The Martian 

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With The Martian, director Ridley Scott has finally found a story worthy of his filmmaking talent. Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, Mars’s most optimistic botanist, who is abandoned on the planet by his fellow astronauts, believing him dead. Isolated, wounded, rapidly depleting his supplies, and unable to contact Earth, Watney is faced with an impossible task: he has to MacGyver together a plan for survival on a planet with no food or oxygen–all in a way that doesn’t feel hopelessly contrived. And boy, does he rise to the occasion! Damon’s superb performance and Scott’s expert handling of the subject material make The Martian not just one of the best films of 2015, but the most fun movie-going experience I’ve had all year.

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Famous Filmmaker : Forgotten Film | Steven Soderbergh: The Informant!

Though this will be Steven Soderbergh’s first appearance as the featured director in this series, I can all but guarantee this won’t be his last. Throughout his career he has worn so many different hats directorally, ranging from thrillers to pulpy action flicks to intimate dramas, though Soderbergh does seem to have a penchant for making great docudramas, among them the oft overlooked 2009 gem, The Informant!. While this film is recent enough that it still exists in public memory, and was financially successful, this film is often overlooked when discussing Soderbergh’s extensive and diverse filmography. In addition, it is a movie that I feel is sorely under-seen, despite it being a terrific piece of cinema.

The Informant

Right off the bat, Matt Damon fits perfectly in the role of Mark Whitacre, a biochemist turned businessman working for ADM, a food processing mega corporation located in small town Illinois. Mark is almost instantly one of the most likable character I have ever seen in a movie. He is worldly, intelligent, motivated, and idealistic without seeming naive.  Mark has a childlike sense of wonder and seems to be equal parts imaginative and thoughtful. However, Mark is also just a touch paranoid, and when the FBI is called in to investigate the potential contamination of a compound Mark frequently works on called lysine, he immediately starts blabbing company secrets, concerned that this investigation might turn up some unsavory actions that Mark was forced into by his superiors.

As it turns out, ADM, along with most other lysine distributors international, have been engaging in price fixing. Since this could potentially be a billion dollar lawsuit for the government, and Mark has made the mistake of being the only person to leak this information, he is somewhat willing pushed into becoming an FBI informant to gather intel for this theoretical lawsuit. However, things start to take a bit of a turn later in the investigation, as Mark starts to worry about his job security after he likely sends all his friends and co-workers to jail. Coupled with his now ever growing ego, based on all the attention and acclaim he is receiving from the FBI for being a whistleblower, Mark starts to make a streak of increasingly questionable decisions as the investigation draws to a close, shedding double on the once unquestionable scrupulousness of his character.

Though this film often times feels like a “small” movie, it is among my favorite Soderbergh films. The screenplay is fantastic, all the dialogue is snappy and tight, and Matt Damon delivers some one liners that I still remember to this day from my initial viewing of the film on its release. The supporting cast is stellar, and full of comedians who rarely seem to make it to the silver screen like Tom Papa and Joel McHale. If you haven’t gotten a chance to see this film, try to work it into a viewing one weekend. Though I wouldn’t exactly describe it as a must see for everyone, I find it hard to picture anyone disliking this charming film.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Elysium Review

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In a summer that’s been dominated by sequels and adaptations, it’s always nice to see a new IP like Elysium hit theaters. Disguised as a sci-fi thriller, the film attempts to intertwine sweeping social commentary with colorful, interstellar action amid a rich and visually stunning backdrop. The film’s predecessor, District 9, set the bar high with it’s thematically strong yet engaging story. So much so, in fact, that many now wonder if Elysium will be able to live up to the hype.

Coming to us from South African director Neill Blomkamp, Elysium is the sophomore entry in this skilled director’s resumé. As with District 9, Blomkamp attempts to present a somewhat realistic portrayal of a diseased and war-torn Earth, which contrasts impressively with the sleek futuristic design of the space station. Admittedly, the film incorporates some genuinely impressive visuals, and with Blomkamp’s own extensive experience in 3D animation and design, it’s no surprise that his work reaches the zenith as far as aesthetics and CG are concerned.

Starring Matt Damon and including cameo appearances by Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley, Elysium follows the story of Max (Damon) who, due to an industrial accident, finds himself with only a few days left to live. Out of desperation, Max teams up with a hacker and attempts con his way into Elysium in order to receive the medical treatment necessary to heal him. Naturally, mayhem ensues and Max is ultimately embroiled in a conspiracy to overthrow the government of Elysium. The acting here is more or less solid all the way around with the standout being Sharlto Copley as the deranged sleeper agent Kruger. Copley, you may remember, was the standout star of District 9 as the goofy yet earnest Wikus Van Der Merwe, and his transformation here is not only jolting but extremely impressive, especially considering his relative newness to the industry. More interesting still is the fact that Eminem was originally offered the role of Max De Costa, though he insisted that the film be shot in Detroit which ended up being disagreeable to some of the studios involved in production.

