This is not part of my October reviews, fortunately or unfortunately, my regular reviews do not get trumped by October. I had every intention of seeing this Thursday night but exhaustion kicked in and a desire for a record 6 hours of sleep ended up winning. Having seen it today and after some rest I can provide you the review you deserve. I will say this, do not let Matt Damon or Jessica Chastain near the space program. Something goes wrong every time; how is it he is the one always stranded?
Anyway; does the movie hold up to the hype machine?
The film is based on a book by Andy Weir and adapted for the screen by Drew Goddard. I understand from some friends it is an excellent book and will be curious to hear the comparison between the two. Goddard on the other hand was the producer of the much loved (and very awesome) Netflix series Daredevil, The Cabin in the Woods, and Cloverfield. He also wrote one of my favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Conversations with Dead People.” So the source material is very strong, the writer has some solid understanding of characters and tension but do they have a director who can do something with that?
Well lets talk the story for a moment. This is a what you see is what you get. The movie literally is: Matt Damon gets left behind on Mars. NASA tries to figure out how to save him, while he tries to save himself.
Simple story. You need good actors and a good director to make it work. I give you Ridley Scott. I give you the man behind the camera and actors of Blade Runner, Alien, Black Hawk Down, and the list goes on. He doesn’t have a flawless list (Robin Hood, Hannibal, Exodus) but a solid one. He, despite his stumbles, is a brilliant film maker who can do more to create tension with a shot and space than a dozen of the modern horror directors combined. That is what this movie needed. Tension. You don’t know if they will bring him home, you don’t know if they will all survive doing so. Goddard, Weir, and Scott have masterfully crafted a story where you just aren’t sure.
Of course some of the work must go to the actors. Matt Damon by necessity carries the film and he has the chops to do it. I was watching the movie and thought is there another actor who could do this? Short answer I came up with is no. End to end of this movie, there’s not another bankable actor who could do this with such charm and such range. Then you combine it with the following cast members
This is the literal definition of a powerhouse cast. Each person despite how much or little screen time they are given manages to translate that into a memorable or otherwise engaging character. That’s art folks. This movie would die in the vacuum of space if you didn’t want to root for the characters. If you didn’t want to sit at the edge of your seat or bite your lip. Everyone is understandable in every decision made. Every action. Every consequence. The movie lives and dies because of the performances these people gave in conjunction with solid directing, and source material.
In other words, this is everything Fantastic Four was not.
It is also not as pretentious as Interstellar, which I wanted to like, but really couldn’t.
As a technical point, the CG enhancement of the landscapes, the background, the skies made me really believe that they could have been on Mars. This is the George Miller lesson folks. Use CG to enhance not dominate. There’s only one slightly jarring, but appropriate effect in the movie. Everything else to me is beautiful. I was commenting the other day how claustrophobic modern movies tend to be. Tight locations, tight camera’s, fear of long range shots or appropriate long range shots. This movie is anything but. It uses distance as a tool as much as it uses sound and lack there of when needed. It really lives by show don’t tell on a lot of points and again is a better movie for it. If there are any other flaws, there’s some pacing issues (a Ridley Scott natural flaw) but otherwise that’s it.
This is a good movie. This is a damn go0d movie. This isn’t a good sci fi movie. This isn’t a good dramatic movie. This IS a good movie. I watched the movie on the edge of my seat more than a few times.
I came out of the movie inspired.
I came out of the movie wanting to Science!
I came out of the movie satisfied with my experience in a way few movies this year have.
So this is a few days late, the 9-5 takes precedence, but was it worth the wait? It’s rather hard for me to avoid reviews of others until I write my own. I’ve also found the people you see a movie with can determine how you feel about it coming out. Last movie saw with one friend, we sang along, laughed, and winced. This one I saw with a friend who is notorious for not enjoying the sci fi genre that much and another who has far less tolerance than I when it comes to what they will accept in a film. Would I have the feelings I have for this without having seen it with them? Honestly…I’ve been thinking about that all day while I try to figure out how to write this review. I suppose it is worth mentioning I went in with some fairly low expectations.
