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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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The Gift

Simon and Robyn just moved to Los Angeles where Simon has a new executive job. Things are going well for them. As they get situated, they run into Gordo, one of Simon’s high school classmates.

Simon does not seem to recognize him at first. Gordo welcomes the couple into the community and drops off a gift at their doorstep. It seems strange to them, but harmless at first.

Then, while Simon is at work, Gordo shows up unannounced and befriends Robyn. She starts to suspect that there is something between the two men beneath the surface that she does not understand.

How well does she actually know her own husband? As the digs deeper into the past, she finds some unsettling truths that bring havoc into their lives.

The Gift is a mystery thriller and very highly rated by the reviews. It is very well done. I was captivated by the story and intrigued to find out what actually happened. This is an entertaining movie that you won’t regret seeing.

Rating - Two and a Half Stars

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Movie Review: Mud

Mud

Mud (Matthew McConaughey) is an enigmatic stranger hiding on a muddy island in the Mississippi somewhere in the deep South. In a Huckleberry Finn-like story, two fourteen-year-old boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), find Mud by accident when they come across a boat stranded in a tree, presumably from the last flood.

Mud befriends the boys and they find out he killed a man in Texas because he hurt his girlfriend Juniper, the love of his life.

It turns out more true than the boys first believed, when Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) suddenly shows up in town and a posse of bounty hunters, led by the father of the man Mud killed, closes in on them.

What started out as a boyish adventure for the boys quickly turns into a dangerous game of life and death.

This is story-telling at its best. We are led into the lives of ordinary people, eking out a living off the river, trying their best to be honorable, while also looking for their dreams and ideals. America on the Mississippi is far away from the America I know and it’s almost inconceivable it is the same country. Mud took me deep into that world and had me captivated for two hours and ten minutes.

Rating: ***

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