The Martian – Film Review

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The ultimate survivor movie, The Martian manages to be an entertaining spectacle without too much gloomy introspection one would expect if stranded alone on Mars.

Films about space – and sci-fi in general – can tend to reply too much on suspension of belief and an in-depth knowledge of scientific terms.  However the most recent sci-fi films that I’ve watched, The Martian and Ex Machina, set their action in a world that is more advanced scientifically than our own, but not so much that it becomes an unrecognisable, futuristic space. It’s that ‘almost reality’ that lends itself to the plot of the story: time is not wasted by establishing the rules of the world, or even how travelling to Mars is now common place.

Matt Damon as Mark Watney, astronaut and botanist extraordinaire, manages to keep the balance of drama with the more light-hearted moments, which stops the film from getting too melodramatic. The addition of his soliloquies to the cameras around the HAB also help with the narrative, as he explains his actions to the audience in a way that doesn’t seem forced.

One of the most striking elements of the film is the contrast between the scenes on Earth and Mars. Scenes based on Earth are hectic and seem to have a pervading greyness, lit solely by artificial lighting and the glow from computer screens. Mars meanwhile is a harsh, beautiful orange landscape, with the human action seemingly constantly dwarfed by the surroundings.

It does tend to fall back on several tropes towards the end: the eccentric scientist Rich Purnell, and the authoritarian Teddy Sanders, but the ensemble cast – all trying to come at the same problem in different ways, and clashing – manage to keep the film rooted firmly in humanity.

Overall, 4/5 stars.

My Top 5 Films

I haven’t been able to get to the cinema recently, and my free time seems to have been spent trying to sort out things with my new house, so I decided that I’d do a quick post on my favourite films, to keep this blog as active as possible.

These films are in no particular order, as they are all completely different and impossible to compare to each other.

1. La Haine (Kassovitz, 1995) 

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I first watched this film several years ago and enjoyed it, but after studying this year as part of my Cinematic City module, noticed different aspects to the film that I would never have noticed.

Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 film is arguably his finest work as a director, a semi-realist, yet heavily stylised piece that explores police brutality, racism and poverty against the explosive backdrop of France in the 1990s. With the situation in the USA at the moment, as well as goings on over here in Britain, it also feels particularly poignant.

The day after a night of rioting, after a young man of Arab heritage is killed by police, the film follows three young men around their housing estate – the banlieue – on the outskirts as they bicker and try to find something to occupy their time with in the barren, concrete landscape. Although La Haine explores the issues often found in social-realist drama, the film is far more stylistic in its approach. Kassovitz uses the black and white film stock to create a timeless feel, whilst the extended takes emphasises the boredom and pointlessness that Vinz, Hubert and Said experience in their isolated space in the banlieue.

2. Trance (Danny Boyle, 2013)

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Although this isn’t Danny Boyle’s most popular film by far, with neither the cultural impact or critical reception of Trainspotting, I would tentatively say that it is my favourite film of his. Criticised by some on release for some resemblance to Inception, I stumbled across it by accident and loved it. Although it shares elements of the introspective imaginings and mind games, not to mention a pretty unexpected plot twist, I would argue that is – as much as a film like this can be – more realistic that Inception. 

What starts off as a art heist gone wrong, quickly descends into a twisting and admittedly confusing, search for identity, stability and Goya’s Witches in the Air. The three main characters, Simon (James McAvoy), Franck (Vincent Cassel) and Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), are all presented as flawed and at some points, unlikable people, with the audience sympathies shifting unexpectedly throughout the film.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a film that definitely requires more than one, or maybe even two viewings,but it’s completely worth it. Not to mention the often beautiful cinematography that plays heavily with blue and orange hues, as well as the “trance-like” music that accompanies the film, by Boyle’s long time collaborator Rick Smith.

 

3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Alfredson, 2011)

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With possibly one of the best British ensemble casts of any film ever, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film that takes its time with the plot, combining flashbacks and stories with the present timeline. It is confusing at points, but such a rewarding film and a proper old fashioned spy flick.

Alfredson and the crew perfectly recreated 1970s England, and the dull, muted nature of the cinematography reflects this, very much placing the film firmly in a slightly stylised version of the era.

It’s a film that questions loyalty, patriotism, and also possibly the workings of the establishment in the cover up of wrong doings within the government. Again, a film that you’ll need a few hours for, and possibly more than one viewing.

 

4. Leon: The Professional (Besson, 1994)

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From the first few seconds of the film, as a long shot takes you from high above New York, through the parks and finally into the streets of Little Italy, the sweeping and often haunting soundtrack immediately takes you into a oppressively hot summer, where anything is possible. To me, Leon is a film that captures the nature of the summer: the haziness, the saturated nature of the city, even if the themes of film does not follow that summer movie vibes.

Natalie Portman, in her motion picture debut, is excellent as Matilda, a vulnerable, feisty and determined twelve year old who teams up with the professional hitman in order to get revenge on the highly corrupt police official (Gary Oldman) who brutally murders her family. The psychotic Stansfield is the most over the top character in the film, but it in a way that just about borders on plausible.

While you wouldn’t expect a film that is based on a young girl becoming a ruthless contract killer to be overtly positive, it does explore isolation, friendship and relationships. It is a fairly brutal film, slightly let down by the ending, but it’s one of the first films that I fell in love with.

 

5. What We Do in The Shadows (Waititi and Clement, 2014)

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Finally, a film that is wildly different from any of the films on this list. If you’re fed up of vampires attending high school and falling in love with teenagers, this is the film for you. A mockumentary in the style of The Office and Parks and Recreation, it follows the lives of four vampires in New Zealand as they deal with the challenges of modern life – the internet, flat chores and getting into nightclubs – while trying to stay undercover.

It’s a ridiculous concept, but it manages to work, exploring the tropes of vampire lore and the supernatural while also turning them on their head. Each of the characters think they’re much more sophisticated and mature than they actually are, when in reality none of them know how to use a record player.

Endlessly quotable and hilarious, I would 100% recommend a watch.

 

 

That was a lot longer than I planned it to be, and that is a list that would more than likely change in six months time. Would you agree with my list? What would you put in your top 5?

 

Thanks for reading!