Martian, The (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★
After an accident during a severe storm on Mars, Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) of the Ares III mission makes an executive decision for her team (Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie) to leave the planet without botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), presumed dead because he had been hit by debris and his body was nowhere to be found. As it turns out, however, Mark is not dead. Having only about thirty days worth of food, he must somehow keep himself alive until the next manned mission to Mars… which is four years away.
Based on the screenplay by Drew Goddard and directed by Ridley Scott, “The Martian” is intelligent, entertaining and highly watchable at times, but it falls short of becoming a great film, one to be remembered for many years to come. It is a solid, crowd-pleasing picture that will likely hold up upon multiple viewings but beyond that is exaggeration.
One of the reasons is its unjustified bloated running time—about a third of it is repetitive fluff. The film is at the peak of its power when it focuses on the protagonist simply trying to think of ways to prevent death within a month. The first third is fascinating, amusing, and quite educational. Eventually, however, the screenplay introduces characters on Earth, various individuals who have a role at NASA and its affiliates (Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean), who wrestle with the politics, the media, and what should or must be done in order to get the man home. I found the charade quite dull.
By taking away a significant amount of time and focus on the main character, we are not put into his mindset thoroughly and completely. This is why when problems compound on top of one another and Mark feels there is nothing left to do but to let out a small tantrum, I felt more amused of the display than feeling empathy. In another instance that occurs late in the picture, a would-be soul-stirring moment involving the abandoned cosmonaut in a confined space left me wondering when the film would be over rather than being in the moment and continuing to be invested in Mark’s plight.
The special and visual effects are quite eye-catching. Aerial shots of Mars never fail to grab the attention, from the seemingly red-hot sand to the beautiful hills and jagged rocks near the mission’s base. There is a line in the film where Mark expresses the humility he feels in being the first man to ever see or step on a particular area of the planet. These specific thoughts and musings make the story supremely engaging. After all, this is his story, not of those men and women back home who try their hardest at providing rescue.
“The Martian,” based on the novel by Andy Weir, offers enough individual moments to make this specific story worth telling and seeing, but it is limited by its apparent desperation to be liked by the mainstream. Coming from a science background, I enjoyed that the material champions not only book knowledge but also its practical application—the latter, I think, is not emphasized enough. But the many acts of heroism feel too Hollywood, hollow, and forced—simply there to appeal to as many people as possible.
Silent Hill: Revelation (2012)
★ / ★★★★
Years after Sharon is rescued by her mother from a town drenched in fog called Silent Hill, Sharon, whose pseudonym is Heather (Adelaide Clemens), and her father (Sean Bean) are on the run from the law and have moved to yet another town fully aware that it is only a matter of time until they are forced to find another place to live. Their situation is not helped by Heather’s terrifying nightmares and visions about Silent Hill forcing her to return so her body can be used to summon and destroy a demon named Alessa. When her father is taken, Heather comes to his rescue.
Written and directed by Michael J. Bassett, “Silent Hill: Revelation” might have been better off as a silent film because its strength lies on the bizarre and horrific images. As much as the performers try to emote, the script remains dead and robotic. The words communicated between two people do nothing but to move the plot forward as it screeches against its own inertia.
I enjoyed the visuals and the way the picture is almost divided into two halves. It is a good decision not to allow Heather to go to the place that summons her until about halfway through. This gives a chance for the first part to take place in the real world where Heather sees a normal environment change suddenly into a somewhat amusing carnivalesque wasteland. For example, she could be looking at a bunch of children celebrating a birthday party and eating cake at the mall one minute and ravenous tykes biting into human flesh the next. The lack of transition between the extreme images works because the shock value is amplified.
I also liked the level of detail that is put into the creatures. They demand to be looked at, from the monsters without a face to blind nurses that are sensitive to sounds. It is nice to see a mixture of CGI and genuine makeup work together. At its best, it is like a walking through a house of horrors where each room offers something different to be seen. We want to look closer at an object or creature that is not moving but the thought of them moving suddenly is always in the back of our minds.
However, despite the ace visuals, the material is too willing to revert to the usual scare tactics to get our hearts racing. A trick utilized that is most uninspiring is when a figure dashes across the foreground while our heroine is in the background. It lets us know that someone or something is there. Instead of allowing us to wonder whether the adjacent dark room or corner has hidden surprises, we simply wait for Heather to go to that area, be surprised, and start running away. There is no real anticipation on our part. (I’m not sure if this annoyed me more or the dream-within-a-dream sequence. Yawn.)
I hold a slight affection for “Silent Hill: Revelation” because I did not sit there feeling angry at all the things that could have been done better. It surprised me because I found myself asking questions about how certain items worked and the implications in the connections among the characters. Lastly, there is chemistry between Heather and Vincent (Kit Harington) even though a romance has no place in this film.
Despite the positive qualities that are never fully realized, I cannot and do not give recommendations just because an experience is tolerable or can be endured. Had the writer-director put more thought, life, and suspense into the screenplay, it might have felt less like a 90s video game and more like a horror picture.
