The Martian

Have you read Andy Weir's terrific best-seller yet? The back story of his success is almost as good as his first full-length novel. Look it up! A few memorable situations had to be eliminated, or this 2-hour, 20-minute survival story would run for over six hours! I did object to the last exciting action sequence: They needlessly changed the players simply because of star billing. Grrr....

NASA astronaut/flight surgeon Michael Reed Barrett happily introduced this exciting Sci-Fi adventure to our screening audience (it's his favorite movie). Director Ridley Scott ("Prometheus"), with a screenplay by Drew Goddard ("The Cabin in the Woods"), follows Weir's involving and humorous book into space. We open with a NASA exploration team on the red planet, where a freak storm violently interrupts their mission and our story begins.

The cast:
  • Matt Damon ("Beyond the Candelabra") Mark Watney is left for dead as the crew wisely scrambles to evacuate while their ship can still fly. Faced with starvation, this resourceful survivor becomes "the greatest botanist on this planet!" (See the trailer.)
  • Jessica Chastain ("Zero Dark Thirty") Melissa Lewis is captain of the crew that unwittingly abandons our hero; her responsibility is to get her team safely back to Earth.
  • Mackenzie Davis ("That Awkward Moment") Mindy Park's job is surveillance. She is the solitary observer who monitors the mission from a quiet NASA desk. She spots some unexplained activity. Once it is ascertained that Watney is alive, time and distance are the biggest challenges for NASA. How do we get back there to rescue him before he dies? And how do we tell him we're coming?
  • Jeff Daniels ("The Newsroom") Sanders is the head of NASA; short of a mutiny, anything else that happens is on his watch.
  • Kristen Wiig ("The Skeleton Twins") Annie Montrose's job is Public Relations. How do you tell the world that an astronaut has been left behind on Mars to starve?
  • Chewitel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave") Venkat Kapoor is the vital link between the face of NASA and the media world. Through him, we witness the bureaucratic scramble that takes place behind the scenes.
  • Donald Glover ("Magic Mike XXL") Rich Purnell seems to have Asperger's, which makes this high-functioning fellow the perfect person to offer an outside-the-box solution for this white-knuckle dilemma.
  • Michael Peña ("Ant-Man") Likable mission pilot Rick Martinez is Watney's best buddy. It's just plain fun to hear their chatter.
This is PG-13, so expect a smattering of profanity, a bit of nudity, and an entire crew of Macgyvers (one astronaut has to build a bomb from their food supply). And you'll never look at duct tape the same way again.

The most outstanding element of this film (AND the book!) is the humor: Watney has a wry sense of himself and his situation that we come to share. He also has a resilience and a persistence that any would-be adventurer would be wise to note; he even comes to appreciate disco music (some tapes had been abandoned by the crew).

You can $kip the 3D, the $tory is the thing! I heartily recommend this one (and the book).
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Take a peek:
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The Intern

My mental image of an intern is an eager but underpaid young adult who invests time and energy into learning a new business. Well, in this movie, the eager intern we expect to see is 70 years old and has signed up for an innovative "Senior Intern" program.

Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, who is known for her audience-pleasing work ("It's Complicated" and "The Holiday"), this PG-13 film takes our expectations, adds two Oscar winners, and turns those expectations upside down. In addition, everyone in this plot is NICE, no one is rude or demeaning. We see no betrayals (well, maybe one), we see no gunshots or vehicular mayhem and everyone is polite! The biggest crisis is a bedbug.

The cast:
  • Robert De Niro ("Silver Linings Playbook") is Ben, our eponymous hero, a 70-year-old widower, retired, and bored out of his skull. When we see his new work environment, we think he INVENTED the generation gap! He wears a suit and a tie, plus he carries a briefcase and (gasp!) a clean handkerchief.
  • Anne Hathaway ("Interstellar") Jules runs an on-line fashion business which she founded less than two years ago. She is young, inexperienced, and overworked. Her devoted staff knows she needs a wingman, despite her objections to the contrary. As we watch her in action, we can see why her staff is so loyal.
  • Anders Holm ("Workaholics") is Matt, Jules' househusband. He volunteered to take over the domestic side of their marriage in order to support her burgeoning business.
  • JoJo Kushner is their precocious daughter, Paige. This little actress was either beautifully directed or has a nice future. (Just don't ask her to cry....)
  • Andrew Rannells ("Glee") Cameron makes many of the personnel decisions for Jules because he pays close attention to EVERYTHING. She couldn't ask for a better chief assistant. He assigns Ben, to be her new intern.
  • Rene Russo ("Thor") A back rub from Fiona, the company masseuse, has an immediate (and obvious) effect on Ben. His fellow interns are mighty amused.
It's fun to watch his co-workers come to Ben for help. He is practical, experienced and considerate. His history of success, both with a long-term marriage and a long-term executive position, makes him uniquely qualified to offer sound advice.

