The Martian – A Movie Review

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Feb 292016

The_Martian_PosterDuring a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “the Martian” home, while his crew-mates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible, rescue mission. As these stories of incredible bravery unfold, the world comes together to root for Watney’s safe return.

Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Drew Goddard (screenplay), Andy Weir (book)
Stars: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Vincent Kapoor, Benedict Wong
Runtime: 144 min; Rated: PG-13; Genre: Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi; Released: 02 Oct 2015

We watched this Saturday evening. I’d been wanting to see it for a while. Overall impressions, it was OK at best, but not nearly as good as I expected. Lay didn’t like it at all, but he’s never very keen on sci-fi. Continue reading »

The Monuments Men-A Movie Review

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Jun 042014

We watched this from Redbox on May 24.

Yet another movie I was really looking forward to seeing, but was disappointed. It wasn’t terrible, but it was like an attempt at a noble documentary. I think it would have been better as a documentary.

As far as the storyline, I had no idea that Hitler amassed such a monumental collection of the world’s masterpieces while conquering Europe. When I initially saw the trailer for the movie, I thought it would be an interesting flick of war intrigue. To my horror, about half way through I kept fiddling with the stop button on my TV wanting to escape.

I cannot put my finger on any one thing as to why this movie doesn’t work. Since George Clooney and Matt Damon star in the film, maybe I was hoping for a WWII version of Oceans 11 where the gang steals back valuable artwork from the bad guys. All the actors are people who’s work I enjoy. These are great actors, but mediocre performances, likely because the screenplay just didn’t give anyone any great scenes. But that could be cause the work itself, while vitally important, just wasn’t that exciting. Continue reading »

Elysium-A Movie Review

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Jun 012014

Still catching up on movie reviews


We saw this one at home thanks to Redbox. We both liked this movie. I might have liked it a little better than Lay. It was actually a bit thoughtful and thought-provoking. Not outstanding, but it was definitely worth watching.

Elysium: “any place or state of perfect happiness; paradise,” as defined by 

Based upon this definition, you can somewhat gather what the premise of the movie is. The year is 2154 and Earth is overpopulated, disease ridden and in disrepair. The world’s wealthiest live in a fortified space station above earth called Elysium. There they enjoy every luxury including mechanisms that will cure them from almost, if not every, illness or injury. The people of Earth want to be there and the people of Elysium definitely do not want the Earth dwellers coming to their abode. Continue reading »

Invictus – A Movie Review

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Jul 032010

The true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar, to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.

Genres: Drama, Adaptation, Biopic and Sports; Running Time: 2 hrs, 14 mins.; Release Date: December 11th, 2009; MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng, Matt Stern, Julilian Lewis Jones and Bonnie Henna

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

We watched this as a download a couple of weekends ago. (I know, I’m behind.)

This is set in the early ’90s, and covers the first year of Nelson Mandela’s presidency and how he pushed the nation’s rugby team, led by captain Francois Pienaar, to achieve World Cup glory. You have to remember that most of the players on the team were white, and the “Sprinboks” were still seen by many as a symbol of apartheid. This meant Mandela was risking the very base that pushed him into office.

Morgan Freeman completely immerses himself into the role of Mandela, and gives one of the best performances of the year. Not only are his accent and tone of voice quite good, but he brings a true 3-dimensionality to the role. Compare, for example, him having tea with Francois, to talking with his family, and to making a political speech. Freeman nailed every facet of Mandela’s life.

Damon also excels as Pienaar, the solid enough rugby player who must do more than just lead by example for his team. The screenplay, adapted by Anthony Peckham, doesn’t offer many narrative surprises, but it does do a good job examining not only the strife South Africa was in when Mandela was elected, but also the value of the team to the entire nation.

Eastwood wisely plays the material straight. Though the material may seem familiar, the performances by Damon and especially Freeman are what elevate this tale into a solid and even uplifting drama. There’s enough suspense to get things interesting, even though we know the outcome. All-in-all, a pretty good movie.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars6 Stars7 Stars8 Stars9 Stars10 Stars (1 votes, average: 6.00 out of 10)

Green Zone – A Movie Review

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Mar 222010

During the U.S.-led occupation of Baghdad in 2003, Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller and his team of Army inspectors were dispatched to find weapons of mass destruction believed to be stockpiled in the Iraqi desert. Rocketing from one bobby-trapped and treacherous site to the next, the men search for deadly chemical agents but stumble instead upon an elaborate cover-up that inverts the purpose of their mission. Spun by operatives with intersection agendas, Miller must hunt through covert and faulty intelligence hidden on foreign soil for answers that will either clear a rogue regime or escalate a war in an unstable region. And at this blistering time and in this combustible place, he will find the most elusive weapon of all is the truth.

