Nostalgia is a funny thing. When I saw that this had been given the prestigious Criterion treatment, I immediately was transported back to when I saw this one night on TV many years ago and remember really liking it. Sitting down now with much more jaded eyes, it transpires it’s not quite the classic I thought it was, even though there’s still fun to be had. Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber) plays Charles, a straight laced office worker who one day has a chance encounter with free-spirited Lulu (Melanie Griffith) who takes Charles on a road trip straight out of his comfort zone that awakens a side to him he never knew he had. Everything is going great until they bump into Lulu’s jail bird husband (Ray Liotta) who seems hell-bent on winning Lulu back.
Its a good concept and one I quickly felt engaged by, but once the ‘wild’ element of Lulu’s nature falls away and reveals who she really is, the movie stops dead, with a very awkward ‘lets go visit my mom’ scene and a drawn out high school reunion sequence. Thankfully once Liotta turns up the movie is cranked up several levels and transforms into more of a thriller. Liotta is brilliant, channelling that dangerous-charm he later honed to perfection in Goodfellas. Also Daniel’s proves much more than simply an every man for the audience to latch onto. Griffiths is also highly watchable and further proves why she was the go-to actress of the 80’s and has presence and personality to spare. The movie never really hits it’s stride though, suffering from a bit of an identity crisis and is neither funny enough to be a comedy, exciting enough to be a thriller or charming enough to be a love story. Like a lot of the other also-ran movies of the 80’s this one’s a bit of an oddity, but certainly retains a quirky appeal.
This UK Criterion release is rather underwhelming. The image quality, whilst showing off some vibrancy to it’s colour palette is marred by a lot of smudgy shots. There’s generally a soft look and lack of detail to the whole presentation. The 2 channel DTS HD soundtrack doesn’t exactly wow either, but dialogue is sharp even if music cues seem to lack punch. Extras consist of a detailed booklet that includes an essay by film critic David Thompson. On the Blu-ray itself there’s an archive interview with director Jonathan Demme and the screenwriter, and we also get a trailer. Not exactly the exhaustive treatment one might expect from Criterion.
There seems to have been a bit of a trend in recent years for quality science fiction, or more literally quality space travel movies. I think it began with Doug Jones’ acclaimed ‘Moon’ and then followed through with Gravity and then Interstellar. Hollywood seems to have fallen in love with the great vastness of space again, and I have fallen in love along with them. So this latest effort was high on my must see list.
Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney who following an expedition to Mars, is left unknowingly behind by his crew following a freak sand storm. With everyone thinking he is dead and a memorial back home, Watney has to learn how to survive on an alien planet until he can find out a way of communicating and hopefully getting rescued. Based on the book by Andy Wier and directed by genre heavy-weight Ridley Scott, this is a gripping concept as we watch Damon put all his scientific knowhow to the test and learn to adapt to a harsh environment. Back home Nasa and its myriad of boffins are also trying to figure out a way to save their man, headed by Jeff Daniels and supported by Kristina Wiig and Sean Bean amongst various other familiar faces. Oh and the crew that left Watney behind get the always watchable Jessica Chastian as their commander. It’s clear to me this was a bit of a labour of love and is choc-full of detail and science terminology (even days are referred to a sol 1 and sol 2 etc). Yet beyond some of the realism and authenticity the movie also finds room for well judged humour. We also get a strongly potent emotional thread that builds and gets pretty heart-breaking. Everyone here is on very good form but it’s obviously Damon’s show and he is simply superb…charismatic in the face of adversity and also very believable. He’d have been my tip for Best Actor at the Oscars but sadly it wasn’t to be.
In addition to such a solid, layered performance however is excellent direction from Scott, who aided by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, proves again he’s a master at capturing the perfect look and feel for Science Fiction, and redeems himself after the muddled Prometheus. Some of the shots and vistas and photography here are jaw-dropping. Honestly, there is very little I can say negative about this one apart from hey, where were Mark Watney’s parents?? And the first act is a trifle slow, but that’s some serious nit-picking. If you are fascinated by space travel or are just attracted to decent human survival dramas, not unlike The Revenant I’ll add … then you have to see this.
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