Let me go into why for a moment. The Wachowski siblings are hit and miss. They gave us the Matrix, and its sequels. They also gave us the screenplay for V for Vendetta. They also gave us Speed Racer. Speed Racer gets a lot of hate, it is mixed in that regard as I see it as someone giving us live action anime. It gave me the cartoon I saw as a kid and again as a high schooler as the entirety of the artists in my class became obsessed with Speed Racer. Their work however, when looked at as a body is high in style, with a lot of marks for intent and most of the marks come in low on the execution. The Matrix sequels are proof of that concept as the artistic intent seems to be there, but their inability to execute it resulted in audiences decrying the franchise as a whole. And that dear friends is where the problems of Jupiter Ascending begin to show.
The movie is both written and directed by Andy and Lana; and you can tell. They learned none of the lessons from Matrix 3 and the exposition brigade. Nearly every yawn inducing line from the movie is about political intrigues, families, or space jabber that most folks won’t bother to try to keep up with. I referenced this in a friends post, but the script for this film is like Dune and Battlefield Earth had a baby…..and this movie is the afterbirth. I promise you that the ten minutes spent on space bureaucracy that makes a trip to the MDV after a root canal look positively entertaining could have been better spent on making me give a damn. Aside from horrific monologues, droll political double talk, the movie also suffers from bad science. I can take most films in the sci fi genre presenting me rules so long as they follow them. You cannot tell me how important genetics are to these people and pretty much violate some of the core science of genetics. Look I am not a genetic engineer, much like anyone on the internet I am an armchair scientist with enough information to be dangerous to myself and others. I understand this and try not to talk about things I don’t know and I really wish the writers here had too.
From an acting perspective, I fault no actor here. I lay the blame solely on the directors. Mila Kunis does fine as Jupiter, the typical destined one who has no idea of her destiny until people start trying to kill her. Channing Tatum is wasted as Caine Wise (thats right up there with Cypher Rage in After Earth) a man sent to find and return Jupiter to her family. Comedy he does well. Action he does well. Brooding he does not. Please stop with the brooding. He does not do it well. Also….peroxide blonde – not a good look for him. He does ok with the material, but that’s largely because he does actually have some talent in there. Poor Eddie Redmayne has this released the weekend he gets a BAFTA for Theory of Everything. I know this boy can act…but what the heck was this? If you’ve noticed a trend of confusion in my commentary on the actors it’s because these are good people who do stellar work normally and have jack to work with and are clearly being given the oddest direction imaginable.
The technical flaws don’t end there, but really seem to only begin. The movie has no fundamental tone. It can’t seem to make up it’s mind as to who the central character is to be, what the central focus is to be, or what the outcome is until it happens. It spirals around its own ideas but never coalesces into a cohesive shape of it’s own. Every fight takes about two minutes too long. Every scene is just a bit too busy. Even the resolution to some of the fights is repeated to the point it is almost a joke. I wasn’t kidding about the ten minutes of bureaucracy by the way, that actually happened and was boring. When Harry Potter did it in the first film there was whimsy to it and a sense of amazement even amidst the banality. Here the banality is on display for one and all and is quite possibly infused with a dementor as it sucks the soul out of you.
The one thing the movie has is beautiful visuals. The ships, the space flight, the planets, the creature design, the prosthetics are all top notch. Sadly thats about all I can say.
Had I not seen it with two friends I might have taken a nap at times waiting for the movie to realize what it was or fulfill a promise that I think it wanted to make. I knew going in this would be a style over substance movie as many other Wachowski films are; yet what I couldn’t realize was its attempts at trying to be more would be so bloody awful and dull. It has moments of fun spliced with long runs of nonsense. Even turning off my brain for this one wouldn’t lend enjoyment as I would have likely dozed off.
If you are curious, please feel free to check it out, but stick to the matinee and 2D.
Otherwise, give this one a pass. It wanted to be good sci-fi and failed. It tried to be more than it was and was a train wreck of proportions I have not seen since Ghosts of Mars.
Theoretically later this week I will go see 7th Son, at least I know that will be bad. This one sadly gave me hope. Silly me.
