The Martian

An Exciting Tech Lesson

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Martian

When things go wrong for the Aries III mission on Mars, the crew takes off for the long journey home without Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is presumed dead by the others after being hit by debris. Half buried in the grainy red soil, he recovers consciousness and becomes The Martian – sole resident of the planet and sturdy carrier of the whole movie.

Mark faces two imperatives: he must connect with NASA to let them know he is alive and he must learn how to grow food in barren soil. In a welcome rejection of imagined impossibilities, the filmmakers kept an astrophysicist on the set to keep them within the realm of the possible. His verdict: the details are accurate.

We watch Mark explore his options, step by step, in an extended technology lesson courtesy of director Ridley Scott. Even if Mark reaches NASA, it will take a rescue mission four years to reach Mars. He faces thirst, hunger, and cold, but as a botanist, he manages to channel whatever fear he may have into meeting the challenge.

After focusing on Mark’s efforts for the bulk of the film, we finally meet the crew (Jessica Chastain, Kristin Wiig, Jeff Daniels). Sunk in remorse, they are unanimous in their determination to rescue their teammate. In keeping with the technical thrust of the movie, we watch them consider every possible way to reduce the time of the return rescue trip. At a crucial point a scruffy young tech genius in a t-shirt (Donald Glover) steps in with a solution that astounds the assembled experts. It’s a lovely touch that reflects the reality of a world where progress is being invented and implemented by the young. We live in a time where experienced professionals are being eclipsed as they learn that only the very young can understand the language of the new world. The generation of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who started it all is being replaced by kids who have mastered an even newer language that the entire world is learning to speak.

Matt Damon is terrific as a thinker in a cerebral movie. Showing no fear, just acceptance and determination, he is thoroughly convincing as a scientist who is both brave and resourceful. Given the technical demands and the fact that he must act alone through most of the movie, he succeeds in a very difficult role.

If you have no interest whatsoever in how things work, you may tire of phrases like”degrees of arc, telemetry, MAV, SOL, and HAB,” but you can still enjoy the extraordinary visuals and a masterful sound track that enrich the explosive story.

Just hang in. The final section addresses the emotional needs of the audience just as they have gotten to know all the players. If the wrap up is pure Hollywood, we have earned it by paying such close attention to the absorbing technology. At last, we have been given a blockbuster with substance.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Martian
Distributor : 20th Century Fox
Running Time : 2:21
Word Count : 498
Rating : PG-13



A Better Future?
An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


Tomorrowland is a series of sights that are inconceivable now but possible, even probable, in the future. Credit Disney with giving us their creative imaginings of sleek transportation – cars, trains, planes, and rockets streaking from point A to point B in contrast to the broken infrastructure of 2015. One of the pleasures of this movie is the repeated switching from 2015 to the future world that shows how old fashioned ours will soon seem. A family living in a house on a street with a contemporary car parked out front looks thoroughly old fashioned – almost as if 2015 should be filmed in black and white.

The movie captures us immediately by introducing young Frank Walker who is lugging a heavy backpack to the 1964 World’s Fair to enter his homemade rocket in the Inventors’ Competition. And so we are taken on a journey from 1964 to 2015 and then to the new future where most of the movie unfolds. Our guides are young Frank (Thomas Robinson), his sister Casey (Britt Robertson), and Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a hybrid from the future who can move readily between time zones.

We may have been lured to the movie by George Clooney who has fun playing the adult Frank, but whatever success Tomorrowland has will be due to the three outstanding young people. From his first on-screen moment, Thomas Robinson is an accomplished professional, comfortable, creative and as magical as the pin that transports him to the future. As his sister Casey, Britt Robertson is on-screen most of the time in both present and future. She carries a big part with enthusiasm and skill. Raffey Cassidy assumes a terrific other worldly presence as she teaches the others the customs and realities of the future. George Clooney is fine as old Frank who finally gets to test his childhood rocket invention.

The other bonus is watching the state of animation in the hands of Walt Disney Pictures. They hand the imaginings of writer/director Brad Bird and writers Damon Lindelof and Jef Jensen to the Disney creative team that conjures the future and presents it to us with all the bells and whistles it deserves. It’s my guess that if you are an adventurer, you will soar as you watch and if you are risk adverse, you may be scanning the screen for safe places to hide.

Negatives? Can you imagine the one thing that could sabotage this particular vision of the future? In one long, boring section the story dwells on the present where today’s beings resort to the only solution they have for anger. They fight and shoot and blow things up. You might take a nap when that begins, but check back in for the final scenes.

In a lovely ending, Uncle George and the three young actors deliver a positive message. They remind us that everyone who hasn’t given up on life gets to go to the future. How about that for a nice reality?