Trevor Downs-Robertson's Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

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Rating History

The Martian
The Martian (2015)
15 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

"The Martian" is Ridley Scott's best film since "Thelma and Louise," which might not be saying much but speaks to the fact that even a 77-year-old dog like Scott, mostly relegated to junky hackwork and FX-heavy spectacle in recent years can still bust out a real winner when given a solid script.

And that's exactly what "The Martian" is: Solid. Clear, un-fussy, journeyman direction; a classic movie-star-charisma performance from Damon in the vein of a Gregory Peck or a Cary Grant; a cause-and-effect story structure that makes a virtue of the constant stream of science-jargon-exposition... Perhaps there's nothing spectacular in regards to any one element, but everything is simply on-point, like a working engine that runs smooth and efficiently.

It's meat-and-potatoes, back-to-basics filmmaking-- which in and of itself can be considered a refreshing virtue in this day and age-- but it's all in service of the kind of romantic family adventure film in the Spielberg/Amblin mold that Abrams and Nolan were aiming for (and failed to capture) with their "Super 8" and "Interstellar."

And it all comes down to the little details; the small things that don't draw attention to themselves, but nevertheless exist in the margins of the story while brightening the film with personalty and beauty: that great drama (and specifically, the FX-heavy sci-fi blockbuster genre) doesn't require death or mass destruction; that there's no villain and everybody has good intentions and is good at their job; that the cast is incredibly diverse in both gender and race; that science and exploration is regarded as a beautiful ideal, made possible through humanity's unity; that the day is saved by critical thinking and teamwork, rather than through violence or the actions of a lone hero; and most importantly, that optimism and hope trump cynicism and hopelessness every time.

When irony, pessimism, and darkness reign, it's the romantics that risk looking foolish and cheesy for their staunch belief in the supreme power of beauty that are truly edgy and rebellious... And that, in a nutshell, is "The Martian."

The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde inseglet)
23 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

For most people of my generation, the iconography of James Whale's "Frankenstein" films actually first became known through Mel Brook's "Young Frankenstein"; similarly, for most of my life, my knowledge of "The Seventh Seal" has been entirely based on the extended parody from "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey" (a great, spectacularly weird, and highly underrated movie, by the way).

So as certain cinematic images become lodged in the public consciousness through these various alternate channels, it's actually quite a thrill to discover the source films for the first time and realize that you actually know very little about them (for example, "Psycho" is so much nuttier in terms of plotting than than the famed and now-cliche shower scene might suggest, and "Safety Last" consists of a great deal more than Harold Lloyd hanging off the side of buildings).

So as it turns out, no, "The Seventh Seal" is not ninety minutes of Max Von Sydow playing chess with the Grim Reaper; rather, this is only a periodic event that frames the existential journey of the knight and his growing band of odd misfits. As lofty as it sounds, the strongest comparison I can find for the film's overall effect is that of a modern-day "Hamlet:" There's the lonesome hero full of indecision, a band of traveling actors, soliloquies about mortality, memento mori galore, and a narrative that seeks to tackle the greatest and weightiest issues of existence (the chess game itself, of course, being one of the most blatantly obvious yet wonderfully evocative metaphors in all of cinema).

It's a film-- like most of Bergman's work-- that has somehow gained a reputation for being bizarre, pretentious, alienating, confusing, or boring, but I found the script delightful; it's really a dark (sometimes very dark) comedy with musical sequences and a big cast of lovably oddball characters. There's so much to love.

It's simply one of the best films about coming to grips with life, death, and faith in a sometimes violent, unloving world-- and will that ever be a topic not worthy of consideration?

Primer
Primer (2004)
23 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Without hesitation, I can say that "Primer" is the most complex film I have ever seen. In a blissfully tight 80 minutes, first time director/writer/actor/editor/composer Shane Carruth expertly delivers a relentless stream of information, but never in such a way as to deliberately confuse or trick the audience. For a first time feature (made on an unfathomably meager $7,000), Carruth absolutely swung for the fences.