Black Death (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) was a young Christian monk who decided to go with Ulrich (Sean Bean), the envoy to the bishop, and his men (Emun Elliott, Johnny Harris, Andy Nyman, Tygo Gernandt, John Lynch) to guide them in reaching a village surrounded by a marsh beyond the Dentwich Forest. It was a place of special interest because word went around that a necromancer had taken control of the area. The heretic was to be apprehended and sent to the bishop for trial and execution. Based on the screenplay by Dario Poloni, “Black Death” was a gripping gothic horror with a supernatural premise on top of the Bubonic Plague backdrop. Since no one understood the science of vectors and disease, people surmised that the pestilence was an act of God, a way for Him to purge away the sins of His people. As the film got deeper into the mystery involving a person being capable of raising the dead, it was interesting to observe the way the men’s faith was challenged. Of particular interest was Osmund, torn between his devotion to his religion and being with a woman (Kimberley Nixon) he loved. Being a monk, he had to choose one or the other. The changes that occurred within each character, not all of them given enough time to get to know by the audience, had variation and maintained a certain level of subtlety. What was straightforward, however, was the physical journey that the men took toward the village. When the group stopped, they faced some sort of death. The standout was a battle among thieves in the forest. The violence was gruesome–throats were sliced, swords went through torsos, arms were torn off completely–but somehow it never felt gratuitous. I got the impression that we actually needed to see how fierce the men were so that later on, when they eventually had to face something so monstrous and they cowered like children, we had an understanding of their fears. The village in question was very curious. Since it was unexpectedly peaceful, the director, Christopher Smith, milked certain looks given by its residents. Hob (Tim McInnerny) was obviously the alpha male, his voice commanding and stature very proud. Langiva (Carice van Houten) was also worthy of suspicion. Her blonde hair which complemented her very pale complexion probably concealed a very dark evil. The abandoned church, given Christianity’s influence back in the day, was a good signal that something wasn’t quite right. There was one detail that didn’t make sense to me. After finding out about the unused place of worship, why did the men continue to trust the villagers by eating their food and drinking their wine? It felt like a plot convenience, a weak set-up so that the men from the outside would lose their advantage. It was a surprise to me because prior to that point, the material did a great job in circumventing eye-rolling clichés. Nevertheless, “Black Death” was very atmospheric, especially the sequences when the men had to wade through the marsh, and offered engaging performances, particularly by Redmayne. The movie worked because it sacrificed cheap scares for more thoughtful denouements.
Dark, The (2005)
★★ / ★★★★
Adelle (Maria Bello) and her daughter, Sarah (Sophie Stuckey), arrived in a Welsh farm owned by James (Sean Bean), her husband. While exploring the shore, Sarah noticed something glistening in the water. She carefully reached in and found a key. Then she noticed something more. The water reflected a dead girl’s face who, by dragging Sarah in the water, a portal between the land of the living and the dead, wished to return in the flesh. Adelle, busy with some artifacts she found in the sand, noticed a strange silence. Her daughter was nowhere to be found. Based on a novel by Simon Maginn and directed by John Fawcett, “The Dark” thrived on creepy details like sheep seemingly going insane and jumping off cliffs, several handfuls of keys but none of which could open the box in question, and the girl, Ebril (Abigail Stone), who appeared just when Sarah disappeared. I watched in complete interest and wondered how all of it would come together. Unfortunately, the film suffered from having too many ideas but not enough time to develop them. Adelle’s obsession in finding out what really happened to her daughter should have been more moving. I expected more investigative skills from the desperate mother. I didn’t expect her to rely so heavily on Welsh mythology she heard from others to find her own answers. She was supposed to be a practical woman from New York. Readily believing whatever she was told seemed somewhat dishonest to her character. The ultimate test whether our protagonist had done enough to get her daughter back was the scene in which Adelle tried to persuade Ebril to jump off a cliff so Sarah could return. I found it difficult not to laugh at what I was seeing. How could I believe that the girl was seriously considering to jump if she waited almost sixty years to return from the dead? It just didn’t make sense. Perhaps if more scenes were added that specifically showed her inner conflict in terms of being out of place in the modern world, I would have been more convinced. Lastly, James’ handyman friend, Dafydd (Maurice Roëves), should have shared more scenes with Adelle. He was a critical link between the past and present. He knew the grim details of the mass suicide that the priest, who used to occupy the farmhouse, incited. “The Dark” had a beautiful setting. The way the beach and the cliffs that surrounded it was shot, it looked like a perfect place for something bad to happen. Although I appreciated the risks that the screenplay had taken, there wasn’t a big payoff. Many were impressed with its supposedly surprise ending. There was nothing surprising about it. In fact, I expected and wanted it to happen so that the material would remain true to the rules it constructed for itself. On that level, I was mildly satisfied.
★★★★ / ★★★★
This is one of the strongest Bond entries because it hints at the beginning of a more serious Bond mixed with more intricate action sequences. There’s a certain sinister tone, especially in the first half where most of the espionage scenes can be found, which made me more interested in what was going on and what is eventually going to happen. This is Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007 and he is more than welcome to walk in the shoes of a beloved character because I believe he is as dangerous and charismatic Sean Connery. Even though he may appeal more to the modern fans of the Bond franchise, he has that classic fun factor that older fans can definitely appreciate. Brosnan is able to deliver the classic one-liners with a certain serious but undeniablly fun swagger. As for the supporting cast, I think the group is one of the most memorable: Sean Bean as Agent 006 proves to be 007’s match physically and mentally, Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova is the smart and beautiful Bond girl, Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp is the femme fatale who specializes in squeezing people to death, and Judi Dench as the cold but lovable M. The story of “GoldenEye” may be a bit unbelievable at times (especially back in 1995 during the first’s release) but it’s more relevant today because of technology’s exponential advancements. All logic and credibility aside, the action sequences are mind-blowing (the tank scene alone is reason enough to watch), the style is slick, and it’s fast-paced. Directed by Martin Campbell who will direct “Casino Royale” about ten years in the future, “GoldenEye” is a must-see for all Bond fanatics and spy film enthusiasts. (And did I mention that I believe this has one of the best opening squences in Bond history? So much was accomplished during the first five minutes, followed by an astonishing opening credits with Tina Turner.)