Tag Archives: Matt Damon

“FORD V FERRARI” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Two men, a Mustang, and a wrench.

Ford v Ferrari feels like one of those epic underdog stories not unlike David and Goliath – and despite what the title suggests, Ford is not David and Ferrari is not Goliath. No, this story is about innovators versus CEOs, workers versus corporations, creators versus the companies who own creators. Five decades ago, two men, a Mustang, and a wrench beat not one, but two million-dollar corporations on the race track and in life. Yet, to this day the names we see imprinted on the side of cars are Ford and Ferrari, not Shelby and Miles.

If you ever met these men in real life, you’re prone to either love them or hate them, depending on whether you work on the creative or corporate side of the race track. Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is a 40-year-old automotive designer and former race car driver who was forced to retire early after developing an intensified heart condition. Ken Miles (Christian Bale) is a hot-headed Brit who has just as much of Shelby’s talent behind the wheel and twice the temper. If these two were parts in a car, Shelby would be the pistons and Miles would be the fuel – when you put them together, combustion is imminent.

These two men are recruited by Henry Ford II (yes, that Henry Ford, portrayed by Tracy Letts) for one purpose: to beat Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans Grand Prix, a 24-hour race held on a wildly turbulent track in France. Any other man would think Ford was out of his wrinkly, white-haired mind. But Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles are not most men. They take the challenge head-on, and they have to get past not just Ferrari, but Ford to build one of the fastest race cars in automotive history.

Ford v Ferrari feels like one of those classic American stories you should have learned at some point in high school – a classic longshot tale, not unlike Rocky battling it out with Apollo Creed or Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes. Yet, I have never heard of either Carroll Shelby or Ken Miles. I suspect you may not have either. That’s part of what makes their story so surprising, because they’ve contributed a big part to America’s industrial innovation. Not only did they develop the vehicle that would later become the GT40 Mustang, but they also helped unseat Ferrari as the Le Mans Grand Champions, a title they’ve held onto for nine years before Ford entered the race.

If nothing else, Ford v Ferrari illustrates a story of the everyman – the American innovator who wants to push boundaries, pave paths, and create new ways forward, but are constantly hindered by the people wanting to be stuck in the past. I was surprised to find that this film’s biggest antagonists were not Enzo Ferrari or his driver Lorenzo Bandini, but rather Henry Ford II and his scumbag senior executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas). Rarely do you see a face in film that is as punchable as Josh Lucas’. His character is as scuzzy and as filthy as they come, a greedy, self-centered cretin that cares only about the bottom dollar and not much for the people that helped get him there. If Jacob Marley ever saw this man in real life, he would give Ebeneezer Scrooge a pass on Christmas Eve and would send the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future on him instead.

As much as I despise his character, however, Josh Lucas serves a vital role in the conflict of Ford v Ferrari – it’s not the industry we’re fighting, but often the people who control the industry and the people within it. When Shelby and Miles are knee-deep into engineering their Mustang, they’re artists perfecting their craft. When Shelby and Miles are driving at dangerously high speeds, they’re in Heaven. When they’re arguing with a snobby auto exec on who belongs in the driver’s seat, their brakes are punched to a screeching halt.

These characters are very relatable not just because of their situation, but because so many of us have found ourselves in circumstances similar to Shelby’s and Miles’. Their conflict is not just written very well, but also portrayed very well. Christian Bale, in particular, can’t help but outshine the rest of his talented cast. He has the physique and the fighting spirit from his Oscar-winning performance of Dicky Eklund in The Fighter, but in the same sentence possesses the same introversion and comedic timing as Michael Burry in The Big Short. Whether he’s exchanging jabs with Carroll Shelby at a pit stop or sharing a sentimental moment on the road with his son, you’re invested in Miles’ story and his constant desire to go against the grain.

This film is directed by James Mangold, who has been on a winning streak as of late with some of his most recent projects. He previously directed the Academy Award-nominated Walk The Line and 3:10 To Yuma, and he more recently wrote and directed the last entry in Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine trilogy, Logan. Ford v Ferrari possesses all of the grit his previous films have with even more relevance and authenticity. It doesn’t surprise me that the film feels like an industrial western, because when Ken Miles steps out onto race track and gets in his car, it has the tension and anticipation that builds up like a lone cowboy stepping out of the saloon to take on the outlaw with a draw of his pistol.

