THE MARTIAN (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 21 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Strong Language, Injury Images, and brief Nudity

Martian poster

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Written by: Drew Goddard

(based on the novel THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir)

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor & Donald Glover

In recent years, space survival films have hit a resurgence on the big screen. In 2013, we had GRAVITY (which I loved). In 2014, we had INTERSTELLAR (which I thought was good, but far from great). It’s 2015 and now, we have THE MARTIAN. The key difference between THE MARTIAN and the other two aforementioned films is that this movie is an adaptation of a best-selling novel that happens to be directed by Ridley Scott. However, Scott hasn’t exactly been at the top of his game lately. In 2013, he disappointed with THE COUNSELOR. In 2014, he left audiences apathetic with EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS. Now, Scott has returned to his A-game. THE MARTIAN isn’t perfect, but it serves as a highly entertaining blockbuster.

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Astronaut Mark Watney is in the most dire situation imaginable. During a manned mission on mars, a freak storm causes his team to make an emergency evacuation. A piece of debris hits Mark and his captain makes the split-second decision to leave him for dead. However, Mark is not dead. In fact, he’s very much alive and now trapped on a uninhabitable planet, while his unaware crew members fly back home. All is not lost though as Mark has useful equipment left on the planet as well as a ground lab and a food/water supply. However, this won’t be enough to last four years (which is when the next possible NASA mission will arrive). Mark frantically does his best to (in his words) “science the shit out of this thing,”  all while NASA becomes very aware of the situation and scramble to rescue Watney.

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THE MARTIAN excels in making the viewer feel for Watney’s plight. Everything that can possibly go wrong does. You just can’t help but feel frustration at every hurdle the universe seems to be throwing Watney’s way. The atmosphere of desperation doesn’t exactly dampen any of the entertainment value to be had here. This is a really fun movie that’s meant to be taken more as an entertaining sci-fi flick rather than a realistic survival story. I say this because THE MARTIAN gets increasingly ridiculous during its third act. At this point, we’ve accepted that Mark can grow food in Martian soil and create his own water through a recipe, but there are definite moments that almost seem a little too over-the-top and far-fetched.

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Matt Damon is perfect as Mark Watney. He’s a likable presence and seems to have a constant sense of humor in the face of his dire predicament. For viewers who aren’t so science-savvy (including yours truly), there’s no need to worry about getting lost in the techno-babble of Mark’s actions, because he provides a constant commentary and explanation in his video logs. This also serves as an ingenious plot device to get dialogue out of a character who’s the only person on an entire planet. Jessica Chastain is usually solid in whatever role she takes on and there’s no change here. It almost felt like she was playing Murph from INTERSTELLAR as an astronaut, so that has to count for something. Michael Pena, Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan all do well in the side parts of Mark’s other crew members. Meanwhile, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor serve as NASA agents trying to bring Watney home, while Jeff Daniels is the closest thing this film has to an antagonist. The only performance that comes out of left field is Donald Glover serving as comic relief combined with a plot device instead of an actual character.

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As far as spectacle goes, THE MARTIAN looks fantastic. Ridley Scott is no stranger to bringing other worlds to life on film, whether it be ALIEN or PROMETHEUS, and he does the same with the barren, crater-laden landscape of Mars in this film. None of the effects struck me as cheap or cheesy. Every piece of spectacle also serves a purpose and isn’t merely there to wow the audience. For a movie running at over two hours, the story feels very well paced and moves by quickly, save for a somewhat pointless epilogue.

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THE MARTIAN marks another thrilling space adventure in the world of cinema. It’s also a return to form for Ridley Scott (who’s been down and out for the past two years). The performances are all enjoyable. The spectacle is spectacular. The film provides a lot of entertainment combined with desperation. The story strays into a couple of silly areas during the final third, but remains an entertaining blast nonetheless. THE MARTIAN is a surefire crowd-pleaser!

