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Movie: The Martian (2015)
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****
Notes: The world needs more can-do, upbeat, optimistic films. "The Martian" does one better by disposing of the need for an antagonist, unless you want to count the entire red planet as such. So we've got a rare breed in an odd release slot by a director, Ridley Scott, best known for grim stories of death - and it's funny, too. This cinematic outlier tells the story of Mars astronaut Mark Watney (played by experienced spacer Matt Damon) being mistaken for dead and left behind as his colleagues abort their missing during a surface storm. With a positive attitude and dead-set determination, he puts every iota of his skills to use to find a way back to Earth. Despite being a hard-SF film, much is based in science-fact after extensive consultations with NASA, thus feeling a bit like a cross between "2001" and a reverse "The Right Stuff". You have to squint a bit to look past some glaring exceptions, most egregiously the presence of a storm of any hazard at all, or how a mere botanist manages to engineer his way out of most situations. Damon's sweet-spot portrayal of his character's driven positivity, however, is a frequently humorous distraction that dissolves the science in the fiction solution handily. It's an exciting survival/adventure that will likely resonate more with adults than kids, but we need more of this theatrical flavor to shine on our screens lately.

Movie: Fed Up (2014)
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****
Notes: A documentary about the global obesity epidemic and an exploration of its sources. Presented with top-grade pop-art graphs, charts, animations, and all the usual techniques that make a modern doc watchable, plus the requisite selection of talking heads, it makes a vehement and insistent case that sugar in all its forms is behind our nation's growing waistlines. While this is most probably correct, and the film makes a convincing case for it, it spends much of its time aiming the finger directly at the sugar industry and regulatory cowardice. The fervor with which it approaches this, making a point to be dismissive towards genes, lifestyles, people's decision-making, and other likely contributing factors tends to roll off as propaganda, despite coming from a side I normally support. For example, a girl and her family are shown making poor food choices despite better options available, yet are then crying over how they can't understand why they're still fat. Yes, the sugar industry is clearly shown to be the big bad guy, but the doc is dubiously dismissive towards eating less and artificial sweeteners, not making a convincing case for their disregard, and throwing a lot of babies out with one-note bathwater. If you're anti-corporate, this will be quite sweet, but the single-mindedness may taste a bit sour.

Movie: Last Passenger (2013)
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****
Notes: When a British train misses its station, a doctor and the remaining few passengers must find a way to bring it to a halt before the mysterious driver takes them to the end of the line. An excellent Hitchcockian plot that manages to be exciting with almost no bloodshed, we follow not only the contemporary thrill, but also the budding flirtations between the doctor and a fellow female passenger, the fates of the other strongly caricatured riders, and the doctor's young son who, while representationally cute, tends to mostly be an anchor rather than any assistance. The cinematography and outdated set design tend to come off as material barely out of the 1980s, and hopefully you don't know a lot about trains because there's apparently an enormous amount of technical plot-holery going on. For the rest of us ignorant viewers, it passes muster as a fine example of a foreign-bred Hollywood-style general-purpose bit of excitement that you'd expect Denzel Washington to star in, with even the requisite bits of dark humor peppered throughout. While it won't win any awards, it's a great popcorn muncher as long as you can swim through the thick accents while you're chewing.

Next: We Are The Best!, Mind Game, Man From Reno


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 19th, 2015 09:10 pm (UTC)
The Martian - Come on, give it the five stars. Don't be stingy, it was great. ;-)
Oct. 19th, 2015 09:34 pm (UTC)
Five stars is really, really rare for me. Only one movie I've seen this year got it so far.

"The Martian" was great, but it wasn't perfect. Some lingering plot holes and inconsistencies still had us going "Whaaaaat?" Like how he knew exactly where the old rover was, or how a botanist knew how to reverse engineer everything (in the book he had a second mech eng degree, but not in the movie!). These aren't tiny details, they're major plot points. Spontaneous knowledge doesn't wash, even in fiction. That's ignoring the fact that the entire premise (storm) isn't plausible - I only found that out afterward, tho.
Oct. 21st, 2015 01:34 pm (UTC)
I know. I'm just teasing. :-) We definitely enjoyed it despite the plot holes you talk about. The thing about the storm we found out through NPR but I guess that's just another kink in the science of it all. I will have to add the book to the queue and check it out sometime (hopefully not too heavy on the science that it goes way over my head).
Oct. 20th, 2015 08:15 pm (UTC)
Did you see T M in 3D? AIUI, it was filmed thusly, rather than having it added in post, so I'm tempted to give it a try in 3D. But, the cost of seeing films now, oy! If I had any budget, I'd probably just pick up Inside Out on iTunes, which I'd be able to keep, for very little extra.

Last Passenger does sound rather good fun. Definitely a Saturday night candidate. (Of quite a different nature, and a very different time, we found Ghost Train thoroughly enjoyable. It's on YouTube somewhere)
Oct. 20th, 2015 11:59 pm (UTC)
Nope, we only see 2D movies. Same story, lower price, no distractions. And we only go on Tuesdays when, with a movie club card, all films are only $5 USD.

3D movies (as well as 3D TVs) were a gimmick, and gimmicks don't last.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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