Review: The Martian

the-martian

DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: Drew Goddard • PRO: Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott,  Michael Schaefer, Aditya Sood, Mark Huffam • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Pietro Scalia • MUS: Lorne Balfe • DES: Arthur Max • MUS: Harry Gregson-Williams • CAST: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor

When a violent sandstorm forces a team of astronauts to cut short their mission to Mars, one of their number is hit by a large piece of equipment and lost in the storm. With no time to search, his crewmates are forced to assume that he’s dead and take off for Earth without him. Luckily, or perhaps anything but luckily, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is very much alive, though his situation doesn’t look too good. With the crew’s living quarters and food supply still intact, Watney is able to take shelter and tend to his own injuries, but without the means to signal his crew or anyone on Earth, his survival in the long term becomes much less certain.

Left with enough food and water for several months, Watney knows that the next planned trip to Mars isn’t scheduled to arrive for another four years and sets about trying to grow his own food and make contact with the people of Earth. With only television shows, his own video journal and an unfortunately disco-heavy music collection for company, Watney’s hopes for ever seeing another human soul, or living past a year rest entirely on his own resourcefulness and tenacity, or to put it in his own words “In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option; I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”

While Watney improvises a home on the surface of Mars, NASA eventually realises that their casualty of exploration is still alive and kicking and the question of whether he can even be saved is soon raised. Once the public catches wind of Watney’s situation, that question gets a very strong answer, but as Watney’s equipment, only intended to last for a few months, starts to give out, the rescue mission starts to look like an utterly lost cause.

At well over two hours, The Martian manages to keep its tension and energy throughout. Damon is superb as Watney, managing to emanate personality and wit while also carrying the terror and isolation of being the only person on the planet and it’s hard not to become completely engrossed in his fight to survive. Meanwhile, a heavyweight cast at Houston and in Watney’s crew manage to capture the desperation of the situation on an entirely different level. In particular, Teddy Sanders, the director of NASA (Jeff Daniels) and Mitch Henderson, the crew’s liaison (Sean Bean) clash over exactly how to go about saving their lost astronaut and whether or not it’s entirely worth it.

The Martian is hardly the first tale of isolation and survival audiences have seen. Perhaps in a world of growing satellite systems and GPS, we’ve lost any sense of awe at the prospect of being stranded on a desert island and so the stakes are presented on a much grander level. The Martian is, at its core, Castaway for the cynical space age, with building a shelter replaced by growing potatoes using one’s own excrement, building a raft replaced with customising a Mars rover and Wilson the volleyball omitted entirely.

While the tale is one we’ve seen before, this film truly captures the scale of being millions of miles from everything you’ve ever known, of being the only person on an entire world and the all too often overlooked importance of having a really good desert island playlist.

Ronan Daly

12A (See IFCO for details)

141 minutes
The Martian is released 2nd October 2015

The Martian – Official Website

 

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

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DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian • PRO: Peter Chernin, Mohamed El Raie, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer, Ridley Scott, Jenno Topping • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Billy Rich • DES: Arthur Max • MUS: Alberto Iglesias • CAST: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley

Going purely by the high-octane trailers, you’d be forgiven for thinking Exodus: Gods and Kings was a non-stop action movie, where Moses becomes a sort of biblical Rambo. However, Ridley Scott seems to be going for a mix of his millennial opus Gladiator and Darren Aronofsky’s recent surrealist Noah, adding existential wandering and buckets of internal conflict to bring up the running time. This means that there is far less action than advertised, but tons of character development and time for reflection.

Christian Bale is, of course, intense and serious as he portrays the inner pain of Moses, even in the earlier scenes when he and Ramses fight on the same side. Joel Edgerton brings the evil Ramses to screen with dramatic flair, defying his father Seti’s (John Turtorro) wishes that he and Moses live as brothers, and works with his scheming mother Tuva (a criminally underused Sigourney Weaver) to ensure that power rests solely with himself. He defies Moses’ God, recently introduced to Moses himself by newfound brethren amongst the Hebrew slaves – including Ben Kingsley’s character, Nun, and Aaron Paul’s non-entity, Joshua. Eventually, God joins Moses in his fight, and brings the ten plagues down upon Egypt to try force Ramses to acknowledge his power, and release the slaves.

Scott clearly relished portraying the plagues, and they look amazing – watching an entire river run with blood, a wall of flies fill the sky all around, or a darkness descending that will take the firstborn sons of Egypt is every bit as frightening as it should be. These moments, though, are not enough to lift Exodus out of an overall feeling of tedium… and the movie feels every inch its 150-minute running time. An ending upon an ending, Ramses then pursues Moses into the waters of the Red Sea, at which point the movie simultaneously climaxes and begins to dwindle, unsure of how to finish this renowned tale.

This does not make for the sprawling epic Scott clearly imagined. While visually the movie is often stunning, with some beautifully choreographed fight scenes that are every bit as intense as the previews promised, it lags far too much in extensive side-stories, and tries to walk a very fine line between religious fervour and straightforward drama. It doesn’t always work, and while Bale admirably portrays a very human Moses, the character’s conversations with God are made with an attempt at ambiguity that just comes across heavy-handed. Yes, this is largely down to the source material – Moses leading the chosen people out of slavery and into the desert after a series of plagues convinces the Pharaoh to let them leave isn’t the most subtle of religious tales – but the screenplay works harder at appearing clever than ever actually saying anything new about an ancient legend.

