"I WONDERED why I wasn't more dead?"
That dry remark comes from Mark Watney, stranded astronaut, within the first few pages of a hugely entertaining novel, "The Martian," written by Andy Weir.
I like thrillers but have never been keen on the premise of going into outer space, so in the beginning of "The Martian" I wasn't sure whether Mark or I would make it over the Red Planet's terrain. But writer Weir has fashioned in Mark Watney one of the most appealing, funny and resourceful characters in recent fiction. On top of that, his predicament -- abandoned on Mars by his crewmates (they thought he was dead) -- is gripping, even when our hero is explaining lots of intricate scientific stuff. (Although he was along for the ride for his botany skills, Mark knows a heck of a lot about other things, as do all who attend NASA!)
"The Martian" reads like a rocket ship afire, and there's genuine investment in the protagonist's fate, as he races against the clock to avoid starvation and somehow contact Earth and try to get back to it. Lots of funny stuff, too. His mates left behind digital literature, music and other entertainment. Much of it disco music and "crappy '70s TV shows!" (The novel takes place in the future, but not so far in the future that disco and "Three's Company" aren't still remembered.) Watney's frustration at his limited sources of distraction is a running joke throughout the book.
I won't deny a lump in my throat either, as the book comes to its conclusion. No spoilers here. I urge you to pick up "The Martian" and go out of this world.
I hope Andy Weir makes a bundle out of the inevitable option for a movie, because it will be a humdinger of a motion picture!
SPEAKING OF movies, I received some "nah, nah, nah, you were wrong about Tom Cruise's 'Edge of Tomorrow' movie, it's a flop!"
Uh, well, no. While it's true "The Fault in Our Stars" topped Tom at the domestic box office over last weekend, Cruise's sci-fi epic has already taken in $140 million worldwide. By the time it's ready for DVD release, I'm sure "Edge" will have made a profit. So there.
I did see both "Edge of Tomorrow" and "The Fault in Our Stars." I really enjoyed "Edge" -- much, much more than his last one, "Oblivion." This movie had a great story, great pace and a truly sexy, no-nonsense leading lady in Emily Blunt. I agree with most "real" critics that this is one of Tom's best in a few years.
As for "The Fault in Our Stars" I knew nothing of the popular book -- based on a true story -- that spawned the weeper. The leads, Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort are charming. (Miss Woodley is being touted as "the next Jennifer Lawrence," or "the more 'real' Jennifer Lawrence." I've always thought Miss Lawrence just about as real as one could get, but hype is hype.) However, "Fault" just isn't my cup of tears.
Maybe it's for the young or the less cynical -- although I like to think I've kept a soupcon of sentimentality. Certainly the film, and from what I now know of the book, is aimed at a young, mostly female audience. I'm also here to tell you that everything you've heard about entire cineplexes packed with young women sobbing uncontrollably is true. Maybe I didn't appreciate the movie, but I recognize a phenomenon when I see one. And it was something to see!
IN WHAT was one of the best, most energetic Tony Awards ceremonies in a long time, one of the nicest bits came from Hugh Jackman thanking by name the cameraman who was obliged to follow his hippity-hop opening number. The guy had to do it on his feet, with a hand-held camera, and as Jackman put it, "hopping along with me!" (In praising the man, Hugh cited the famous remark about Ginger Rogers -- "She did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels!")
In fact, one might say that three men made this year's Tony Awards:
-- Jackman and his "Wolverine" beard and physique are magnetic, loveable wonders.
-- Neil Patrick Harris, winning for the musical "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," after he has garnered so many plaudits for hosting the event four times.
-- Brilliant Bryan Cranston, the Emmy-winning TV star of "Breaking Bad" making "All the Way" and LBJ the winners they deserve to be.
What a night for men in the theater. Also, applause, applause for Audra McDonald's record sixth Tony win!
SHOWTIME'S MOST intriguing new series has to be "Penny Dreadful," which stars Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton and Eva Green.
This has been a slow-building, mesmerizing melding of "Dracula," "Frankenstein" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray" with some Jack the Ripper thrown in. I know. It sounds implausible and messy, and I thought it was at first, but "Penny" has grown on me. Hartnett, who tossed aside his feature film leading man status several years ago, is the best he's ever been and Eva Green is giving an intense Emmy-worthy performance. (Is she possessed by demons or just sexually hysterical?) Reeve Carney is an appropriately seductive, if lonely, Dorian Gray. He goes to bed with everyone, but what does it mean?
And, unlike HBO's "Game of Thrones," Showtime gives you a full hour episode, packed with events. ("GOT" has been fairly weak this season, and with only one episode left before its long hiatus, fans are hoping for something spectacularly satisfying next Sunday.)
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
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