Film Review: Approaching the Unknown

Colonizing mars is a popular topic right now, even offering the seeds of a space race between Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing Aerospace to see which group can establish a manned base on Mars. And then there’s the splendid movie The Martian from 2015, coming on the heels of the gripping film 2013 film Gravity. Fifty years ago, Hollywood was fascinated by the moon, in parallel with the Apollo missions leading up to a man stepping onto…Read More

Review: The Martian

In a plausible near future, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of the research mission ARES III, part of a five-mission effort to explore Mars. But Mars is a hostile planet and when a massive sandstorm blows up with just a few minutes warning, the entire crew scrambles into the MAV, the Mars Ascent Vehicle, desperate to take off and rendezvous with the orbiting station a few hundred miles above the planet. The short journey from…Read More

Review: Interstellar

Cinema can explore the most intimate of topics or the grandest, and sometimes the stories can be connected in surprising ways. How much difference is there between our relationship to each other and our relationship with the universe after all? It’s the intersection between these two core stories that makes Interstellar one of the most powerful films of 2014 and one of the best science fiction films of a very long time. The film is set in a dismal…Read More

Review: The Monuments Men

I’m a sucker for films set in World War II, whether the European front or the Pacific front. The list of good WWII films is endless, but I’ll highlight some of my favorites, including Saving Private Ryan, Flags of our Fathers, and Tora! Tora! Tora! along with a few comic films set in the same era: Catch-22 and How I Won The War. What they all have in common is a certain gravitas, even the comedies….Read More

Review: Elysium

I went into the theater primed to fall in love with the dystopian sci-fi thriller Elysium. I mean, what’s not to like, with Matt Damon in the title role as Max and wunderkind Neill Blomkamp as the creative visionary behind the film, serving as both writer and director. Set in the future, the film addresses a post-collapse world where the have’s have a whole lot more than the have not’s can even dream of, as…Read More

Review: The Bourne Legacy

The Bourne trilogy (Bourne Identity, Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum) is one of the most dynamic action thrillers in the history of cinema, with Jason portrayed by Matt Damon in the career-defining role of the everyman who finds he’s been programmed by the CIA to be a deadly assassin. The third film ends with Bourne lured out of hiding by reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) promising to write an exposé on Project Treadstone, the CIA…Read More

Review: Contagion

There are specific genres of films, certain themes, that I find highly appealing, and one of those is apocolyptic events. From the daft The Happening to the cheesy The Day After Tomorrow, if the world’s ending, if we’re all facing extinction as a species, if something really terrible is going to happen, I’m interested. I think this started with classic old sci-fi like The Day of the Triffids and The Day the Earth Caught Fire,…Read More

Review: The Adjustment Bureau

I’m not a particularly paranoid person, but there are times that I can be a bit suspicious about coincidences or “kismet”, things that are almost impossibly unlikely to have happened as they did. I’m not alone: sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick made a career out of asking “what’s behind the scenes” in a vast body of disturbing and thought-provoking stories, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Next and Paycheck. Add The Adjustment Bureau to…Read More

Review: True Grit

The original True Grit was released in 1969 (see my review) was one of the films that marked the end of the Western in cinema. Primarily about the relationship between hard-as-nails teen Mattie (Kim Darby) and grizzled old marshall Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne, in an Academy Award winning performance), it worked because Mattie was fearless and dogged in her pursuit of justice for the ranch hand who murdered her father, and because Cogburn was a…Read More

Flashback Review: True Grit

WIth the impending release of the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit (starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld), it seemed like a good time to go back and watch the original 1969 True Grit, directed by Henry Hathaway and starring John Wayne, Kim Darby and Glen Campbell. The wrinkle: I am not a fan of John Wayne and find that he played the same gruff bully in just about every film I’ve seen…Read More

Review: Green Zone

I had high hopes for Green Zone. I really did. I’m a big fan of the Bourne movies and thought the sullen, slightly dazed but explosively violent character that Matt Damon played in the trilogy was perfect, a breakout role for him and a chance for us to see him as a cool – and different – sort of action hero. Matt Damon stars as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller and with an occasional nudge…Read More

Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats

“Is this really based on facts?” a fellow critic asked the studio rep at the screening I attended of this film. “Does it matter?” I asked in response, and I was right, it doesn’t. Whether it’s true or just a riff on the craziness of modern military and contemporary culture, it turns out that The Men Who Stare at Goats is a witty and engaging satire in the same vein as the classic war films…Read More

Review: The Informant!

Set in the early 1990’s, The Informant! has the feel of an Austin Powers movie, from the titles to the music (here supplied by über-composer Marvin Hamlish). It’s a movie about the evils of large corporations — in this case Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) — and what happens to whistleblowers who follow their conscience and help the gov’t build a case against evildoers, even when they’re your coworkers. Or is it? The Informant! tells the story…Read More

Review: Ponyo

The original story of The Little Mermaid is about a mermaid who dreams of some day becoming a human. Ponyo is based on the same theme, but this time it’s a goldfish called Brunhilde who dreams of becoming human. This isn’t Disney computer-assisted animation as usual, however, but rather the amazing hand-animated world of Japanese legend Hayao Miyazaki. You’ve probably heard of Miyazaki, he’s had three films in relatively wide distribution here in the United States: Princess…Read More