THE MARTIAN (USA/12A/141mins)
Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, Donald Glover, Askel Hennie, Sebastian Stan, Kristen Wiig.
THE PLOT: When a storm hits the planet, a NASA team on a mission to Mars evacuate, leaving Mark Watney (Matt Damon) behind, believing him to have tragically died during the freak weather event. When the storm passes, and with the team on their way back to earth, Watney awakens stranded on an in hospitable planet, and must find a way to survive until he can be rescued.
THE VERDICT: There have been a slew of astronaut disaster movies on an epic scale over recent years – GRAVITY and INTERSTELLAR spring to mind – and although it could be said that The Martian is the missing chapter of INTERSTELLAR, it is an engaging and fun space flick, that is well paced, well put together and is elevated by Matt Damon’s stellar (sorry!) performance.
Damon is tenacious and warm at the centre of the film, and seems to survive being the last human on Mars by journaling, teasing the colleagues who abandoned him, and tackling his breathtaking problem one small issue at a time. Damon’s comedic timing is great, and although he is a scientist he speaks in common parlance, which makes the character warm and slightly playful. The crew that left him behind are made up of Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Askel Hennie, Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan. This group of the cast don’t have a lot to do, but they make their space odyssey interesting and the characters relatable. The team on earth comprises Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis and Kristen Wiig. Daniels also has the chance to show off his comic timing, Ejiofor is stubborn and smart, Bean rebellious, Wiig a company woman and Donald Glover channels his former scene partner Danny Pudi in his role as Abed in ‘Community’, but obviously enjoys doing so.
Drew Goddard’s screenplay, based on the book by Andy Weir, keeps all the cast relatable and warm, the tension ebbing and flowing and the audience rooting for a happy ending. It would have been all too easy for the film to get bogged down with the science and technicalities of a manned mission to Mars but, while there is certainly plenty of talk about both, this is done in a manner that feels accessible, without talking down to the audience. Damon’s character is warm, fun and relatable; perhaps an examination of how he survived the loneliness of being alone for so long would have benefitted the film in some ways, but this is addressed somewhat with the use of disco music and the communication between Watney and those trying to save him.
Ridley Scott returns to form as director; THE MARTIAN is well paced – 141 minutes zips past – and beautifully shot, and the use of disco music, teasing and the struggle to create food on an inhospitable planet bring a lightness to the film that was missing from some of those in the recent past. In fact, it is this lightness that makes The Martian so very entertaining, unpretentious and engaging.
In all, THE MARTIAN is beautifully shot, thrilling and engaging. 141 minutes glides by with plenty of glib quips, heart wrenching moments and genuine fear. The science is kept simple without being dumb, the music lightens the mood and Damon is as good as he has ever been, forming the emotional heart and soul of the film. THE MARTIAN is simply a thrilling ride that reminds us of the strength of the human spirit.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE WALK (USA/PG/123mins)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte LeBon, Ben Kingsley, Ben Schwartz, James Badge Dale, Steve Valentine, Benedict Samuel.
THE PLOT: ‘I find myself on an island, floating in mid air on the edge of the void’… On August 6th 1974, French high wire performer Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) crossed a wire strung between the towers of New York’s World Trade Centre… 110 storeys up. Robert Zemeckis’ film takes us behind the scenes of this incredible feat, and into the mind of the man who seemed that the towers were built for him to dance on a wire between them.
THE VERDICT: The incredible true story of Philippe Petit’s crossing between the Twin Towers has already been told on the big screen, in James Marsh’s Oscar winning documentary ‘Man on Wire’, but Robert Zemeckis not only gives a strong insight into Petit, but also takes the audience right onto the wire with him in some truly tense and hair raising scenes.
