Friday, October 2, 2015

Matt Damon, My Favorite Martian

Matt Damon has proven his actor and screenwriter skills in a film career that goes from MYSTIC PIZZA in 1988 to his new space thriller, THE MARTIAN.  He had a bit part in Mystic Pizza.  He's the star of The Martian.  And, oh yes, he won an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay to Good Will Hunting, the 1997 drama that brought a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar to the late Robin Williams.  Damon himself was an Oscar nominee in that same category for 2009's Invictus.  Damon's new movie is a terrific space thrill ride.  He's an American astronaut, a member of a Mars exploratory mission team, who gets left behind on the planet when a huge, dangerous storm suddenly approaches and the team must take off for safety.  It looked as though Damon's character died when he was hit by debris that the storm turned into deadly projectiles.  He wasn't dead.  How will he reunite with his team in space?  Will he ever get back to the planet Earth?  The Martian, besides its good acting and exciting scenes, is also a great commercial for potatoes and duct tape.  Trust me on this.                                    
For much of the film, Damon is acting solo.  He's alone on Mars, a brutal planet.  He's a botanist who must figure out how to survive.
To me, there are other stars in this movie, a movie that more delightfully subversive than it probably intended to be.  Like Gravity, this science-fiction thriller is getting Oscar buzz.  Sandra Bullock starred in Gravity with George Clooney.  In a way, Gravity was Speed in Space.  Bullock played a woman behind the wheel of a vehicle that's out-of-control.  The voice of a helpful, heroic man guides her to safety.  The Martian has more in common with Tom Hanks' Cast Away.  Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is in a situation in which everything "goes South," as he says.  Everything's gone wrong.  When that happens, as he also says, "You just begin."  You figure out one problem. And then another.  You don't give up hope. That's the spine of this movie.  You root for Mark Watney to "science the hell" out of his predicament.
Help must also come from the NASA team back on Earth.  Pay attention to the brilliance of young team member Rich Purnell played wonderfully by Donald Glover.  He's a passionate brainiac, probably over-stimulated by coffee.  But he's definitely someone you want on your team when a major crisis arises.                                                                                                                                          

Look at Rich Purnell, a NASA expert on astro-dynamics, and think of this young gentlemen recently in the news because of his high school project -- a harmless project that got him handcuffed and taken out of his Texas classroom:

Ahmed Mohamed is the high school science student arrested last month when Irvington, Texas teachers thought the clock he made was a bomb.  The high school freshman science whiz was later contacted by President Obama and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

The Martian was directed by Ridley Scott.  Just like Alien, his innovative 1979 hit that changed the game of the sci-fi horror genre, The Martian has a woman commander in space.  In space, you can have gender and racial equality.  In Alien, we had Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, a great action hero who proved to Hollywood that women can be action movie heroes in lead roles.  In The Martian, we've got Jessica Chastain as Commander Melissa Lewis.                                                                                

She's military and a damn good commander, loyal to each member of her crew and whip smart.  Chastain makes that role her own.  The cast includes Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Peña, Kristen Wiig and Kate Mara.

In Cast Away, the Tom Hanks character struggled to survive on an uncharted, faraway island and return to the woman he loved, a woman played by Helen Hunt.  Maybe I missed it, but that doesn't seem to be the case with Mark Watney on Mars.  He's a loner on earth.  He doesn't appear to have a girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse or child that he longs to hold again.  He has his parents.  Watney is close to his crew. Damon does a fine job in solo action.  I've heard Oscar buzz for his performance.  We'll see if he gets the Oscar nomination for a space thriller that Sam Rockwell should've gotten for 2009's Moon directed by Duncan Jones.

In its way, The Martian shows what can be accomplished in this world -- and in outer space -- when you embrace gender and racial diversity.  Notice the people of color and the number of women who contribute to the rescue mission.  There's very brief nudity and some 4-letter words.  Heck, if I was lost in space, made contact with my company back on earth and learned that it hadn't sent a rescue team to come get me, I'd be using some 4-letter words too.  It's PG-13 and runs 2 hours and 21 minutes.  The Martian has a clever use of disco classics.  In my audiences, we baby boomers laughed a lot at the disco classic choice for the closing credits.  It was inspired.

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