“The Martian”

I almost lost faith in Ridley Scott after seeing “The Counselor” two years ago. I’m so glad that “The Martian” restored my faith in the man because this is not only one of the best movies of the year, but also one of Scott’s best movies ever.

“The Martian” stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut stranded on Mars after a mission goes wrong. After his second day of being stranded, he says, “I’m not going to die here,” and immediately begins an epic fight for survival. He finds an innovative and scatological way to grow food, entertains himself with disco music and “Happy Days” reruns, and eventually communicates with Earth, letting his superiors know he survived. NASA, Watney’s team, and eventually the whole world want to help bring Watney home.

What surprised me and charmed me the most about “The Martian” was its cheerful attitude and witty sense of humor. I was expecting something grim and tragic like most of Ridley Scott’s previous works, but this was a nice change for him. It’s also Scott’s most restrained film to date due to his focus on the characters instead of scenery. Don’t get me wrong, “The Martian” is beautiful to look at, but it’s a rare space odyssey (or Mars odyssey) about characters.

Matt Damon delivers one of his best performances of his entire career. I’ve always liked him, but he reminded me of how charismatic and funny he can be. With his likable personality, he portrays Watney as the most levelheaded and optimistic hero this year (Mad Max would hate him).

This isn’t “Cast Away” on Mars because we spend time on Earth and in space getting to know everyone else involved. And everyone in this movie are just as likable, sassy, and charming as Damon. We have the great Chiwetel Ejiofer as the protagonist on Earth, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, and Kate Mara as Watney’s team, Sean Bean and Jeff Daniels as clashing NASA superiors, and Donald Glover from “Community” as a mad genius engineer.

It’s Drew Goddard’s (“The Cabin in the Woods,” “Daredevil” (2015)) confidence and sharp wit that make “The Martian” work so well. We do get a few too many “We can’t do this in X time,” banters, but it’s forgivable. Scott’s grounded direction and change in tone paid off and made me wish I paid more attention in science class.

Grade: A

“Fant4stic”

You stylize a title as cheesy as “Fant4stic”, you bet I’m going to refer the movie by that title. The one thing I learned watching “Fant4stic” is that director Josh Trank (“Chronicle” (2012)) is better with less money in his budget.

The premise of “Fant4stic” is simple; five genius kids in either high school or college are enlisted by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey from TV’s “Oz” and “House of Cards”) to research teleportation, discovering another planet in the process. You have high school genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller), his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Storm’s rebellious son Johnny (Michael B. Jordon) and adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), and Storm’s eccentric and arrogant protege Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbel).

The team are all exposed to the other planet’s fuels, mutating them in the process, which leads them against Victor on Planet Zero. There’s the premise in a nutshell!

What’s irritating about the narrative in “Fant4stic” is that there’s no development or lesson learned by the end of the movie! Ben resents Reed after their mutations, Ben and Johnny form a rivalry, Reed and Sue take a romantic interest in each other, and Reed and Johnny are clearly friends, but none of this is developed or resolved. With a running time of 100 minutes, I wonder if Trank was forced to edit the film and cut out all of the development and back story.

The small amount of development is some of the most half-assed writing in recent memory. Ben and Reed are respectively the brain and heart duo trying to change the world, Victor wants to destroy Earth and go back to Planet Zero because he feels we’re killing Earth (though not wrong there, but that’s a different conversation), and the kids get their powers due to a drunken mishap? Maybe the message of the movie was don’t drink.

As far as acting goes, Miles Teller and Kate Mara both look bored, Jamie Bell overacts as the inept and street smart muscle, Michael B Jordon and Toby Kebbel are good sports on screen, and Reg E. Cathey works well with what he has.

Trank envisioned “Fant4stic” being a blend of Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” movies, Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” (2014), and David Cronenberg’s body horror classics “The Fly” (1986) and “Scanners” (1981). Ambitious idea, yeah, but like I said in my “True Detective” review, execution matters! I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d rather rewatch the 2005 and 2007 “Fantastic 4” films before I watch “Fant4stic” again.

Grade: F