It would seem to make sense that the character of Philippe Petit would be played by a French actor, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt has the charm, charisma and borderline arrogance to carry off such a character. The French accent used by Gordon-Levitt does jar for the first few seconds of the film, but the actor has the courage of his convictions, and makes it work. Gordon-Levitt makes the audience truly root for this charming, arrogant daredevil, and it is this audience sympathy that makes the film work, particularly in the terrifying high wire scenes. The rest of the cast support Gordon-Levitt well; Ben Kingsley stands out as Petit’s mentor and supporter and Charlotte LeBon is endearing as Annie. The rest of the cast includes Parks and Recreation’s Ben Schwartz, James Badge Dale, Steve Valentine and Benedict Samuel.
Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Browne’s screenplay – based on Petit’s novel ‘To Reach the Clouds’ – delves into the history of the walk, and where the inspiration to push himself while paying tribute to New York City comes from. The audience is taken through the life of Petit, the struggles he went through in order to become a performer, and the successes he had along the way, such as walking a wire between the towers of Notre Dame in Paris. The film is zippy and fun, flirting with danger and allowing the audience to fall a little in love with Gordon-Levitt’s character. As well as this, the film shows the planning and care that went into planning the walk, and what happened when things began to go wrong.
As director, Robert Zemeckis almost makes THE WALK feel like a circus; colours and music abound in the first half of the film, making it feel bright and cheerful by carefully blending black and white images with full, vibrant colour. The pacing the of the film struggles a little as it moves from the past into the present day of the film, and Philippe and his accomplices get into planning the actual walk from New York City. This all changes, however, when Petit steps onto the wire, and takes his first steps over ‘the void’ between them. What follows is a master class in tension, as Zemeckis ramps up the fear and apprehension as Petit becomes increasingly more confident on the high wire. Bringing the audience onto the sire not only adds to the tense feeling of the end of the film and shows off the film’s beautiful and loving cinematography, but proves the strength of the first half of the film, as it is nearly impossible not to root for Petit as he takes his time on the wire.
In all, THE WALK is a master class in tension; the audience is brought right onto the wire with Petit, which truly hammers home the foolhardy bravery it took to complete this performance. Gordon-Levitt is both charming and arrogant as Petit, the cast back him up well and the cinematography is simply beautiful. One stumble in pacing aside, this exhilarating and terrifying movie is quite simply the best we have seen from Robert Zemeckis since ‘Cast Away’ 15 years ago.
Review by Brogen Hayes
MACBETH (UK | USA | France/TBC/113mins)
Directed by Justin Kurzel. Starring Muichael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jack Reynor, David Thewlis, Paddy Considine.
THE PLOT: As Scotland tears itself apart with civil war, Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) hears a prophecy from a trio of witches, saying he will one day be king of the country he is fighting for. Pushed into action by his manipulative wife (Marion Coitillard), Macbeth takes matters into his own hands, and decides to make the prophecy come true.
THE VERDICT: MACBETH was the final film to screen In Competition at Cannes in 2015, directed by Justin Kurzel, whose 2011 film SNOWTOWN played at the Critics Week’s selection at Cannes that year. While it is heartening to see a talented director move through the ranks of the festival and return to compete for the Palme D’Or, there are serious issues with his adaptation of Macbeth.
Michael Fassbender takes on the role of the title character and, although his presence on screen is magnetic and strong, it is often heard to hear what he is saying, since he mumbles his way through much of the Shakespearean dialogue in a thick Scottish accent. Marion Cotillard’s presence is equally as strong but she too suffers from audibility problems. That said, when the two come together – and can be understood – they are a force to be reckoned with in terms of sheer skill and screen presence. The rest of the cast – David Thewlis, Jack Reynor, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris and David Heyman – also suffer since they are often unintelligible.
Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie and Todd Louiso’s screenplay has removed chunks out of Shakespeare’s original story, which works for the most part, but does leave some choices made by characters feeling surprising and unexpected.
Director Justin Kurzel has moved away from the gritty feel of SNOWTOWN, making Macbeth look and feel like a war movie, with a lyrical and beautiful quality. The cinematography is simply stunning, and the choices to use both slow motion and speeded up footage add to the confusion felt by Macbeth as he fights to make the witches’ prophecy come true. That said, however, much of the cast spend the film mumbling into one another’s faces, rendering heir dialogue inaudible – the French subtitles at Cannes went some way to helping with this – and the choice to have score music playing almost consistently through the film only serves to make this worse.
