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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Partial Gravity

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday October 1, 06:39 pm
Ridley Scott finally makes another movie worth watching

 The Martian

Cineplex

3/5

Following a number of flops, I’d pretty much written off Ridley Scott. Prometheus and The Counselor had some good moments, but overall they were failed enterprises, while Exodus: Gods and Kings was a particularly dull effort, with no redeeming element except perhaps the CGI used for the plagues.

The Martian is by no means on the level of Blade Runner or Gladiator, but it’s at least a solid piece of entertainment — the kind of film you’d think Scott should be able to make in his sleep.

Based on the science-friendly novel by Andy Weir, the movie kicks off with a mission to Mars gone horribly wrong. A massive storm separates astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) from the rest of his crew. Believing him dead, they head off to return to the space station, heartbroken but alive.

Watney awakes alone and injured, but far from deceased. The temporary base provides him with shelter and some sustenance, though not enough to survive the four years it would take for the next mission to land on Mars. Watney must figure out how to communicate with home, come up a more effective form of transportation and boost his food supply on a planet where nothing grows.

Meanwhile back on Earth, NASA must make expensive, life-or-death decisions with limited information and conflicting opinions.

The Martian wisely respects the spirit of the novel, namely its unabashed belief in both science and the human spirit. Some of the less savoury elements of the book don’t make it into the movie (like Watney’s fail-safe plan, for example), but Scott recognizes the sturdiness of the original material and doesn’t mess with it.

The Martian is no Gravity, but it definitely takes advantage of some of the elements Alfonso Cuarón’s trailblazing effort introduced. Space is treated as a hostile environment that’s nearly impossible to control. The visuals are also strikingly similar to Gravity (to be fair, the setup doesn’t offer many alternatives), although one can’t quite shake the feeling The Martian could have benefited from a greater amount of nerve in executing its vision.

Damon is particularly solid, slipping into the lead role with ease. He makes Mark Watney a hero worth rooting for — a man who, instead of descending into despair (a la Cast Away), chooses to use his brain and achieve results. This is the rare movie that puts intellect on display and celebrates it, which alone makes it more worthy than your average Hollywood output.

The star-studded cast, on the other hand, is a distracting factor. Recognizable faces pop up everywhere, even in utterly supporting roles (looking at you, Donald Glover). Kristen Wiig as NASA’s PR maven is given precious little to do other than look flustered whenever on camera. And while the intrigue within NASA is not without its charms, Watney’s crew is grossly underserved, a clear mistake considering the pros on board (Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Aksel Hennie).

No matter. In a time when magical thinking and denial have taken hold of conservative audiences, The Martian couldn’t be any more opportune.


The Walk

Cineplex (Opens Friday 9)

3.5/5

Director Robert Zemeckis has made a career of enhancing his films with the most cutting-edge technology available, leading to a long list of popcorn classics like Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and much more. Our lives would be a little more boring if it wasn’t for Zemeckis.

So it’s no surprise that The Walk is pure eye candy. Closely based on real-life events, the film chronicles Philippe Petit’s daring high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974. As portrayed by a superb Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Petit is a genial, obsessive artiste who wants to create magic in the world, even if it means breaking the law.

The film is light on drama — designed for the 3-D format, The Walk is supposed to be a fun experience, rather than a tension-filled tale. (Even if you aren’t familiar with the story, the film lets you know the outcome of Petit’s attempt right at the start.)

The scenes of Petit’s training and the heist to illegally install the tightrope are entertaining preludes, but the centerpiece is the walk — and Zemeckis milks it for all it’s worth. We see it from every single perspective imaginable, the CGI is seamless and Gordon-Levitt sells it perfectly. You can expect a degree of vertigo, but the film eases you into the high-wire act so it’s exhilarating, rather than trying. When I saw Man on Wire, I knew exactly how the story would unfold and my palms were sweaty anyway.

The only thing that prevents The Walk from instantly becoming another Zemeckis classic is the inexplicable decision to include a grating voiceover. With the awesome cinematography and Gordon-Levitt’s excellent performance, the film didn’t need it at all.


The Stanford Prison Experiment

Roxy (opens Friday 9)

3/5

It’s amazing that the Stanford Prison Experiment went on to become perhaps the most famous social study ever conducted: there wasn’t a control group, the research was regularly tampered with and the number of unaccounted variables was off the charts.

So credit to head researcher Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who tapped into the phenomenon of power as an all-consuming force, even at the most basic level. While not the first film adaptation of the story, The Stanford Prison Experiment is the one adhering most closely to the real events. It might not pack quite the same emotional punch of some other versions (the German version is a doozy), but the germs of truth it contains carry it a long way.

In 1971, Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) rounded up a number of college students in need of a few extra bucks, locked them in the basement of the psychology building and recorded what happened. The kicker? They were divided into “guards” and “prisoners,” in order to prove that personality traits were the main cause of abusive behaviour in prison.

Zimbardo’s initial hypothesis was spectacularly wrong. The moment he locked the doors, the “guards” began to assert their authority with growing zeal. Some of the prisoners resisted, while others became submissive. Even those in charge of the research became affected by it, and gave the guards increasing leniency. Suffice to say, the experiment lasted considerably less time than was originally planned.

Practically every young actor in Hollywood on the verge of becoming a household name is in this film, including Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan and Thomas Mann. While the cinematography is often drab (the matter at hand doesn’t quite call for Roger Deakins), some scenes are electric. The film only breaks the claustrophobic environment to give the audience a glimpse of Zimbardo’s personal life, a necessary evil given the role of his girlfriend in the final stage of the experiment.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is worth a look.

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