By Robin E. Simmons
PICK OF THE WEEK
Ridley Scott’s terrific adaptation of Andy Weir’s often tedious hard science book of the same name has Matt Damon as a stranded on Mars astronaut. The movie, also deeply rooted in mostly real science, is a thrilling, visually superb and emotional adventure. I actually choked up on more than one occasion.
But what surprised me most was the often lighthearted attitude of our hero and the many genuinely funny moments that reminded me of how important it is to keep your wits, and stay hopeful, even in the most desperate of situations.
And it is desperate. Damon’s astronaut Mark Watney is thought to have died during a ferocious Martian storm and is subsequently left behind when his crew departs the Red Planet. Talk about Home Alone! But this time it’s on a hostile planet millions of miles from Earth. It’s an impossible and deadly situation for Watney.
But wait! With only the barest of supplies, Watney draws upon his good old American know-how and finds a way to not only signal NASA that he’s alive, but survive long enough for his alerted crew to try an insanely dangerous rescue mission. In the meantime, Watney’s dilemma has become a worldwide sensation that unites mankind in their shared humanity. It sounds hokey but it is not. The fine cast includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover. See it on the biggest screen you can find. Now playing.
If you are expecting a romantic comedy, forget it. Although Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway exude great charisma and obvious chemistry and are a delight to watch, they never connect in a romantic way. The premise of a retired, successful and smart man applying to be an intern is wonderful, but that premise is not really played out or fully explored in writer-director Nancy Meyers slick looking film.
Meyers’ attempt at jokes are lame but her dialogue rings true, even though the story is slight. The movie’s message — and there is one – is that you can have a fulfilling personal and professional life and that your soul does not have to be offered as a sacrifice on the altar of capitalism.
The movie is entertaining mainly — or only? — because we like De Niro and Hathaway so much and the movie looks so damn good (as do all Meyers’ films).
Know that this film is a perfectly harmless escapist diversion for an end of summer afternoon as long as you don’t have high expectations. Or assume De Niro and Hathaway will fall in love. Now playing.
NEW FOR THE HOME THEATER:
The rich beauty surprised me, as did the sweet emotion of this familiar story told as a live action fantasy. Director Kenneth Branagh’s straight-forward take makes this a timeless, and slyly contemporary, experience with the brilliant addition of an fundamentally true theme not clearly stated in the ancient tale told world-wide for over a thousand years. And that theme is: Being Courageous and Kind. That’ s the secret of a good, true life. It works here and it is not tongue-in-cheek, sappy or in any way intentionally ironic. The stunning production design allows for moments that are achingly beautiful and the special effects are just right and in some cases extremely effective. There are no talking animals (except when lizards are transformed into footmen) and no songs! Kudos to screenwriter Chris Waits for his judicious taste in streamlining the 1950 Disney animated film.
But, when all is said and done, it’s the beautiful Lily James (Lady Rose in “Downton Abbey”) as Cinderella that makes it all work. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in that role after seeing the film. She conveys sweetness, innocence, desire and intelligence. And we do not doubt that her beaming smile can catch a prince. Even when humiliated, opposed and shamed by her wicked stepmother as embodied by a scene-stealing Cate Blanchett. Disney. Blu-ray.
John Huston’s 1953 droll misadventure crime comedy — the screenplay’s by Truman Capote — has a strong cult following. The absurdist story has tough guy Humphrey Bogart, the front man for a group of swindlers, getting further enmeshed in a complicated scheme – or scam? – to get control of a uranium claim in Africa all the while stranded in an Italian port town. Other strandees are: Jennifer Jones, Edward Underdown, Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre and Robert Morley. This was Bogart’s final shared screen credit with Lorre. The Film Detective. First time on Blu-ray.