In all, MACBETH is sure to be a strong adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, but since so much of the film is unintelligible, the power of the performances is lost in an auditory jumble.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE INTERN (USA/12A/121mins)
Directed by Nancy Meyers. Starring Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Adam DeVine, Anders Holm, Nat Wolff, Rene Russo.
THE PLOT: Three years after the death of his wife, 70 year old Ben (Robert De Niro) applies to be an intern at an up and coming fashion site, which is struggling to meet the demand it has created. Initially rebuffed by the busy and slightly awkward founder Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), the two end up becoming unlikely friends.
THE VERDICT: THE INTERN is director Nancy Meyers’ first film since 2009’s It’s Complicated, and while Hathaway and De Niro do relatively well with the characters they are given, the film lacks any sort of tension or drama, turning what could have been a powerful film about not writing people off into a fluffy and troubling flick.
Robert De Niro is fine in the leading role, but this is one of the most insipid and lifeless characters he has played to date. From the moment the film opens with a quote about work from Sigmund Feud, until the film’s closing with Tai Chi in the park, it seems that Ben exists to be ageist against younger men, speak in inspirational quotes and be as affable and bland as possible. Anne Hathaway does slightly better in character terms with Jules, but this is a woman who rides a bike through the office and has the memory of a startled goldfish, so there is little here to make the founder of a successful website actually feel like a real person. The rest of the cast is made up of Anders Holm, Rene Russo, JoJo Kushner, Andrew Rannells, Adam DeVine and Zack Pearlman, most of whom exist just to hammer home Ben’s points about work and life – most of which is along the lines of carry a handkerchief because women cry.
Nancy Meyers’ script has all the elements for THE INTERN to be a charming and sweet film, but through some terrible dialogue, some dodgy choices and a complete lack of drama – other than some shoehorned in to create an ending – The Intern falls completely flat. As director, Meyers completely fails to make the film engaging or give it any dramatic tension, which leads to the entire shebang just meandering through the running time. As well as this, Ben reveals himself to be an ageist misogynist hiding under a layer of affability, and Jules is spineless and dull. Scenarios seem to be thrown in for the sake of being derivative, and at 121 minutes, the shine rubs off The Intern very quickly.
In all, it seems that The Intern was created to make an observation about cherishing the wisdom that older people have, but it ends up being filled with thin characters, a hatred of women, spineless women, very little drama and almost zero laughs. THE INTERN is not the film to revive the rom-com, perhaps it’s better at this stage, to just let it die with what dignity it has left.
Review by Brogen Hayes
FIDELIO – ALICE’S JOURNEY (France/TBC/97mins)
Directed by Lucie Borleteau. Ariane Labed, Melvil Poupaud, Anders Danielsen Lie, Pascal Tagnati, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h.
THE PLOT: Alice (Ariane Labed) works as an engineer on a freighter, and is used to leaving home and her boyfriend Felix (Anders Danielsen Lie) behind for months at a time. When she is called to work on the Fidelio after an engineer dies, she is not only occupying a dead man’s bed, she is back on the first ship she ever worked on, with a former lover on board.
THE VERDICT: FIDELIO – ALICE’S JOURNEY is not only a film about reconnecting with a lost love, but a film that throws a spotlight on gender roles, and the contrasts between Alice’s life at sea and on land.
Ariane Labed does well in the leading role as Alice; she creates a gentle balance in the character, making her both gentle and stern, dismissive and caring. Labed also conveys a lot of emotion through her expression, telling a lot of Alice’s story through her eyes alone. The rest of the cast is made up of Melvil Poupard as Gael, Pascal Tagnati, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h, Nathanaël Maïni, Bogdan Zamfir, Manuel Ramirez, Ireneo San Andres, Marc-Antoine Vaugeois, Corneliu Dragomirescu and Thomas Scimeca.
