It would be easy to get cynical of another ‘Netflix original’ movie after three made it into my least favourite movies of 2020. However as the streaming service continues to attract major Hollywood talent, sooner or later a gem would surface. This George Clooney vehicle, which he also directs has him as Augustine, a lone scientist in a research facility in Antartica following a global catastrophe that has wiped out much of mankind. However after receiving a message from a space station travelling back to earth, Augustine races against time to warn the crew of the dangers of a planet they once called home.
This very heart-felt drama has a stand out turn from Clooney, an actor I’ve often enjoyed. His character, who is terminally ill, is complex and believable as a man who has put so much into his career, he’s forgotten how to live. The supporting cast of astronauts, lead by Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) are also well rounded and convincing. The space bits bare more than a resemblance to Sandra Bullock hit Gravity, whilst the on earth segments feel more like a man-verses-nature survival story … and these two sides make for a compelling whole. Both settings can feel claustrophobic with imminent danger, that although the pace was slow at times I never stopped being fully invested.
For such a concept, a lack of grandeur can be forgiven considering this is more a character piece, although a little light shed on the virus or incident that’s gone down would have been welcome. I was also left wanting a little more detail regarding certain choices Augustine makes in his back story. However, with a genuine gut-punch of an emotional ending, I still came away from this impressed.
Science-fiction has become one of my favourite genres, with such gems as The Martian and Interstellar impressing me. There seems to have been a bit of a resurgence in such movies, albeit stepping away from the flights of fantasy we’ve seen and instead focusing on a more semi-realistic tone. The same can be said for this latest space-set thriller starring amongst others, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds.
A team of astronauts orbiting the earth reprieve a probe that has been on it’s way back from Mars, and discover a life form within it’s gathered soil samples. Nurturing said life form in an incubator, the astronauts try to figure out how it responds and whether it’s harmless or deadly. I’m guessing you probably know the answer to that one, huh?
I got a serious Alien vibe from this but stripped down to actual realistic space travel and science rather than H R Giger inspired horror aesthetics. The creature, nicknamed Calvin is initially cute but eventually shudder creepy-crawly, and as the scientists attempt to contain it, this set into action some seriously well done thrills. It’s not a subject that breathes new life into a tired genre but it’s done well, has some genuinely heart-in-mouth moments and is topped off by decent effects work (but for the occasional obvious CGI monster) and great set design that transported me right there … and I didn’t want to be there. Gyllenhaal, considering his usual brilliance is a little side-lined and the star of this turns out to be Rebecca Ferguson who is very good. Ryan Reynolds seems like he’s just playing Ryan Reynolds, but the rest of the cast do a decent job. It’s also a movie, despite it’s familiarity that still managed to keep me gripped and wondering how it might end, and in this day and age that has to be commended.
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.
The type of movie that sells itself from the trailer alone. Seeing Sandra Bullock being flung around space as a space station shatters around her was both exhilarating and exciting … what was this? It felt fresh and new, a whole new cinematic ‘experience’ that finally warranted the dawn of 3D.
I can’t watch 3D, something to do with the fact I am only partially sited in one eye. Shame I know, but for the most part I’m not bothered. This however was the first movie I have seen where I really wish I could have seen it in all it’s multi-dimensional glory. Sandra Bullock is an astronaut working at a space station orbiting earth along with seasoned astronaut George Clooney. However when disaster strikes they are left stranded and floating in the ominous void of space with limited oxygen and limited hope, with no communication with back home. Will they survive?
I thought immediately this was a stunning looking movie, with the special effects, sound-design and camera work all state-of-the-art, transporting this viewer right there and believe me, that’s a unnerving place to be. Director Alfonso Cuarón (Children Of Men) cements his growing reputation as a visual auteur, delivering moments that truly challenge what is possible on film. How some of these shots were achieved baffles me, but that’s the magic of cinema. Bullock is very good in the central role, even if I’d have liked a bit more desperate emotion out of her (but still looks great in and erm, out of her suit), and Clooney is basically Clooney, charismatic but nothing we haven’t seen from him a dozen times. Also that moment Bullock starts barking to a radio transmission … bit odd that.
Yet this is a movie that is all about experience, about being there, about feeling disorientated and about hoping everything turns out ok. In which respect, it excels.
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