Posts Tagged ‘Matt Damon’

Interstellar: Doesn’t Rise to the Occasion—Movie

November 10, 2014

Thank goodness for television’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the “Twilight Zone,” and their plots revolving around portals and dimensions, or else many of us would have no idea of what is going on in much, particularly the last quarter, of “Interstellar.” Who knew TV could be so educational? In all seriousness, “Interstellar” is not all that easy to understand or hear, for that matter. More about that later. Directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Christopher and his brother, Jonathan Nolan, “Interstellar” is beautiful to look at and boasts a very strong cast. However, when the film is over, it seems as if the overly complicated plots (and yes, plots) could be boiled down to the Beatles’ song, “All You Need is Love.”

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“Interstellar” opens with an elderly woman (Ellen Burstyn) talking about her father and the days when she was a young girl. Then we go back in time to those days set in the not too distant future. Thanks to drought, blight and dust storms, food is in very short supply and there is good reason to believe that the planet will not be able to sustain itself much longer.

Former NASA test pilot turned farmer, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), is a widower who lives with his children, 10-year-old Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) and 15-year-old Tom (Timothée Chalamet), and his father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow). Murphy is much more like the scientist part of her father and they have a very close connection. One night the two accidentally discover the secret NASA headquarters where a Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and others, chief among them, his daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), are trying to find another planet on which humans will be able to live. Brand, who is Cooper’s former professor, decides to take advantage of Cooper’s special skills. To go further would give away too much of the plot. Suffice to say that a good portion of the remaining film takes place in space.

Matthew McConaughey is outstanding as the farmer/pilot. It’s unfortunate that his Lincoln car commercials premiered before this film because some of his dialogue and delivery sound like they come directly from those commercials. However, much of “Interstellar” falls on McConaughey’s shoulders and he carries the weight well in spite of that distraction. He’s very convincing in all the many facets of his character’s personality. Jessica Chastain is very good as the adult Murphy. She has very emotional scenes, some of them absent any dialogue, and she shines in all of them. But Chastain is no match for the actress who plays her as a young girl. Mackenzie Foy is simply terrific and her scenes with McConaughey are really at the film’s core and they are amazing together. The one minus is that Foy bears no resemblance to Chastain, in fact looking much more like Anne Hathaway. Hathaway turns in a fine performance as McConaughey’s traveling companion, although her role calls for her to be a tad too emotional at times. Michael Caine’s role is small, but his scenes near the film’s conclusion are great. The film features what’s been called a cameo appearance by an actor who is critical to “Interstellar’s” plot (if you’re a reader of the tabloids, this actor is won’t be much of a surprise). He provides a good performance even though it’s not always clear what his character is doing or why.

Hans Zimmer’s score is extremely good, but its use is horrific. The music is simply too loud which makes portions of the dialogue impossible to hear. The same can be said for much of the film’s special sound effects. Louder does not mean better, especially if it’s blotting out what could be important conversations. Much of what is being said is hard enough to understand without the added burden of not being able to hear.

It’s clear that Nolan was going after something big. Unfortunately, despite the spectacular visual effects and some good acting, the unnecessarily overly complicated, hard-to-hear “Interstellar” falls short.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

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The Monuments Men: Not Monumental Enough—Movie

February 10, 2014

With a top-notch cast of leading men and woman (oh, to be her on the set), the best character actors in the business, a terrific score and a very compelling story, “The Monuments Men” can’t be a complete failure…and it’s not. But it’s not as good as one might expect. Directed by George Clooney with screenplay by Clooney and Grant Heslov based on the book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter, “The Monuments Men,” is the little-known, but true story of the attempted rescue at the end of WWII, of art stolen by the Nazis during the War, with the goal of returning the art to their respective owners.The Monuments Men poster

