Movie Review: The Martian (2015)

Running time: 142 minutes

Director: Ridley Scott

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After being hit by a projectile in the middle of a fierce storm, astronaut Mark Watney is left behind in Mars by his crew mates who think he has died. Stranded in Mars all by himself, Mark will have to try to survive while finding a way to tell NASA he is still alive. In a hostile planet where food is unavailable, his only resources will be his intelligence and his optimism.

The character of Mark Watney in the book is simply fascinating. He is incredibly charming, he has a great and unexpected sense of humour, considering the situation he is in, but you also get his frustration when things don’t work as he planned. He is a relatable character and comes across as a real human being and it is all of those traits that make you so invested in his journey and Matt Damon captures every single one of those.

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However, this is not a one-man show and with such a huge cast there is not a weak link in the movie. Every single character serves its purpose and every actor is absolutely amazing. It’s a long list of actors to mention but from the people at NASA (Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover) to the Hermes crew (Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Aksel Hennie) everyone is fantastic.There is not exactly character arcs but they are all well realized. You even get the relation between Watney and his crew mates even though you hardly see them together.

Even though there are some changes, as it is expected, I felt the same as I did when I read the book and that is what I want from an adaptation. I don’t mind the changes as long as they keep the essence of the book. The emotion and the tension was all there and especially the comedy. It’s amazing how such a serious situation can actually be so funny without being cartoonish. They succeeded at pulling it off just like the book did.

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Everyone is describing it as Castaway meets Apollo 13 and it really is. And it is just as great if not more. There is a lot of science going on but, unlike Interstellar, the science is easy to follow. You believe that everything going on in Mars could have actually happened as it doesn’t play so much as fiction but as a true story, with real humanity in it. It’s visually beautiful and the special effects, as it is typical from Ridley Scott, are outstanding.

The masterful editing, cutting between Mars, Earth and Hermes makes the 2 hours and 20 minutes just fly by. Ridley Scott’s filmmaking has proven to be a bit inconsistent in the last years (even decade) but The Martian shows that he still has it in him. This is one of those rare occasions where everything comes together perfectly, the direction, the writing, the performances, the visuals, to make a breathtaking film. The Martian is a movie not to be missed.

9,75/10

Movie Review: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

Running time: 132 minutes

Director: Wes Ball

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The first Maze Runner movie was quite solid until they threw it all away trying to set up the sequel, leaving the audience with tones of unanswered questions. Now, if you do something that stupid, the sequel should better pay off. Unfortunately, this is not the case of The Scorch Trials, which, not only doesn’t answer any of the questions from the first movie, it raises even more and once again, leaves it all for the sequel. As a side note, I’m not going to review this movie as the adaptation of the book because little it had to do with what I once read on page. The adaptation is so vague that even though they kept the “trials” in the title, the changes in the story don’t have any trials and they are never acknowledged in the movie. They could have called it just The Scorch for all that it mattered.

Let’s dive into it. The movie picks up right where the first one left off, with Thomas and the rest of the Gladers that escaped the Maze being brought to a safe place away from WCKD and the Flare, a disease that affects the brain and affects most of the population, turning them into Cranks. There, they discover that theirs, wasn’t the only Maze and this first hour of the movie was actually really good. Dylan O’Brien does again a great job selling Thomas. He is likable and has such a weird way of running that makes it even more believable that he is in dangerous situations. Aiden Gillen as Janson is a great addition to the cast. He serves as the villain of this installment, and the character fits him like a glove, especially if you are used to seeing him as Littlefinger in Game of Thrones.

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Once they realized that they are still in the hands of WCKD, they escape the compound and venture into the Scorch, a vast desert that has end up with all signs of civilization. It is from this point going on where the movie starts to suffer. It all revolves around going from one place to another and finding some difficulties along the way. They get to the rebels, they don’t trust them and WCKD finds them. They find the Right Arm, they don’t trust them and WCKD finds them. It is pretty much the same over and over again.

