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Cinema reviews: Macbeth & The Martian

Michael Fassbender as Macbeth
Michael Fassbender as Macbeth

5 stars
The Scottish play bares its teeth and draws blood in Australian director Justin Kurzel’s muscular and unflinching adaptation that accentuates
the carnage as the doomed title character is undone by paternal grief and naked ambition.

Shot on location in Scotland and England, this Macbeth is rugged and raw, stripped bare of some of Shakespeare’s lyrical text for the sake of dramatic expediency and visual spectacle.

Purists may gnash their teeth at some of the alterations in Jacob Koskoff, Todd Louiso and Michael Lesslie’s script.

The film opens with a funeral rather than the hurlyburly of the weird sisters, and Lady Macbeth is a brittle porcelain doll, likely to crack at the slightest emotional jolt, rather than a demented dynamo behind her husband’s ascension to the throne.

Kurzel chooses to linger on the slow-motion cut and thrust of swords scything through flesh in expertly staged battle sequences that emphasise the title character’s credentials as a fearless warrior.

Michael Fassbender is front and centre throughout as the Thane of Glamis, whose encounter with prophetic hags sets him on his ill-fated course to self-annihilation.

FILM Reviews 095923

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) are inconsolable at the loss of their beloved son.

On the battlefields, the Thane encounters a trio of witches (Lynn Kennedy, Seylan Baxter, Kayla Fallon) and a child (Amber Rissmann), who foretell his rise through the ranks and coronation at the expense of King Duncan (David Thewlis).

Aided by his wife, Macbeth murders the monarch and frames his manservants.

The king’s son Malcolm (Jack Reynor) flees and Banquo (Paddy Considine) – who is party to the witches’ proclamation – naturally suspects Macbeth’s trembling hand in the foul play.

Subsequently, Macbeth turns his attention to rival Macduff (Sean Harris) and in one of the film’s most harrowing scenes, he orders the execution of Lady MacDuff (Elizabeth Debicki) and her children so that no one stands in his way as decreed by the hags.

With its high body count and explosions of viscera, Macbeth is a battered and bruised reworking of a classic text, punctuated by moments of directorial brio.

Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in the unflinching Macbeth
Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in the unflinching Macbeth

Fassbender delivers a mesmerising lead performance of snarling intensity that overwhelms everyone else
on screen, not least Cotillard as his wife in mourning,
who doesn’t always seem comfortable with the iambic pentameter.

A cold, earthy colour palette reflects the icy blast of an ill wind that whips through every frame, including majestic castle interiors where the scheming and treachery reach a horrifying crescendo.

By shooting on location in challenging conditions, Kurzel compels us to shudder in our seats and seek shelter from the raging storm of the
lead character’s internal conflict.

However, there’s nowhere to hide from the double toil and trouble.


Matt Damon in The Martian
Matt Damon in The Martian

4 stars
In space, everyone can hear you scream. And whenever Ridley Scott is nestled in the director’s chair, you can be certain his actors will be issuing bloodcurdling shrieks.

In 1979, he unleashed a merciless killing machine on the unsuspecting crew of the Nostromo, giving birth to the Alien franchise.

Three years later, the future was exceedingly bleak for Harrison Ford’s blade runner and, more recently, scientists aboard the ill-fated spaceship Prometheus came face to face with an extraterrestrial force of unimaginable power.

The life expectancy of characters in Scott’s testosterone-fuelled films can often be measured in hours rather than days or years.

So it comes as no surprise that in the opening 15 minutes of The Martian, adapted from the bestselling novel by Andy Weir, the director apparently kills off his leading man during a ferocious sandstorm on the red planet.

Unusually, the hero survives and draws upon his scientific knowledge to manufacture water and oxygen to sustain his solitary existence until a rescue mission can be mustered.

The film opens with the six-strong crew of the Ares 3, led by Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), gathering samples.

Sensors pick up an approaching storm and Lewis gives the order to evacuate.

During the trek back to the ship, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by flying debris.

“I know you don’t want to hear this: Mark’s dead,” crew member Beck (Sebastian Stan) informs Lewis, who reluctantly blasts off with the rest of her team – Johanssen (Kate Mara), Martinez (Michael Pena) and Vogel (Aksel Hennie).

They begin the long journey back to mission control, crestfallen by their loss. Little do they realise that, back on Mars, Watney is alive.

“I gotta figure out how to grow three years’ worth of food on a planet where nothing grows,” Mark mumbles, recording a video diary of his exploits.

Back on Earth, Nasa administrator Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels), director of Mars missions Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Ares 3 flight director Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean) cut corners to let Mark know the cavalry is coming.

The Martian bears obvious similarities to the Oscar-winning thriller Gravity in both set-up and execution, and Scott employs the 3D format to dazzling effect in turbo-charged action sequences.

However, this is primarily a meditation on the endurance of the human spirit and, in these quieter moments, Drew Goddard’s lean script and lead actor Damon hold us spellbound.

“I’m not going to die here,” Mark tells himself as he faces each obstacle with gritty determination, raising his spirits (and ours) with flashes of humour, including a running joke about Commander Lewis’s disco-heavy music collection.

Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski envisages Mars as a vast, barren landscape of shifting red sand.

As Mark’s oxygen supply depletes, we hold our breath with the lead character, hoping for a miracle 140million miles from home.