The Martian – film & novel review

The Martian has been in the news a lot recently with the nominations and awards it received at the 2016 Oscars. One things a lot of people don’t happen to realize is that it’s also an incredibly popular novel. (Why don’t people seem to know this? It’s awesome!)

So today, I’ll be reviewing both the film and the novel. This is my first book review, so I’ve decided to section it off into the following categories: plot, characters and writing style.

First, the novel.

Plot – 10/10

Right off the bat from reading the summary on the back of the book cover, I was hooked. The premise of a Robinson Crusoe/ Castaway sci-fi book thrilled me immensely. Essentially, Mark Watney, astronaut and crew member of Ares 3, has been left behind by the remaining five members of his crew due to a sandstorm that endangered everyone. Oh, and I forgot to mention something: he’s been stranded on MARS. He then uses his skills in botany and engineering to figure out a way he can survive for four+ years on the barren planet.

If you aren’t already dying to figure out how he does this, you should be.

In accordance with one of Kurt Vonnegut’s rules of writing, the author of The Martian, Andy Weir, is a complete sadist when it comes to describing what happens to Watney. Just when you think he’s in the clear, another terrible mistake will be made and he screws himself over. And over. And over. Yet still, you become incredibly attached to Watney as a character seeing as the majority of the novel is written from the perspective of the crew log Watney keeps on him during the duration of his abandonment.

Does he survive? I don’t know, read the book and find out!

(Also, if you are a fan of The Martian, PLEASE check out Weir’s short story “The Egg”. You will not regret it.)

Characters – 9/10

As I said before, most of the story is written through Watney’s perspective. His characteristics are defined through both his actions, dialogue and communication with both his crew and NASA while he is stranded. He is, to phrase it technically, a bit of a smart ass. He makes fun of himself constantly, as is illustrated beautifully in the novel’s opening line: “I’m pretty much fucked.”

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He finds himself making light of the situation constantly, which I found to be incredibly realistic of someone put in his position. I know a lot of critics of the book say that he would have been going crazy from the isolation and desperation Watney surely felt, but I disagree. Thinking through this logically, Watney was screened to be an astronaut after years and years of training. I’m sure a large portion of that training include psychiatric evaluations to ensure he wouldn’t lose his head when placed in desperate situations. Even his own doctor explains in the novel that the fact he is seemingly “keeping his cool” throughout his situation is in accordance with his character.

In terms of character development, Watney is a perfect example of how to develop a fun, intelligent, smart-mouthing and sarcastic guy into a “survivor”. I was moved when his log began including descriptions of how he begins to lose hope, how he “weeps like a child” at certain moments, how he felt weak when he first began receiving communication from NASA. It was eloquently and subtly written, and I was really pleased with how he grew as a character, especially emotionally, without losing his main characteristics.

My only wish is that they had shown some of the other characters developing. This novel does take place over the span of four years after all.

Writing – 8.5/10

Weir, I love you.

His brilliant explanations of all things scientific (especially the part where Watney tries to manufacture water using oxygen and hydrogen) is easy to follow regardless of your background, which I appreciated. Also, it’s obvious he knows what he’s talking about. Weir has a background in electrical engineering, computer programming and classical writing. And let me tell you, he definitely did his research for this book. I couldn’t find a single fault in the logic, and I know that critics of the book have pointed out that hypothetically, all of the events that transpire can potentially occur.

His writing reminds me of Jodi Picoult’s, so if you’re a fan of hers, The Martian is definitely for you.

Overall – 9/10

Solid novel, highly recommend. My only real complaint is the lull in the plot about two thirds through the novel when Watney is ignored for several chapters while Weir focussed the story around what was going on on earth for a while. I know why he made the choice to shift the focus from Watney (I mean, just how interesting can four years on a desolate planet all by yourself be?) but it still would have been nice to have some updates from him.

And now, the film. (Keep in mind that since I’ve already covered plot, characters and realism, I won’t be commenting on those categories down below.)

 

Cinematography – 9/10

Again, an amazing score for an amazing camera crew. I kept forgetting that the movie wasn’t actually filmed on Mars!

I especially loved the scenes taking place within the spaceship that Watney should have been on. The rotation of the ship was so beautifully shot and edited that I physically found myself getting increasingly dizzy while watching the film. Honourable mentions to the scenes of Mars that were all shot in Wadi Rum, which is known for its alien landscape.

