The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015)
For a movie with such a palpably tense premise, The Martian is almost devoid of any real peril. Let me say that I did not read the book, but from everything I’ve heard about it from various sources, it’s a very well-written piece of work. So you can imagine my confusion when, as I am sitting through Ridley Scott’s latest venture into sci-fi, a genre he is usually very successful with, I am slaped around with an endless constant stream of wise-cracks from a snarky Matt Damon who is stuck with limited oxygen, food, and survival equipment on another freaking planet, and acting like he’s trying to survive a week-long house-arrest inside of a mansion. There isn’t a single moment in which I truly believed Mark Watney was in any serious danger, and that’s a problem because he was stuck millions of miles away from human civilization. The groundwork of this premise lays the foundation for an incredible sense of dire hopelessness for the central character, yet Ridley Scott provides none of this in his movie. Even the camerawork amidst sandstorms and life-threatening plot-points on the planet are shot in such a vibrantly beautiful and meticulously efficient manner that it seems like we’re looking at a high-rendered computer simulation via NASA’s website instead of a cinematic work of art and emotion. As if Watney is inside of such a simulation the entire time, robotic and fake. It seems that Mr. Scott has trouble conjuring up much drama when there aren’t horrifying alien creatures lurking about looking to feed on the main character.
Everything Will Be Fine (Wim Wenders, 2015)
This is going to be a quick review, because this film was atrocious. I am still trying to search for what the hell Wim Wenders, Germany’s most overrated filmmaker export (Wings of Desire, Paris Texas, both dreck), was trying to say here, and what possessed him to believe any of the so-called “acting” that we see on screen was adequate for anything more than an ABC Family original movie.
Time Out of Mind (Oren Moverman, 2015)
More personal performance piece by Richard Gere than anything else. Time Out of Mind documents Richard Gere as a homeless man, estranged from his daughter and permanently separated from his wife. Gere opens the piece with him lying inside a bathtub and acting disoriented saying some woman is coming to get him and everything is okay. Throughout the film, Gere’s character behaves in a way which directly confronts our fears, irritation, and genuine negative attitude towards the homeless. He is pathetic in many cases, spending what little money he can panhandle to buy a six pack and sit on a park bench, making belching noises and feeling sorry for himself. It’s easy to hate this character, and that is the point. He finally seeks help at a homeless shelter and it is here that we see the “system”. For all of the rudeness and complete lack of consideration that Gere’s homeless individual displays the social workers still treat him with respect and do what they can to retrieve the information they need to get him help. It is important for Gere to express his character as one without any identifying marks; no ID, no license, no proof of birth. He embodies the our version of a homeless man. Faceless, nameless, a category of not-quite-human on the street to avoid eye-contact with. Eternally non-existent, at least, aside from that split second we pass them by. In this sense, Gere’s acting performance and experiment overall is important because it forces us to try to like his character, to notice him, to see ourselves by his side. We resist through majority of the film, but eventually, there is a growing sense of comfort. The film succumbs to sappy clichés once or twice, mainly with the annoying side character of Dixon, as well as a scene in a coffee shop where Gere tries playing the piano with a beautiful afternoon light glowing directly in his direction. These scenes are an unimaginative plea to turn Gere into a “character”, but that rings false. The greatest strength of the film is when Gere is at his worst because that confrontation challenges the best in our ability to empathize with his situation.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson, 2015)
When I first heard about Roy Andersson, he piqued my interest mainly because of people’s complaints about his sparse and challenging comedy. I like movies that are hard to digest in terms of their artistic approach because it proves that the filmmaker is at least attempting something unique. In this sense, the movie can never outright fail because as Woody Allen says “98% of success is just showing up”. Well, Andersson technically showed up, but then died right at the doorstep and left me flabbergasted as to what to do. Pigeon is a weird movie for sure, but it is also one where its weirdness, sparseness, and supposed quirk is equivalent of the kid in the corner snorting with a cold, pulling out his snot, examining it, and then eating it. It’s not the kind you want to be associated with to examine from anything close than a safe 20 feet away. There is no charm here, just a deadly slow showcase of mannequin-like characters doing their worst impression of deadpan humor. The two salesmen, the “hook” of the narrative if you will, display their ineptitude from the get-go, reducing themselves to pointless downers. We know they’re not going to sell anything, so why are we watching them? In fact, why the hell are we watching this movie?