The Martian

Is there such a thing as too much comic relief? Yes, and The Martian is plagued by it.

The Martian has a heck of a story. A NASA mission to Mars chooses to begin its journey home to Earth hurriedly as a giant storm stirs on the red planet. One of the astronauts, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is blown away by the high winds and left for dead as the others blast off for home.

But, wait! Watney’s not quite dead. He heads back into the Mars mission habitat the next day and evaluates his chances of surviving until the next NASA Mars mission occurs. He constructs an indoor potato farm to provide an ongoing food source and makes other accommodations to stay alive.

Meanwhile, the NASA crew in Houston (Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Donald Glover and others) eulogizes Watney but soon realizes that he is still alive. Watney manages to communicate, crudely at first, with the crew back on Earth.

As the other members of the departed Mars crew (including Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena and Kate Mara) hurdle through space on the long journey home, they learn that Watney is alive and that he does not blame them for abandoning him.

Will Watney stay alive? Will NASA rescue him? Will NASA send him food and supplies? Will NASA move up the next scheduled MARS mission? How will Mark Watney’s story end? The tension builds. But each time it begins to crescendo, here comes the comic relief.

The funny stuff IS amusing. But it lightens the mood a bit too much, in my opinion. (This was an issue with 2013’s Gravity where George Clooney’s jokey character seemed more like the real-life Clooney than a believable astronaut. In 2000’s Cast Away, a similarly stranded Tom Hanks had some lighter moments—notably with a volleyball—but the underlying peril level was maintained throughout his ordeal.)

The Martian looks great, particularly in 3D. It is directed by one of our best directors, Ridley Scott. Matt Damon, as usual, is solid in the title role. The script is by Drew Goddard from the popular novel by Andy Weir. (That’s the one that started in 2011 with the author sharing one chapter at a time online, followed by a Kindle version, followed by publication in hardcover last year.)

The Martian comes close to being a home run, but doesn’t quite clear the fence. It’s a solid three-bagger, however, and that is not a bad thing. (Baseball is on our minds these days here in St. Louis.)

The Counselor

Things to like about The Counselor:

  1. Cormac McCarthy’s literate script. The master novelist transfers his writing talent to a screenplay.
  2. Ridley Scott’s compelling visuals. Every scene in The Counselor looks good onscreen.
  3. Cameron Diaz’s silver fingernails. Stylish. (as Malkina)
  4. The love scene between The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) and his lady Laura (Penelope Cruz). Tastefully sexy amongst the white sheets.
  5. Brad Pitt in a cowboy hat (as Westray) telling The Counselor that he could be happy living in a monastery. Why doesn’t he? In a word, he says, “women.”
  6. Javier Bardem (as Reiner) telling a very dirty (but funny) story about a Malkina sexual escapade on a Ferrari windshield.
  7. Bruno Ganz (as the Diamond Dealer) triggering memories of the Hitler Reacts videos.
  8. The Counselor’s repeated requests for advice from others. Ironic role reversal.
  9. Ruben Blades back on screen as one of those who counsels The Counselor.
  10.  Rosie Perez back on screen as a prisoner The Counselor is assigned to defend.
  11. The creative method of transporting dope into the U.S. via oil drums hidden inside a tanker truck’s tank.
  12. Dean Norris back on screen as one involved in the drug trade. Ironic role reversal for Breaking Bad DEA agent Hank.
  13. Malkina’s leopards chasing jackrabbits.
  14. The classy look of most of the settings: Reiner’s restaurant, Reiner’s residence, The Counselor’s apartment, the spa where Malkina and Laura visit together.
  15. The gritty look of the garages where the dope is loaded and unloaded.
  16. The Counselor’s discomfited reactions to all the cautionary words he hears.
  17.  McCarthy’s clever use of the word “cautionary.”
  18.  The creative methods of killing people.

The Counselor does lean heavily on dialogue but there is plenty of action to balance it out. The story—a drug deal that doesn’t come off quite as planned with money missing—is standard stuff.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a Ridley Scott movie or a Cormac McCarthy novel, don’t miss The Counselor.