And as a consequence of not being much story in it and not giving any answers, the characters are not well-developed. The Gladers, because they don’t have any memories, there’s not much depth into any of them. There was some character develolment in the first one because there was more talking, here it’s just walking from one place to the next and running away from the cranks. They are likable, though, except for Theresa, who it’s in the same note as in the first one and keeps making it impossible to understand why Thomas cares so much about her.

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As expected in a movie called The Maze Runner, there is a lot of running and those scenes are very well done. You get the sense of danger and the director handles the action really well. There are also some beautiful shots but, unlike in Mad Max: Fury Road, the great action doesn’t make up for the weak story telling and the final part, The Death Cure, better do an amazing job at explaining everything and make it have sense to take the trilogy from being merely entertaining to meaningful. In the end,  The Maze Runner is not at the level of The Hunger Games but it is definitely better than Divergent.

6,75/10

Movie Review: American Ultra (2015)

Running time: 96 minutes

Director: Nourizadeh Nima

american_ultra_movie_2-wideReteaming after 2009’s Adventureland, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart play a couple of stoners from West Virginia in the last movie by Project X’s director. Mike works at the local convenience store and is head-over-heels in love with his girlfriend Phoebe. He surprises her with a trip to Hawaii where he is planning to propose to her. However, every time he tries to leave town, Mike gets sick with panick attacks and this time is no exception, forcing the young couple to return home and miss their holidays, which, despite the amazing chemistry between Stewart and Eisenberg, raises the question to what is Phoebe doing with a guy like this.

It turns out that this is all due to the fact that Mike is actually a sleeping agent, programmed to get sick whenever he tries to leave town. Now, CIA agent, Adrien Yates (Topher Grace) is planning to shut down the program and eliminate Mike. Against this measure, Victoria (Connie Britton), the head of the Ultra program, visits Mike at his work station and speaks to him in code making no apparent impact on Mike. What he doesn’t know is that Victoria’s random words have activated him and to his surprise he is able to take down the two agents sent by Yates to kill him using just a spoon and the soup he was about to eat.

trailerA freaked-out Mike, calls Phoebe to tell her the extraordinary and horrifying thing that has just happened and when she arrives to the crime scene, they are both arrested. From here they have to keep finding unimaginable ways to survive as Yates is still determinate to kill Mike. It is strange to see Jesse Eisenberg in a role where he is not the smartest person in the room but somehow Mike seems to be a perfect fit for him. I know not everyone is a fan of him but he actually brings a lot of charm to the role. As for Kristen Stewart, we can’t keep bringing up Twilight and Snow White because in the last few years she has proved to be above that and has been really good in her recent work. I didn’t think the twist with her character entirely worked though, but that had nothing to do with her portrayal.

American Ultra is a messy movie that embraces the weirdness and doesn’t expect to be taken seriously. It starts very strong, balancing well the comedy and the extreme violence, and has some great moments throughout but unfortunately deflates as the movie progresses. We spend the whole movie waiting to see Mike’s full potential and when he finally does, the movie ends and is replaced by a cartoon, so we never get to see him being a 100% badass, which is a wasted opportunity.

6/10

Movie Review: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Running time: 120 minutes

Director: George Miller

2015_mad_max_fury_road-wideIn 1985 the last installment in the Mad Max trilogy, Thunderdome, was released. But, though 30 years later, George Miller is sitting again in the director’s chair for the sequel, Mel Gibson is not. Taking his place as the face of the franchise is Tom Hardy. Sadly, Mad Max: Fury Road seems to be following the steps of last year’s Edge of Tomorrow. A great action movie that everyone loves, has huge word of mouth but for some reason, no-one goes to the cinema to watch. This and given how much the movie cost to make, makes very unlikely that the studio will greenlight a sequel, at least with the same budget.