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I also liked the variety of shots (i.e. when Watney is in the Rover and speaking to his camcorder vs. the establishing/ overhead shots of the barren planet).

Soundtrack – 7/10

Sorry disco lovers, but I am not a fan of seventies funk. To be fair, neither is Watney and the fact that all he has to listen to on Mars is ABBA and Co. really adds to the comedic relief. There are certain scenes where the disco music actually works, and those are the scenes that are evidently my favourite.

The following songs are included in the soundtrack (and are the best ones):

  • David Bowie – Starman
  • Vicki Sue Robinson – Turn the Beat Around
  • Donna Summer – Hot Stuff

Acting – 8/10

I really love Matt Damon as an actor, but I’m trying to remain impartial for my analysis of his acting here. My verdict is that he did a fantastic job, especially considering that he had to portray such a complex character. To be completely honest, he wasn’t the face I was envisioning when I pictured Watney in my head (I read the book first) but I wasn’t disappointed.

My only critic on his part is that I find he is constantly playing the damsel in distress (remember Saving Private Ryan? Interstellar?)

Other well-known actors in this film include Kristen Wigg, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara and Jessica Chastain.

HUGE issue I had with the casting was whoever decided that Donald Glover would make a good Rich Purnell. Rich Purnell is supposed to be twice Glover’s age and is supposed to display classic character traits of someone with Aspergers. Glover just looked like a clumsy, simple nerd as opposed to a complex genius who ends up the “real” hero of the story. Seriously? A rapper?

Overall Experience – 8.5/10

While I did love the movie and completely believe it did the novel justice, I couldn’t get over Glover’s appearance to tie the two media in this category. The book doesn’t surpass the film in any way except with Rich Purnell’s character, and I cannot stress this enough.

If you liked the book, you’ll like the movie and vica versa.

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Zootopia – film review

As promised in my last post, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – film review, I am continuing with my film and novel reviews. Check out my last post, if you haven’t already, for some context.

I saw Zootopia yesterday, which was great because a) I love kiddie movies and b) I had 1000 Scene points, so I got to see it for free. Here’s the verdict:

Plot – 8.5/10

For once in a Disney movie, I didn’t suspect who the surprise villain was (okay, I didn’t suspect Hans from Frozen either) but unfortunately, my date to the movies did. It did have that whole “Disney happy ending” that we all know and love, but it was a bit tired. The last five seconds make up for it though in my opinion.

The story was also more complicated than the classic Disney films are (i.e. princess gets saved from horrible thing and marries prince). The conspiracy that transpires is one that left some of the kids in the theatre looking very confused. I heard one little girl asking her mom, “What happened?” after the film.

The writing was also amazing. For fellow Frozen fans, there’s a reference to a certain character hidden in Zootopia, so watch out for it! And for all of the adults out there taking your little ones (or just seeing it because it’s great) there’s also a hidden Breaking Bad reference. Not telling you when.

Characters – 9/10

The characters develop the way you’d expect them to in a Disney film:

Judy Hopps, first ever bunny police officer, realizes that her prejudices are wrong and becomes a better person (bunny?) for it.

Nick Wilde, sly and clever fox, realizes that it’s not okay to fit into your prejudice for the sake of “going with the flow” and he stops being a hustler and becomes a better person (fox?) for it.

No complaint here about that. All of the background and secondary characters were well-developed too. I particularly liked Peter Moosebridge, TV anchor (fellow Canadians should know why).

Cinematography – 10/10

Oh my God, this movie reminds me why I absolutely LOVE Disney animators. I know Disney Pixar’s Inside Out won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture, but if Zootopia had been released last year, I would have openly protested that decision.

At one point, the two main characters were leaning on a metal pole. On that pole, I was able to see scratches and scuff marks. It looked amazingly realistic.

The city’s animation is beyond beautiful as well. I especially liked the Rainforest District.

Soundtrack – 6/10

This is it: the only category in this movie that struggles. Shakira has her own cameo in this movie and she, unfortunately, supplies the soundtrack for the film. I say “unfortunately” because I’ve never been a fan, but if you are then this is the movie for you!

Acting – 10/10

Voice actors are actors too! But I may just be a little bit biased because I love Ginnifer Goodwin.

