‘The Martian’: A Full Review

 By Contributing Writer, C. Dillon
Ridley Scott is no stranger to science-fiction. He directed arguably two of the best sci-fi films ever made – Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). Yes, his vision slipped a bit in his last foray into the genre with Prometheus (2012), but The Martian is much more reminiscent of the former than the latter.

Set in the 2030s, The Martian tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney, played to sarcastic perfection by Matt Damon. Watney is a member of Ares III, a manned mission to Mars that goes horribly wrong not long after the crew arrives. A fast moving storm descends on the team as they are gathering samples, forcing them to flee back to their ship for an emergency escape. As the storm rages, hurling debris at the astronauts and threatening to tip over their MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle), the crew hurries to escape impending doom. It’s worth noting that while this film, and the book it was based on, are rightfully lauded for using only real science, this particular scene is “bad science.” The atmosphere on Mars is so thin that winds must be about 35 mph to move a piece of dust. This storm was so powerful that rocks and heavy equipment were tossed around like paper in a (terrestrial) tornado, and – as noted – threatened to push over a spaceship. The wind speeds necessary to do this are staggering. And yet, the characters manage to walk back to their ship as if it’s no more difficult than walking through a wading pool. When the tag line of the movie is that it’s going to “science the shit” out of the audience, this breaks the suspension of disbelief.
Of course, Watney does not escape and is left behind and presumed dead when his bio-monitor is destroyed by the flying debris. Thus begins the meat of the story – Watney is alone, millions of miles from help, out of contact with anyone else in the universe, and without the supplies to survive until the next manned mission to Mars arrives, four years later. What will he do? How will he survive, physically and psychologically, alone in the unforgiving Marian environment? The answer is with grim humor and super-MacGuyveresque science.

Damon as Watney really shines here, speaking only to himself or to video cameras and making the “dialogue” seem real, and meaningful. Without his charisma and wit, these scenes wouldn’t work. We feel connected to Watney’s loneliness, terror, and determination and present in his unimaginable surroundings. As he solves one problem after another – growing crops, keeping warm in his rover, trying to communicate with Earth – Damon stays both relatable and heroic in his small – but life-and-death significant – accomplishments. The supporting cast –Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Kristen Wiig, and others – is excellent, but this is primarily Damon’s movie to carry.

Of equal importance; however, is Mars itself, beautifully shot by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. The Wadi Rum area of Jordan fills in for the red planet, and Wolski films it in sweeping, majestic splendor. While 3D effects are too often used for shock or to make the audience “duck” an object seemingly flying off the screen, here it is used to give lustrous depth to the expansive ridge lines and rolling dunes, and the result is engaging. As Damon’s performance pulls you into his psyche, the brilliant photography and 3D pulls you into Mars itself.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the world at first memorializes Watney as a hero who gave his life for science. Once it is discovered that he is still alive, the struggle to save him begins. NASA wrestles with the decision to tell Watney’s crew about his discovered status, even though they can’t do anything to save him, and China’s space agency considers divulging classified information that may help. NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory also rush to produce a rocket that could resupply their stranded astronaut in an attempt to both extend his supplies and traverse 1600 miles of inhospitable Mars-scape to reach the landing point of the next mission, all while Earth watches and waits for a solution to a seemingly unsolvable dilemma.

The Martian is not perfect, either as a film or as a completely realistic depiction of the Martian environment. And while the ending is predictable, safe, and expected, the tension is still maintained. The film is engaging, occasionally quite funny, and hits all the right emotional buttons. That it has to hit them so hard, in some cases, is perhaps what keeps it from being a great film. Four out of five stars.

Matt Damon Slams Obama — Ill-Informed & Ridiculous?

After reading Matt Damon’s scathing review of President Obama in Elle Magazine, I asked my friend James (also known as a genius when it comes to politics . . . or pretty much anything) for a response. He did not disappoint. Because I couldn’t possibly have said it better myself, I’ve chosen to share it with my readers. Enjoy.

Critiques like that are extremely naive. People like Damon severely overestimate the interest of Congressional Republicans in handing Obama any victories at all. For example, a key reason why unemployment rates are so high is that Congress (read: Republicans) wouldn’t vote for a larger stimulus package. As another example, the primary reason why tax policy is so skewed towards the rich is that the GOP (which CONTROLS THE HOUSE) consistently rejects more equitable policies. And so on and so forth. People like Damon sound incredibly stupid when they disregard the existence of the legislative branch. How does Damon think that Obama can pass an expansive progressive agenda if Obama has an obstructive Congress? Is Obama supposed to pass legislation by fiat using executive orders? The answer can’t possibly be “yes,” since excessive executive orders were a key reason that liberals complained about Bush’s “imperial” presidency. In summary, Matt Damon needs to go back to high school and take a civics class.