In an apocalyptic future where all the landscape has become desert and water and gasoline are precious elements, the prisoner Max (Tom Hardy) finds himself tied to the front of a car as the “blood-bag” of Nux (Nicholas Hoult) when Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) discovers that Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has gone rogue and has stolen something very dear to him and is planning to cross the harsh wasteland to return to her homeland.

maxresdefaultI am one of those weird people who never saw the Mad Max trilogy so I can’t say if this movie is better or how much justice does Tom Hardy do to the character that made Mel Gibson a star in 1979. I can only say, he was great. He doesn’t have much dialogue but he manages to portray a lot just through body language. And if it is funny to see Tom Hardy wearing again a mask and talking weird like in his iconic role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, as his companion Nux, we have Nicholas Hoult hiding once more behind a lot of make-up just as he did in the X-Men movies as Beast and in Warm Bodies.

As for the film and given the trailers, I was expecting a non-stop action movie and that is partly what Mad Max is, but I was delightfully surprise that it is also an homage to the power and independence of women. This is mainly because even though Max is the title character, and Tom Hardy is fantastic, this is really Furiosa’s movie and Charlize Theron, with the guide of George Miller, has given us one of the best action heroes in years. Furiosa’s ferocity and determination never overshadows her tenderness and it is great not only seeing women fighting together but also fighting for each other. The five wives could have easily been mere damsels in distress but each one played an active role in trying to regain their freedom, with fierceness and yes, also a lot of glamour.

FURY ROADBut the true star of Mad Max: Fury Road is actually behind the camera. George Miller, at 70 and after so many delays in the production of the film, has made a spectacle using mostly practical effects. The design of the world and the characters is so grotesque that it becomes in some twisted way quite beautiful.

Really, the best word to describe Mad Max is insane. The characters are crazy, the action is crazy, even the story in itself. The action is chaotic but unlike many other action movies (I’m looking at you, Michael Bay), you can always tell what is going on. This is a great advantage since the movie is basically a big relentless action sequence and therefore, doesn’t have too much character development or even plot. There is some narrative here and there when the action stops that comes across a bit cheap and feels too much like exposition. However, and even though other things could have had  more explanation, in the end Mad Max doesn’t really need any of that to be an exhilarating film.

8,5/10

Movie Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E (2015)

Running time: 116 minutes

Director: Guy Ritchie

UNCLEbar640Based on the 1960s TV show of the same name, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., is a reboot/origin story that shows how a CIA agent and a KGB operative have to team up for the first time in the middle of the Cold War to stop a criminal organization from creating and selling nuclear weapons. So, two very different agents, that don’t get along have to learn to work together to save the world. The plot has a very been there, done that feel, but this movie is not as much about the plot as it is about the style and the brilliant chemistry between the two leads.

In 1963, West Berlin, ex-criminal, now CIA agent, Napoleon Solo is sent to help Gaby Teller, the daughter of a mechanic who is working for a Nazi organization, to cross the Berlin Wall. In this role, Henry Cavill proves that he is much more than just Superman. This is the most charismatic he has ever been. Solo’s suave, sophisticated and confident personality also prove that he could have made a wonderful Bond. And let’s be honest, no one rocks the 60s suits like he does.

man-from-uncle-still2However, he is not the only one interested in Gaby. When they are trying to cross the Wall, they realize that Illya Kuryakin, a russian spy, has been following them and is trying to stop them. Armie Hammer, with a pretty good russian accent by the way, stars again in an adaptation of a classic TV show. It didn’t work very well last time with The Lone Ranger but luckily this time, instead of Johnny Depp, he counts with Cavill as his partner and, as I said at the beginning, their amazing chemistry is what really drives this movie.

In the role of Gaby, and after her spectacular portrayal of Ava in Ex-Machina, is Alicia Vikander, who fits perfectly in the group. She brings out different shades of their personalities and serves as the glue that keeps them together without the need of forcing a love triangle to make it work, as it usually happens.

Henry-Cavill-Armie-Hammer-Alicia-Vikander-in-The-Man-From-UNCLE-2015-movieSo the three of them team up and, under-cover, fly to Rome to investigate the leader of this organization, Victoria Vinciguerra. Played by Elizabeth Debicki, Victoria’s motivations are never really clear. It just seems like her whole reason to build a nuclear weapon is simply that she can. Maybe that is all the motivation she needs but I would have liked to see a bit more development there, as well as more from Hugh Grant’s character who was barely in it but added such a nice gravitas to the film every time he was on-screen.