This review is specifically for one of the people in my life that I can say I love and it is wonderful to say that and it not be weird for anyone involved. The cover art today is a sign she made for today’s beautiful annual event. If you haven’t figured it out by now, this is my favourite holiday ever. Growing up as a child with the previous day as my birthday meant cake and presents one day and costumes and candy the next. How can that possibly go wrong? A night where we as children are allowed to be out at night and to celebrate the night. A night where our imaginations and creativity are rewarded. A night where we can become the nightmare or heroes of our own stories to face them or embrace them. What in the name of all the old gods and goddesses is possibly wrong with this?
So when we talk nightmares, let us talk then about a video game that has caused nightmares in many. My ex said this was one of the scariest games she had ever played or watched someone play. So eventually someone was going to make it into a movie. Video Games to movies do not have a particularly stellar track record. Mortal Kombat is probably the least offensive of them, with Resident Evil a close second, and Tomb Raider vying for third place. Of course Uwe Boll got his hands on so many games it hurts on a primal level. This isn’t to say the movies that are made from video games aren’t sometimes entertaining, Doom is positively entertaining, Need for Speed was entertaining; but rather that they aren’t just that good. Frequently this is blamed on the source material being “just a game”, to which I say rubbish. Yes, first and second gen games had the thinnest backstory possible. Hell some third, fourth, and even recent gen games are pretty thin excuses for their own existence in the story department. Then we have games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, even Assassins Creed (II mostly…I hate 3 and 4), and the recent Tomb Raider game. Games these days probably have more plot and story than films do (thank you Bioware and SquareEnix). Somewhere along the way though, and I am no video game expert by a long shot, Konami put a game out.
Konami the studio who gave us Contra, Frogger, and Dance Dance Revolution delivered unto us a horror franchise. I know little to nothing about the game, so will only judge it as a movie, but I am told it is relatively faithful to the setting material. When I spoke of atmosphere in the Fog movie review I spoke of how important it is. The makers of Silent Hill understood this. I know that the game is inspired by real life Centralia Pennsylvania, a place on Jessica’s short list for urban exploring, a town almost literally swallowed into hell by a mine fire that is expected to burn for years to come – thats where the similarities end.
And you thought the roads in your town were bad?
The movie focuses on the story of Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) and her adopted daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland). Sharon has been having dreams of a place called Silent Hill, dreams of course being a light word for nightmares of extraordinary strength. Rose takes her daughter, without her husband (Sean Bean) Christopher’s consent. Whenever she mentions Silent Hill, people get weirded out, except curious officer Cybil (Laurie Holden), who chases the woman into Silent Hill. Driving faster than she can see proves a mistake and Rose wrecks her car at the entrance to the town. When she wakes her daughter is gone and she is in a grey scale landscape of ash and fog. Chasing a girl she thinks is her daughter through the streets of the seemingly deserted town she hears air raid sirens go off. Then the real nightmares begin.
Keeping with my normal rules of spoiler free, even though this one is past embargo range, I want people to enjoy this film. Enjoy the mystery of the truth of who and what brought Sharon to Silent Hill. The truth of what Silent Hill is and of course…the horror of what it is. Ok, one spoiler and a mystery all it’s own is …how did Sean Bean survive the film? This is Silent flippin Hill.
Lets talk about the writing for a moment, we have Roger Avary as the sole credit on the film. Avary has writing credits on True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp Fiction, with an Oscar win for the last. He also has a BAFTA for it and a Saturn Award nomination for his work on the mo-cap Beowulf with Neil Gaiman. What I am saying here is the man knows how to write. He took whatever the game had and wove a rather complex intertwining story of past, present, and future within Silent Hill. I am not talking time travel, but just the levels that the film operates on simultaneously. The story nails it and does something few do, it makes me uncomfortable at times. It also makes me sympathize with the bad guy in this one, but I think you should. Even the way the story progresses makes it still feel like a video game but a logical extension for a running plot as well. When characters find items, use them, or add them to “inventory” it makes sense and feels natural. If you are a gamer, you see it for what it is and it’s hard not to smile at it.
