I am embarrassed to admit this, but I really love Redbox. Even though I have Netflix (streaming + DVDs), Amazon Video and I get movies on demand through RCN, sometimes I just decide that I want to watch a specific movie and I want to watch it right away. If it's not available to stream, often it's available just two minutes away at the Redbox at Star Market on Mount Auburn Street. Each rental is only $1.50, which really can't be beat.
This past weekend I rented The Martian through Redbox. You've likely heard of it because it not only stars Matt Damon, but it won the Golden Globe award for Best Picture and Best Performance by an Actor, both in the Musical or Comedy categories.
The movie is based on a book by Andy Weir (same title). In an article published in the November 2014 issue of Entertainment Weekly reporter Sara Vilkomerson writes:
Andy Weir has a deep fear of flying. He has not set foot on an airplane since 2007, when he traveled from his home turf in Northern California to visit his mother in Phoenix.
So in 2013, when he found himself signing lucrative contracts for the publishing and film rights to his debut novel, The Martian, he did everything over the phone. He never once met any of the disembodied voices calling from New York and L.A., never shook anyone’s hand or clinked champagne flutes in a cushy conference room. “I was honestly worried it was a scam,” Weir says. “Out of nowhere someone offers to make all my dreams and lifelong ambitions come true and pay me a big pile of money? It seemed too good.”
The situation was improbable. Just one year prior, Weir, a computer programmer by trade, had given up hope of becoming a professional writer after failing to get a single agent or publisher excited about his work. But then he posted The Martian online, and it generated such buzz that now here he was, signing mid-six-figure deals with both Crown Publishing and Twentieth Century Fox. His self-publishing success story—well-paid tech nerd becomes really well paid novelist—made him the envy of every would-be author who ever fantasized about ditching his day job. Even critics were on board. (“Brilliant. A celebration of human ingenuity and the purest example of real sci-fi for many years,” said The Wall Street Journal.)
I strongly encourage you to read the entire piece titled, "Andy Weir on his strange journey from self-publishing to Hollywood."
*SPOILER ALERT! Do not read on if you do not want to know anything about the film's characters or plot.*
Now that you know the incredible back story, the film is directed by Ridley Scott, an A-list producer and director. Damon stars as the main character, botanist and astronaut Mark Watney. Mark is part of a six person mission to Mars that goes terribly wrong. During a huge storm the rest of the crew is able to board the spacecraft, but Mark is hit by a piece of the ship and gets tossed too far out of sight. His suit is compromised, leaving him unable to communicate with his commander. Assuming that he is likely dead, the crew has no choice but to board and leave before something worse happens.
When Mark finally wakes up, he discovers that he is alone on Mars. He knows that the next NASA mission to Mars isn't scheduled for another four years, so rather than freak out, he immediately starts to try to formulate a plan around how he can survive until then.
One of the things that impressed me most about this film was that even though 80% of the screen time is Mark alone on Mars or alone inside the space station (called the HAB), it is shot in a way that keeps you completely entertained. To mimic the way Mark might have a conversation with another human, he spends a good chunk of time recording a video log. He speaks to the camera the way he might speak to another person, which allows him to have different and more animated reactions than when he is sitting alone.
The film also uses music to create strong emotions in the moments where Mark is by himself. Songs will play as he builds things, tests survival theories or traverses new parts of Mars. He finds himself stuck with the disco music of his commander, CDs and computer files left behind when the crew had to abandon the mission so quickly.
About one hour into the movie, as I was watching Matt Damon take on this super challenging role (of basically talking to himself for two and a half hours), all of the feelings I had as an 8th grade girl watching Good Will Hunting at the Chestnut Hill movie theater came rushing back to me. Ever since that notorious bar scene at the L Street Tavern, I've had a serious crush on Matt Damon. The Martian reminded me of his humor, wit and charm (even without a Boston accent).
In addition to Damon, the film stars Jessica Chastain (The Help) as Commander Melissa Lewis. She is even keeled and fiercely devoted to her crew.
The head of NASA is played by Jeff Daniels, who I can only picture as Will McAvoy from The Newsroom. The leader of the Mars missions is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and the head of public relations (a.k.a. crisis management) is played by Kristen Wiig (sadly she doesn't get to make any jokes).
The combination of Damon's acting chops, a wildly talented supporting cast and the inventive script and musical score generates a fantastic movie. It is also worth noting that the film does a superb job of creating fear and suspense. I had my hand over my mouth (or eyes) for at least half the movie. My only regret is that I didn't see it on the big screen. Something tells me all those views of Mars and outer space would have been even more powerful in a theater (as opposed to on a 13" Mac Book screen on the Acela Express).
If you're looking for something to watch while all of your regular season TV shows are on summer hiatus, definitely plan to rent or stream The Martian.