In this day and age where action movies tend to have a convoluted plot, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a refreshing simplistic, yet charming portrayal of the old buddy cop formula that exudes style. I am not going to lie, it is not a perfect movie. It can be too campy at times but it is so much fun to watch. It is silly, witty and it doesn’t take itself too seriously but Guy Ritchie’s slick style fits perfectly with the story and the era of the 60s. This year that we have already had Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, Mission: Impossible and Spectre is coming up soon, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. will most likely be swallowed up by the genre but it is still a worth watching movie that I just loved and now that the origin story is out of the way, could have a lot of potential for a sequel.

8/10

Movie Review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Running time: 131 minutes

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

mission_impossible-rogue-nation_poster2Rogue Nation starts with the IMF team intercepting an A-400 that is carrying nerve gas to be sold to terrorists. Running out of time to stop the airplane, Ethan Hunt, finds himself hanging on to the side of the plane as this takes off, while his tech guy, Benji, has some difficulty opening the door for him. And, as he did in the unforgettable scene from Ghost Protocol where Hunt had to climb the Dubai building, this time Tom Cruise also harnessed himself to the side of a taking-off airplane. That is commitment to a role and it is definitely the consolidation of Tom Cruise as the ultimate action star.

After Hunt disappears when trying to prove the existence of the Syndicate, CIA chief, Hunley (Alec Baldwin), and IMF agent William Brand (Jeremy Renner), stand in front of a Senate committee and Hunley succeeds in shutting down the IMF. Meanwhile, Hunt has been captured by the Bone Doctor. Here his path crosses for the first time with Ilsa’s, a Syndicate operative who keeps us, as well as Ethan, wondering throughout the whole movie what side she might be on and what her real intentions are, managing to maintain her likability at the same time. Without a doubt, Rebecca Ferguson is the stand out of this film. It is great to see such a good portrayal of a woman in an action movie, where she is elegant, smart, badass but it is also clear that she is in disadvantage in terms of strength. In the end though, her skills make up for it.

ferguson.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxSix months after being on the run, Ethan contacts Benji, now working for the CIA, and arranges for him to attend the opera in Vienna. Simon Pegg, as he did in Ghost Protocol, works brilliantly as the comic relief without ever compromising the tension. The whole opera sequence, puts you in the mindset of Hunt, not knowing what is going on and it is very reminiscent of The Man who Knew too Much by Alfred Hitchcock, with that level of suspense and the use of music entangled in the action. The cinematography in this sequence is simply beautiful.

This movie has breathtaking action pieces one after another. When you finally think you have recovered from Cruise hanging from a plane or the tension of the opera, Ethan Hunt’s next mission is to stay underwater for three minutes. From the start, you know something is going to go wrong but you are not sure what and it keeps you on the edge of your sit and holding your breath as Ethan does for the whole scene. If this wasn’t enough, immediately after we have probably one of the best motorcycle chases ever in an action movie.

mission_impossible_A64F875DED234C2FA196DA05EB2B6613The truth is, there is little wrong about Rogue Nation. For a movie with so many action sequences, the pacing is fantastic and all the characters have their moment to shine. I just wish Jeremy Renner could have had a bigger role or more action because he is so good and always ends up being side-lined. It could have been good to have also more of Alec Baldwin, but that is really knit-picking because for what their roles were in the movie, they were well utilized. The villain, whom in these kind of movies often seems like an afterthought, was effective and compelling. He was intimidating, always being a couple of steps mentally ahead of Hunt, and you bought his motivations.

In the end, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is probably the best movie of the summer and a fun time at the cinema. Maybe it is a bit too long but never gets tiresome or boring. It hardly ever gives you a moment to breathe and, though you know the characters are going to be fine, it still makes you fear for them, making it a thrilling experience. Mission: Impossible is one of those rare franchises that just keeps getting better and better with each new movie.

