Friday, October 16, 2015
STARS: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor
DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott
Imagine you are part of a manned mission to Mars, and you're just hanging out on the red planet, enjoying the landscape and doing your job picking up rocks and stuff...doo n doo...when along comes a monster storm that sends you reeling in a big we're-not-in-Kansas-anymore way--and your fellow crew members figure you must be dead, so they make a hasty decision to abort the mission, get outta Dodge, and head back to the friendly confines of mother earth. But you're not dead, because you are Matt Damon (as astronaut/botanist Mark Watney), and now you have to figure out how to survive up there all by your lonesome for as long as you can. And then determine how in the world (in an other worldly sort of way) you're going to get back home.
That becomes the one and only story question of The Martian--a highly imaginative film from a highly imaginative book (which I haven't read) by Andy Weir, but I know it must be so because there's a lot of techie sci-fi jargon just in the movie itself, which is always a watered down version of the book. Which would be easier to follow if you were a techie type, which I'm not, but not essential for enjoyment of the film on an empathy level, as we can all identify with a guy who is stranded high and dry many millions of miles from home but can still maintain his sense of humor.
The first thing Watney sets about doing is planting and growing some food in the controlled environment of the Mars mission base. He grows potatoes, because there are lots of spuds in the rations on hand. This made me enjoy the movie more, because I like potatoes. I eat a lot of potatoes. And so does he. Someone once told me about a girl who ate nothing but potatoes---that was the only thing she liked--and she seemed just fine.
Watney eventually figures out how to communicate with NASA back on earth. Now it's up to Jeff Daniels, as the NASA administrator, to consult with our best and brightest minds so he can be the man with the plan. But Watney's fellow crew members, who originally thought they were heading back to earth, have their own ideas--and it's a bit more complicated than simply making a U-turn in space and going back to pick up our spaced out hitch-hiker. In fact, it's one of those deals where seemingly hundreds of things have to go right, and if any one thing goes haywire, everybody can kiss their rear ends goodbye. Of course, the odds of pulling off something like that in reality are...well...ASTRONOMICAL! But never let that get in the way of a good story. (Perhaps the most far-fetched aspect of the tale is the idea that China and the United States would cooperate closely in developing and carrying out the rescue mission!)
As word spreads, there's a lot of feelgood rooting and cheering for Watney around the globe--a la Slumdog Millionaire--suggesting that we are all better off when there is something that captures the imagination of this bickering, worn out old planet to bring us all together, if only for a while.
Jessica Chastain stands out as the crew commander who made the call to abandon the mission when the storm hit, and must live with the guilt of that decision. But comic actress Kristen Wiig's talents are wasted here in an unchallenging and unremarkable role--and it makes you wonder why she, of all people, is in this movie.
The real star of The Martian--as is often the case with sci-fi films--is the CG wizardry that created the whole outer space milieu and the eerily fascinating martian landscape. Give Ridley Scott credit for not just throwing up those highly recycled images of Monument Valley, like nearly every other film ever made that required a desolate looking landscape as the backdrop.
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
STARS; Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Anders Holm
DIRECTOR: Nancy Meyers
It's the boomers versus the millennials in a friendly competition to determine who really has their act together--and 65 year-old screenwriter/director Nancy Meyers (It's Complicated, Something's Gotta Give) leaves little room for doubt at the end of The Intern as to where her sympathies lie.
Ben (Robert De Niro) is 70--a retired administrator, a widower, and at loose ends as to what comes next. So he signs up for a senior intern program at a start-up online fashion store that is going great guns, run by thirty-something founder, Jules (Anne Hathaway). Jules starts out as a cliche--overworked, harried, and so absorbed in her job that she doesn't see what's coming with her emotionally neglected house husband (Anders Holm), who has taken on the role of Mister Mom. (That's the subplot.) As the character of Jules is fleshed out, she becomes a more sympathetic presence. She wants to do the right things, and she's not evil, which automatically puts her above most of the dramatis personae in the films that have been stinking up the big screen all summer.
So here we have Ben, the septuagenarian intern--a guy who wears a suit and tie to work each day--wondering how he's going to fit in with all these young'uns at the company. But when the house masseuse, Fiona (Rene Russo), happens by and gives him a frisky-fingered massage at his desk, Ben has an initially embarrassing response (unaided by any little blue pill), that elicits fist bumps from two of his wide-eyed male cohorts. That won't be the last encounter between Ben and Fiona, and that's subplot number two.
Anyhoo, Ben is assigned to Jules, and at first she doesn't know what to do with him. She even wants him reassigned to someone else. But time after time, he is placed in situations where imparting his wisdom--the kind that comes only from a life fully lived and learned from--saves the day for his tech-savvy (but otherwise rather clueless) counterparts. Sometimes it's just small things, such as the importance of carrying a handkerchief with you. His explanation for that one points up how far we have come, and what we have lost, in the scramble for gender equality and the resulting dance party on top of chivalry's grave.
In The Intern, we have De Niro and Hathaway--two of our finest--in a film about bridging gaps. Generation gaps. Communication gaps. Gender gaps. It will tap your funny bone and tug at your heartstrings. And being the emotionally sensitive type that I am, I can usually tell how much I'm going to enjoy a film when the music first kicks in, and how it resonates with me. The buoyant score from Theodore Shapiro hits all the right notes from start to finish.
Grade: B +