Grade: A-

DUMB AND DUMBER TO (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Humor, partial Nudity, Language and some Drug References

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, US advance poster art, from left: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, 2014. ©Universal

Directed by: Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly

Written by: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Sean Anders, John Morris, Bennett Yellin & Mike Cerrone

Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Laurie Holden, Kathleen Turner, Brady Bluhm, Steve Tom, Rachel Melvin & Rob Riggle

Two decades is a long time to wait for a sequel. Many might argue that it’s too long, especially since the original DUMB AND DUMBER walked a fine line between being stupid and clever. For those not in the know, that 1994 comedy followed the road trip of two innocent idiots caught up in the deadly antics of a kidnapping. The film launched the careers of the Farrelly brothers (whose best film is still THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY in my book) and catapulted Jim Carrey into being an A-list star. In DUMB AND DUMBER TO, the Farrellys and the two leads (Carrey and Jeff Daniels) return in an attempt to recapture lighting in a bottle. It doesn’t work out so well this time around.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, from left: Jeff Daniels, Jim Carrey, 2014. ph: Hopper Stone/©Universal

Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne are back on another adventure after discovering that Harry has an illegitimate daughter. This unexpected news couldn’t come at a more convenient time, especially since Harry is suffering from kidney problems and needs a donor to give up a vital organ for him. Unwilling to part with his own body part and willing to drive him across country, Lloyd takes Harry out on the road to track down his now-grown kid. Unfortunately, the bumbling morons wind up in the sights of more criminals and wacky mayhem ensues.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, from left: Rachel Melvin, Jim Carrey, 2014. ph: Hopper Stone/©Universal

The biggest problem with DUMB AND DUMBER TO is that with six(!) screenwriters, the film packs in less than half of the jokes and chuckle-worthy dialogue of the original film. It would be quite a task to perfectly nail that 90’s comedy nostalgic vibe that was exclusive to the time period, but the Farrellys are trying way too hard. They’re literally throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. The same can be said of rehashed basic plot points (many scenes play off as a weaker semi-remade moments from the first film) and other jokes are just plain recycled (though they don’t work nearly as well on the second time). This can especially be shown in end credits that showcase clips from both films side-to-side in almost a meta way of saying “See, we did it again!”

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, from left: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, 2014. ph: Hopper Stone/©Universal

One big positive is that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels slip right back into the roles of Lloyd and Harry with little to no effort. These actors disappear into the beloved characters, even if the writing isn’t quite up to snuff of giving them many interesting things to do in the overall story. However, it felt like Lloyd and Harry were too stupid during certain scenes. They were idiots in the first movie, but they weren’t as obnoxious and annoying as they are here. It’s almost like the 20 years have further drained IQ points out of their characters to an even more far-fetched level. The predecessor never got too over-the-top in a way that seemed Seth Macfarlane-like, but this second installment mainly focuses on making a more outlandish repeat of the first movie…resulting in a handful of solid laughs and a lot of awkward unfunny silence. Rob Riggle is the only welcomed addition to the cast of characters. He’s sort of wasted in a side part, but not nearly as much as Laurie Holden as the main baddie.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, from left: Laurie Holden, Rob Riggle, 2014. ph: Hopper Stone/©Universal

To add insult to injury, DUMB AND DUMBER TO goes out on a huge anti-climax. The ending felt like it was shrug-inducing and not nearly as exciting or funny as it was intended to be. This being said, the last third is where some of the really nifty twists that I didn’t see coming pop up. I also laughed at some funny scenes in the second half, but the first hour was almost a struggle to get through. I shouldn’t have to look for things to laugh at in a comedy like this as the film’s primary goal should be giving me things to laugh at right away. That’s a problem.

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DUMB AND DUMBER TO was never going to be high art or the best comedy of the year, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. While I can praise Carrey and Daniels’s chemistry together after all these years and there are funny scenes, the movie suffers from a so-so script and overly familiar jokes (some downright recycled from the first movie). It’s not nearly as bad as the godawful prequel DUMB AND DUMBERER, but that’s not exactly praise you want to aiming for in a sequel to a beloved cult classic that’s two decades old. Some people may outright love this sequel, but I was let down. It’s a middle-of-the-road experience as a whole.

Grade: C

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