Film Brief: The Martian

The Martian - poster small“Bring Him Home” the poster pleads.  If there were any inkling of doubt at all, there might be some actual drama.  But there’s not, and the whole thing is an utter bore.  Or put another way…

Those who appreciate good science, good fiction, or good science fiction won’t find much to like in The Martian.  On the other had, the enormous popularity of the picture demonstrates how subjective “good” is.  But then, a lot of people thought George Bush was a good president.  For me, what a yawner.  And I mean literally.  It’s remarkable how each film Ridley Scott produces sinks below his prior effort.  2/10

Comparison Notes (each recommended, and stratospheres better than The Martian): Gravity, Moon

PS  This guy’s a botanist, but he didn’t bring any seeds?  Gimme a break!

My 2 Bits on Robin Williams

Mork & Mindy title cardMy first awareness of Robin Williams was from Mork & Mindy, a show beloved by me in my youth.  During that period, he appeared on The Dick Cavett Show (apparently the PBS variety), and my father remarked that he had seen him on the show and was impressed that Dick Cavett — himself sharp and quick-witted — could barely keep up with Robin Williams.

That was something that always stuck with me, even though I had limited familiarity with Dick Cavett.  Because of my father’s comment, Robin Williams was probably the first celebrity whom I considered particularly intelligent and witty.  It’s a small coincidence that PBS has been airing Dick Cavett’s Watergate, and that I was thinking of Robin Williams on his show — even though I never saw that appearance — the day before he died.

Dick Cavett wrote on Robin Williams’ death in Time:

Sitting next to him on my old PBS show was like sitting in the Macy’s barge next to the fireworks going off.  He was at full, manic, comic frenzy for an hour without let-up. (We even improvised a short Shakespeare play together, with and without rhymed couplets.)  I caught his manic energy.  It was exhilarating. And exhausting.

When it ended, I was wet and spent.  It took him a while to come (partially) down, and I thought, “Can this be good for anyone? Can you be able to do all these rapid-fire personality changes and emerge knowing who you yourself are?

Cavett’s comments echo my father’s.

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good-will-hunting-posterRobin Williams did not involve himself in many movie projects that have had much impact on me, save one:  Good Will Hunting, for which he earned his only Oscar.  His incredible performance in that terrific movie is one of the reasons I lauded it as a “Cinematic Great.”

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I found it a little odd that Williams became involved in last year’s sitcom The Crazy Ones, on CBS.  But not that strange, I suppose, given the trend of bigger and bigger stars headlining sitcoms.  What was ‘off’ about it, though, was that in the very brief bits I saw it did not work at all, just like its NBC twin The Michael J. Fox Show.  Both shows featured a return to television by former stars of the genre, both failed miserably, and both were cancelled on May 10 of this year.

I have to believe that the failure of The Crazy Ones contributed to Robin Williams’ death.  At the very least, if he had been involved in a successful sitcom, he would have been filming a second season in Los Angeles instead of heading towards the end in Tiburon.

* * *

Robin Williams was involved in a more positive experience on TV in the last year: Apple’s “Your Verse” ad, which features his narration from Dead Poets Society.

A tragic and shocking loss.

Cinematic Greats: Good Will Hunting


WHEN MATT DAMON and Ben Affleck burst onto the scene with Good Will Hunting at the end of 1997, I scoffed at the film, dismissing it’s clichéd story of a genius who chooses to work at MIT not as a doctoral student or professor, but as a janitor.  About 10 years went by, and I began to see snippets of it on TV, and my interest was piqued.  Being a big fan of Minnie Driver helped. Eventually I saw the film all the way through, and finally recognized it for the triumph that it is.

Janet Maslin wrote, and I concur:

Mr. Van Sant demonstrates how entertainingly a real pro can direct a strong if not especially groundbreaking story. The script’s bare bones are familiar, yet the film also has fine acting, steady momentum, a sharp eye and a very warm heart.

Good Will Hunting is a bright, spirited picture, and so fundamentally linked to the human experience that I consider it not only a great film but an instant classic and essential viewing.  If you’ve not seen it, do so.

Is Elysium a Summer Oasis?

Elysium PosterElysium had the opportunity to be a truly great film, extending the sci-fi lineage built by Metropolis, Silent Running, Logan’s RunThe Terminator, The Matrix, and Gattaca.  The director Neill Blomkamp has produced what may be thought of as a natural and very good follow-up to his previous effort District 9.  In Elysium, Blomkamp offers a pure science fiction story in the spirit of Heinlein or Bradbury, and supports it with grand visuals and imaginative, thoughtful concepts of future technology and societal paradigms.  At its best, Elysium is stunning and breathtaking.

The premise that the entire earth has become a giant wasteland without any connection to the inhabitants in orbit above I did not 100% buy, but this movie was good enough to let those doubts fall by the wayside.  For about the first two-thirds of the film, I was thoroughly engrossed in the story and experienced something great beyond expectations.

The final act unfortunately devolves into standard Hollywood fight and action scenes, as the Times’ Manohla Dargis summarizes:

Like many others working the industrial genre beat, Mr. Blomkamp turns out to be much better at blowing things up than putting the shattered pieces together, though this may also be a matter of box-office calculation.  The beginning of “Elysium” comes on like gangbusters, and at first it’s fun to be swept up in a movie like this, riding shotgun with the swooping camera moves and feeling the dread creep in with each of the score’s brassy blares (harbingers of doom like those in “Inception”).  As the weapons start firing and the blood begins running, it’s hard not to wonder, though, if it’s Mr. Blomkamp who couldn’t find a genuinely fresh exit strategy or whether, as this summer’s screen conflagrations suggest, it’s the big studios that have given up on Utopia.

That about says it.  There was a critical juncture in the latter half of the film where it could have gone down a path of true cinematic enlightenment.  Blomkamp might have chosen to take us not only to Elysium, but to Nirvanna.  At that fork in the road, he instead chose to drive down the same worn-out track that all the other big-budget summertime flicks have trod.

Another thing I didn’t like was the whole ‘Iron Man-lite’ suit that Matt Damon’s character was bolted into — I think that part of the movie was mishandled.  Still, on balance, this is one of the best movies of the year so far and worth checking out on the big screen.  8/10