Mathilde Boisseleau, Lucie Borleteau and Clara Bourreau’s screenplay examines Alice’s life and the choices and sacrifices she must make in order to the job that she is good at, and she is passionate about. Most of this is conveyed through single lines of dialogue, but is carried by Alice throughout the film. As well as this, the screenplay examines what happens when two people who have history, are thrown together in a confined space. Of course temptation arises, and it is how Alice deals with this that makes the story interesting. There is a subplot where Alice discovers the diary of the dead man she replaced, and the influence this potentially has on her. There is a lot of opportunity wasted here, as this dominates the film for a time, but is left to drift away.
As director, Lucie Borleteau makes the film a quiet examination of a woman in a male dominated environment, how she deals with the expectations of her and the choices she makes. The film is rarely flashy or overly dramatic, but conveys emotion carefully. There are times when focus is given to perhaps the wrong end of the tale – and too much focus given to the vulgar actions of Alice’s colleagues – and this drags the pacing, and the impact of the film down.
In all, FIDELIO – ALICE’S JOURNEY is an interesting examination of how a woman adapts to her male-dominated surroundings, and how she makes peace between her two different lives. There is a strong story here, but it gets lost through some odd pacing, and focus on irrelevant details.
Review by Brogen Hayes
GHOSTHUNTERS: ON ICY TRAILS (Germany | Austria | Ireland/PG/99mins)
Directed by Tobi Baumann. Starring Milo Parker, Anke Engelke, Bastian Pastewka, Christian Tramitz, Karoline Herfurth, Christian Ulmen, Julia Koschitz, Ruby O. Fee.
THE PLOT: Eleven year old Tom Thompson (Milo Parker) has a crippling fear of almost everything. When he discovers a ghost in his basement, his neighbour tells him to seek out ghosthunter Hetty Cuminseed (Anke Engelke). Hetty has been recently suspended from her job at the Central Ghosthunting Institute, and initially turns Tom’s request down, but soon realises that she must team up with Tom and his new ghostly friend in order to save the world from a much bigger threat.
THE VERDICT: On paper, it seems that GHOSTHUNTERS: ON ICY TRAILS is a great idea for a kids movie. Combining elements from ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘RIPD’ – as well as culling some famous lines from ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Scarface’ – does not always work on screen however. Add to this some truly terrible acting, dodgy CGI and a feeling of familiarity, and GHOSTHUNTERS: ON ICY TRAILS goes from good idea to a very very bad one indeed.
The cast vary in terms of their acting ability. Milo Parker, for the most part, manages to be the heart and soul of the film, and gives a surprisingly good performance. Anke Engelke also does relatively well as the impatient and disillusioned Hatty Cuminseed. With the exception of Amy Huberman in a small role, it seems the rest of the cast are rather incapable of giving a strong or believable performance, with Christian Ulmen as Tom’s father, and Ruby O. Fee as Tom’s sister standing out as truly wooden and unbelievable.
The story, as mentioned, feels familiar but this could have been forgiven is there was something extraordinary at the heart of the screenplay, which was written by Tobi Baumann, Murmel Clausen, Mike O’Leary,Martin Ritzenhoff, Roland Slawik and Christian Tramitz. Instead, the film feels a little like The Spiderwick Chronicles, Harry Potter, Ghostbusters and a kids version of RIPD were put into a blender, and Ghosthunters was the thing that emerged. There are some lovely moments scattered throughout the film – such as the LEDS ghosts, who care for the lonely – but these are so few and far between that the rest of the film feels derivative, familiar and uninspired.
Director Tobi Baumann does not seem to have done very much for the film; the pacing is rather messy, some of the performances are absolutely cringeworthy, and there is little here to keep the little ‘uns engaged, never mind the parents who have to sit through the film in 3D. Let’s just be grateful that the film was not in 3D.
In all, GHOSTHUNTERS: ON ICY TRAILS works incredibly well on paper, but on screen it is a film populated with terrible performances that is familiar, derivative and frankly, not very good.
Review by Brogen Hayes