I subscribed to the auteur theory before I even knew what that was. That is to say as I began to take films seriously, I naturally gravitated towards directors moreso than genres, stories and actors. There are certain directors whose films get me excited by the mere fact that it was directed by them whether or not anything else about the pictures is interesting to me at all. I’ll see anything by people like Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, and the Coen Brothers no matter if the stories or actors or anything else excites me about it.
So much more is the disappointment then when these directors' movies disappoint. Seeing a bad movie is one thing, seeing a bad film by someone you know can make a masterpiece is another tragedy all together.
Then there are the times when a once great director has so many failures that you no longer find yourself interested when you hear they have made another film. There was a time when seeing Ridley Scott involved in a film got my inner geek all a-flutter. Somewhere in the mid-2000s that stopped being true. Now it should be known that Scott’s career has always been a bit hit and miss. More than most directors that I love, his films really depend upon choosing good scripts, and apparently Ridley Scott is not a great chooser of source material. Still, I was always willing to give his films a shot regardless of story and critical response up until about the time of A Good Year. By then, he’d had one too many misses and I knew I couldn’t rely on him anymore.
To tell the truth I’ve skipped most of the films he’s made since then. I did manage to mostly enjoy American Gangster and be disappointed with Prometheus. But then The Martian came along and so did the praise. A return to form they said. Another thrilling space adventure from the guy that brought us Alien they cheered.
And so I went to see it. I’m still not ready to declare Ridley Scott fully back, but The Martian is a terrific film. It's a well crafted, beautifully shot, wonderfully acted entertainment. I’ve heard complaints that it isn’t realistic in its portrayal of someone being as isolated for as long as Matt Damon’s character is on Mars. That’s probably true, though the film does go a long ways in showing how his character uses the various problems he faces like puzzles to keep his mind occupied. But it's true, someone stranded on a planet millions of miles from everyone who has to survive for years on his own before any hope of rescue would probably go completely insane.
But that’s not what this film is about. Ridley Scott has made dark, brooding films (look no further than Alien for that) but here he’s making a much sunnier, much funnier piece of blockbuster entertainment. He’s made a film that’s meant to thrill you and to be enjoyed by the masses, not a small art-house flick meant to be pondered by nihilistic philosophy students. That isn’t to say that there isn’t great artistry in The Martian, nor that it doesn’t bring up some larger ideas worth pondering. But that while it may skip over some of the deeper psychological issues that would arise if the events in his film were true, he’s brought to us an incredibly entertaining film with a master’s craftsmanship.
All of that makes The Martian this week’s pick, but mostly its because it was a whole lot of fun to watch and I can’t wait to see it again.
Also out this week that looks interesting:
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride: A special episode in which our usually very contemporary heroes are transported to Victorian London. Due to me being out of town for the holidays, I missed this one, and have thus avoided any spoilers. My understanding is that the new setting isn’t due to a bit of in-show time-traveling, but the show runners just having a bit of fun and doing a bit of a one-off episode pitting these characters into their normal setting before moving on with the series in its normal modern setting. Looks wonderfully fun.
Mr. Robot: The Complete First Season: This USA series has gotten a lot of really good buzz. It has something to do about a hacker, but I don’t know much more because I’m trying to come to it as unspoiled as possible, which means I really should start watching it soon.
The American Friend (Criterion Collection): This 1977 Wim Wenders drama is about an art forger who gets involved in a murder. It's a Wenders film so no doubt it's much more complicated than that and wholly interesting.
Bitter Rice (Criterion Collection): Italian neorealist film get the Criterion treatment.