Easily the best science fiction movie of the year, “The Martian” offers an imaginative yet believable topography of the red planet, as well as a sympathetic character in Matt Damon’s stranded astronaut. Director Ridley Scott gives the flight crew the same kind of realistic, low-ley camaraderie as he achieved in “Alien,’ which compared favorably to Howard Hawks’ work in “The Thing From Another World.” Jessica Chastain strengthens the empathetic bond between Damon and the audience with her committed concern for the survival of her imperiled crew mate. The film’s climax goes a bit over the top with some flight maneuvers that are a mite ridiculous, but we are cheering with such enthusiasm that Scott gets away with it.
It would not surprise me to learn that Quentin Tarantino had secretly financed this bomb just to make his own neo-Western look good. “Bone Tomahawk” is like “The Hateful 8” with all the life sucked out of it, all the humor desiccated. This dry-boned piece of garbage is troglodyte cinema at its most inexpressive. Beware.
I really wanted to like Abel Ferrara’s film of director Pasolini’s final day on Earth, but his intentional obfuscation of chronicled facts left me cold. The potentially intriguing idea of casting Pasolini regular Ninetto Divoli as Epifanio failed to create the desired epiphany. And giving the name Ninetto Divoli to Pasolini’s assassin was a crime against history. Willem Defoe has become one of the screen’s most tiresome actors, and his Pasolini is dead from the start. Ferrara does a poor job of convincing us that “Salo,’ Pasolini’s final film, was anything more than a sado-pornographic fantasy, when in fact that film was the one of the saddest confrontations with the true horror of diplomatic immunity any film-maker has dared to make. I am convinced that Ferrara did all he could to penetrate the Pasolini myth and bring the real man back to life for some minutes, but I fear that Ferrara’s Pasolini remains deeply embedded in Ferrara’s own soiled soul, clinging to his rotten guts in terror of being seen.
In the Heart of the Sea
As a big fish monster movie, Ron Howard’s historically inaccurate telling of the sinking of the Essex, the tale that inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” is much scarier than Spielberg’s over-rated “Jaws.” But try telling that to anyone who saw “Jaws” as a teenager at the drive-in in the summer of 1975 and they will cut out your tongue. Sea adventures have always presented a challenge to the film-maker, and Howard has met the challenge well. At least for me. I was able to lay aside my prejudices against CGI and believe in this strange watery world of storms and monsters. And I have to admit, I was riveted to the screen and the movie scared the hell out of me.
Diary of a Teenage Girl
There are underage music clubs where kids can go crazy without worrying about being hassled by some pervy adults. Some movies should also be off-limits to adults. I am sure “Diary of a Teenage Girl” will resonate for many teenage girls who have experienced unusual and/or traumatic sexual initiations. But why would an adult, especially an adult male, want to watch a movie about a 15 year old’s sexual relationship with her mother’s boyfriend? I asked myself that question after sitting though about 20 minutes of the film, then left. I just felt I had no business being there. I didn’t want to be a fly on the wall of a teenage girl’s bedroom, eavesdropping on her as she made private entries into her diaries. But a lot of teenage girls might love this movie. They might identify with, not always the particulars, but the general anxiety of the adolescent experiencing physical and emotional distress as they edge against the entrance into the adult world.
In television, it is common to have half a dozen unrelated stories ping ponging in one series. It doesn’t work like that in the movies. “Ashby” is television writer Tony McNamara’s second attempt at directing a feature film, and it is a narrative nightmare. Here are some of its plots: A CIA assassin with three months to live seeks redemption so he will go to heaven and be reunited with his wife. Although retired, he finds cause to make three more kills before dying. A high school kid who is new in town struggles to make the football team. Although a Hemingway-reading geek, he makes the team and becomes a touchdown-making hero as well as an unconventional master of team motivation. The cutest girl in school is crazy about him, but he plays it cool and keeps his distance until realizing what a fool he has been. This kid also becomes best friends with the assassin, for whom he is inadvertently functioning as a getaway driver. The kid’s mother has a series of sexual relationships with the town’s lowlifes. His father is always on the road on business and never keeps his promises to visit on special occasions. Etcetera. Etcetera. I don’t know of a director who could unify so many silly plots into a cohesive movie, and Tony McNamara is so in love with his own material that he can’t see how lame it is. But, with Mickey Rourke as the assassin, up and comer Nat Wolff as the kid, Eric Roberts’ daughter Emma as the girlfriend, and comic Sarah Silverman as the licentious mother, “Ashby” is an entertaining mess.