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.

Dumb and Dumber To

November 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle
Directed by: Peter Farrelly (“Dumb and Dumber”) and Bobby Farrelly (“Dumb and Dumber”)
Written by: Sean Anders (“We’re The Millers”), Mike Cerrone (“The Three Stooges”), Bobby Farrelly (“Dumb and Dumber”), Peter Farrelly (“Dumb and Dumber”), John Morris (“We’re the Millers”), and Bennett Yellin (“Dumb and Dumber”)

Two decades ago, brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly burst onto the scene with “Dumb and Dumber,” a film that launched their careers and boosted Jim Carrey into the stratosphere, sustaining his mid-90’s run that ascended him to the throne of the undisputed king of mainstream comedy. But because this is 2014 and everything needs a sequel (and because the Farrelly Brothers have spent the better part of a decade trying to recapture their relevance) Carrey and co-star Jeff Daniels return as Harry and Lloyd in “Dumb and Dumber To,” a movie that is aptly titled and completely devoid of even the faintest of laughs.

As Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) are reunited, Harry finds out shocking news: he has an adult daughter he has never met. Determined to reunite with her, Harry and Lloyd embark upon another cross-country trip. Along the way, they run into his daughter’s adoptive parents, one of which is up to a scheme that could put everyone involved in danger. As the dumb duo makes their way to their destination, they also must keep their friendship from becoming rocky once again.

“Dumb and Dumber To” can best be described as feeling like a bad “Saturday Night Live” sketch. Carrey, and especially Daniels, are thrown into terrible fake wigs and the same outfits worn 20 years ago. The sets look fake, the green screening is awful, and basically the entire production including the directorial work seems completely haphazard. Despite the fact that jokes are retreaded and the characters look the same, it is crazy just how void of nostalgia “Dumb and Dumber To” really is. Nothing of the spirit or essence of the first film is anywhere to be found, as Carrey and Daniels clumsily feel like actors stepping into roles they haven’t touched in decades. Though they are both guilty of it, Daniels is especially stuck in a hyperactive, happy-go-lucky, yelling everything line delivery, completely losing any and all subtlety of the dialogue that convey their “dumbness.”

The most impressive part about “Dumb and Dumber To” is that it took six (yes, six!!!) credited screenwriters to churn out a constant stream of lazy and unfunny jokes. Every single joke in the film is telegraphed a mile away. To call this film’s sense of humor juvenile would be the understatement of the century. When they are not rehashing jokes and plot points from the first film, the writers are throwing out lowbrow stuff like clips of Harry changing Lloyd’s diaper, flatulence jokes, body fluid humor or a game called “funnel nuts,” which is a concept so stupid that I can’t believe was actually thought of and put in a film. Part of what made the original so funny were the ways in which Harry and Lloyd would butcher sayings or fail to realize what was going on around them. Instead, here we get a series of brutally humorless puns and easy jokes at the expense of messing up turns of phrases. Mix that in with a storyline that is completely worthless and pointless and you have one hell of a dud on your hands.

There is a certain level of actual embarrassment felt for Carrey and Daniels as you watch two men in their 50’s act like children and try to cling onto the glory of their early days as each joke after joke bombs badly. What was supposed to be a hilarious trip down memory lane is instead an unnecessary and unfunny drive down a road that leads straight off a cliff, into the abyss where jokes go to die. In what serves as a stunning microcosm of the film itself, there is a scene where Harry and Lloyd stumble upon a cat named Butthole who has completely wiped out, attacked and killed a group of birds he was supposed to be “watching.” As the cat proceeds to fart out feathers, the sole surviving parrot, Siskel, who talks only in movie quotes, delivers the famous line from “Apocalypse Now,” (“The horror…the horror”). Indeed, my fine feathered friend. Indeed.

Away We Go

June 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”)
Written by: Dave Eggers (debut) and Vendela Vida (debut)

It’s definitely a different type of relationship dynamic from Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes whose last film was the underappreciated “Revolutionary Road” of last year. In “Away We Go,” Mendes rediscovers his dark comedy pedigree that made him so successful with 1999’s Best Picture winner “American Beauty,” to tell the story of a young, directionless couple trying to find their place in the world.

When the grandparents of their first child decide to move to Belgium, unmarried parents-to-be Burt and Verona (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) realize there’s nothing holding them back from packing up and relocating anywhere they’d like to go. Although they “don’t have the basic stuff figured out” in their lives, Burt and Verona see the spontaneous adventure as a way to start on a clean slate.

Making stops in a few cities where they know people (somehow they can afford a cross-country tour by plane but sulk over a cardboard window in their house), Burt and Verona are interested in seeing how well they might fit in places like Phoenix, Arizona, Madison, Wisconsin, and Montreal, Canada. They meet up with a former co-worker (Allison Janney plays a vulgar mother who accuses her pre-teen daughter of being lesbian) and a long-time hippy friend (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is offended by strollers (“Why would I want to push my baby away from me?”) and believes it is normal to have sex in front of their children.