9,5/10

Movie Review: Fantastic Four (2015)

Running time: 106 minutes

Director: Josh Trank

F42015They say, once you hit rock bottom, there is nowhere to go but up. It was difficult to make a film worse than Fantastic Four (2005) and they managed to do it with Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. So one would think that in the middle of the Golden Age of comic book movies and with the extraordinary cast Fox had assembled for the reboot, things would be at least a bit better this time around. Given one of his tweets (that he later deleted) it seems not even director Josh Trank believes that.

Young prodigy, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) joins Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny Storm (Michael B Jordan) to complete a Quantum Gate at Baxter Laboratory. The experiment succeeds and they teleport to an alternate universe called Planet Zero where their physical form is altered giving them shocking abilities. Reed can stretch like rubber, Sue can become invisible, Johnny can set himself on fire and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) is made of rock. Back in earth they will have to learn how to use their new powers and work as a team to defeat a former colleague, Doom.

fftvspot-142157-640x320.pngThe movie starts on a solid note with 11-year-old Reed Richards breaking into the house of Ben Grimm to steal some materials he needs to make his teleporter work. After this, they develop a close friendship and they keep working together in the project. In present day, at the science fair, their prototype attracts the attention of doctor Storm, who recruits Richards into working for him at Baxter Laboratory with his two children, Sue and Johnny, and Storm’s protegé, Victor von Doom to complete a Quantum Gate that will allow teleportation.

Amongst its many flaws, the one that stands out the most is the flatness of the characters. The first part of the movie tries to flesh them out a bit but does quite a poor job. We already know they are going to become a team, so the key part to keep the audience’s interest would be how they will achieve that and building up the relationships. Just as Joss Whedon masterfully did in the first Avengers. Here, despite the great actors involved, there’s nothing they can do with what they are given. Their performances are bland, there’s no chemistry between them and therefore, no interest in what happens to them. They even waste the opportunity to explore Sue and Johnny’s relationship, which could have added a great dynamic with her being adopted.

human-torch-and-invisible-woman-flying-in-fantastic-four-internationalActually, this movie wastes opportunity after opportunity. The scene where they discover their powers after coming back from Planet Zero worked really well and was quite horrific, which is the tone they were going for, but then they skip a whole year without an apparent reason. When we meet them again, they are already training and working for the government. We miss all the conflict and how the characters react and get used to having powers, making Fantastic Four an origin story without the origin part. We don’t even know what it was for Ben to wake up and have become a rock monster. It’s from this point going on that the movie becomes an absolute mess.

The editing is horrendous. Doom, one of the most iconic villains in comic books doesn’t appear until the last twenty minutes and is easily defeated. A great way to, not just waste a great villain, but ruin it. Also, usually in this kind of movies you can always say that even though the story had flaws, the special effects and the action were cool enough to make it entertaining to watch, but the fight sequence is just bad and boring and you can tell from a mile away that it was shot in front of a green screen.

F4Doom2And the problem is not that they were going for a darker tone. That actually quite worked. The problem is that it wasn’t fun. They lost the direction, the characters and in the end, nothing really happens. As hard as it may be to imagine, it only gets worse and worse as the movie progresses. That whole final scene in the new facility was so reminiscent of the ending of Age of Ultron where Cap was cut in mid sentence saying Avengers… assemble, but badly done. The way they come up with the name of the team is simply painful to watch. The dialogue is so cheesy, you actually feel bad for the actors.

It is hard to know who is to blame for this, given that months previous to the release of the film a lot of re-shoots were done (which you can tell because they didn’t even try to match Sue’s wig with Kate Mara’s previous hair color) and Josh Trank wasn’t involved in them. Some would say that it is good that the movie was short but there are a lot of moments missing from the movie that could have been there to be two hours long and might have benefited the film. A lot of cool sequences from the trailers weren’t even in the final product which makes obvious that a big portion of this movie was left in the cutting room floor.

4/10