Clooney’s character, Frank Stokes, is the driving force behind the mission, who, under the direction of FDR, assembles a team  called the Monuments Men to go to Europe and track down the stolen art. The men are art historians, architects and artists, all pretty much past their fighting prime, but happy and eager to serve. When they get to Europe they find that not only are they trying to recover the stolen art, but they are faced with what has been called  the “Nero Decree”—in which Hitler ordered that if Germany fell, among other things, “All military transport and communication facilities, industrial establishments and supply depots, as well as anything else of value within Reich territory, which could in any way be used by the enemy immediately or within the foreseeable future for the prosecution of the war, will be destroyed.” This decree included the destruction of the stolen art. In addition, Stokes’ team learns that the Russians are keeping whatever art they discover. Thus, there is a sense of urgency to find and protect as much art as they can, including art known to be housed in churches across Europe, saving them from damage during air raids.

All of this sounds like the basis for a terrific film. The problem with “The Monuments Men” is it that it suffers from a wealth of possibilities. Is it a caper/heist film…a comedy…or an action flick? “Monuments Men” really doesn’t know what it wants to be and tries to be all things to all people and ultimately falls short on all levels…save for the acting. All of the actors are very good…we just don’t get enough of each…to care very much about them.

As all the men go through basic training, your first thought is, “oh, no, will this be “Stripes” all over again?” Funny as that film was, fear, not. That doesn’t happen and the film quickly moves on. “The Monuments Men” pairs the characters and follows their stories, with the cast coming together near the film’s conclusion. Bill Murray and Bob Balaban work surprisingly well together as the film’s “odd couple” and most of the film’s humor comes from their interactions. John Goodman works with Jean Dujardin and the two have an easy-going chemistry. Hugh Bonneville’s character is a tortured soul struggling with alcoholism, who views his service as a shot at redemption.  Finally, Matt Damon spends most of his time in France, working with a museum librarian, portrayed by Cate Blanchett, who is helping the Resistance.

What Clooney does capture perfectly are the details of the era and some of those details are horrific. T’hose gruesome details remind you of the war’s horrors. Additionally, the hair, clothing and most especially Alexandre Desplat’s score, couldn’t be better and give the film a very genuine feel.

The real Monuments Men recovered over five million pieces of art as well as a fortune in gold. It’s a story worth telling, but “The Monuments Men” doesn’t do the men justice. This might be one time that the subject is just too big for a movie and might have better served as an HBO series.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

Elysium: Fight for Better Life Hits Close to Home—Movie

August 19, 2013

Wouldn’t it be unique and fun to see a film where life in the future is terrific? Where we (Earth) haven’t been decimated by disease or war? Where the soundtrack of our lives isn’t an over the top doom and gloom score? Do you think your great-great grandparents were as pessimistic about the future as most filmmakers today? Just something to ponder as one sits through yet another “Isn’t life Hell on Earth?” film, which brings me to “Elysium.”Elysium_Poster

Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, “Elysium” is set in 2154. Earth is unhealthy and overpopulated. Those who can afford to do so have emigrated to Elysium, a man-made space station where food is plentiful, sickness is a thing of the past and, well, life is good.

Max (Matt Damon) lives in a grimy version of Los Angeles, although he has always aspired to go to Elysium, and in flashbacks, we see a young Max making the promise to one day take his childhood girlfriend, Frey, to Elysium. Earth is a police state and free-thinking is not tolerated. Penalties for misbehavior can be severe and the population answers to faceless, robot-sounding superiors.  Injured in a run-in with the “police,” Max runs into adult Frey (Alice Braga) in the hospital where she’s now a nurse. They reconnect and Max learns that Frey is a single mother with a child who has leukemia. She fervently hopes to somehow get to Elysium so her daughter can be cured. Protecting entrance to Elysium’s borders is  Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster), a government official who enforces anti-immigration laws at all costs, keeping Elysium safe for the rich. A variety of circumstances come together which compel Max to get to Elysium one way or another.