Genres: Drama, Thriller, Adaptation and War; Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.; Release Date: March 12th, 2010 (wide); MPAA Rating: R for violence and language.

Starring: Matt Damon, Amy Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Antoni Corone, Nicoye Banks

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Green Zone is the latest Iraq War inspired motion picture. The film is based on the 2006 non-fiction book ‘Imperial Life in the Emerald City’ by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a journalist for The Washington Post. I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on how closely the film follows it.

I enjoyed the Bourne movies, so I was expecting a decent movie, and got it. Green Zone is fast paced, and never takes the time to get sappy. The war being fought in the film is more between the Pentagon and the CIA than the US v Iraq which makes it all the more interesting and finally allows you to see a hint of things from Iraq’s perspective for a change.

The premise set up in the film about the ‘Intelligence’ surrounding Weapons of Mass Destruction used to justify the invasion is entirely believable. Matt Damon is well suited to his part as a unit leader Roy Miller, as is Brendan Gleeson as the CIA man and Greg Kinnear is appropriately nasty as Poundstone from the Pentagon – all turn in good performances. Shot on location in Morocco, Spain and in England I could have sworn we were in Bagdad the whole time. The settings are completely believable. Greengrass uses a lot of handheld camera work to build suspense. It may be a little too much for some people, but I thought it worked as a style element for this film.

There is no denying the fact that there are political viewpoints in the movie. By now everyone should know the intelligence was manufactured, and the US knew months before the invasion there were no weapons. It’s also clear that installing a government there has been a disaster, and this film begins to show some of why that is, and how we “screwed the pooch” in the earliest part of the war. The best scenes in the movie involve the meetings among the Iraqi factions trying to keep the country from collapsing into further chaos. They’re too brief, but they crackle with what’s going on now. I especially waiting on the film that shows even more of this perspective.

All-in-all, a very good movie, and well worth the time and money.

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Sep 202009

theinformant_smallposterWhat was Mark Whitacre thinking? A rising star at agri-industry giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Whitacre suddenly turns whistleblower. Even as he exposes his company’s multi-national price-fixing conspiracy to the FBI, Whitacre envisions himself being hailed as a hero of the common man and handed a promotion. But before all that can happen, the FBI needs evidence, so Whitacre eagerly agrees to wear a wire and carry a hidden tape recorder in his briefcase, imagining himself as a kind of de facto secret agent. Unfortunately for the FBI, their lead witness hasn’t been quite so forthcoming about helping himself to the corporate coffers. Whitacre’s ever-changing account frustrates the agents and threatens the case against ADM as it becomes almost impossible to decipher what is real and what is the product of Whitacre’s rambling imagination. Based on the true story of the highest-ranking corporate whistleblower in U.S. history.

Genres: Comedy and Adaptation; Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.; Release Date: September 18th, 2009 (wide); MPAA Rating: R for language.

Starring: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey, Thomas F. Wilson

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

This is one incredibly bizarre story! It’s also quite funny, I laughed out loud quite a few times. At the end, it’s also quite troubling. White collar criminals seem to blame everyone but themselves, and Whitacer seemed to have created his own fantasy world.

I remember following this story to a certain degree, and being outraged that this corporate whistle-blower was treated so poorly by the FBI and the government. I now realize I only knew half the story. I now know there’s so many twists and turns in this story you could easily write the proverbial book!

I wondered if Soderbergh had taken extreme liberties with the story, but on NPR this morning, the author or the original was interviewed. When asked about the accuracy of the movie, he said that everything in the movie was in the book, so it appears there wasn’t much exaggeration. It now makes me want to read the book.

The end is ironic because it brings up a lot of important issues I can’t discuss without spoiling the movie. It really catches you off guard on so many different levels!

I think it’s important to keep in mind that the real story is ADM (Archer Daniels Midland)  an incredibly powerful transnational corporation that cost the world’s consumers billions of dollars. We get to see at the very end of The Informant what happened to all the key players. It’s very troubling, indeed. The Supreme Court ruled in the 19th century that corporations have many of the rights of a living, breathing person. Too bad they don’t get punished to the same degree a real person does!