Realism – 10/10

It was scary to see exactly how easily this could happen in real life. This movie is definitely a statement about the prejudice against POC in first world countries. It was almost like the villain could have been played by Trump.

Even the wording was so… realistic. I mean, as realistic as can be about a movie about a bunch of animals living in harmony apparently all magically vegetarian.

Overall experience – 9/10

It was a hilarious, surprising and charming movie, which are the kinds I like best. It’s appropriate for kids of all ages, and for adults of all ages too.

It’s one of those Disney movies that you fall in love with right away and want to revisit over and over again. It is heartwarming, and it teaches everyone a valuable lesson about prejudice and stereotypes: that they are ridiculous and we should not let them control our lives.

You will enjoy it, I can almost guarantee it.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – film review

Hello devoted fans of The Tara Chronicles (AKA, my mom).

I’ve decided to start writing film and book reviews as I make my way throughout 2016. This is a continuation of a project I completed at the end of 2014 where I gave a list of the novels I read throughout the year, a brief summary of each, and a rated number out of ten with ten being good and one being terrible.

This will be my first film review and I’m not sure how to do this since I’ve never reviewed a film before, so I’m going to break it down into sections: plot, characters/ character development, cinematography, soundtrack, acting and use of actors and actresses, realism (i.e. could this happen?) and overall experience.

Plot – 8.5/10

Without giving too much of the film away, WTF is a film about a journalist in NYC who decides she’s in a rut and makes a very sudden decision to become a war reporter when her news agency tells her it is an option. This all takes place in the early-mid 2000’s in Afghanistan, right around the time war breaks out in Iraq.

I have the benefit of having experience with journalism and the journalism industry and I know that from that standpoint, this story was incredibly well-told and dramatic without being over-the-top (see The Newsroom if you want that kind of non-stop drama and bureaucratic bullshit… not to say that The Newsroom isn’t also amazing in its own way).

I found the plot to be exciting and at times very humorous, which was a decent way to handle a complex story that covers a war. The story was told tactfully and respectfully, and the writing was superb in my opinion. It showed Afghanistan in a very real and terrifying way that showcased how human emotions that western women (or people in general) would naturally showcase when put in a similar situation.

Characters – 9/10

Kim Barker is the film’s protagonist, and her development is drastic as the film progresses. She goes from a shy-yet-mouthy copy writer for TV who desperately wants to return to NYC to be with her boyfriend to an independent badass who ends up rescuing one of her friends, possibly saving his life.

What was interesting was to see how the feminist traits of Barker also develop throughout the film. She begins her Afghanistan coverage with very little to say about the way women are treated in Afghanistan (even saying to her Afghan male friend at one point, “Look I get it. You’re into mysterious women who dress like Ikea bags” at one point). She slowly starts to realize just how badly women are treated after several instances lead to her accidentally becoming lost at night without her headscarf. After this, she begins coverage of a local girls school that had been firebombed. The film concludes with her turning to her male friend and asking him how his twins were doing. When he tells her that “the boy is very strong” she replies, “I bet the girl is strong too”.

Cinematography – 7/10

This film had a lot of unique shots that were risky and graphic to film, but they covered them in a unique and satisfying way. One example I can think of is when Barker is trying to record a standup when she starts cursing after discovering a burned and dismembered hand at her feet. It was meant to shock the audience in a way that would not over-dramatize the event, which to Barker’s character would have been considered almost “normal” at that point.

I wish desperately that the film had done more with the beautiful “oh my god, this place is beautiful” shots, but the ones that were included were great. With Afghanistan being the beautiful country that it is though, I wish the audience was able to see more of it.

Scenes were instead set using camera tricks such as filming coffee pots with Arabic writing on the side to remind the audience of the setting. This is an old trick that many screenplay writers do, but it’s still effective.

Soundtrack – 9/10

Maybe I’m giving this category such a high score because I’m a sucker for early 2000’s music, but all of the songs included gave me major nostalgia.

I found the party music to be appropriate for the time period, the karaoke song to be hilarious (“Take on Me” by a-ha) and the song made for the serious marine raid when they were rescuing a kidnapped photojournalist to be a unique and beautiful choice because it put the viewer on edge just the right amount. If I recognized the song, I would include it here, but I unfortunately didn’t.

Acting – 8.5/10

The three famous actors and actresses in this movie that everyone should recognize are Tina Fey, Martin Freeman and Margot Robbie.