Ford v Ferrari is an excellent film: dramatic, moving, exciting, riveting, and dripping with enthusiasm, like oil gushing from the exhaust pipe. If I had one criticism, it would be that the first act takes too much time to build up its stakes and doesn’t move as promptly as I felt it could have. But I would rather a film have too much interest in its subject rather than too little. Most men in life, like Henry Ford and Enzo Ferrari, are most interested in winning the race that’s ahead of them. Shelby and Miles are just grateful to be on the race track.

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Leo’s Pursuit For The Oscar Is Now A Video Game and It’s Perfect

That’s it. My life is perfect. I can now die a happy man.

For those of you that don’t know, Leonardo DiCaprio has spanned a long and successful career, with many arguing that he’s been long overdue an Oscar since being nominated for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? in 1993. This year, all of the buzz is on his side for his pivotal performance as Hugh Glass in the survivalist drama The Revenant.

In the case that he doesn’t get it again, however, at least we can say we got a hilarious video game out of him getting nominated.

The game is called Leo’s Red Carpet Rampage, and it features everyone’s favorite Oscar nominee racing for the statue against his fellow nominees, including The Martian’s Matt Damon, Steve Jobs’ Michael Fassbender, Trumbo’s Bryan Cranston, and The Danish Girl’s Eddie Redmayne. The game features Leo going up against hordes of paparazzi, flashing camera lights, acceptance speeches, overacting, and Lady Gaga. Oh, and there’s hilarious mini-games in between all of the mayhem, including “Qualude Overdose” featuring the infamous scene from Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, and “Find The Black Nominee” which is pretty self-explanatory.

Hint: You’re never going to win the second one.

The game was created by video game developers The Line, and can be played at redcarpetrampage.com. Feel free to click and try it out. I know I’ll be playing it until Oscar night.

Click here to play.

– David Dunn

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“THE MARTIAN” Review (✫✫✫)

Again with this, Matt?

Hollywood has spent too much money trying to bring Matt Damon home. I’m sorry, but someone had to say it. Our first venture to bring him home was in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Then, we brought him home from Syriana. His most recent attempt was in last year’s Christopher Nolan epic Interstellar. And now we have The Martian.

Don’t worry, it’s a good movie. The story is thorough, the visual effects are convincing, and Damon does a great job evoking tension and sympathy from his viewers. I swear to God though, if he gets himself trapped on another distant planet or war zone anytime soon, I’m leaving his ass behind and joining a traveling circus with Jimmy Kimmel.

Based on the novel of the same name, The Martian tells the story of the Ares III crew, an astronaut team sent to scout and research the planet Mars. While there, the team gets hit by an intense sand storm and is forced to initiate an emergency evacuation from the planet. While making their escape, however, one of their teammates, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is struck by debris and separated from his team. Believing he was killed, his teammates board the ship and launch away from the planet.

The Ares III team forgot to account for one thing, however. Mark Watney is played by Matt Damon, so of course he’s going to survive. He didn’t last through war zones, conspiracy theories, and elaborate heists just to let one planet do him in.

Now alone on a planet that is incapable of sustaining life, Mark Watney needs to figure out how to survive and eventually escape from the planet Mars.

This film is directed by Ridley Scott. You can see that as either a good or bad thing depending on what part of his filmography you’re looking at. It’s true, he’s known for science-fiction classics including Alien and Blade Runner, as well as the Academy Award-winning Gladiator. But in recent years, he’s also been responsible for a number of duds. For example, has anyone seen, and liked, Robin Hood, The Counselor, and Exodus: Gods and Kings?

Well, don’t worry dear reader: Scott is back in his prime, and he orchestrates his environments beautifully here. However, I don’t think it’s necessarily just because of him. This world was crafted from the mind of author Andy Weir, who before writing The Martian was a software engineer for Sandia National Laboratories, AOL Inc. and Blizzard Entertainment. When he originally published The Martian on his website, he conducted extensive research on Mars’ geography, astrodynamics, and botany to make the book as scientifically accurate as possible.