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Aug 132007

The Bourne UltimatumRogue agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is being hunted by the people in the CIA who trained him to be an assassin. Still suffering from amnesia and determined to finally learn of his true identity, he is lured out of hiding to contact a journalist named Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), who has been following his story. Throughout his research, Ross has gathered valuable information about Bourne and Treadstone, which trained him. This is rather inconvenient for U.S. government official Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), who is hoping to start a new organization under the codename Blackbriar (which is briefly mentioned at the end of the first film) which would follow in Treadstone’s footsteps.With intent to kill Bourne and the journalist before they expose the program’s disturbing secrets, Vosen sends agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) to lead the search effort. Simultaneously, Paz (Edgar Ramirez), one of the remaining living Treadstone assassins, is dispatched to find and neutralize Bourne and Ross. In order to finally learn of his true origins and find inner peace, Bourne will have to evade, out-maneuver, and outsmart the deadliest group of highly-trained agents and assassins yet.

Paul Greengrass

Action, Adventure, Drama, Mystery, Thriller, International Intrigue

Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine, Edgar Ramirez, Albert Finney, Joan Allen, Tom Gallop, Corey Johnson, Daniel Brühl, Joey Ansah, Colin Stinton, Dan Fredenburgh, Lucy Liemann

The final installment in the action thriller franchise is just that probably the hardest hitting of the three films. It goes further to play the anti-Bond theme. Bourne doesn’t like what he is doing and wants to know about his blurry past. Everything about this film hits it on the nail from the cinematography to choreography/stunt work to the script to acting.

The film starts out in a flurry as Bourne is running from the Moscow police. The story seems to pick up right where the first film left off. Or does it? The time is a little muddled here, but we get the fact that Bourne is remembering things. A sudden flashback while trying to clean himself up nearly gets him caught, but he makes it and doesn’t kill anyone. They aren’t his target. From there we get more of the intrigue of his past with a new player, Noah Vosen, who seems to know everything about Bourne and will protect it at all costs. Pamela Landy is back as well as Nicky Parsons who seems to have a past with Bourne as well.

The cinematography is in your face following tight on practically everything. The car chase is even more intense if that seems possible than the ones from the first two. And the veteran cast chasing Bourne is superb with a nice part by Albert Finney. It also has slight political overtones in relationship to rendition and other government policies, but that is minor and integrated very well within the plot. 

Unlike most trilogies, the three movies are well tied together, and all three are equally well done. This was intense from start to finish, and didn’t have to include the usual soupy love scene/interest and a scantily clad woman.

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Good Shepherd, The

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Jan 282007

The Good ShepherdThe tumultuous early history of the Central Intelligence Agency is viewed through the prism of one man’s life.

Directed by
Robert De Niro

Drama, Thriller

Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, Tammy Blanchard, Billy Crudup, Robert De Niro, Keir Dullea, Michael Gambon, Martina Gedeck, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, Mark Ivanir, Gabriel Macht, Lee Pace, Joe Pesci

Lay had a school related activity Saturday, so I went to see this movie on my own. He wasn’t too keene on seeing the movie anyway, but I was, and I did enjoy it.

The movie jumps back and forth in time periods. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get a TV image of President Kennedy in the Cuban Missle Crisis to know that we’ve suddenly entered the time-warp from the 1940s to 1961. Other times, there is no such clue. The characters don’t even seem to change in age as we go back and forth.

The scope of the film, while seeming grand at first as it sweeps quarter century, turns out to be rather microcosmic with a series of vignettes instead of a unified story line. The focus remains mainly on the effect of the cloak and dagger on one man, Edward Wilson Sr., and his wife and son and the conflict of loyalties to country and family. Since the account is fictionalized history, we’re not sure what to accept as biography and history as we watch the homo-erotic, cross-dressing elite WASPy Yale camaraderie turn into boys playing with big toys and geopolitics. Wilson, apparently patterned after James Jesus Angleton, is bred to elitism and public service from childhood and matriculates to Yale in the late 1930s to make the necessary career connections.

The good shepherd lays down his life for his flock, according to a parable of Jesus. After Allies win World War II, wartime intelligence, among them the fictional Wilson and his classmates, continue their work as shepherds to keep the Free World free, or at least a reasonable facsimile.