When the venture capitalists who funded the business tell Jules they want to hire a CEO to take over some of her duties, she feels threatened and humiliated. We see the impact on her personal life, as well as her professional one. Ben, on the other hand, sees the whole picture and offers his expertise to help her sort things out.

This 121-minute dramedy touches on many relatable issues: The price of success; the generation gap; senior sexuality; and the hard work that goes into a solid marriage. And NO, there is no hanky panky between our two lead characters! I just wanted to reassure you....
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I left this screening in a white heat of rage against ALL Americans whose insatiable appetite for drugs provides the funding for this horrific blood bath! How can we not see that the problem is NOT the cartels, it's the buyers who FUND the cartels! If there is no market, there is no cartel. To me it looks like a simple case of cause and effect.

Director Denis Villeneuve ("Prisoners"), working with a screenplay by actor Taylor Sheridan ("Sons of Anarchy") ramps up the horror of what an idealistic FBI agent encounters when she volunteers to work with a CIA team along the Mexican border. The charnel house they discover in the early part of the film sets the tone, while the unsettling soundtrack underscores an overwhelming sense of misery and doom.

Here we have:
  • Emily Blunt ("Edge of Tomorrow") Kate is determined to make her mark in the FBI. When she sees this chance to make a difference against the drug cartels, she volunteers.
  • Daniel Kaluuya ("Babylon") is her FBI sidekick Reggie. He is not quite so idealistic but he still "mothers" Kate.
  • Victor Garber (Lots of TV) FBI chief Jennings asks Kate if she can see any changes in her world after their latest successful foray.
  • Josh Brolin ("Labor Day") CIA agent Matt is always upbeat, smiling and focused. He has a realistic view of his mission and knows exactly why Kate has been added to his team.
  • Benicio Del Toro ("Inherent Vice") Alejandro will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. He has a spooky way of appearing and disappearing with unsettling regularity. His sicario makes a formidable enemy!
This R-rated crime drama has more grisly scenes than you may expect. It's one thing to READ about decapitations, torture, and betrayals, but it is another thing entirely to see them in living color! This film will stay with you for a long time. If you are anything like me, you will cry "Shame!" at any part of the drug trade, no matter how inconsequential it may appear. BTW, in Mexico "Sicario" means "Hitman."
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Take a look:
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We have an older lesbian whose partner of 38 years died over a year ago, leaving medical bills and an empty house. Our gal found a new partner to quiet the echoing house, but the movie starts with her throwing the new partner out. Her teenage granddaughter shows up in desperate need of $600 for an abortion but our heroine has just paid off those medical bills and is strapped for cash. This movie is about their quest for money in a vintage Dodge sedan.

Writer/director Paul Weitz ("About a Boy" and "In Good Company") has crafted the ideal vehicle to remind us what a perfectly splendid actor we have in Lily Tomlin (Oscar nomination for "Nashville").

His cast:
  • Lily Tomlin ("9 to 5" and "A Prairie Home Companion") Elle has a checkered past. She is a poet and an educator, but the more we learn about her, the more surprises we find.
  • Julia Garner ("The Perks of Being a Wallflower") is perfectly cast as Sage, that wayward granddaughter. Her boyfriend failed to bring her the money and now accuses her of lying about his involvement. Problem is, she has an appointment for the procedure and the clock is ticking.
  • Marcia Gay Harden ("Elsa & Fred") Judy is mother of Sage and daughter of Elle. This is not an easy spot to be in!
  • Judy Greer ("The Descendants") Olivia is unceremoniously tossed out of Elle's house and must go on with her life. Elle will NOT accept money from her!
  • Elizabeth Peña ("Lone Star") Carla has the small store where Elle hopes to sell her first edition feminist books.
  • Sam Elliott ("I'll See You in My Dreams") Karl is a last resort. Elle is pretty sure he will help but we are not prepared for some of their surprises. The scenes with Elliott and Tomlin are particularly good!
This has some predictable discussions about abortions, of course with Tomlin involved, they will be pro-choice (but watch that little girl outside the clinic). This satisfying movie is just over an hour long but isn't rushed; it earns its R rating because of dialogue and profanity.

I smiled over Sage's confusion between "The Feminine Mystique," Betty Friedan's book and Mystique, the character in the X-Men movies.
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They sure don't make romantic comedies the way they used to! As a person who will never see 45 again (...smile...) I find the new ones so anatomical and vulgar, the comedy part seems to elude me. Director Judd Apatow ("This is 40") uses Amy Schumer's script to fashion a frank, repulsive "heroine" who clearly believed her alcoholic father when he urged his daughters to reject monogamy, to have many dolls and to live it up.

