The Martian Survival Tale

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Director Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi offering, The Martian, is a sometimes riveting, but always entertaining survival tale taking place on the red planet.

Based on the novel by Andy Weir, It stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney a botanist who is part of an exploratory mission on Mars. A sudden sandstorm causes the mission to be aborted, but Watney is struck by debris and lost in the storm. Presumed dead, Watney is left behind Mars as his fellow astronauts leave the planet.

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Miraculously, Watney survives the storm and makes his way back to his expedition’s habitat. From there he uses his skills and training to live on Mars by growing food, creating water, etc. His dilemma is how to stretch out his limited supplies long enough for an eventual rescue mission that won’t happen for four years. In the meantime, NASA discovers that he is alive and is able to establish communications. With the world now aware that Watney is marooned, all attention and resources are devoted to find a way to rescue the stranded astronaut.

ares 3 crewThe Martian is a well-put together, hard sci-fi yarn that thankfully uses real science to come up with plausible means for a human to survive on Mars. The film is bolstered by a smart script by Drew Goddard and heartfelt performances not just from Matt Damon, who is the centerpiece, but by the entire cast. The Martian literally has an all-star cast which includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Jeff Daniels and many more. They all turn in solid work and inject The Martian with needed humanity. This film unexpectedly has a human heart at its core, it isn’t dry or lifeless, and that is what makes it stand out. We see this many times with the scenes back on Earth and in the return vehicle as everyone scrambles and makes sacrifices to bring Watney home. The altruistic efforts certainly give one a pause to hope for humanity. Watney’s plight is shown to be in the film as some kind of unifying event for the world as seen by the large crowd scenes that hark back to the early Apollo missions.

It does have its issues though. It’s heart and emotion are assets, but sometimes they take away from other needed aspects. Many critics are praising its use of humor, but this colonistfilm isn’t some slapstick comedy nor is it that funny. For the most part, the humor works, but it also undercuts the tension that a film like this requires. This doesn’t mean that The Martian is without any thrills, several scenes are captivating and makes audiences curl in theater seats, especially the final act. However, it could’ve used more of a gritty survival aspect that was sometimes glossed over. While audiences saw how underweight he got from lack of food and detailing his efforts to create water, it should’ve have dwelled on his isolation and boredom a lot more. It would have been a bonus to see Watney act as an explorer and let us witness the barren beauty of the red planet. Perhaps he would’ve discovered the flowing water that NASA recently discovered in real life.

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Complaints aside, The Martian is an enjoyable adventure that can be enjoyed not just by sci-fi fans but by general audiences.

Lewis T. Grove

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Fifteen Films To Look For In 2015

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This year’s slate of genre films looks incredibly thrilling for fans. We have the return of Star Wars, the Avengers and many high-profile sci-fi wannabe epics, plus a slew of fantasy, horror and animated films. Of the many scheduled releases, these are the ones to look for in 2015.

15. Jupiter Ascending

This eye-catching space adventure jupiterfilm starring Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum can be either a magnificent comeback vehicle for the Wachowskis or another in a long string of flops for the directors after their early success with The Matrix. (Release Date: February 6)

14. Inside Out

Pixar is offering two animated films for 2015 and the first one out is about the emotions of a young girl being played out in her mind by distinct characters. Think of that old Fox show Herman’s Head for the younger crowd. (Release Date: June 19)

WELCOME TO YESTERDAY13. Project Almanac

Usually January is a dumping ground for inferior movies, and found footage films are now considered passé. But Project Almanac has an interesting premise: A bunch of young adults record their discovery of time travel and its negative repercussions. It could go either way. (Release Date: January 30)

12. Monsters: Dark Continent

Even though Gareth Edwards, the monsters dark continentdirector of the first Monsters film, isn’t returning, he is still involved in this sequel that expands the premise of Monsters. Now the alien behemoths have spread throughout the world and this film chronicles a soldier looking for a comrade in monster-infested territory. (Release Date: February 27)

11. Terminator: Genisys

Fans of the Terminator films have been burned by the last two entries in the series. The production team behind this latest entry hope to start afresh with this semi-reboot/sequel that returns Arnold Schwarzenegger as an older version of the killer cyborg. The trailer was a bit offputting, yet somehow intriguing with the idea that the original timeline of the first film has been radically altered and combines elements of Terminator 2: Judgment Day with the original film. (Release Date: July 1)

10. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part Two

The final film of The Hunger Games saga promises to deliver the ultimate confrontation between the young victor of the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), and the District 13 rebel forces against the tyrant President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his armies of Panem. (Release Date: November 20)

scott lang9. Ant-Man

This film is probably a case of any publicity is good publicity. Ant-Man has always been an obscure superhero. The only interest in this film was due to director Edgar Wright’s involvement. Awaresness ratcheted up a thousand fold when Wright quit the film and Marvel Studios went through a very public search for a director, any director to take over. It’s easy to right off Ant-Man because of its behind-the -scenes headaches, but this is Marvel Studios, who were able to sell the just-as obscure Guardians of the Galaxy. (Release Date: July 17)