By the time Ridley Scott and writer Drew Godard read the book, they didn’t have to adapt it so much as reproduce it.

The thing I love most about The Martian is the research that went into it. When it starts, you think this is going to be another survival story in space, not too dissimilar to Gravity or Apollo 13. The surprising thing, though, is that The Martian isn’t so much thrilling as it is fascinating.

Picture being stuck on a planet with no water, no oxygen, and no food. Seems hopeless, right? And indeed it is, but Watney was trained for environments like this. He adapts. He learns to deal with what he is given. So how does he react to having no water, oxygen, or food? He creates his own water by super-heating Mars’ humidity, he tears apart NASA machinery to stockpile on oxygen resources, and he learns to artificially grow his own potato garden by planting them in (don’t vomit) his own feces.

These are just a few of the problems Watney faces in the film. How does he create transportation? How is he going to communicate with NASA? What does he do if a sandstorm blows open a hole in his space station? What if his crops suddenly die out? What if he runs out of oxygen? What then?

This is how the film builds tension: by throwing impossible survival situations at our poor hero and watching as he dissects for a solution. Does his methods get outlandish? Of course they do, but they are reasonably outlandish, and that’s because of the reality Weir grounded Watney in while writing his novel.

Scott’s visual prowess lends well to the film’s scientific applications. In terms of scale, this film operates on a smaller budget than his other recent films (Robin Hood and Exodus: Gods and Kings’ budgets were $200 million and $145 million, respectively. The Martian’s was $108 million). Yet, in comparison, I’m inclined to say this is his most visually authentic film yet. The reason is because of Scott’s use of practical effects. For science-fiction films, it’s so easy to place your character in front of a blue screen and plaster generic Mars footage in the background. That wasn’t good enough for Scott. For the background alone, he went and filmed the production in the Wadi Rum Valley in Jordan, which has the appropriate sandy landscapes and shade of red that is accurate to the geography of Mars. He constructed 20 sets for the many areas Watney traverses. His production crew grew legitimate potato crops so they could capture the process of photosynthesis on film. For any other director, they would have settled for the easy way out, plastering CGI around your actor and having them react to what isn’t there. That wouldn’t do The Martian justice. Scott knew that and created the best visuals possible for a movie that deserved it.

I have one gripe with the film, and that is its climax, which ironically is supposed to be the high point of the film. I can’t say exactly what happens with the end, but I will say it went on for too long. By the time we arrive at the climax, we know what’s going to happen to Watney. What kind of a movie would this be if it ended any other way than what we were expecting? The thing is that Scott treats us as if we’re too oblivious to it, and he draws it out to a ridiculous length in an attempt to further thrill his audience. It doesn’t work. By the time the ending rolled around, I was looking at my watch, wondering how much longer this scene was going to drag out. Climaxes aren’t supposed to do that. They’re supposed to keep you further engaged with the film: not waiting, impatiently wondering when its going to end.

So does Mark Watney survive? You tell me. He is played by Matt Damon.

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“ELYSIUM” Review (✫✫)

We call it Halo– oops, I meant Elysium.

Elysium is a very specific movie for a very specific audience, a science-fiction film that is too illogical to be taken seriously, yet too solemn to have any good fun. Whenever I attend the movies, I expect either a thought-provoking story trying to instill some idea in its viewers, or an engaging, fun picture intended for the enjoyment of its audience. Never have I seen two tones clash with each other so furiously in a motion picture.

Taking place in the future of 2033, Elysium tells the story of Max Dacosta (Matt Damon), a poor young orphan who is stranded on the destitute slums on Earth since pollution and overpopulation took whatever life it had left long ago. The poor live on Earth while the rich live on an off-world, ring-shaped preservation called “Elysium”, where the fortunate carry out their spoiled, lavish lifestyles and cure diseases in these “health pods” that more or less reboot their bodies. Feeling sick, drowsy or nauseous? Not on Elysium.

Since he lives on Earth, Max is stuck to his harsh day job as a construction worker, building the guard robots that patrol and abuse the citizens on Earth on a daily basis. One day, however, a full, fatal blast of radiation doses him at his work place. Having only five days left to live, Max joins the rebellion on Earth and hatches a scheme to get to Elysium and get himself cured.

