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IMG_0278What’s it all about?

Adapted from the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, The Martian tells this story:

During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meagre supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

Yes, as many have joked on Twitter and elsewhere, America is once more spending money to rescue Matt Damon (see Interstellar & Saving Private Ryan)

Why did I want to watch it?

I read and reviewed the novel last year (you can see what I thought of it here) and I was interested to see how it would translate to the screen. As I said in my book review:

[…] it will no doubt make a good film.

Also, I just love love love stuff about Mars 🙂

What did I think of it?

My assessment of the book was right except for one thing; it didn’t just make a good film, it made a really good film.

My initial problem with the book is that I got very annoyed with Mark Watney’s personality, and that’s sorted out here by the casting of Matt Damon who, even when he is doing the potentially annoying upbeat blokey stuff, is such a likeable personality that you just want him to succeed (I am happy to declare that I have a huge soft spot for Damon despite his recent unfortunate public statements).

But o be honest it is the rest of the casting and the way the characters are handled that really makes this – all of the scientists are competent but sometimes make mistakes, there is no differentiation between the genders of the astronauts (they are all just good at what they do), there are some proper moral dilemmas to be worked through, there are no villains, Sean Bean doesn’t die and my girl crush on Jessica Chastain remains undimmed.

Also, Jeff Daniels continues to be totally awesome.

I’m glad they found a way to do the first person stuff without the temptation of a voiceover. And the visuals are just glorious. Good to see Ridley Scott on form.

I loved this and will happily watch it again; it’s on the DVD to-buy list already 🙂 Recommended.

MV5BMTk4ODgxMDU0M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTg0NzcyMDE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_What’s it all about?

The Last Days of Mars, according to IMDb, is about

A group of astronaut explorers [who] succumb one by one to a mysterious and terrifying force while collecting specimens on Mars.

In other words: Martian Space Zombies!

Why did I want to watch it?

One of those things really. I was doing something in the kitchen and was flicking through the movie channels to see if there was anything worth watching while I was doing whatever it I was doing and came across a zombie-type attack on Mars. I just love films (and books for that matter) set on Mars so it was a no-brainer to find out when it was being shown next and to record it.

What did I think of it?

If you’re going to watch this sort of thing then a gloomy, wet and windy Sunday afternoon (as it is slowly getting dark) is the perfect setting for a small horror film.

And it wasn’t too bad; a good cast (Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai, Olivia Williams and Elias Koteas for a start), a surprisingly claustrophobic setting (small base on big empty planet), people who’ve been stuck together for six months and keen to get home, and the Unexpected Thing That Happens just as they’re getting ready to leave.

Which of course isn’t that unexpected. As soon as someone breaks protocol to keep their major discovery to themselves you know it’s all going to go pear-shaped. Have none of these people seen Alien?

Things I learned from this movie:

  • never, ever trust anyone who says “Just trust me on this one”
  • the team member with the previous unspecified traumatic incident that no-one talks about is probably going to come through in the end
  • someone will always state the obvious e.g. “this just doesn’t make sense” as previously thought-to-be-dead person comes back to life
  • the person who appears not to be seriously injured almost certainly is, and will go to great pains to hide the fact
  • it’s a good idea to check that everyone, but everyone, is accounted for before you go into the apparently abandoned main base, in the dark

Like I said, not too bad, half the team trying to be stoic under significant provocation while the other half is falling to pieces all over the place. And they were all a bit horrible to Olivia Williams’ stroppy female scientist who might have been a pain but who was absolutely right at every single stage.

And I thought the climax was a bit of a cop-out. I think the director was trying for something open and ambiguous, leaving it up to us to decide what was going to happen, but it all seemed a bit too much of a “not sure how to finish it, let’s just do this” ending.

But seriously not that bad, and a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Assuming you like Martian space zombies, of course 🙂

I’ve waited quite a long time to write about poor old John Carter because of all the nonsense that’s been floating around since before it came out and which only intensified after its release and subsequent dive into cinematic ignominy.

This isn’t going to be a properly measured review of the film (if you want that then I can do no better than to direct you to Carl’s splendid post; some of his companion pieces on the subject are  good as well) but more my impressions of the film and the furore that followed.

First a bit of background. Long-time readers will recall that I have been known to accompany the Book God to films that are not at first glance necessarily my cup of tea because (1) that’s the sort of thing you do when you’re married and (2) I have occasionally been pleasantly surprised – see Immortals and Red Cliff as good examples.

The Book God had been excited about this one as soon as the first stills leaked out, and his excitement slowly infected me as well, but I didn’t know very much about the story except that it was Edgar Rice Burroughs and was about a person from Earth who somehow got stuck on Mars. But that was good enough for me, so off we went one Sunday afternoon to watch the thing; I hadn’t read or heard any reviews though I was aware of some mutterings, especially around the advertising.

Before I launch into bullet-point mode its worth saying that I really, really enjoyed this, the time flew by and its on my DVD-to-buy list.

So there.

My thoughts:

  • What on earth were Disney thinking in just calling it John Carter? True, the poster gives you a clue as to what kind of film this is but for goodness sake, the inclusion of the word Mars wasn’t going to put people off (I say that as someone who has a stack of sci-fi novels and disappointing films (I’m looking at you Mission to Mars) bought solely because they were SET ON MARS)

[See what you have done, Disney, you have made me shouty and use parentheses in an excessive manner, shame on you]

  • And getting back to the whole Mars thing, how can people have watched this film and not realise that it was set on Mars? Apart from the big “of Mars” do-dah at the end, it’s mentioned at least twice in the film including some lengthy fiddling about with a star-map sort of thing. This has led me to the conclusion that some folk are just dim, which is not a very nice way to view your fellow man and I blame Disney for my temporary misanthropy as well
  • OK, so Taylor Kitsch is a bit dull and gloomy but that worked for me as well, not everyone inexplicably transported to another world will be full of joy and wonder and grasp the situation immediately
  • And there were some brilliant stalwart British actors moving the whole thing along; Ciaran Hinds looking a bit odd in his Julius-Caeasar-type grey wig, but c’mon Dominic West was chewing the scenery villainously, and I would have liked to have seen more of James Purefoy
  • Mark Strong. The man’s a class act in absolutely everything he has ever been in and I would bow my head in his presence (if I was ever lucky enough to be in his presence)
  • The heroine was quite pretty and not totally vapid. This is a good thing.
  • I liked the special effects. I liked the properly alien Martians. I liked the big dog thing. I particularly liked the framing device, very sweet (and yay Bryan Cranston).

So I just don’t understand why so many people seem to dislike this so much. It was not dull (despite what Mark Kermode and other reviewers have said) and it wasn’t incomprehensible if you were at least half-awake.

And it was set on Mars.

It’s a real shame it lost so much money and there won’t be any sequels. If I were a conspiracy theorist I would smell a rat, but sadly I just think that the studio got embarrassed by the film.

The whole thing has made me quite cross. Can you tell?