by Mark Burger

Matt Damon: Left behind

Not unlike Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity (2013) and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) – both enormous boxoffice hits, incidentally — Ridley Scott’s screen version of The Martian is an attempt to emphasize, or at least equate, the human element of a science-fiction story with the special effects.

Scott is deservedly renowned for his technical proficiency, beginning as early as his debut feature The Duellists (1977) and his blockbuster encore Alien (1979), but The Martian is a warm-blooded film. The humanity comes across, leavened with some welcome (and unobtrusive) humor, and the scientific jargon never intrudes upon the story at hand.

Matt Damon portrays Mark Watney, a botanist assigned to the Ares III mission to Mars presumed dead after being swept away by a sudden storm on the planet surface. The other crew members solemnly begin their journey home while NASA issues the appropriate statements about the tragic incident.

But Mark Watney isn’t a fallen hero at all. He is very much alive, although very much at the mercy of Mars, which, if not the “angry red planet” of yore, is an extremely inhospitable one. His everyman appeal put to perfect use in these circumstances, Damon’s futuristic Robinson Crusoe is both a man of thought and action. He thinks his way through problems, then puts his theories to the test. Against insurmountable odds, he must find a way to stay alive and then, even more daunting, find a way home. (It’s a good thing he’s got a lot of duct tape.)

Watney’s herculean task is hardly a oneman operation. Back on Earth, the NASA brain trust (including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Sean Bean, Nick Mohammed, Benedict Wong and Mackenzie Glover) does its part in considering all options before taking action.

Likewise, the astronauts (Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie) who left him behind are in a position to possibly lend assistance, being in closer proximity than a subsequent rescue mission would be. (The next launch isn’t scheduled for some years.)

Adapted from Andy Weir’s bestselling novel by Drew Goddard (who was originally slated to direct but had other commitments), The Martian never feels as long as its 140-minute running time, as it deftly shifts the dramatic focus. Damon is clearly the star of the show, but the other actors bring a measure of depth to their characterizations.

The film also marks a welcome return to form for Scott following a number of disappointments. Prometheus (2012), an Alien prequel, was financially successful but unsatisfying, and The Counselor (2013) and Exodus: Gods + Kings (2014) are among the worst films of his career, leading one to wonder if maybe his best years – and films – were behind him.

They are not, as The Martian firmly demonstrates.

Time and time again

The award-winning Movement and Location marks an auspicious achievement for the husband-and-wife screen team of Alexis Boling (producer/ director/cinematography) and Bodine Boling (producer/editor/screenwriter/ leading lady).

Making excellent use of New York locations and boasting an intriguing sci-fi storyline, this is nevertheless a characterdriven piece. Unlike so many sciencefiction or fantasy films that rely on special effects, the low-budget Movement and Location relies on its story and those who populate it, both of which are developed in intelligent, interesting, and confident fashion.

Bodine Boling, who bears some resemblance to Matrix siren Carrie-Anne Moss, plays Kim, a mild-mannered New Yorker who encounters teenager Rachel (Catherine Missal). It soon transpires that Kim and Rachel share an unusual connection, in that both are travelers from the future about 400 years hence – who have come back in time. Evidently, the 25 th century lacks certain amenities taken for granted in the 21 st century.

Kim is determined to live in anonymity, as quietly as possible. Rachel, however, is more impetuous, not taking into account the potential consequences of divulging her origin – consequences that would affect them both.

Movement and Location is grounded in its own sense of unreality, with an offkilter, low-key urgency augmented by Dan Tepfer’s score and an imaginative use of sound effects. The ensemble cast, which includes David Andrew MacDonald, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Haile Owusu, Brendan Griffin and John DaPolito, is consistently good.

There’s also an interesting ambiguity to the proceedings. Despite their shared connection (and telltale scars), our time travelers could conceivably be sharing the same delusion. The film’s conclusion isn’t so much ambiguous, however, as uncertain. For all of us, the future is uncertain.

The ironic twist for these characters is that they’ve already been there.

Movement and Location will be screened 7 pm Wednesday, Oct. 13 at the Carolina Theatre as part of the Southern Circuit Indie Film Series. (For an exclusive interview with filmmaker Bodine Boling, turn to Page 31)

Mexican standoff

Sicario finds filmmaker Denis Villeneuve once again exploring the gray area of morality, much as he did in the Oscar-nominated Incendies (2010) and the acclaimed Prisoners (2013), and it’s an appropriate tone for the timely topic of illegal immigration and the power of the cartels south of the border.

Emily Blunt brings earnest conviction to her role as a young FBI agent attached to a covert operation headed by CIA spook Josh Brolin (in full swagger), with Benicio Del Toro’s mysterious “consultant” along for the ride. Blunt’s character is an idealist who quickly finds herself a proverbial stranger in a strange land, exposed to danger and deception at every turn – and from both sides. Not surprisingly, she learns some harsh lessons along the way – also from both sides.

Although certainly credible, actorturned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s script (his first to be produced) isn’t nearly as complex as it initially seems and becomes more convoluted as the film progresses. Sicario isn’t a bad film, and it sustains interest throughout, but it lacks that knockout moment or revelation that might have made it a great one.

Victor Garber, Jeffrey Donovan and Daniel Kaluuya are essentially relegated to stock roles, although the latter – as Blunt’s FBI partner – manages not to get killed, rather surprising in this kind of movie.

What lingers most in the memory, however, are Del Toro’s mesmerizing performance, which occasionally echoes a more cynical, ruthless variation of his Oscar-winning role in Traffic (2000), and the exquisite cinematography by Roger Deakins, who earned the eleventh of his dozen Oscar nominations for Villeneuve’s Prisoners, although he’s never won. Yet. !

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