A notice to the visual effects designer that handled the majority of the film’s designs: I’m suing you for plagiarism. Video game fans will notice this more than me, but every single piece of designs for Elysium, the machines and anything else in the movie bears a strikingly similar resemblance to a Microsoft video game called Halo. Look it up. The robots, the armor, the weapons, the vehicles,the landscape, even the ring design of Elysium all bear multiple similarities to their counterparts in that video game to the point where it is no longer inspiration and becomes an issue of copyright. Frankly, I’m surprised Microsoft hasn’t sued them already.

Back to the matter at hand. What is there to say about this movie? Well, it’s written and directed by Neil Blomkamp, the same filmmaker behind District 9, who ironically was also in the running for adapting the Halo movie to the big screen. Matt Damon is the lead, a role previously offered to white rappers Eminem and Ninja, and Sharlto Copley plays a vicious bounty hunter that’s chasing after Dacosta, a sharp contrast to the bureaucratic role he adopted in his first collaboration with Blomkamp in District 9.

I myself have not seen District 9, although I’ve really wanted to. The words I’ve heard to describe the movie have been praising nonetheless, with phrases I’ve heard including “greatly entertaining”, “raw and intensely-blooded”, “aggressively original”, and “an un-compromising geo-political/xenophobic commentary.”

I feel like everything I heard about District 9 is everything that Elysium isn’t, save for all of the pointless blood and gore. Don’t get me wrong, there are good parts in Elysium, but that’s all they are: complete, fully realized parts of one broken, misshapen whole. The first hour is absolutely mesmerizing, immersing us in this world full of spectacle, bigotry and the unfair treatment of social classes. I love the opening sequence of the film because it painted a picture in between Earth and Elysium similarly to how one paints a picture of the rich and the poor. It truly touched and gripped me,  preparing me for an exhilarating experience filled with deepness and social commentary.

So what happened? Matt Damon gets doused with radiation and he straps on a large freakin’ robot suit that is about as lumpy and inconvenient as the metal suit Tony builds at the beginning of Iron Man. All of the emotional relevance I talked about at the beginning of the movie is now gone. What’s in the place of the drama and the social commentary is an action movie, filled with all sorts of the gunshots, robots, big ships, and the machine “whilring” sounds all the same. The worst part?  None of the action is either original or exhilarating. It’s just an awkward boxing match of punches and grabs that looks about as visually appealing as a round of “Rock-Em-Sock-Em Robots”.

Oh, Matt Damon does a good job being a puppet in the movie, but that’s all he is: a puppet, with no emotional gravity or relevance until the end of the picture. But even then, what do we have for the other 120 minutes? Just the typical bad boy character with big muscles dragging around a metal suit and shouting the F-word.

There are also multiple lapses in the film’s logic that can’t help but bother me. Why doesn’t Elysium have any defense systems? Why do they have to rely on a bounty hunter to shoot some spaceships down from the grounds on Earth? How can you aim at ships in space when you can’t even see them from the planet? Why does Max experience headaches randomly that are neither explained or elaborated? Why does it take one person multiple hours and a lot of painkillers to surgically install armor, whereas it takes another person mere minutes to put it on?

The worst, and most frustrating hole, however, comes from Elysium itself. Do the inhabitants there realize that Earth’s inhabitants are not after their home, but rather, their healing pods that they keep exclusively on Elysium? That’s why they invade the preservation, for crying out loud. Why, then, are they so selfish in keeping those pods and not at least building a few for the hospitals on Earth? The U.S. used to spend over $50,000 on foreign aid to other counties, and Elysium is obviously much better off than we are. Are Elysium’s inhabitants really so stupid to not realize that if they built a few of those pods down to earth, the tension would ease and they perhaps would be left alone? Their attitude is so selfish to the point that their actions are no longer sees as cruel and they begin to seem less realistic.

Yes, it paints imagery of the rich and the poor. Yes, it has its own philosophy of racism and social class. Yes, it has messages on healthcare and humanity. Laddy-freaking-da. What is the point of the messages if the film is no good? We were supposed to get a film that was smart, exciting, and dramatic. What we got instead from Elysium was an experience that is dull, confusing, and uninspired.

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