Mini-Review: The Martian

The Martian

PG-13, 141 Minutes, 2015

The Martian

About: Astronaut must survive on Mars after being left for dead by accident. NASA must figure out how to bring him back.

Starring: Matt Damon as Mark Watney. Do you know how rare it is to find a protagonist named Mark in the movies? Okay, this site does, but who remembers any of these supporting roles? The Martian also stars like 8 other actors you’ll recognize and like a lot.

Directed: Ridley Scott making up for Prometheus and Exodus: Gods and Monsters.

Best Thing About It: Matt Damon. He is the perfect lead – charisma, humor, everyman. You want him to survive. He is the next generation Tom Hanks, but a little sexier. You want him to be your husband/boyfriend/best friend.

Worst Thing About It: So the book is better. Andy Weir’s novel has so much more depth. More things happen to Watney and to NASA. The science is explained instead of just shown loosely in a montage. And Weir is a first time novelist! Go read the book.

Notable Thing About It: The movie is better. Because it does what movies can do and books can’t – the visuals of Mars are incredible. Seeing Watney’s struggles and successes is very different than reading about them. Go see the movie.

Overall: This is a crowd pleaser. If you can live with a few curse words and one stunt-double’s butt, this is a movie you can take your kids, your parents, your friends. Like Apollo 13, it casts NASA in a heroic light even as it faces a failure. This is a beautifully made, well acted, often funny, exciting, Hollywood movie. It doesn’t break much new cinematic ground, but sometimes it is nice just to be entertained.

3D note: While the swirling dust at the beginning looked cool and the Mars landscapes were richer, like most live-action films, seeing it in 3D isn’t vital.

Rating: 3 ½ RAMAKs (out of 4)


Mini-Review: The Walk

The Walk

PG, 123 Minutes, 2015


About: Exactly as in the excellent documentary Man on Wire, a Frenchman decides to walk a wire between the Twin Towers

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as not quite Pepe LePew, Ben Kingsley as Ben Kingsley in every movie of the past 2 decades, Charlotte Le Bon as really pretty but bland, and people you’ve never heard of

Directed: Robert Zemeckis who has a pretty impressive career and also The Polar Express

Best Thing About It: Passes the Apollo 13 test – I know how it ends, but I am still tense and interested

Worst Thing About It: Some of the American supporting characters are really stereotyped 1970s – although in real life they may have been that way too

Oddest Thing About It: The constant CGI of the World Trade Center reminded more more of how I thought of them during my childhood (boxy, powerful, iconic) than as just 9/11 images. This is a good thing.

Overall: The walk on the wire itself itself is worth it especially in IMAX 3D. Breathtaking. JGL somehow let me believe he was a Frenchman (which he actually speaks) despite that outrageous accent. Twin Towers CGI was fantastic. 1st half a little whimsical. 2nd half is spellbinding.

Rating: 3 RaMaKs (3 ½ perhaps if you see it in IMAX 3D)

Mini-Review: Everest


PG-13, 121 Minutes, 2015everest-poster-trailer

 A whole bunch of people risk their lives to touch the tallest point on earth. It doesn’t go well.

Starring: Jason Clarke as Nice, Josh Brolin as Texas!!!, Jake Gyllenhaal as Drunk Reckless Cool, Keira Knightley as One Who Makes You Cry, Robin Wright as Her Character from House of Cards.

Directed: Baltasar Kormákur – He’s from Iceland; don’t pretend you’ve heard of him.

Best Thing About It: Visuals of Everest – but the IMAX film from 1998 is so much better.

Worst Thing About It: Huge cast must be impossible to keep track of – but it doesn’t matter as everyone either a one note part (Texas!) or completely bland.

Oddest Thing About It: Having once-upon-a-time binged on the Everest 1996 disaster (multiple books, terrible TV movie, met Peach Weathers, wrote a High Holy Day sermon on it), I already knew who was going to die, so it took most of the tension out of the film.

Overall: Visual appealing film about terrible disaster mostly caused by human lust for somewhat meaningless accomplishment. Beck Weathers and Jon Krakauer at least find significance out of the events in their books. The film just ends with where-are-they-now postscripts.

Rating: 2 RaMaKs

Mini-Review: Mistress America

Mistress America

R, 84 Minutes, 2015

 Ready to explore adulthood, a smart, but naive college freshman becomes dazzled by her worldy, ambitious, but self-absored soon-to-be step-sister.

Starring: Greta Gerwig as poster child of today’s 30-year-old, Lola Kirke at poster child of who we want to imagine 18-year-olds are today

Directed: Noah Baumbach (of talky, angst ridden, hyper contemporary movies like Frances Ha and While We’re Young)

Best Thing About It: Very witty dialogue with good laughs

Worst Thing About It: Dialogue all feels manufactured by excellent writers (Baumbach and Gerwig). None of it feels like things people would actually say, but what they wish they had said.

Oddest Thing About It: Great New York City piece, but as I am neither 18 or 30, I have no idea how real it is. But it sure looks cool.

Overall: Of-the-moment film with winning and complicated parts by leads. More interesting than the plot summary leads you to believe.

Rating: 2 ½ RaMaKs


Mini-Review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

PG-13, 131 Minutes

missionimpossibleroguenationStarring: Tom Cruise at his charismatic best, Jeremy Renner as Throwaway Second Fiddle, Simon Pegg as Comic Relief, Rebecca Ferguson as New Girl, and Ving Rhames as I am the 1 Black Person in each of the 5 films

Best Thing About It: Ridiculous over-the-top students (and knowing Cruise did his own stunt work)

Worst Thing About It: Prime Minister’s being the only voice for the Red Box. What if there were new elections?

Oddest Thing About It: How much Rebecca Ferguson looks like previous M:I star Michelle Monaghan. Ethan Hunt has a type.

Overall: High-octane and lots of fun. A great popcorn film amazing carried once again by 53-year-old cruise

Rating: 3 ½ RaMaKs


Mini-Review: Jurassic World

Jurassic-World-The-GameJurassic World is definitely a sequel. It offers far too numerous homages and call-backs to the first film, but it also runs like a reboot with a plot that is identical to the original movie. It is saddled by many of same failings of other actions films. The characters are all one-dimensional and never branch out beyond an initial casting call description. The exception is “frigid boss woman” played by Bryce Dallas Howard. We know from the first moments she will eventually “lighten up” in order to be a suitable match for the easy-going hero (Chris Pratt). As is found regularly in PG-13 action today, the body count is incredible high with many innocent bystanders being horribly and anonymously killed, but off-screen and bloodless, so the movie thinks it is okay.

112614_Mosasaur_CloseUpThe security system was in the Jurassic World amusement park is really really terrible – especially notable as it is an amusement park located on an island with giant carnivores and a troubling past. I am sure Disney does more to contain The Big Bad Wolf and Beast at Dsneyworld than Jurassic World does to its dinosaurs. The special effects are impressive, but lack a wow factor 22 years after Spielberg’s original. We’ve seen dinosaurs and lots of other cool CGI beasts since then. Only the big sea dinosaur (who apparently isn’t a dinosaur but mosasaur) was really exciting.

But despite it’s flaws, I was rooting for the characters and got caught up in the tension. It’s a fun, summer action blockbuster to be seen in theaters and mindlessly enjoyed.