Screenwars Abroad with Nic

What’s up, what’s up, Nic checking in once more. I know I haven’t been posting as regularly as I once did but senior fall/college apps really got to me. However, once you see what I have in store for you loyal readers today I promise all will be forgiven. As my bio states, I am a man of a fair few nations and recently I had the opportunity to visit not one, not three but TWO of those nations! What I bring to you today is a traveler’s report of sorts, a journal of my film-related experience and, as always on Screenwars, a dollop of review.

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My first experience came during a recent visit to the true home of Drake, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Crystal Castles and yours truly. I saw The Martian, which I seriously enjoyed for its light-hearted yet worthy portrayal of a beloved book. Matt Damon certainly deserves kudos for his performance in a movie that despite solid performances from the overall cast occasionally feels like a one-man show, albeit a thoroughly enjoyable one. I won’t say too much more as the film has already been adeptly reviewed on this very site and besides I think everyone should enjoy it for themselves. What I will say some words about, however, was the theater in which I had the pleasure of watching the film. The Scotiabank Theater in downtown Toronto is absolutely massive in every way. It houses approximately 5,000 people, the screens are massive and, perhaps most importantly, the selection of concessions is immense.

the martian bring him home

Now you might think attending such a big theater would make you feel like just another sheep being herded in for its weekly dose of entertainment. In fact, I felt almost the exact opposite. There was some magic in gathering with so many diverse people on a Saturday night, united in our common enjoyment of the movie. Ironically, just earlier that day someone had described the big lectures they attend at university as like going into a movie theater in how you totally forget the rest of the audience’s presence. During The Martian, I was clearly aware of the audience’s presence in the very best way and walking out into the Arctic wind swept Toronto streets I felt extremely connected to everyone I had just spent two and a half hours with and, in a way, intensely human. You should try it. (I also felt intensely cold having not packed a proper coat but that’s not as romantic)*

bridge of spies

My second unique film experience came a week later over in my other homeland Great Britain. Bridge of Spies was a long experience (which as you will see was not such a bad thing in this particular case), but it merited its length with suspense until the end and some intelligently nuanced performances from big man Hanks et al. Another reason that I was absolutely not complaining about the length of the film was the theater I had the pleasure of viewing it in. The Electric Cinema in London provides true luxury theater experience, cashmere blankets and all. In stark contrast to the Scotiabank, it only houses about 80 pampered viewers but everyone sits in divinely soft armchairs, covered by the aforementioned blankets and with legs up on a very comfortable leather footrest. There is also a proper bar and pick’n’mix selection to match that considerately closes as the film begins. There are also beds to sprawl out on in the front and, if you like a serving of spice with your cinema, intimate sofas for two in the back. These are curiously rather more expensive than even the beds right at the front. My only major criticism of the film was that having eaten dinner before the film I was quite full and didn’t appreciate Spielberg shoving the whole America is so cool and light and free, Berlin is so depressing spiel (get it) down my throat at some points.

On the whole, two good films and two great theaters.

Until next time,

NTG

*Full disclaimer: I did go see shows at this theater a lot when I visited Toronto in my younger and wilder days and that could have easily had a Proustian influence on my enjoyment of the experience. I would still heartily recommend it though.

The Martian

Hi everyone! Hope you had a great Thanksgiving. We’re back with our first full review in a long time with The Martian. Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the film is rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

From IMDB: “During 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 crewmates 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.”

8 out of 10

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these, so please excuse the rust. Anyhow, I saw a funny quote on Twitter about The Martian that I thought I’d share; “From Saving Private Ryan, Interstellar, and now The Martian, America has spent a lot of money trying to retrieve Matt Damon”. While I think this does speak to Damon’s incredible star power, it also reflects an audience’s thirst for adventure, which The Martian has plenty of. Now I’m not saying it is comparable to Saving Private Ryan or even Interstellar, but it is definitely a very entertaining film that has deserved the praise it’s received.

It has an innate similarity to Gravity that’s impossible to avoid simply because they are both space survival films. However, beyond the basic plot, there is absolutely nothing else they have in common. The Martian is fun— rather than being solemn and dramatic, it’s lighthearted, almost cutesie. While I definitely appreciated this change of tone, I wasn’t sure I loved the writing of the humor. It was trying a bit too hard for me. 