Despite the many things that the film does well, it still has its share of problems. For instance, I’ve heard it said that some of the scenes intended to be a commentary on societal issues are obnoxiously heavy handed and obvious. While I can say that the masses on Earth are a rather obvious metaphor for immigrants (Spanish being the preferred language, individuals being referred to as ‘undocumented’- that kind of thing) I didn’t think that it detracted from the film to any significant degree. What did detract from the film, however, were the weird, unexplained plot elements. In short, the film suffers from a severe case of Super Blood Syndrome. What I mean to say is that a hugely important, plot critical piece of technology is introduced, but no effort is made to explain how it works or how it can feasibly exist within the confines of the narrative. Like the inexplicable “super blood” found in Star Trek: Into Darkness, Elysium introduces a kind of vita chamber or med bay which can cure any illness or malady instantly. This technology is ostensibly cheap and efficient but is nonetheless kept out of the reach of Earthbound citizens for no other reason than pure, unadulterated greed. Honestly, the simple truth is that it doesn’t make any sense, and unfortunately, my engagement in the story suffered as a result.

It’s abundantly clear that Blomkamp and his creative team put their blood, sweat, and tears into creating the deep and complex world of Elysium. Like District 9, the world in which the story takes place feels alive and actually populated with thinking, feeling beings struggling on their respective paths amid the chaos. It’s for this reason that Joe and I both agreed that we would have like to see the narrative a little more fleshed out and the characters and their motivations explored a little more deeply. I simply think it’s a missed connection to not expand upon the universe that Blomkamp has  worked so hard to create. Personally, I wouldn’t mind turing this concept into a mini-series or a full fledged television show. Not that that would ever happen in a million years, but, to quote Hemingway, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

All in all, Elysium is a beautiful looking, well acted exercise in sci-fi, let down by some unfortunate plot issues and character motivations. Though it doesn’t quite live up to the wold-shattering success of District 9, it remains a pretty enjoyable experience mixed with a poignant message about those who have and those who have not.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Bourne Legacy Review

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Bourne series of films. Sure, they’re fun movies to watch, and the action scenes are pretty great, but they’ve never been very substantial in my opinion. The plots have never been known for their complexity, and unsurprising The Bourne Legacy is no exception. Similarly, this new addition to the franchise provides several visually satisfying action sequences, but not enough to offset the lack of a substantial plot and generally uninteresting political conversations that dominate the film.

When rouge government operative Jason Bourne appears in New York and threatens to expose information about the secret Treadstone Project, Eric Byer (Edward Norton) decides to dissolve the program and dispose of everyone involved. Enter Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a highly trained agent similar to Jason Bourne, who is trying desperately to avoid dying at the hand of the US government. In case you are wondering, yes, I have just given away the entire plot of this film. Not very complicated, even by action movie standards.

While I do feel a little ambivalent about much of this film, things really seem to pick up when Jeremy Renner is on screen. Not only is the movie actually interesting when the audience is following his character, but Renner is surprisingly good as the new Bourne action star. Although he was great in both The Town and The Hurt Locker, after seeing his fairly bland performance The Avengers I had my doubts about Renner as a mainstream action star, especially one who was positioned to replace Matt Damon who did such a great job in previous Bourne films. I would argue that Renner ended up doing just as well as Damon in The Bourne Legacy, and actually would be interested in seeing him reprise his role in a later film if they choose to make one.

While Renner does do a great job as a sort of cookie-cutter action hero, there is one interesting twist that separates Aaron Cross from similar characters. Cross is effectively a drug addict, depending on special multi-colored pills that keep him at peak physical and mental performance. At times the pills do seem like an obvious plot device, meant to send the hero to one place or another in search of the drugs he needs to fight off government agents in spectacular fashion, but I quite enjoyed this simple addition to the premise. Other then that, this seemed to follow a formula that is very similar to the previous films, even shoehorning in a female character he was protecting, a dynamic that is just about the same is the one in earlier Bourne movies.

The last thing I wanted to mention this is probably not a movie you should take young kids to. There is one scene in particular, where a bunch of civilians are methodically killed that is fairly disturbing, and that I thought was a little out of place in this movie. I would be interested to know what you guys thought if you have seen this movie, so feel free to leave some comments down below.

Rating: 3 out of 5