The movie starts with him using a metaphorical doll to show his two little girls why he is leaving their mother. They wouldn't want to have just one doll to play with for the rest of their lives, would they? ("No, Daddy.") Now in his 50s and crippled by Multiple Sclerosis, the daughters must move him into a facility that can care for him as his health fails.

The cast:
  • Amy Schumer (Lots of TV) is Amy, a talented writer who lives on controlled substances and nerve; she works for a magazine that specializes in trashing reputations and printing vulgar articles. Her sex life is a revolving door and her happily married sister despairs.
  • Brie Larson ("Don Jon") Kim is that sister, delighted when her stepson calls her "Mom."
  • Colin Quinn ("Grown Ups") is their unrepentant father, Gordon.
  • Bill Hader ("The Skeleton Twins") is Aaron, a sports medicine specialist who also participates in Doctors Without Borders as the need arises. He is an earnest, decent fellow whose attraction to the socially unacceptable Amy bewilders me.
  • Amar'e Stroudemire ("Beyond the Lights") once again playing himself, is the basketball player who is scheduled for a new knee. He's not sure Aaron feels well enough to perform the surgery.
  • LeBron James ("More Than a Game") playing himself, is another high-profile patient. This basketball superstar is articulate, energetic, and very, very funny. He clearly has suffered the slings and arrows of lawsuits, and he warns Aaron, "No penetration without representation!"
  • Tilda Swinton ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") is unrecognizable as the glamorous Dianna, editor of that nasty magazine where Amy works (we can see how this cold-blooded viper has set the tone!).
It was difficult for me to remain in the theater during the first half of this one. If I had not been promised that it was "really good!" I would not have stayed the course. It DID become involving and a bit soppy, so I felt the clichéd happy ending was just fine.

This was an R-rated romp with lots of awkward (simulated) sex, vulgar topics, drugs, alcohol and profanity. I DID enjoy Aaron's intervention which featured some of his name-brand patients: Marv Albert, Chris Evert, Matthew Broderick and LeBron James. That part was great fun! (Find the good and praise it!) YOYO (You're On Your Own).
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Take a look at this preview:
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Black Mass

Hey, Johnny Depp fans, are you still out there? I have to confess that his choices of quirky and/or repugnant movie characters have never appealed to me. This time he adroitly portrays the legendary Whitey Bulger, the most infamous criminal ever raised in South Boston. Director Scott Cooper ("Crazy Heart") working from a script written by a committee, shows us how this two-hour R-rated true-life story all came down.

This dark drama, which spans the 70s, 80s, and some of the 90s, features a foreboding score that telegraphs each shocking and bloody murder. The production design expertly captures those eras with authentic street scenes, automobiles and clothing. Warning: We're talking about Boston's Irish and Italian mobs, so the F-bombs spray like machine-gun bullets!

We see:
  • Johnny Depp ("The Lone Ranger") is Whitey Bulger, the brutally efficient mastermind who plays both ends against the middle as he bullies and charms his way to the top of his local Irish mob in South Boston, then beguiles an old childhood friend into using an FBI team to settle accounts with the Cosa Nostra in North Boston.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch ("The Imitation Game") is his brother Billy, a State Senator who shares that deep sense of loyalty, but who can see his brother for what he is.
  • Joel Edgerton ("The Great Gatsby") brings us John Connolly, the profoundly loyal friend who believes in his chum and does everything in his power to protect him.
  • Julianne Nicholson ("August, Osage County") His wife Marianne can see John slowly change and does NOT like it!
  • Kevin Bacon ("The Following") Charles McGuire won't rest until Whitey is brought to justice. His impatience is almost palpable.
  • David Harbour (Lots of TV) FBI man John Morris has his doubts, but Whitey keeps laying them to rest.
  • Adam Scott ("Parks and Recreation") FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick is the fellow who breaks rank first.
  • Peter Sarsgaard ("Blue Jasmine") is Brian Halloran, a junky who does his share of enforcing but doesn't want to be on the receiving end.
  • Corey Stoll ("Ant-Man") Fred Wykshak is the new broom brought in by the FBI to sweep up this mess. His character was the only one I could root for!
This is organized as a series of vignettes which illustrate bits of testimony as former colleagues turn State's Evidence. In my opinion, Nicholson and Sarsgaard turn in the standout performances by far.

The subdued screening audience was mostly silent as we exited the theater. We had learned one thing (SPOILER ALERT!): Crime does not pay.
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