Tina Fey played the resourceful and intelligent protagonist and I must say this is my favourite film of hers since Mean GirlsIt had the infamous feminist undertones that Fey is famous for partaking in with films, and it really showed the elasticity of her acting abilities.

Martin Freeman is infamously a hilarious and witty bastard in real life (well, from what I’ve read) and I’m so happy that he finally, finally, has a role that fits him like a glove. He plays Barker’s Scottish friend/ lover Iain McKelpie, a womanizing douche who loves to use and abuse women… or so he seems. I don’t want to give too much away, but I really wanted to mention his character in the “character development” category earlier. That’s all I’m going to say.

Oh and also, his Scottish accent is amazing.

And last but not least, we get to the reason why this category doesn’t have a perfect score: Margot Robbie. There was nothing wrong with her performance except, well, her character was pointless. POINTLESS.

Robbie plays Barker’s “frienemy” (friend/ enemy) Tanya Vanderpoel. She is the complete epitome of what this film is NOT about, and is setting women back about a million years.

Example 1) The first thing she does is tell Barker that she’s a “six” in America, but a “9.5” in Afghanistan, implying that women are only good reporters/ well heard of if they are pretty.

Example 2) She is constantly undermining Barker’s character. Constantly. Even though she pretends to be a friend (Mean Girls flashback?)

Example 3) Spoiler alert: she tries to steal Barker’s job from her. Instead of showing women supporting each other in a time of humanitarian crisis, she decides to be a bitch and steal the only other female reporter’s job. Because a war obviously didn’t have enough conflict for the directors; they wanted to see a catfight too.

This character was pointless and Robbie’s acting was easily forgettable alongside that of her coworkers’.

Realism – 10/10

Finally, a movie about journalism that gets it right.

Now, I still haven’t seen Spotlight (which I now fully intend to do after watching the Oscars this past Sunday) but I’m so happy that 2015/ 2016 seems to be the year of the journalists. Maybe I’m just biased, but I like movies revolving around professions I know a lot about.

From a journalism standpoint, this movie is dead-on. All of the technical terms used, the action, the immediate halt of partying shown at the beginning of the film because a bomb had just gone off, etc.

However, this film is based on a true story, so I don’t want to spend too long on this category.

Overall Experience – 9.5/10

I loved this film and I am recommending it to everyone I know. It was witty, hilarious, written and entertaining. I never found myself drifting off or losing track of the plot line.

It was just very, very well-done overall.

So that’s it for my first ever film review! If you have any recommendations for a film or novel for me to review, please leave a comment below. Check out Whiskey Tango Foxtrot if you haven’t already!

How to be a Wanderlust

I tend to hear similar responses from people when I tell them about my travelling:

“Wow! You’re so lucky!”

“I wish I could do that!”

“You’re really living the dream life!”

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You… you realize this can be you… right?

I don’t have these opportunities to travel and work around the world just land in my lap. Luck has NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS. I work hard and I do my research to figure out the most economically friendly ways for me to travel. I work hard to afford flights and travel necessities. I work hard so I can spend my life doing what I love.

“It’s not that easy.”

“No one has that kind of time.”

“Who’s got the money for all of that?”

You don’t understand: it really is as simple as making the decision to go somewhere and figuring out how to do it.

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Sure, it’s going to be time-consuming, so you need to learn how to plan ahead. Me? I have my next several trips planned at least vaguely so I know not to make any long-term commitments I know I can’t keep, such as getting a full-time job.

Another thing people never seem to consider is the fact that people CAN work from different destinations. Look for job openings in Moscow or Rio or Zurich if North America just isn’t doing it for you. Look for volunteer opportunities in sunny, tropical climates. Look for mountain climbing lessons in the Himalayas. JUST TRY!

As for the money…

Okay, I get it. Most people can’t just drop everything and go on a $2,000 flight to Australia, but that’s why planning ahead is so important. I saved up for two years in order to afford my Thailand volunteer trip, winning $1,500 worth of bursaries and scholarships as well as holding down two different jobs and selling crafts to help raise the money I needed. YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO COMMIT AND WORK AT IT.

That being said, don’t you dare bitch and complain to me that you can’t go even though you “so very much want to go, oh golly”.

Stop it.

If you really wanted to go, you would find a way.

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