adieu. Words are said that can’t be taken back and before you know it, Beth and her new man leave the party in a haste.

All the while, Rob’s friend Hud (T.J. Miller), has been capturing all the action on a camcorder (possibly for a YouTube upload after the party is over?). Despite the early fireworks, Hud and everyone else in the Manhattan area hasn’t seen the big show of the night just yet.

Minutes later, the partygoers are startled when the apartment they are in begins to shake. They head for the roof of the building to get a better look when the local news reports an oil tanker has capsized near the Statue of Liberty. “Do you think it’s another terrorist attack?” a scared individual says as they climb the stairs to see the destruction.

As they peer across the city – and as Hud continues to videotape – a building in the center of N.Y. explodes. Everyone runs back downstairs and scatters into the streets. When the head of the Statue of Liberty is thrown into the fracas, things take a turn for the worst.

An enormous Godzilla-like monster has found its way into the city and is destroying everything in its path. Rob and a small group of friends find their way out of the neighborhood as fires blaze and buildings crumble.

Instead of following the military’s orders to evacuate the Manhattan area, Rob is persistent about finding Beth. Although they have nothing invested in his love-struck and heroic plan, the rest of the group decides to follow him and hope for the best as they weave through the middle of the war zone.

Taking a voyeuristic angle to the film (Hud’s camera work tells the whole story), screenwriter Drew Goddard (TV’s “Lost”) keep the story intense and fast-paced for the quick 90-minute runtime. Although there is not much of a human element or emotional stronghold in the entire thing, the film delivers on what it has promised from its marketing campaign. We’ve seen it before when the White House is annihilated in “Independence Day” or when the Statue of Liberty is buried in snow in “The Day After Tomorrow,” but “Cloverfield” has enough of a distinctive purpose for the genre to make it something fun and terrifying to witness from the outside in.