Taking this script and making it a reality was the job of Christophe Gans. I love this man. I love his work. He doesn’t have much and I consider that a shame. Brotherhood of the Wolf was the first film of his I saw and was a beautiful piece of foreign film making. Five years after he was given this script; and just recently did a take on Beauty and the Beast (which I desperately want to see). We now return to our conversation about atmosphere and sweet ladies of the inferno does he create it. When it is light in the town of Silent Hill, there is the weight of fog and ash that surrounds everything. This place feels like it is on the edge of something dark already just from that alone. Then when it goes dark…you are made uncomfortable. It is wrong and you know it. This is Hellraiser territory at times and you can’t help but shift in your seat once or twice after those air raid sirens blare. The performances he elicits out of his actors are incredible, even if some of them reach campy at times, but the work with Mitchell and Ferland is excellent. Proof that yes, child actors work. Proof that a good director can turn great performances from children. His choices on camera work are also incredible as well, putting them in places and moving them in ways that truly inform the story and help push it and us along on this trip where I think even Dante would go “Pace!”
As for the actors, Radha Mitchell is our center of the story, a mother desperately trying to save her child mentally, physically, and spiritually. She is almost a typical last girl that we see in other films, except she begins strong and only gets stronger as the film progresses. The lengths the town (yes it’s a character all it’s own) drives her to are inhuman. The actress performs marvelously and I wish we got more of her in films. Sure we got her in Olympus has Fallen and Man on Fire, but we also saw her in the original Pitch Black – where she was also very fun to watch. Her…sidekick(?) for lack of a better word is Walking Dead’s Andrea Laurie Holden, so spoiler (rollover)you can watch her die horrifically here too? She is mostly a nick of time side kick of usefulness than anything else, but does fairly well here. Deborah Kara Unger (The Game, Payback), plays the mysterious Dahlia a figure who seems immune to the darkness for unknown reasons. Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact, Sorcerers Apprentice) plays the leader of the people of Silent Hill and I think may be channeling Piper Laurie from Carrie for the role. If the majority of the weight falls on Radha, then the remainder falls on Jodelle Ferland (Cabin in the Woods, Paranorman) for her minimal screen time. She handles Sharon well and has to do a lot with very little, but it works none the less.
Now, I talked about how Silent Hill itself is a character? Alright, I will say this first, the CGI here is kinda weak sometimes verging on SyFy weak. The practical though? Incredible. Production designer Carol Spier, who also gave us Pacific Rim and Carrie was a miracle worker. A black miracle perhaps, but miracle none the less. She took a Norman Rockwell town and in daylight it looks broken, in the grey ashfall it looks weighty and wrong, and in the dark is a special hell. The raw amount of practical choices here out weigh any horrific CG work for me. It is no surprise to me that I see Patrick Tatopoulos (Underworld, Stargate, Face Off, Solomon Kane) name on the Creature and Special Make up designer credit, specifically on the Nurses, and it – Pyramid Head. I had no experience with the game, but this thing was a monstrous force on screen that by careful choices of its creators carried real weight that made you know things were about to go terrifyingly wrong. Paul Jones appears to be the other creative lead, considering one of his first films were Waxwork, Hellraiser II, and Nightbreed I can see that he has specialties and they are only getting better. The town is a real thing here because of these people and their crews. It is a living, breathing, entity. It draws and drives the story forward on its own pace as much as any decision the characters make.
Before I get to the TL;DR on one of my longest reviews ever, I want to talk about the music. Pure atmosphere. In another film it could be lighter but when matched with the imagery here the word haunting comes to mind.
This would make my top 10 list of best horror movies. Many would disagree, but I distinctly remember walking from the theatre with my friend Kevin and looking at him going. “I feel…uncomfortable.”
I wasn’t scared, but I was disturbed. I think that counts for something special here. There is imagery, scenes, and shots in the movie that deliberately are crafted to be unpleasant and uncomfortable. It was just that kind of film where my skin was crawling a bit as I walked into a cool April evening. I cannot complain about a movie that I can so distinctly remember how it made me feel and the night as I left it.
I happily and eagerly recommend this film for October viewing, or viewing on a nice foggy night.
Should you watch Silent Hill? Absolutely, but keep the light switch handy.
PS Spoiler Rollover:
I agree with Alessa…and that which became Alessa. I understand her and was cheering for her. Rose’s decision would be mine.