Everything about the anticipation for Exodus screamed ‘epic’, but the delivery is more ‘daytime TV bible stories’ (with expensive CGI) than anything else, and unfortunately lacks any real heart that might lift it from banality.

Sarah Griffin

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
150 minutes.
Exodus: Gods and Kings
is released 26th December.

Exodus: Gods and Kings  – Official Website

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Ridley Scott to Executive Produce Six Films in Northern Ireland

Focus Features International will Handle Sales of Six Titles over Three Years

Oscar®-nominated director and producer Ridley Scott (Prometheus, Blade Runner) and Scott Free London are partnering with Orchard Media and Focus Features International on a slate of six genre low-budget feature films over a period of three years.

Ridley Scott will executive produce and present the slate which will be focused primarily on horror, thriller and science fiction. The films will be in association with Northern Ireland Screen and will shoot primarily in Northern Ireland using resident crew, cast, services and facilities.

Focus Features International will handle world-wide sales.

 

www.northernirelandscreen.co.uk/

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Cinema Review: Prometheus

DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof • PRO: David Gilel, Walter Hill, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Pietro Scalia • DES: Arthur Max • Cast: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender

For his first foray into sci-fi in 30 years, Sir Ridley Scott decided to return to the franchise he helped to create. Except not really, as leading up to its release, he’s tried to distance his latest creation from Alien, and have it serve as a stand-alone movie. To that end, this review shall be (hopefully) spoiler-free and (mostly) lacking in comparison to the Alien franchise.

Starting off with the creation of life no less, we jump forward several million years to scientists Noomi Rapace and her partner Logan Marshall-Green discovering ancient drawings with maps to the stars. After getting a trillion dollars’ worth of funding from kindly old Guy Pearce, they’re away to said stars with Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Michael Fassbender and a crew of vaguely recognisables who might as well have ‘cannon fodder’ tattooed on to their foreheads. And once the good ship Prometheus lands on the planet they’re looking for, the crew make a discovery, but not the one they were looking for…

Scott takes his time setting up and, as with Alien, it’s the guts of an hour before the crew come across anything nasty. But, unlike Alien, it’s very unlikely you’ll care if any of these make it out alive. Rapace is fine as a Ripley-lite, Elba does a nice line in gruff and charming, but even though the rest of the cast are more than adequate, especially the scene-stealing Fassbender, they’re all so painfully unlikable that you start hoping for face-huggers galore.

To be fair to Scott, the film looks fantastic. The polar opposite of the lived-in gritty look of his previous sci-fi outings, the pristine and polished veneer of Prometheus is something to be constantly marvelled at, and throughout the course of the movie there are two scenes of genuine horror, including one that, while not quite up there with the giddy heights of the original chest-buster scene, gives it a good run for its money in terms of gore and tension. Unfortunately, Scott’s visuals are encumbered by one of the most horrendous scores in recent memory, and the small number of good horror scenes are surrounded by some truly dreadful dialogue.

Good sci-fi should always have the audience asking questions, and while Prometheus bursts out of the gate with potentially the biggest one of all: Why Are We Here?, it quickly drops its lofty ideals of intellectualism in favour of big men in spacesuits throwing other men in spacesuits around the place, and soon the only questions we’re left asking are about the gaping plot holes. What started out as potentially Alien with some brains ended up being Contact with some blood. And that is not a compliment.

Rory Cashin

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Prometheus is released on 1st June 2012

Prometheus – Official Website

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Ridley Scott to direct new instalment of 'Blade Runner'

British director Ridley Scott is to make a new instalment of his 1982 cult sci-fi Blade Runner, producers have announced.

Alcon Entertainment said the film will be a prequel or sequel, rather than a remake of the Philip K Dick adaptation.

Based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, it starred Harrison Ford as a police officer who hunts down genetically engineered lifelike robots.

The film was not a box office hit, but later became a cult classic.

Set in Los Angeles in 2019, its vision of a dystopian future was influential on many later films.

“It would be a gross understatement to say that we are elated Ridley Scott will shepherd this iconic story into a new, exciting direction,” producers Broderick Johnson and Andrew Kosove said in a statement.

“This is once in a lifetime project for us.”

Kosove told the Los Angeles Times that the new film will stand on its own.

“Everything Ridley does as a filmmaker is fresh. I believe he sees an opportunity to create something that’s wholly original from the first Blade Runner,” he said.

The producer added that filming could begin in 2013 at the earliest, with the movie not in cinemas until at least 2014.

Although no hint has been given about casting yet, Kosove said it was unlikely Ford would return in his role as Rick Deckard.

“In no way do I speak for Ridley Scott, but if you’re asking me will this movie have anything to do with Harrison Ford? The answer is no.

“This is a total reinvention, and in my mind that means doing everything fresh, including casting.”

The project will be the second time that Scott, who directed Robin Hood last year, has gone back to his sci-fi roots.

