Jessica Chastain

‘The Martian’: A Macgyver-in-Space Ode to Those Who Can Geek

TORONTO—”The Martian” is a man-versus-Mars adventure that pays tribute to those who can geek, with Matt Damon playing Mark Watney, an astronaut-botanist forced to become a kind of space MacGyver after he is stranded on the Red Planet.
Watney is left behind after a storm forces his crew to evacuate Mars, believing him dead. He survives the storm, but he has no way to communicate with his crew or Earth and only a few months’ worth of food to last him the four years that will elapse before the next ship arrives.
Whereas “Gravity,” the Toronto International Film Festival’s blockbuster space movie last year, was a 90-minute scramble for survival—an almost overdose of plot without much else—”The Martian” gives us time to breathe in a landscape where Damon’s character makes the impossible workable by solving one science problem after another.
The adventure works, all the more so with plenty of humor. It would be too easy for a story about being stranded on Mars to veer toward the grim—left alone in a hostile world, abandoned. But that isn’t the case thanks to the dedication of “The Martian” to its source material, a book by the same name that even provided the film’s unusual disco soundtrack.
Like the book, the film is well-steeped in real science, giving it a realism that respects intelligent viewers.Self-published by Andy Weir in 2011, “The Martian” earned rave reviews and was later picked up by Crown Publishing, a subsidiary of Random House, with the film rights picked up by Twentieth Century Fox in 2013.
When Weir finally got to see a cut of the film he could barely hold back the tears, he told a press conference hours before the movie’s premiere at TIFF on Sept. 11.
Andy Weir, author of “The Martian,” which was adapted into one of the hottest films at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, talks about the astounding success of his self-published book during a press conference at TIFF on Sept. 11. (WireImage/Getty for TIFF)
“For the first five minutes of the movie I was choked up, just trying not to cry because this is the kind of thing you fantasize about as a writer, something like this happening, but you don’t really believe it will ever actually happen. It’s like when you’re a kid in little league and you’re like, ‘I’m going to be in the World Series,” he said.
For the film’s acclaimed director, Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Gladiator”), the screenplay was all the reason he needed to do the film—welcome words to screenwriter Drew Goddard, who said Scott was his favorite director.
Goddard, recounted Damon, described “The Martian” as a love letter to science.
“The Martian” plays at times like a Western, and Scott told reporters of his love for that genre, how he had dreamed of being a cowboy until he was 18, raising concerns from his parents.
“I was brought up on Westerns,” he said.
Scott said he has taken basic themes of Westerns—man against nature or man against the odds—with him in every film he has done.
Matt Damon signs autographs outside the premiere of “The Martian” at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
But Damon is not a lone pioneer for the entire film. After connecting his character once again with his friends at NASA back on Earth, “The Martian” reveals the interdependency that humans require but movies rarely acknowledge. Like the book, the film is well-steeped in real science, giving it a realism that respects intelligent viewers.
Damon lands Watney’s often dry humor with aplomb and holds the screen well, given that much of the film is him talking to himself, or recording video journals.
But there are plenty of scenes with the rest of the capable cast, including the NASA crew that includes Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Damon’s crewmates Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, and Michael Peña.
Sebastian Stan of “Captain America” fame plays a crew member and said he was excited by the realism of the film and the vision it offered.
(L–R) Kate Mara, Matt Damon, and Jessica Chastain pause for a picture prior to a press conference for the cast of “The Martian” at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11. (WireImage/Getty for TIFF)
“This is a very real film, in my opinion. I mean Mars, and going to Mars is definitely going to happen, I think, in our lifetime,” he said, adding that he was a big fan of NASA and the idea of going to Mars.
“I just love being part of a movie that took place on Earth and then Mars but was also very real and grounded.”
Damon said he felt good about being part of a film like “The Martian.” It’s a movie that expects the best from people, a belief that might be lacking in the world but is sorely needed, he said.
“It’s a really optimistic and hopeful movie, and sometimes that’s our job to put something like that out in the middle of really tough times.”

‘A Most Violent Year’ offers up more intrigue than actual violence


It’s 1981 — one of the most violent years in the history of New York. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is attempting to buy a new piece of land that will expand his oil heating business. Scrambling to get the money together, Abel is in a tough position because his trucks are being stolen and he’s losing business.

His best-friend and gangster buddy Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks) suggests that he take action, but Abel doesn’t want to resort to violence. His wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), is even more inclined to take action because her family’s safety is being put at risk. Her father owned the company before Abel bought it, but he left many things to be investigated by the district attorney (David Oyelowo). The shady world around Abel makes running an honest, clean business difficult.

“A Most Violent Year” is a slow-build that yields incredible rewards in terms of acting, storytelling and film-making. The film depicts the intricacies of running and maintaining a business in crime-ridden New York City, and emphasizes the dangers of business when you have something everyone else wants. Focusing on morals and the drive that compels men to act, “A Most Violent Year” highlights the immense struggle of trying to take care of matters in a clean and efficient method.

Director J.C. Chandor clearly and effectively transmits his thoughts to the screen. In “A Most Violent Year,” Chandor gives us what feels like an inside look into the gasoline business in a time where crime is running rampant. His use of dialogue immediately piques the audience’s interest, and his ability to tell a story without having to be eccentric is admirable. He turns what would be a dreary story for other filmmakers into a compelling film.

In terms of direction, Chandor stylistically employs many techniques which help clue the audience in to what’s going on, while retaining some mystery about what will happen next. The scenic backgrounds are rightfully used as props, which these characters effectively use. There’s a lot of focus and buildup surrounding the deal and everything that it means.

Chandor doesn’t focus only on his lead characters. He provides input from the workers, the bankers, the District Attorney and even the competition. This inclusion gives us a sense of all the factors going into Isaac’s decisions and how he moves forward, hoping to secure the deal.

Oscar Isaac should change his name to Oscar-worthy Isaac, because he yet again provides us with a phenomenal performance that stands out in an already competitive year. His performance takes time to appreciate; he’s the golden boy in a group of gangsters. He offers up many great speeches, and his calm, controlled interactions with most of the business men are electric. When he erupts with rage, he becomes frightening and intimidating, commanding the screen and chewing up all his lines. More than anything, his non-violent demeanor and attempts to stay peaceful contrast the world he inhabits.

Jessica Chastain isn’t as involved as you’d think or like, but she uses her screen time well. She may seem like a subjugated housewife, but Chastain makes it clear that she’s holding all the cards in the family with the looks she gives, the plays she makes and the few words she needs to make things clear to Isaac. She’s ruthlessly graceful, and her New York accent makes her all the more appealing.

“A Most Violent Year” is perhaps the most quietly brilliant films of this year. More of Chastain’s character and more about her character’s past would be helpful, but neither of those make this film worse. J.C. Chandor offers up his most accessible film here, and it’s not crazy to imagine it ending up on many “Best Of” lists. This is the perfect film for someone seeking something a bit different.

“A Most Violent Year” is now playing in Houston.

‘A Most Violent Year’ offers up more intrigue than actual violence” was originally posted on The Daily Cougar