What makes “Elysium” different from other doom and gloom films is its humanity. To some extent, this is due to the actors. Singled out for special praise is William Fichtner as a company owner who holds the fate of many in his hands. He is one of the best character actors in the business and really excels at playing conflicted villains. Alice Braga is also very good as the mother determined to do right by her daughter. But the true heart and soul of the movie is Matt Damon. He’s outstanding at playing the everyman asked to do a little more. With “Elysium” he is as good as the script allows him to be. Surprisingly the one jarring note is Jodie Foster. This two-time Academy Award winner‘s performance is almost robotic in nature and just not very good. Making matters worse is her very peculiar accent.

It’s almost impossible to watch Elysium and not think about America’s immigration policy. Maybe that’s what helps make “Elysium” relatable. Elysium won’t bore you, but it’s not something you’ll think very much about, if at all, once you leave the theatre.

2 nuggets out of 4

Promised Land: Most Promises Kept—Movie

December 23, 2012

promisedlandposterMatt Damon star-wattage aside, “Promised Land” is really a quiet little movie. Written by Damon and co-star John Krasinski and directed by Damon’s “Good Will Hunting” director, Gus Van Sant, “Promised Land” pits fracking against farming.

Damon, a corporate salesman for a global corporation, and his partner, Sue (Frances McDormand),  are looking to increase corporate profits by offering to buy out local farms in exchange for drilling rights for the natural gas underneath the land …fracking.  Normally an easy sell for Damon’s character in other communities (off-screen), the sale becomes far more complicated when a school-teacher (Hal Holbrook) and environmentalist (John Krasinski) raise concerns about the fracking process and the resulting impact upon on the land.

What prevents “Promised Land” from becoming dogmatic one way or the other is that it raises some interesting questions about corporate and personal greed, especially when dying towns are involved.  Just how far will one go in the name of professional success? “Promised Land” is also blessed with some terrific acting. Damon is always a pleasurable, believable screen presence. McDormand and Holbrook are their usual great selves. They both have places to shine and shine they do. McDormand is especially good in her work with Damon and with Titus Welliver, a local shopkeeper and potential suitor. Rosemary DeWitt, as a local teacher, brings just the right touch of levity in her scenes with Damon and Krasinski.

“Promised Land” won’t knock your socks off, but it does get you thinking.  Film aside, it’s also fun to contemplate some of the “new” talent starting to take their place in Hollywood in terms of writing, producing and directing. George Clooney and Ben Affleck have already shown us what they can do. Brad Pitt has been the producer for many of his most recent movies. With “Promised Land,” Damon has gone back to his writing roots and Krasinski is solid in his first effort. To some extent they are all “8 Degrees of George Clooney,” which means they could all be working together in some form or another for years to come. And that is promising, indeed.

3 nuggets out of 4

Invictus—Movie Review

January 18, 2010

Invictus is based on the book, Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela And The Game That Changed a Nation, by John Carlin. Directed by Clint Eastwood (screenplay by Anthony Peckham), Invictus was recommended to me as a must-see movie. So, based on that recommendation and Clint Eastwood’s track record as a filmmaker, I decided to see it. I was expecting some treacle, ” kumbayah” film, but I was very wrong and thankfully so. Invictus has a compelling story to tell, is well-acted, and the rugby games are absolutely great!

As recently elected President Mandela, Morgan Freeman literally embodies the role. Early in his first-term, against the advice of his closest advisors, Mandela decides to use the South African rugby team, the Springboks, and the 1995 Rugby World Cup as something around which the entire country can unite, regardless of race. He enlists the assistance of team captain,  François Pienaar (well-played by Matt Damon), who helps motivate his underdog South African team.

I admit that I know nothing about rugby, so I don’t know how well-cast the actors are, but the games are extremely entertaining and have a new fan in me. Far more exciting than soccer, it’s more like American football but without the padding, helmets or even long pants.

Invictus is not ground-breaking filmmaking, but its actors tell the little-know story well.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4


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