“Central Intelligence Agency” consumes their lives as did their Yale secret society “Skull and Bones,” which reportedly has the loyalties of Presidents Bush 41 and 43 and Sen. John Kerry, among other government and business leaders. Why isn’t “the” used with the name of the agency? We’re told it is because “the” isn’t used for God either.

The film is nonetheless interesting for its strong acting by the studied taciturnity of Matt Damon and the effete professor Michael Gambon with a secret life. The ethnic portrayals add some color to the white bread. Director Robert DeNiro mugs in a role reminiscent of “Wild Bill” Donovan, a lone Catholic wary of recruiting others for agency. Joe Pesci is, what else?, the Italian mobster in Florida. John Tuturro is the street-smart Italian army sergeant Ray Brocco, who follows Wilson to the CIA to bruise his knuckles as an interrogator. Angela Jolie transforms from a lusty patrician daughter looking for husband material among her brother’s Yalie classmates to a long-suffering wife in pearls. Alec Baldwin is the ubiquitous G-man in trench-cost.

There are a number of lesser-known actors in the ensemble who were superb like Laura (Tammy Blanchard), the deaf woman at Yale who is the only one who brings out love from Edward Wilson Sr. Mark Ivanir and John Sessions as dueling defectors were especially memorable as was Oleg Stefan as Wilson’s Soviet counterpart.

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 Corruption, Culture, Movies, Politics, War  Comments Off on Syriana
Dec 122005

Syriana (2005)

A politically-charged epic about the state of the oil industry in the hands of those personally involved and affected by it.

Directed by
Stephen Gaghan

Drama, Thriller

Kayvan Novak, George Clooney, Amr Waked, Christopher Plummer, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, Robert Foxworth, Nicky Henson, Nicholas Art, Matt Damon, Amanda Peet, Steven Hinkle, Daisy Torm?, Peter Gerety, Richard Lintern

This is a complex film that tries to get the audience to connect the dots –to see that control of the Middle Eastern oil fields is the goal that is at the heart of so much of the political process, both in the Middle East and in the West, and that it is also the catalyst for much of what we call terrorism. I was hoping for a lot from this movie, but was somewhat disappointed.

The film introduces a number of characters and a number of seemingly separate story lines in the beginning, then tries to weave them all together by the end. That makes for a challenging first hour or so, in which the film jumps back and forth from one storyline to another. It can be confusing.

The movie finally does weave most of them together in the last half hour, but it does not completely tie everything up, so the payoff just isn’t there. The conclusion it reaches is not a happy one for many Americans, for what the movie seems to say is American oil companies use any means necessary, including double crosses and outright murder, to protect their access to Middle Eastern oil.

Well enough, for the political message. But does it work as a movie? The answer, in my view, is “kind of.”

The plot centers around the merger of two American oil companies, one a industry giant, which has just lost a big contract in Saudi Arabia to the Chinese, the other a small, independent Texas outfit, that has just won a lucrative contract in a smaller Mideast nation and is now going to be very cash rich. But there’s a hitch. Did the Texas outfit bribe foreign officials, violating the US Corrupt Practices act. Fearing a Justice Department investigation that could block the merger, it hires a high priced Washington law firm to conduct its own investigation, to see what Justice might dig up against it.

At the same time, the Emir of a Persian Gulf oil kingdom is about to retire to Europe and has to pick between two sons to succeed him. One is a pool shooting playboy, the other a serious, reform minded idealist. Problem is, the idealist might not be so anxious to allow US troops to continue to garrison on his soil, while his fun loving brother wants nothing more than to have the Americans there to protect his privileged lifestyle from Islamic radicals. And as all this unfolds, a young Palestinian refugee, thrown out of work by a shift in control of the oil fields, is recruited by al-Qaida or something like it, and becomes involved in a terrorist bombing plot, using a weapon originally delivered by a CIA covert op to the Middle East.

But where the movie falls down is that it fails in someways to weave a human story into this and human stories, after all, are what the movies are all about. George Clooney does a fine job as a sort of world weary CIA agent caught up in the skullduggery. Although not particularly introspective, he does on occasion give you the impression that he’s trying to figure out if he works for the US government or the Houston Petroleum Club. Matt Damon plays an oil industry analyst who is an adviser to the idealist candidate for emir and he is given the task of adding the human element to the story, after his young son drowns in a swimming pool. Unfortunately, Damon falls completely flat, registering almost zero emotion in his role as an exasperated advocate of democracy and reform or even as grieving dad.

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