Tag Archives: The Martian

Best of 2015: Favorite Movies

I never feel like I get to see as many movies as I’d like, but looking back at 2015 I have to admit that I saw almost everything I wanted to see this year. And everything was so good. Partly this is because, as I get older, I just get better at picking and choosing what media to consume, so I don’t waste my time with nonsense, but also 2015 was just a great year for genre films.

Jupiter Ascending

This is a kind of strange film to love because it’s, objectively, kind of a mess. However, it’s also beautiful and weird and ambitious, and tough, funny, clever Jupiter is a stand-out female protagonist. It’s not often that this type of wish-fulfillment escapist hero’s journey is written for or about women, so it was a refreshing change of pace in a world of testosterone-fueled grimdark action films. I think (and certainly hope) that twenty years from now, people will look at Jupiter Ascending with the same kind of fondly uncritical indulgence with which we recall 1980s fantasy films like Legend and Willow.

SpySpy

I actually didn’t get to see this until late in the year because I, frankly, didn’t think I’d be very interested in it. I will, of course, forever regret not seeing Spy in a theater.

It’s great to see Melissa McCarthy getting work where the joke isn’t that she’s fat. This movie is an excellent showcase of her acting abilities, and she brings brave, smart Susan Cooper to life with both sensitivity and good humor. While the examination of the spy movie genre isn’t particularly deep or groundbreaking, the movie more than makes up for any shortcomings in that department by being riotously funny and delightfully vulgar. It also doesn’t hurt that most of the movie’s important characters are women, and their interactions are all the best parts.

Inside Out

This movie’s strange concept is one that ends up working rather surprisingly well, and I’ve never felt so many feelings about a movie that is just about feelings. Many more thoughtful people than I have already written about how important Inside Out is, what a great achievement it is, how useful it is as a tool for helping children talk about their feelings, and so on. I totally agree with all of that stuff. However, my favorite thing about Inside Out is actually the character design for the feelings, which are not actually solid objects in the inner world the movie depicts. Instead they seem to be made up entirely of tiny, slightly fuzzy motes of, well, whatever feelings are made of, I guess. It’s just such a clever and lovely way of representing something abstract and somewhat ephemeral, and I never get tired of watching it on as big a screen as possible so I can see every detail.

Advantageous

This quiet little independent sci-fi film showed up on Netflix a few months ago having never even played in the artsy theaters in Cincinnati, so I didn’t know much about it when I watched it for the first time. It turns out that it’s a lovely and understated feminist movie about a future dystopia, and it’s absolutely worth dropping everything you’re doing and watching right this second. There’s not much that I can say about it without spoiling the whole thing, but Jacqueline Kim is incredible in it. She also co-wrote it with director Jennifer Phang, whose work I will definitely be looking out for in the future.

The Martian

I’d read this book earlier in the year and enjoyed it, and the movie didn’t disappoint. It’s funny and smart and exactly what one would expect of a big budget affair based on a best-selling novel and starring Matt Damon, which is to say really, solidly very-good-but-not-great. This might be the most purely entertaining film I saw this year, perhaps because—just due to the nature of the thing—there isn’t much to criticize about it, and I appreciate the occasional movie that I don’t have to think too hard about.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

I feel like I’m one of just a few people who even cared that this movie came out, although its sales numbers belie that. It’s a movie that felt strained almost throughout, largely because its stars had all sort of aged out of the franchise by the time they even started filming. Still, it’s a creditable ending to the series, true to the spirit of the franchise, and on par in production value with the previous films.

Mad Max: Fury Road

I grew up watching Mad Max movies, but this is the first time I’ve gotten to identify with a character who got to be part of the action, which makes a huge difference. Imperator Furiosa, the wives, and the Vuvalini are all amazing, revolutionary women characters, and the low key eco-feminist message of the movie is a great bonus. George Miller’s visual style is incredible. By centering the action and characters in each frame, he manages to eliminate a lot of the male gaze that would normally be focused on sexualizing the scantily clad women. It also works well to show off his impressive use of practical effects and gives the film a remarkable amount of distinctive character. I will definitely be watching this two-hour car chase again and again.

Crimson Peak

I love literally everything about Crimson Peak. While the trailers for it seemed to suggest that it would be a horror flick, it turns out to be a fairly straightforward gothic romance, although it subverts most of the more troubling gothic tropes. It’s definitely a movie that I think only really appeals to a certain sort of bookish, literary nerd who also loves voluminously pretty dresses, which I feel is the only reason that this movie wasn’t as universally beloved as it deserves to be. It’s a wonderfully woman-focused story with women characters who have an almost alarming amount of agency, and its climax is two women having an epic knife fight while dressed in absurdly billowy nightgowns. A nearly perfect film, and probably my favorite of the year. The only thing that would have been better would be more of Tom Hiddleston’s butt.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The Force Awakens is so good, you guys. It’s basically everything good about the original trilogy and none of the bad stuff. It’s excellent to see some diversity in space fantasy, and Carrie Fisher is back as General Leia. The movie definitely feels a bit derivative at points, and it hits a lot of the same beats that A New Hope did, but in a way that is pleasantly familiar and made fresh again by building the story around characters that don’t fit the usual (read: white and male) mold of characters who get to have hero’s journeys.