Next year sees the release of Prometheus, an outer space adventure loosely connected to his 1979 sci-fi horror hit Alien.

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Robin Hood

Robin Hood

DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: Brian Helgeland, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris • PRO: Russell Crowe, Brian Grazer, Ridley Scott • DOP: John Mathieson • ED: Pietro Scalia • DES: Arthur Max • CAST: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt

They say every nation gets the government it deserves, and if that adage is true, no one told the plebs of middle England, ca. sometime ages ago. In Robin Hood, we are thrust into a turbulent world of medieval political upheaval – was there any other kind of medieval politicking? – in a dark and gritty adventure that would make Errol Flynn blush. Men in Tights it ain’t. And if every generation gets its own twist on the famous yarn, then director Ridley Scott has served this one well.

Robin Hood sees the copper fastening of the myth into historical and political context in a daring interpretation from Scott. Sandwiched between the murky and bloodthirsty reigns of Plantagenet kings Richard The Lionheart and John of England, what we have here could be dubbed ‘Robin Hood: The Backstory’. And it works.

Opening with warmongering Richard’s demise on a French battlefield, we are given a flavour of the man that would be Robin Hood. Russell Crowe plays archer Robin Longstride, replete with fortitude, loyalty and moderate charisma. When he stumbles on the vanquished king’s aides ferrying the crown back to England, he and his merry men’s fortunes take a turn for the better.

Entrusted with returning a family heirloom to its owner by a dying aide, the gang sets off on its merry way – with the king’s crown in a satchel for good measure – to relay the news of the monarch’s demise and to make good on Longstride’s promise. Events soon lead them to Nottinghamshire, where Robin goes on a journey of self discovery, not to mention an unscrupulous turn of identity theft. It is here that we begin to see the myth in its embryonic form. There are shades of the man that would be credited for all eternity as ‘robbing from the rich to give to the poor’, but here we see a Robin preoccupied with the politics of the day.

The usual suspects are all present and correct, with a curious sense of anticipation as to how events will lead to the hijinks in the forest with which we are all so familiar. A few battles, and some serious rewriting of history, later – Robin Hood writes the Magna Carta anyone? – and things come into focus nicely.

Russell Crowe turns in a competent display as Robin of the hood, although his accent darts back and forth across the Irish Sea quicker than a harlot’s drawers down the local alehouse – just ask Little John and the boys about that one. Suffice to say they were all a good deal merrier for their trip to Nottinghamshire. Cate Blanchett is excellent as the haughty Maid Marion, an iron maiden in more ways than one, while Oscar Isaac’s portrayal as the petulant and absurd King John is also enjoyable.

Increasing taxes to fund wars on foreign soil that the populace has no interest in is an age old tale, and it is fitting that such a scenario sets the backdrop for a story as enduring as this one. Some things never change, and it seems our obsession with the story of the do-gooding archer from Sherwood Forest is one of them. Well worth the admission fee this one.

Shane Kennedy

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Robin Hood
is released on 14th May 2010

Robin Hood – Official Website

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Body of Lies

Body of Lies
Body of Lies

DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: William Monahan • PRO Donald De Line, Ridley Scott • DOP: Alexander Witt • ED: Pietro Scalia • DES: Arthur Max • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac, Simon McBurney

Body of Lies is about a CIA agent called Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is trying to catch a terrorist leader in Jordan, with the help of Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), the Chief of Intelligence there, and under the supervision of his boss in Washington, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe). The film is written by William Monahan (The Departed) and directed by Ridley Scott (who you’ve probably heard of).

It’s a good-looking film (inevitable with Ridley Scott directing), and the leads have a Front Page type of relationship, with Russell Crowe playing the Walter Burns to DiCaprio’s Hildy Johnson. The two actors have a good rapport, and their scenes together are pretty entertaining. Crowe is in America most of the time, and there’s much contrasting between his everyday life back home and the business he’s about. This may also be a statement about the complacency of the folks in Washington who can easily sanction death and destruction without having to think about it.

Which brings me to the fact that the film is about America’s conflicts in the Middle East, at least superficially. There’s also DiCaprio’s relationship with an Iranian nurse to show us the humanity of the people out there. It isn’t done in a way that’s too jarring, but you can’t help wondering what relationship the story has to reality, or even what the point is. Is the film saying anything in particular about war or about the Middle East or America? Would it make a difference if it didn’t deal with real conflicts?

It may be unfair to ask for more than action from a film like this. Plenty of Second World War movies were just capers, but a lot of those were propaganda films, which this film very much isn’t, and they were about a war that was easier to categorise in terms of Good and Bad. It’s hard not to wonder if the people making all these Iraq movies are trying to say something, or are merely trying to repeat the successes of movies about Vietnam. So far, there have been no Apocalypse Nows, Deer Hunters, or Full Metal Jackets, or if there have, they’ve gone unnoticed, since most of the Iraq movies have pretty much flopped.

This film really shares more with the Mission Impossible and Bourne movies than with the aforementioned Vietnam movies, which is not an entirely negative criticism. It’s a smart action/spy caper that would probably be more successful if it wasn’t mired in a political hot topic.

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