Matt Damon has spent a lot of time in space recently. In 2013, it was the sci-fi action movie Elysium. Last year we saw him in Christopher Nolan's epic Interstellar, and now he's completed a trifecta with Ridley Scott's new film, The Martian. Why the emphasis on space flicks? I haven't a clue, but I certainly don't mind.
Damon's third extraterrestrial film falls thematically between the other two. Elysium was entertaining but forgettable. Interstellar was existential and philosophical (but may have gone over the heads of some viewers). The Martian, with it's light, witty humor, is entertaining but also profound. It reminded me of Gravity (2013, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock).
The Martian is everything you'd expect in a realistic space thriller. The acting is flawless, the cinematography is spectacular and I was white-knuckle gripping my seat on more than one suspenseful occasion
What would you do if you only had three weeks to live? Everyone has toyed with answers to this question, but few wrestle with their answers as seriously as writer/director Lorene Scafaria in the 2012 film, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Don’t let the casting fool you. Comedian Steve Carrell (Michael Scott in the Office) plays the lead, across from Keira Knightley, but if this is a comedy, it still leaves you sober. I don't remember laughing, but I definitely cried.
With just weeks to live, some people would be checking off their bucket list, traveling to exotic locations and chasing final adventures. Others might opt out of the whole experience with a simple suicide note. Surely at least a few would pull out sandwich boards and megaphones to proclaim "The end is near!" All of these responses appear in this movie, but Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is about something more, something timeless. The haunting hollowness that so many feel, but few admit except in the face of death: Loneliness.
Snowpiercer is out on Netflix, and I know what you're thinking: "The Day After Tomorrow meets Unstoppable, right?" Wrong. Snowpiercer looks like total camp, it might even start out that way. But if you can make it through the first five minutes you'll be rewarded with a surprisingly engaging sci-fi parable of global irresponsibility.
This film is set in a post-apocalyptic future, where a climate change experiment gone wrong has created a global ice age. The last remaining survivors live on a globe circling train that has developed a class system. Led by Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), the poor in the tail section slum start a rebellion to take the engine of the train. What follows is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
Fairy tales always occur in dark and evil times. No story ever begins with the phrase: “While living happily ever after.” The point of a fairy tale is to express hope in a fantastical world that reveals the hope in the real world. So, they begin in darkness and end in light. Pan's Labyrinth (2006) is a fairy tale—but not the Disney kind. This film draws on a much older tradition; the European stories of the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, who were not afraid of the darkness, but used it to paint beautiful, tragic stories that are still with us today. It's hard to believe that Pan's Labyrinth is already almost ten years old, but maybe that is a testimony to its greatness.
[Note: This review assumes you have already seen the film and are familiar with basic plot details]
Set in the spring of 1944, Pan's Labyrinth takes place in the aftermath of Spain's civil war between the fascist and communist parties. Ofelia is a young girl with a strong imagination struggling to make sense of family trauma and societal violence. The movie begins as Ofelia and her pregnant mother Carmen travel to a remote wooded town to meet her new stepfather, Captain Vidal. There, in a decrepit labyrinth, she encounters a faun who believes she is the lost princess to a forgotten kingdom. Giving her three tasks, the faun promises her immortality if she completes them successfully. The remainder of the film follows Ofelia as she tries to accomplish this herculean mission.
In a recent episode of On Being, Krista Tippett noted that, "Soundtracks, for some of us, become the music of our church." Where churches, temples and mosques function as communal gathering places to reflect and be transformed through encounters with the divine, to those who have ears to hear, the theater is a place where inspired storytelling experiences become vehicles for the Transcendent.
Grieving happens on a spectrum between two poles. At one extreme, painful memories and raw emotions are stuffed deep inside and buried under layer after layer of thick callous. Any twinge of sadness that manages to work its way through is quickly strangled, along with whatever part of our humanity it attached itself to. On this end of the spectrum, people lead quiet, detached lives, abiding by the unspoken rules of their community, playing it safe so as to avoid the tiresome work of suppressing new trauma.
At the other extreme, emotions are like raw nerve endings. People over here may appear dangerous to those at the subdued end of the spectrum. Aware of their emotions, they have learned to let them out. Sometimes appropriately... sometimes not. There's a wildness about them as they come to terms with the wounds and scars that made them who they are. But sometimes the journey to healing requires an amount of savagery.
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." -John Muir
Russ is a business and personal coach who helps people lead meaningful lives at the intersection of faith, psychology, movies and business.