Movie Review: The Martian

The Martian was never going to be one of my favorite films, just like the book was never going to be one of my favorite novels (although I did really enjoy it when I read it earlier this year). However, like the book, the movie was smart and funny and deeply enjoyable. Also, perhaps counterintuitively, it’s a pretty great advertisement for space travel.

The thing about The Martian–and this was also true of the book–is that there aren’t really many surprises. From the moment Mark Hadley (Matt Damon, who somehow manages to be both well-cast and almost entirely forgettable in the role) gets left on Mars, we know he’s going to survive and get rescued. The story, in both book and film, is about how he does it and about how his fellow astronauts and people back on Earth work together to bring him home.

Of course, a lot of the more technical stuff from the book was necessarily omitted from the movie. It’s probably for the best, though. Even on the page it often read like Hackaday, and a two-and-a-half hour how-to video would have pretty limited appeal. While this diminished some of the sense of danger on Mars–a big part of the tension in the novel was the series of disasters, both minor and major, that Mark had to figure out how to overcome–the sleeker storytelling left plenty of space for the far more interesting things that were happening on Earth and on the Ares spacecraft.

Speaking of the Ares crew, they were without exception wonderful. Jessica Chastain is excellent as Commander Melissa Lewis and manages to portray a complete and compelling emotional arc with relatively little screen time. Aksel Hennie’s Vogel and Michael Peña’s Martinez got some of the funniest lines in the movie. Kate Mara’s Johanssen and Sebastian Stan’s Beck were  a little underutilized, but their love story from the book was included in a sweet and subtle way that I really appreciated.

On Earth, most of the action is shot from the point of Vincent Kapoor, a character who was of Indian descent (and named Venkat, actually) in the book, but was played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in the movie. As much as I love Chiwetel Ejiofor and his performance, this is a strange casting choice, especially when there are so few roles for Asian actors in American cinema, and more especially when there doesn’t seem to have been much effort at diversity elsewhere in the casting process, either. Even Mindy Park (who I read as probably Korean in the book) was a blonde white woman, and all of the non-specified Ares crew were white. It’s not the worst movie in terms of representation, but I think there were definitely some missed opportunities–especially since by the near future when The Martian is supposed to take place US racial demographics will have changed pretty considerably. Frankly, a future as white as the one we’re shown in this movie is just damned unrealistic.

It was a good flick, though. Going into the film, probably my biggest concern was that the (extremely thematically important) collaboration with China would be left out, but it was included, albeit in an abbreviated form. The most significant changes from the book were actually on Mars, where the majority of Mark’s final journey was cut, but I found that I didn’t mind this very much. The material that was left out was mostly what was a little tiresome in the final quarter or so of the book, when the drama of Mark’s constant crises started to feel a bit overdone. That said, if they could have worked it in, I think the giant storm that forced Mark to make a major change of course in the book would have been cool to see as well as being a nice piece of symmetry to balance out the storm that got Mark left on Mars in the first place.

I don’t think The Martian is a movie that I’ll want to see over and over again, and I think it’s going to be interesting to see how it ages as we learn more about Mars in the next few years. It’s a beautiful film, though, full of gorgeously crafted shots of alien landscape as well as almost-but-not-quite familiar technology. It’s an optimistic story about a good possible future, and it’s the sort of movie that should make everyone who watches it want to be an astronaut. Be sure to take your kids.

I will def see The Martian if Neil DeGrasse Tyson tells me to

Full disclosure: I will definitely be seeing The Martian anyway because it comes out right before my birthday and I loved the book. But this new trailer thingy with Neil DeGrasse Tyson in it is really excellent:

I also read a couple of interesting pieces about the movie over the weekend:

Watch the first trailer for The Martian

The Martian was a book that surprised me when I read it. It’s definitely a book that seemed to me aimed at the “loves-watching-people-burn-things-for-science-on-YouTube” crowd, but I ended up loving it. It’s smart and funny and while it sometimes feels a little too much like reading hundreds of pages of Hackaday, I still had an inexplicably hard time putting it down.

When I heard it was being adapted for film, I was pleased, and now that I’ve seen the first trailer, I’d rate my feelings about it as excited.