Mark Reardon (@MarkReardonKMOX)By Mark Reardon

Matt Damon plays an astronaut left for dead on the red planet in the new science fiction space thriller from director Ridley Scott—“The Martian.”

It’s an adaptation of the best selling novel by Andy Weir in which Damon plays Mark Whatney, a crew member of a manned mission to Mars who gets blasted into the dust of the planet when a huge storm moves in before the end of a planned mission. His crew assumes he’s dead and starts heading back to Earth. But miraculously Whatney survives, and survive he must alone, 55 million miles away from home—and at first with nobody back at NASA even aware that he’s still kicking.

Whatney is able to rig communication and officials at NASA and the jet propulsion laboratory get to urgent work on a rescue mission.

Jeff Daniels plays risk-taking, stern NASA director Teddy Sanders. Kristin Wiig gets a serious role as his press secretary. Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor flashes his versatility in a great role as the director of the Mars mission. All are faced with a pretty complicated moral dilemma.

Whatney’s crew is also loaded with talent—Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena and Kate Mara.

There’s perfect balance in “The Martian” between the survival tale of a man running out of time, and the mission specialists’ dedication faced with great odds of bringing him back to Earth alive. There’s also a nice blend of comedy and heart-stopping, edge-of-your-seat drama. Some of the best moments come from Damon’s character when he’s on his own refusing to give up, and keeping an amazing sense of humor about his potential destiny.

This is one of the all too rare Hollywood thrillers where everything really comes together. The science is cool, the script laser sharp, the cast is rock solid and the cinematography and effects are spectacular. It even has a soundtrack that gives “Guardians of the Galaxy” a run for its money. Maybe it’s also that the timing of the tone of this project is perfect—it’s optimistic and upbeat—not a typical outing from a director like Scott who always seems to bring his A-game, but usually explores darker themes (“Alien”, “Blackhawk Down”, “Hannibal”, “American Gangster”). I was a huge fan of “Prometheus”, perhaps an overlooked Scott gem from a few years back. This one has a more positive vibe and the result is immensely entertaining for all audiences. One piece of advice…don’t cheat yourself – see it on the biggest screen possible.

“The Martian” is on my short list for one of the best movies of 2015. I’m giving it a solid A.


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