At the Toronto International Film Festival: astronauts and unholy goats

12 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Martian’ review: A captivating adventure.

Matt Damon, left, and Luciana Barroso arrive on the red carpet at the gala for the film “The Martian” at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) TORONTO, Canada—Matt Damon got to relive his childhood fantasies of being an astronaut in Ridley Scott’s 3D space epic “The Martian,” where he portrays a character left for dead on the Red Planet. It was child’s play for Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara to float in zero gravity while making their space thriller The Martian — or, at least, to pretend to for the purposes of the illusion. The film adaptation of Andy Weir’s 2011 book about fictional NASA astronaut Mark Watney (played by Damon) becoming stranded by a sudden storm on Mars and the heroic efforts to bring him home premiered Friday at the Toronto film festival. The film reaches for the dramatic tension of Apollo 13 and the 3D grandeur of Gravity, and while it doesn’t quite hit the highs of either, it’s still an exciting science-fiction tale of survival.

To stay alive, Watney must use all of his scientific knowledge and limited materials inventively to secure water, grow food and reach out for help, and hope nothing else goes wrong while waiting for a possible rescue. “I don’t really want to go to space but I want to pretend to,” said Jessica Chastain, who worked with NASA consultants and visited its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California to prepare for her film role as the mission commander. “I assumed when people went to space that they didn’t wear jewelry,” she said, recalling her surprise when learning that astronauts wear their wedding ring in space. Matt Damon reminds us, in just a few emotional scenes, how very good an actor he can be (I got a wee bit choked up at the end, myself), and Scott brings swift pacing and tension to a story for which, let’s face it, we can all guess the ending.

It’s totally, totally ridiculous, but within the confines of the frame, it totally works, and you can’t tell.” “The zero-gravity stuff I was really looking forward to. It follows other recent space faring blockbusters, including Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway.

Here are five things we learned from the premiere screening: We’re used to seeing movies with astronauts floating around weightless, but realistically replicating the reduced gravity of Mars is still too tricky. The script was pitched as “a love letter to science,” said Damon, whose character says to himself when faced with a technical problem in his attempts to get off the arid planet: “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.” The book ironically pays homage to Scott’s science fiction legacy, referencing the tagline from his 1979 hit film “Alien”: “In space nobody can hear you scream.” Described by the film festival organizers as a “galactic spin on ‘Saving Private Ryan’” (in which Damon played the titular role), the movie pays tribute to space explorers and mankind’s enduring thirst for discovery. “I’m such a nerd when it comes to space exploration now,” Chastain said of the experience, adding that she had looked forward most to filming zero gravity scenes done with pulleys. Unlike the selfish space castaway he played in Interstellar, Damon’s astronaut botanist is charming, witty and goodhearted, and we desperately want him to survive. He was joined, I heard, on the TIFF opening-night stage by a group of filmmakers who had their work featured in the original 1976, and again this year – quite an accomplishment, For the second straight year, TIFF’s organizers have opened “Festival Street,” an eight-block stretch of King Street downtown closed to cars for the fest’s opening weekend, and filled with masses of moviegoers, commercial kiosks, music, and people wondering where to charge their cellphones. For these sequences, he and other actors just stood on one leg and moved slowly as if freed from gravity while Scott photographed their faces. “Even as big as these movies are, and with all their production values, it’s just like you were as a kid in your bedroom and you were pretending to be in space — and it worked!” Mara admitted she “would never make it as an astronaut.” Yet she loved the zero gravity shoots. “It feels very much like a dance and there is choreography to it.

Meanwhile back on Earth, the director of NASA (Jeff Daniels) plays bad cop to the earnest scientists scrambling to come up with a way to get Watney back home. This is roughly the equivalent of closing Seattle’s Fifth Avenue between, oh, Olive and Columbia for a five-day weekend; it probably messes up traffic something fierce, but it’s great fun for festivalgoers and locals who cram the sidewalks looking for movie stars – or not, as the case may be. I walked up to a rapidly growing crowd today and asked someone who we were watching for; she shrugged and said, “I don’t know. ‘The Martian’” maybe?” For one glorious moment I thought an actual Martian might be appearing, which would have been worth waiting for, but nobody materialized, not even Matt Damon. Ridley — and maybe he was just faking it really well — he seemed just as excited as we did when were doing the scenes floating through the air.” The Martian is, in large part, a loner’s journey for survival. Few directors have opted for Stanley Kubrick’s silent shots of spaceships in motion, but Scott includes a nice scene of Watney in his rover, terribly upset by news from home.

There’s no obstacle that Damon’s ingenious astronaut isn’t able to “science the s— out of,” no setback that he can’t ultimately overcome. I wandered off and found a kiosk titled L’Oreal Paris, with a line snaking around it, and asked two young women what they were waiting for; free makeup maybe? Damon said that 55 other actors had already wrapped on the film before he started his first scene. “It was a very different kind of movie for me …

I literally just met most of the cast right now (before the TIFF press conference)!” Being alone on screen for most of his scenes was intimidating but did not freak him out, Damon said. But director Scott (Prometheus, Alien) knows a thing or two about finding the humanity in visually stunning sci-fi worlds, and the large ensemble cast – including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover and Sean Bean – is fantastic, even if some of them don’t get much screen time. Secondly, he said, “I didn’t feel I was going to bore anyone to tears because, if I started to do that, we could always cut back to the other story (involving the possible rescue mission).

The screenplay occasionally veers toward movie-of-the-week, but Page and particularly Moore, as a dying cop fighting to transfer her pension to her domestic partner, are mesmerizing. So I had that going for me.” Scott enjoyed going back into space for another film. “The fantasy of space, which is now also a reality, is a marvellous platform and a form of theatre, if you like. Another strong female-led film here is Denis Villaneuve’s “Sicario,” with Emily Blunt showing steely toughness as an FBI agent trying to break open a Mexican drug cartel; Blunt’s coolly confident performance and Roger Deakins’ artful-without-being-showy cinematography (in the yellow-brown light he captures, you can almost smell the dust in the air) are standouts. Mars is so far away that even saying “No” and getting an unprintable response can take up to 45 minutes. (Judicious editing allows the film to show conversations that seem instantaneous but would actually take hours.) This was a much more realistic movie.” Scott was also comforted because he felt he cast well, including choosing Damon and Chastain to work with a stellar, multi-ethnic support group of Mara, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Aksel Hennie and emerging Canadian actress Mackenzie Davis (whom Scott discovered is a natural comedian).

He combines hydrogen and oxygen to make water. (For kindle, he takes apart one crew member’s wooden cross.) And soon enough — yes! — he’s able to communicate to NASA via a computer server. In a refreshing twist, there isn’t a single scene in which someone gives an overwrought speech or a room full of men breathlessly speak in a mythologized language.

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