8. The Good Dinosaur

Out of the two Pixar releases for this dinogoodyear, this film seems the more interesting of the two. It’s about dinosaurs for Pete’s sake! And according to publicity material The Good Dinosaur takes place in world where the mighty giant reptiles never died off, making the film a rare alternate history film. Even though it’s had a troubled production, Pixar should be able to pull off another winner. (Release Date: November 25)

7. The Martian

Based on the book by Andy Weir. Ridley Scott directs this outer space survival tale starring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on Mars. Think of Survivorman in space or rather that underrated cult classic Robinson Crusoe on Mars, but with today’s scientific knowledge and special effects. Hopefully Ridley Scott might have better luck with The Martian than he did with Prometheus. (Release Date: November 25)

6. Chappie

Neill Blomkamp’s third film stars Hugh Jackman and is about a sentient chappierobot finding his way in the world. From the bits shown in the trailer, Chappie might become the latest endearing robot to capture our human hearts in the mode of WALL-E or R2-D2. In any case, this film offers Blomkamp a chance at redemption after Elysium failed to match the success of District 9. (Release Date: March 6)

5. Mad Max: Fury Road

Everyone’s favorite futuristic Road Warrior is back! In the newest Mad Max film, the titular hero is now portrayed by Tom Hardy and is being directed by series creator George Miller. If what has been shown on the trailers is true, we’re going to be treated by the same high-octane road thrills that defined the original films and make the Fast and the Furious films seem pedestrian. (Release Date: May 15)

4. Jurassic World

Dinosaurs never get old on the silver screen! With that said, we’ve been itching for a return to Jurassic Park even though the last film, which came out in 2001, was a bit disappointing. Chris Pratt stars as a park warden in a perfected dinosaur theme park that has a front-seat viewing of dinosaur genetic experiments gone awry. (Release Date: June 12)

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3. Tomorrowland

The newest film by Brad Bird is still a mystery at this point and the teaser released served only to bring up more questions and entice us even more. Bird has proven to be a phenomenal director and the imagery shown in the trailer were beyond entrancing. Fingers crossed that Tomorrowland will be as extraordinary and scintillating as the teaser, well, teased. (Release Date: May 22)

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Yes, this latest Star Wars film is on the top of many anticipated lists for 2015. This is just based on director J.J. Abrams’ credentials and an exciting teaser trailer. But remember how we were all excited when the trailer for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out. Then there is the undeniable fact that Abrams has his critics, especially with his overuse of lens flares. And depending on one’s point of view this is the first Star Wars film not under the guidance of George Lucas. Putting all those reservations aside, it’s freaking great that we’re actually getting a brand new Star Wars films that takes its inspiration from the Original Trilogy. (Release Date: December 18)

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1. Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The Avengers was as influential on superhero films as The Dark Knight and Superman. A large measure of thanks had to go to director Joss Whedon, who crafted a well-balanced character/action piece that was exciting, witty and plain fun. Avengers: Age of Ultron looks like it will take the route of other well-regarded sequels in adopting a darker tone. This came across with the trailer’s use of a chilling rendition of “I Got No Strings”, which accompanied despairing scenes of our distressed heroes as they faced off against the robotic Ultron, voiced unnervingly by James Spader. Also it’s been hinted that the film’s events will lead to 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, which pits superheroes against one another. The takeaway impression is that Avengers: Age of Ultron will not play it safe. (Release Date: May 1)

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In addition to this list there are many more genre films currently scheduled for 2015. Some of the more interesting ones include Predestination (January 9–next week!), a time-travel piece starring Ethan Hawke; Seventh Son (February 6) features Jeff Bridges in a medieval knight story with fantastic monsters and witches; The Divergent Series: Insurgent (March 20), the sequel to last year’s Divergent is also an adaptation of Veronica Roth’s second Divergent novel and stars super popular Shailene Woodley; Home (March 27), Dreamworks Animation presents this sci-fi buddy comedy about aliens invaders; Ex Machina (April 10) marks the directorial debut of 28 Days Later writer Alex Garland in a tale about artificial intelligence; Pan (July 24) is a prequel to Peter Pan featuring Hugh Jackman; Pixels (July 24), Chris Columbus directs this sci-fi comedy about 1980s-era video game characters used by aliens to invade Earth; Poltergeist (July 24), a remake of the Tobe Hooper horror classic; Self/Less (July 31) stars Ryan Reynolds as a dying man whose consciousness is transferred into another body; Sinister 2 (August 21), the sequel to the surprisingly scary Sinister; The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials (Sept. 18), based on another popular young reader sci-fi book series, it’s the sequel to last year’s The Maze Runner; Victor Frankenstein (October 2), James McAvoy stars as the infamous scientist while Daniel Radcliffe plays Igor; The Jungle Book (October 9) is a live-action version of the Disney classic adaptation directed by Jon Favreau; Crimson Peak (October 16), a Gothic romance directed by Guillermo Del Toro; and Midnight Special (November 25) is a sci-fi chase film about a father and son who go on run after the son develops special powers.

José Soto