Reviews and Rants

The Martian starring Matt Damon, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jessica Chastain, directed by Ridley Scott, screenplay by Drew Goddard, adapted from the book by Andy Weir

This was one of the most enjoyable cinema-going experiences I’ve had in years. I’d been looking forward to it for ages anyway, but after a really long and draining day at work I was so desperate just to sit in the darkness and be completely absorbed by a well-told story, and this film did not disappoint. I laughed, I cried and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of space and the human spirit. Sure, when I came out my boyfriend and I spent the next two hours picking holes in the plot and wondering about the bizarre lack of focus on Matt Damon’s character’s mental well being (after all, he’s left alone on a desolate planet for a year and half with virtually no human contact, you’d think the writers might want to focus slightly more on that than on how he goes about growing potatoes) but none of that mattered when I was in the cinema. At one point, as the camera panned over a beautiful Martian sunrise, I felt like I was at the hairdressers when they’re giving you a warm water head massage. At another moment, my hands were clenched into fists as I inched towards the edge of my seat, almost cringing with anticipation. At the end, as tears poured down my cheeks, I felt like I’d been washed clean of all the days stress and irritations, my brain replenished and filled with thoughts and feelings that were big and inspiring and worth talking about. This is what film should be, I thought. You should leave the cinema, eyes shining, smiling in wonder and full of ideas. It reminded me of the power of film and story telling and why I want to be a part of it.

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The Man from Uncle starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, directed by Guy Ritchie

I can’t remember a film I’ve liked or enjoyed less than this one (and I make the distinction between ‘like’ and ‘enjoy’, because sometimes you can enjoy something that you don’t necessarily like the idea of. Not in this case unfortunately.) In my defence, I didn’t actually go to see it on purpose. We meant to watch Everest, but we got there slightly late and then realised it was showing in the other MK2, on the other side of the deceptively wide Bassin de la Villette, and by the time we’d walked round and stood in the Sunday night in Paris-style queue we had already missed the first ten minutes. This was on half an hour later so we decided, much to our later regret, to give it a go.

I’d seen the luke warm reviews but I loved Lock Stock, I liked Snatch and didn’t mind Sherlock – how bad could be, I thought (conveniently forgetting about Swept Away)? At the very least I was expecting a stylish popcorn romp, an hour and a half of flash suits, flash photography and witty one liners. I left the cinema feeling like that was an hour of a half of my life that I was never going to get back. Seriously Guy, what were you thinking?

I stood in the shower for 15 minutes before writing this post trying to remember what the plot was and honestly I’m still drawing a blank. Possibly something to do with a nuclear weapon? Now don’t get me wrong, I love spy movies. I love James Bond, I genuinely enjoyed Kingsman and I even liked the last two Mission Impossibles despite Tom Cruise’s being in them, all the time. But this just left me completely cold (ok, and a little bit hot with rage that films like this, with budgets like this, are even allowed to get made anymore.)

Here are my three main gripes with The Man from U.N.C.L.E (condensed from a much longer list, because it’s quite a sunny day outside and I could actually spend the entire afternoon ranting about how crap this film was):

Its complete lack of emotional depth. Not once did I care even slightly about a single one of the characters in this entire film. There’s zero chemistry between anyone on screen and the motivation for their actions is either totally spurious or non-existent, even when it comes to wanting to procure a nuclear weapon to, presumably, destroy the entire planet. It’s as if Guy Ritchie either a) skipped the first class of screenwriting school (you know, the bit where you’re supposed to make us care) or b) has so little respect for his audience that he doesn’t think we’ll even notice, what with all the shiny cars and exploding speed boats to look at.

No sense of time Why set a film in the cold war era if you have no interest in doing any research beyond the clothes and watches? Apart from the fact that Henry Cavill sounds like he’s doing the voice over for a 1950s toothpaste commercial, I don’t think I would have even noticed when it was set apart from the lack of Bourne/Mission Impossible style super-gadgetry and the odd reference to the Red Peril. There’s virtually no tension between the two leads despite the fact that they’re working for opposing sides of the iron curtain, and Ritchie must have spent the historical advisor’s fee on Henry Cavill’s hair gel because the script actually includes the line “Loving your work” not once, but twice. They might as well have just taken a selfie and had done with it.