Movie Review — The Adjustment Bureau

I refuse to spend an entire movie wondering what’s motivating the characters’ behavior. In Adjustment Bureau, there’s a team of people with fashionable hats and trench coats trying to keep Matt Damon from the girl he loves (Emily Blunt), and for what feels like an eternity — we don’t know why. When he asks, he’s only told that his wishes “deviate from the plan.” So what is this “plan,” and who are these guys, and why do they care who Matt Damon sleeps with — or loves for that matter? This is the part of the review where I usually tell my reader to watch the movie for fear of spoiling it, but I’m afraid the movie provides little answers. The script is basically a poor man’s play on free will, only it makes zero sense because it’s not your “plan” if everyone is deliberately putting obstacles in your way. To clarify, allow me to use a specific example. If it’s my destiny to be a stripper, and every time I’m about to enter the stage to perform I’m met with five guys who block the stage, does it really make sense to justify that behavior with “it’s not part of the plan?” It’s is my plan to be a stripper, but you clowns with stupid hats ruined it!! If my analogy didn’t make sense, I’d encourage you to avoid the film, because their explanation is far worse than my example. In addition to the terrible writing, the movie is filled with extremely boring chase sequences, which involve Matt Damon tracking down Emily Blunt while simultaneously trying to avoid a lobotomy (no, I’m not kidding). I’d first like to note that if I personally had to choose between love and a lobotomy — I’d keep my brain in tact. But that’s just me. Second — if you’re going to write a terrible film, can you at least provide me with some special effects? This is a big budget movie, so at least throw in some Mission Impossible gadgetry to keep my attention. OVERALL RATING: DISHSATISFIED

Matt Damon’s Wife Was His Bartender — Encourages Others to Follow Suit

Matt Damon told a very touching story about meeting his wife, saying that he didn’t feel like going to a local bar in Miami while shooting Stuck on You, but it was worth it because his wife was his bartender that night, and they currently live happily ever after. He said the moral of the story is that “when you’re tired, suck it up and go to the bar because you might meet your wife.” I’d like to note that I too had a crush on a bartender once, only it didn’t end so happily. I distinctly remember showing up at his bar under the mistaken impression that he’d ask me out, only to discover him flirting with another girl the entire night. Apparently, I severely miscalculated the connection.  My friend and I laughed the entire ride home at the humiliation. After all, if you can’t laugh at yourself — who will? Perhaps Matt Damon’s advice only applies to female bartenders? If that’s the case, I’ll have a lot of explaining to do to my parents. Maybe I’ll have better luck on the other team.

What Happened to the Smart Superheroes? — Is ‘Good Will Hunting’ the End?

I watched Good Will Hunting for the fiftieth time last night, and something occurred to me. Matt Damon’s character was an intellectual superhero. He didn’t have a batsuit, and he certainly couldn’t stop a train with his bare hands. His likability was based solely on smarts. There’s a scene in a bar where Ben Affleck hits on a girl, and a Harvard graduate makes him feel stupid. Damon comes to the rescue on his best friend’s behalf, but instead of punching the guy in the face in a well-choreographed fist-fight, he intellectually belittles him, and says “you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin’ education you coulda’ got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library.” So here’s my question — would you rather date Will Hunting or Spiderman, and have there been any intelligent superheros since? If you take that rubber suit off, do you think Batman even knows how to multiply?

The New Hollywood Spin — “It’s Not a Remake . . . Even Though We Remade it”

Hollywood gets a lot of negative press for constantly remaking movies. The creative executives at movie studios enjoy the remakes because the promotion is easy, and the risks are limited. But no matter how you spin it — a remake is usually a creative cop-out, and because there are so many, the movie industry has begun to dig its grave. So how do you solve the problem? Well, you remake a movie, and then you release statements to the press about how your film is not actually a remake. Confused? Allow me to provide an example. Tony Scott, the director of Tom Cruise’s Top Gun, is looking to make another Top Gun without Tom Cruise. It’s being painted as a “sequel.” When asked about the project, Scott said, I don’t want to do a remake. I don’t want to do a reinvention. I want to do a new movie.” And that’s not the first time I’ve heard this spin. A new Jason Bourne movie is in the works, and Matt Damon won’t star in it. Tony Gilroy will direct the new film, saying, “this is not a reboot or a recast or a prequel.” Wow, Tony — perhaps you can define what this is then, considering its mighty confusing to make a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne. As for Matt Damon, he isn’t pleased with the news. Damon told Parade that he’s not in it, but “Universal just wants to call everything the ‘Bourne’ something. So I guess they are trying to make another franchise.”  Perhaps I have to start coming up with more creative terms for this type of thing.  How about . . . ripoff?