Needless to say, Burt and Verona have a difficult time connecting to anyone on their trip, especially since first-time screenwriters and real-life couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida write the duo like a pair of self-important hipsters who know they’re more intelligent and witty that everyone else on the face of the planet. It’s an interesting characterization because the two are the sanest of the bunch, but there’s always an underlying feeling that if you were to meet the couple socially they’re mellow oddness would wear thin.

That’s what happens in “Away We Go,” but not before a few tender moments and subtle quirkiness. It’s when the eccentricities of the characters become excessively heavy for the screen when Eggers, Vida, and Mendes lose control. The film doesn’t have a lot of unnatural dialogue like “Juno,” which was generally a very likeable movie, but thematically it’s burdened with an overall artificial ambiance that comes off far too cartoonish despite the occasional charm.

Traitor

August 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels
Directed by: Jeffery Nachmanoff (debut)
Written by: Jeffery Nachmanoff (“The Day After Tomorrow”)

The timing couldn’t have been better planned. Just as the Dems were wrapping up their histrionic national convention and attention turned to the GOP and their efforts to prove to political fence-sitters that Barack Obama’s ideas on national security are about as durable as two geeky kids holding hands during a game of Red Rover, John McCain’s potshots would coincide perfectly with the finest in film fearmongering.

Terrorists are running amok in Traitor, the espionage thriller starring Academy Award-nominated Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), and, based on the large number the film shows infiltrating America, chances are you run into a few of them on a daily basis. One of them is probably watching you read this sentence right now (Shhh! Whatever you do, don’t look up).

At least not until the FBI tracks down Samir Horn (Cheadle), a former U.S. Special Forces Officer and devout Muslim who’s become a bit too cozy with some jihadists in Yemen. When agents Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough) finally catch him selling a truckload of detonators to some shady Arabs and lock him away, it doesn’t take long for Samir to quickly develop a friendship with Omar (Taghmaoui), another Islamic inmate, who includes him in a successful prison break.

From here, Traitor becomes less like an international spy movie and more like an episode of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? with better production values and more explosives. When trigger-happy suicide bombers start killing innocent civilians across the globe, evidence leads back to Samir, who has taken control of a new terrorist cell. At this point, it’s not apparent whether the film’s title indicates Samir’s disloyalty to the U.S. or his betrayal of comrades who remind him of the regime that killed his father in Sudan when he was only a boy.

Despite his always-intense demeanor, Cheadle’s talent trails off as Samir’s blood feud grows increasingly desperate. As Cheadle’s career has progressed over the last 25 years, he has demonstrated that when the script is substantial, he’ll make a distinct impression, whether it’s in a supporting role (’70s porn-star-turned-stereo-salesman Buck Swope in Boogie Nights) or the lead (‘60s radio talk-show activist Petey Greene in Talk to Me). Unfortunately, first-time director Nachmanoff (claim to quasi-fame: The Day After Tomorrow screenplay) wrote the film based on an idea from the wild-and-crazy mind of actor Steve Martin (who gets “Story” credit).

While Cheadle scrapes by, others like Pearce and McDonough are written into a corner as a two-headed good cop/bad cop unit spinning their wheels. Gone are the days when foot chases were paired with mind games like Tommy Lee Jones hunting Harrison Ford in The Fugitive or Tom Hanks tracking Leonardo Di Caprio in Catch Me if You Can. Instead, Nachmanoff creates a conventional hybrid of passable action sequences, cliché analogies, and geopolitical drama while still finding time to point out all the terrorists hiding in your backyard. Now that’s what I call Homeland Security.

Space Chimps

July 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Andy Samberg, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Daniels
Directed by: Kirk De Micco (debut)
Written by: Kirk De Micco (“Racing Stripes”)

The year was a perfect three for three in commendable animated features with “Horton Hears a Who,” “Kung Fu Panda,” and “WALL-E” leading the way. Leave it up to a bunch of dirty apes to devolve the genre in less than two hours.

In “Space Chimps,” a circus performing chimp named Ham III (voiced by Andy Samberg), is recruited by NASA to go on a mission through space far too dangerous for human astronauts to travel. As the grandson of the first chimpanzee launched into space, Ham is bound by his bloodline to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, although he would much rather be launched from a canon under the big top.

Although he has reservations about the trip, Ham is tricked into going with fellow simian astronauts Luna (Cheryl Hinds) and Titan (Patrick Warburton) into a wormhole that leads to a planet where the dreadful dictator Zartog (Jeff Daniels) has taken control of his Teletubbie-looking citizens and is making them do hard labor.

Unrefined and poorly generated, “Space Chimps” isn’t what most would consider quality animation. Written by Kirk De Micco, there are far too many “is this mic on?” moments where jokes fall flat and all that’s left are monkey and evolution puns to fill the substandard work by Vanguard Animation. We’re not asking everyone to be Pixar, now, but not everything has to be dumb down just because it’s rated G.