Style over Substance. The film is so obsessed with how stylish it looks that it forgets that you need a believable plot, sympathetic/entertaining characters and a sharp script to pull off this kind of siliness. Mission Impossible had the Tom Cruise/Simon Pegg bromance and a compulsively watchable female lead in Rebecca Ferguson. Kingsman had Jane ‘s Goldman’s slick, witty script and a compelling back story and original lead in ‘Eggsy’ Eggerton. The Man from U.N.C.L.E has a tired plot that has no real need to be told and a pair of underwear models trying to look like they care about saving the world enough to let their suits get rumpled.

I had no expectations of this movie other than an hour and a half of enjoyable escapism, but when you find your eyes drifting away from the screen and actually staring at the wall in the cinema halfway through a film you start to wonder what you’re doing with your life. I shouldn’t be too surprised though, since Ritchie did say that he only set it Rome so that they could have some legendary lads’ nights out in between filming…

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Z for Zacharia, starring Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejifor and Chris Pine, Directed by Craig Zobel

According to Rotten Tomatoes, Z for Zacariah “wrings compelling drama out of its simplistic premise — albeit at a pace that may test the patience of less contemplative viewers”, but the thing that really bothered me about it from the beginning was actually how fast the pace was at the expense of atmosphere. Those Rotten Tomato kids must have a really short attention span.

The “simplistic premise” of the film is this: Ann, a young Christian woman, is struggling to get by in the only valley to have survived the apocalypse. Her family have left her, heading out one by one to search for survivors, and for the past year it has been just Ann and the dog, tilling the land and waiting for her brother to come back like he promised. The sense of isolation and fear should have been rich pickings for any director, but we get barely 5 minutes of Ann wandering about the farm in her trucker cap and looking slightly bored at dinner time before a man in a radiation suit (John Loomis, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) rocks up and goes skinny dipping in her lake, much to her not-particular-surprise.

Ann takes him in and feeds him up, never asking him any of the questions you’d blatantly want to after more than a year without human contact. The sun shines in the beautiful valley and she seems to have oddly little interest in what goes on outside it, despite the apocalypse having killed her entire family. The pair set about getting the farm back on its feet in time for winter and begin to form a tentative romance, but their delicate balance is destroyed by the arrival of Chris Pine’s Caleb, a god-fearing gentleman who has apparently spent the past year hiding down a mine but has still managed to retain a tan, a perfectly trimmed goatie and a tin of matte effect hair wax. Perhaps he and his fellow miners set up a beauty salon down there to boost morale?

I love apocalypse movies, but this one just never seemed to break through to the depths of darkness and emotion required to portray people left alone to fend for themselves in a burnt out world. I spent most of the film wishing I could watch it again, only in the hands of a different director. It basically just wasn’t gritty enough. OK, the beautiful valley has somehow managed to survive the apocalypse. But the men who happen upon it have seen whatever horrors lie beyond it’s green hillsides – they’re supposed to have been underground or poisoned by radiation for the past however many years, starved of sunlight, food, beauty or female contact, yet the director seems too afraid to mess up Chris Pine’s hair to express the reality of this in any meaningful or emotionally affecting way.

And while we’re on the subject of Chris Pine, is it really believable that only hot people would survive the apocalypse? I know Zobel probably paid a lot for his stars and doesn’t want to upset his audience with matted beards and hairy legs but seriously, would a good Christian farm girl like Ann, all alone on the homestead with only a dog for company, really have kept up her leg waxing regime quite so fastidiously as Margot Robbie in that sexy lets-all-jump-in-the-lake scene? I don’t think so.

It’s not a terrible film, but it feels like a wasted opportunity and a squandering of some truly interesting material that could have been incredible in the hands of someone not afraid to explore his (and his cast’s) dark side a little more.

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