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The Martian

In the near future, six astronauts are on a mission to explore Mars. They are scheduled to be there for 31 days, performing scientific experiments. On day 18 an unexpected storm strikes and threatens to topple their ascent vehicle, stranding them all without hope for rescue. They decide to abort and leave. In the hustle back to the vehicle, one of them gets struck by flying debris from a broken antenna. When they can’t find him and he does not respond, the captain must make the decision to stay and search for him, dooming them all, or leave him for dead. They leave.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) wakes up a few hours later half buried in sand, with his oxygen alarms going off. He is impaled by an antenna rod, but he was lucky that this blood and the cold sealed his punctured suit and kept him alive.

Mark makes his way back to the habitat, operates on himself, and as he recovers he realizes he is completely alone on a planet, with rescue capability years in the future, in a habitat that was designed for a month, and with a total food supply of less than a year. And worst of all, he has no way to communicate to Earth or his crew, and nobody even knows that he is alive.

But Mark is a botanist, and a mechanical engineer, and he has lots of time.

The Martian is based on the novel by Andy Weir, which I have read and reviewed six months ago. The movie, surprisingly for a science fiction story of this complexity and with this kind of detail, follows the book’s plot quite closely and focuses on those parts that lend themselves to visualization. Thus, the movie does not replace the book, but it supplies superb visuals. I loved the shots of their spaceship, with its rotating crew habitats and the internal passageways to and from them. There were some great shots of crew members spinning around looking outside and observing the docking ports.

I also enjoyed very much the rescue mission and the problems with orbital trajectory matching. Ten feet per second does not sound like a large velocity when you just say it, but catching a human in orbit traveling at that speed is equivalent to standing at a railroad crossing, watching a slow-moving freight train rolling by, and catching somebody jumping off it. Go try that sometimes!

All in all, The Martian is a great science fiction movie with a plausible plot and a very human story.

Mark Watney is somewhat of a wise guy, and his dry humor actually makes for a funny movie.

If you have read and liked the book, you will most likely enjoy this movie. If you go and see the movie first, you’ll still want to read the book for endless additional detail.

Rating - Three and a Half Stars

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Movie Review: We Bought a Zoo

This movie is based on a true story. Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is a young professional with two children, a teenage boy of fourteen and a seven-year-old daughter. His wife and the mother of the children died due to a sudden and unexpected illness, and the three are trying to cope with the terrible loss, each in their own way.

Benjamin is a caring and sensitive father. He somewhat succeeds comforting his daughter, but he seems to be fighting a losing battle with his son, who becomes increasingly withdrawn and morose.

To make positive changes, father and daughter decide to move, against the boy’s wishes. His friends are all he has left of his old life, and moving away will take them away too.

The search for houses turns out to be difficult. When they finally find the perfect place they learn that it comes with strings attached, huge, massive cables of strings, that is.

It’s a zoo!

Due to stipulations in the deed, and state regulations, the new owner must take over the zoo that comes with some 200 exotic animals of over 40 different species, and six employees that haven’t been paid and have somehow managed to keep the animals fed and alive out of their own pockets. Against the better advice of friends and relatives, Benjamin faces the challenge, takes out his checkbook and gets to work. It turns out, running a zoo requires skills and resources way more complex and voluminous than Benjamin would ever have imagined.

We Bought a Zoo is a light comedy, well acted by veteran Matt Damon and the cast of supporting actors. It’s an almost believable story and entertaining to watch. I chuckled and laughed at times, and there was heartfelt connection when things got difficult.

A great movie to rent and enjoy.

Rating: ** 1/2

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