While the cold and somewhat distant tone adds to the experience, it also makes keeping track of certain people extremely difficult (Rachel and Granger, crucial figures that are only seen on screen twice sans dialogue, are only identified in brief voice over-- they are characters only in the loosest sense). There are also moments (particularly in the final twenty minutes) where the lack of special effects budget makes the storytelling a bit difficult to parse-- but these moments just further underscore the need to revisit "Primer" again and again. There is no hand-holding; Carruth trusts his audience with a story that basically requires days of meticulous discussion and intense thought (which is a rare thrill in cinema).

Unsettling, intellectually and morally engaging, and often unbearably intense, this is a triumph of Science fiction with a capital S.

Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette)
23 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

If you were to rank the films that carry the greatest burden of expectation, Vittorio de Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" would certainly be near the top of the list.

But compared to others, such as the other two films to have topped Sight and Sound's famous critics poll--"Citizen Kane" and "Vertigo"-- "Bicycle Thieves" isn't really loaded with subtle visual metaphors, technical complexity, or weighty psychological depth; this is not the kind of movie you'll work to parse meaning from or wrestle to understand.

Rather, its virtues are more immediately gratifying: a stunningly honest slice-of-life tale with lyrical cinemetography and deliberate pacing (that some might call slow or even dull; for me, the lack of rising action only served to sharply contrast the increasing monotony of utter hopelessness). Quite simply, this movie broke my heart.

Enzo Staiola's performance as Bruno is justly regarded as brilliant; easily the best turn from a young actor since Jackie Coogan in Chaplin's "The Kid." Lamberto Maggiorani's performance, on the other hand, I find to be shockingly underrated-- even the most ardent lovers of the film will lament his stiff, nervous, unnatural acting, but I couldn't disagree more. His nervousness is pain, his eyes soulful and aching; the whole character presented as both a universal archetype and a specific, wounded man full of personality and inner life. It's an amazing, iconic performance.

This is a film that comes loaded with baggage; the kind that might make a viewer say "Really? That's it?" because it might appear to be a "small" movie. But its relative "smallness" is deceptive, only serving to prove that movies are only as big or small as their emotional potency or thematic breadth will allow. In that sense, it's a movie that is infinite and universal in its scope-- which means "Bicycle Thieves" just might be the biggest movie of them all.

Sanjuro (Tsubaki Sanjr)
23 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

"Sanjuro" is the seminal action-movie sequel, representing everything great about the genre while tempering the not-so-great things to the point of only minor noticeability. In the grand scheme, it may be "lesser Kurosawa" if such a thing exists-- even his weakest films are better than most directors best films, and the guy produced masterpieces like it was a bodily function-- but "Sanjuro" is still a powerhouse.

Mifune's nameless ronin is just as memorable for his wit and clever manipulations as he is for his sword-fighting abilities; here, the situation he becomes tangled in is similar enough to the story that introduced him to feel like natural continuation without full-on aping what came before ("Yojimbo: Die Harder" basically). In the sequel, his successes more often result from his enemies stupidity rather than his own intelligence, but the overall scheme is compensated by a significant increase in comedy (in particular, one sequence with the brother's celebrating their success is not only the funniest scene Kurosawa ever directed, but easily one of the funniest scenes I've ever seen in any movie).

There are references and slight retreads of the earlier film too-- In "Yojimbo," the ronin kills six guards and cleverly arranges a scene of destruction to mask his involvement; "Sanjuro" takes a major leap past that in which he massacres about thirty soldiers singlehandedly. It's a bit more indulgent and a bit more lax in terms of staging (the action beats of the sequel are more frequent and more protracted than the first film, giving the audience much more time to notice the seams in the choreography), but even within these moments as well as when Sanjuro himself occasionally spills into exaggerated parody, they are tempered by a heavy moral weight threaded throughout the story.

Where "Yojimbo" slowly revealed the romantic beneath the tough exterior of the ronin, "Sanjuro" proceeds to prod at that hidden conscience and show the terrible effect it has on him, which is ultimately payed off in an absolutely stunning final sequence (not far off from another great sequel, "French Connection II"). It's the kind of ending that sticks with you for days afterwards, and while the film as a whole is ultimately not as ingeniously-constructed or perfectly balanced as the sparse, streamlined "Yojimbo," "Sanjuro" is still a brilliant, furiously entertaining, wildly hilarious work that can easily be named the best action sequel ever made.

Not bad for "lesser Kurosawa."