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In addition to the heavy incorporation of humor, I thought there wasn’t enough depression on Matt Damon’s part. For a guy who’s stuck on Mars, I didn’t see enough of a struggle. There were moments of frustration but nothing more, no sustained moments of gloom and hopelessness, which is part of what made Gravity so powerful. While I do feel like this made The Martian a fun movie, it also made it less rewarding.

That being said, Damon did do an excellent job overall. It takes a lot of ability to drive a storyline like he does in this film, while also remaining genuine and entertaining. Unlike Bullock in Gravity, however, there is a supporting cast that gives the film a new dimension. Rather than Damon being by himself, his struggle affects many other people around him. This isn’t just a story about Mark Watney, it’s a story about the entire NASA program, and this angle makes the film more enjoyable. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, and Kate Mara round out a stellar cast that allows for there to be multiple interesting characters that are each important to Watney’s return home.

Matt Damon portrays an astronaut who faces seemingly insurmountable odds as he tries to find a way to subsist on a hostile planet.

And how can I write this without mentioning Ridley Scott, director of Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator. He had the difficult tasks of 1) Distinguishing his piece from similar films (like Interstellar and Gravity) and 2) managing the slower pace of the film, since it takes place over almost two years. Fortunately for us, he passed both tests, while also making it an aesthetically pleasing film. It’ll be interesting to see whether Scott can get that Oscar win this year— he’s 0-3, and wasn’t even nominated for Blade Runner or Alien.

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This movie certainly has its flaws, but all in all, I came out of it having thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was funny, charming, and straight up just an interesting movie (it helps I’m a nerd, but either way…). It doesn’t have the depth of Gravity nor the poignancy of Interstellar, but it has got its own personal flair that makes it great in its own respect.
~Vig

9 out of 10

If you like the nitty gritty of space travel (The math, the science, the play-by-play engineering and tinkering and strict physical laws) but don’t particular enjoy Sandra Bullock’s heavy breathing, Gravity wasn’t for you. If you like the nitty gritty of space travel but aren’t into the “McConaissance” (“Murph! Murph! Murph!”), Interstellar wasn’t for you.

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If you like the nitty gritty of space travel now though and want to get in on the recent swell of realistic science fiction, your film has arrived and its name is The Martian. Let’s ditch the thesaurus here: it’s an awesome movie. It’s smart but accessible; slick with polished visuals and humorous while maintaining its sky-high stakes. Above all that, it’s just plain fun.

The setup of this film is relatively routine in comparison to the hefty, complex stories of some of its peers: Matt Damon’s character, Watney, is stranded and must be rescued (Again. Hollywood must really hate our favorite Harvard alum.). Armed with a few months of resources and a thumping 70’s playlist (Think Guardians of the Galaxy’s soundtrack) one of his fellow crewmembers left behind, Watney has to simultaneously survive and signal back his group for an impromptu rescue.

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The story is actually not quite deliberately paced; it’s just a fun hodgepodge of dilemmas on the Red Planet that force out Watney’s inner-Macgyver for the first hour or so, in fact. But the movie’s snappy dialogue (whether credit belongs to the novel or the screenwriter, I’m not sure) and splendid looks keep everything rolling relatively briskly; simple tasks like sprouting a few potatoes or roving along the rocky planet with a busted plutonium core become enthralling challenges.

I found myself marvelling most at all the cinematic angles here. A film adaption of a book warrants its existence when it finds some new way to tell the tale and that quality is definitely present here. Mr. Ridley Scott takes advantage of everything from webcams to security cams and eases from basic shots to innovative angles throughout the entire film. In short, in a relatively bare atmosphere, everything just looks intriguing.

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Damon, of course, impresses as the headstrong Watney in a bit what plays out as a one-man show. I have to give credit to any character that moves through his “how-to”s and explanations with such a relaxed attitude that surviving on a desert planet seems, well, doable. He doesn’t carry this trek alone though: the whole star-studded cast delivers (Donald Glover and Jeff Daniels specifically come to mind here, not to exclude any of the other talented actors).

If you’re a fan of the disco genre (God and Spotify know I am), I’m sorry, but the retro style takes beating in one of this film’s funniest running jokes. Otherwise, I really can’t sum up the best quality of this movie better than one of my friends coming out of the theatre: “It was a ton of fun. I’ve really missed having a good fun movie.”
~Zach