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Good news: Your weekend moviegoing needs have been simplified. Every Thursday morning, our What To See guide will highlight the new releases opening in New York City and NYC repertory screenings that are most worth your time.
Here's your guide for the weekend of October 2 – October 4.
Because mega-budget Hollywood entertainment doesn't get much better than this…
The Martian (2015)
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Matt Damon, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Mackenzie Davis, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong
The prospect of a new Ridley Scott space movie no longer seems foolproof. Twenty-four years after breaking through with his still terrifying sci-fi/horror classic Alien, Scott returned to the world of the Nostromo for 2013's Prometheus, an uneven prequel that’s too pretentious to be any real fun. So The Martian's unabashed pleasantness is a welcome surprise. Up-tempo to the point of being somewhat corny, Scott's latest intergalactic film is shamelessly designed to please crowds and complement popcorn. And it's hugely successful on both fronts.
Based on Andy Weir's originally self-published, and too dryly written, novel of the same name, The Martian is essentially Cast Away beyond the stars. Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut left behind by his fellow Mars explorers—led by Jessica Chastain—after a flying debris levels him during a storm. They think he’s dead, but he’s not. Alone on Mars, Watney "sciences the shit" out of his predicament and, since he’s also a botanist, manages to stretch his minimal resources into multiple years' worth of sustenance. Back home on Earth, meanwhile, NASA’s top-ranking officials, including Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor, are working overtime to safely retrieve Watney and avoid a public relations hell-storm.
The Martian succeeds primarily because of three people. First, Scott's willingness to drop the coldness of his last few efforts lends the film a persistent cheeriness; he's not above pushing a running joke about cheesy disco songs to its limit, even playing Gloria Gaynor’s so-on-the-nose-it's-kind-of-endearing "I Will Survive" over the end credits. Second, screenwriter Drew Goddard, who’s one of the game’s best genre manipulators (see: The Cabin in the Woods), makes The Martian's hard science easily accessible—the actors energetically play with the textbook-friendly dialogue as if they’re discussing sex in a Judd Apatow movie.
The third, and most important, MVP is Matt Damon, who gives one of those quintessential "movie star" performances. Much of The Martian requires the solo Damon to speak directly into the camera for long stretches and bounce around in a bulky spacesuit on Scott’s vastly rendered Mars terrain, and he's endlessly watchable. Like how Tom Hanks was once able to make talking to a volleyball seem charming, Damon turns conversing with potatoes and NASA equipment into sincere comedy.
It's a shame that Damon has been suffering from extreme vomit-of-the-mouth syndrome lately, from insensitively shutting down Dear White People producer Effie Brown on Project Greenlight to this week's comments how about gay actors should stay in Hollywood’s large closet—The Martian ranks with Damon’s best work. He and Ridley Scott have made the most enjoyable science fiction movie in years, an all-smiles antidote for Gravity's one-sided intensity and Interstellar's alienating denseness. As it turns out, The Martian's setting is perfect for Damon: in space, no one can hear you stick your foot in your mouth.
Where to see it: Opening in wide release
If "demons" and "sex toys" are your kind of key words, here's your new favorite movie…
Director: Jason Lei Howden
Stars: Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman, Stephen Ure, Tim Foley, Sam Barkley
Some movies are solely designed to entertain crowds of rowdy, beer-guzzling patrons at midnight, and some of those are identifiable by their titles alone. When a movie’s titled combines the words "death" and "orgasm," its makers have undeniably engineered their film for that specific audience, but a name like Deathgasm can also suggest one-dimensional emptiness. Far too often, young directors hoping to crank out modern-day exploitation flicks pay more attention to the gore than the characters. They spit out the kinds of lowest-common-denominator horror movies that provide the genre’s harshest critics with more ammo to chastise scare-driven cinema. They give "midnight" a negative connotation.
Jason Lei Howden, a young first-timer out of New Zealand, is the opposite of that. Clearly raised on Peter Jackson’s pre-Lord of the Rings splatter movies and Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, Howden has shot for the proverbial fences with Deathgasm, a heavy-metal-fueled horror-comedy that features more bodily dismemberment and gooey viscera than a three-part Dead Alive marathon. What makes Deathgasm so special, though, is that Howden has also grasped why Jackson and Raimi are considered masters. Deathgasm’s characters, a pair of high school outcasts whose love of metal helps them battle against hordes of undead demons, are lovable, strongly defined, and given punch-lines and comedic ticks that are genuinely funny.
When they kill ghouls with dildos (yes, dildos), it's weirdly delightful; after one of them, Zakk (James Blake), eviscerates his demonically possessed dad, he matter-of-factly comments, "You know, it’s weird, but I think he would’ve wanted to go out like this," and it’s oddly sweet. You'll want to share those after-hours beers with Zakk and his metal-obsessed pal Brodie (Milo Cawthorne). Because of that, Deathgasm is the best movie of its kind since Shaun of the Dead.
Where to see it: Nitehawk Cinema, Friday and Saturday nights at 12:05 a.m.
Robert Zemeckis is the best thing going in theaters this weekend, but it's not alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt…
The Back to the Future Trilogy
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Michael J. Fox. Christopher Lloyd, Thomas F. Wilson, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Elisabeth Shue
Beginning today, director Robert Zemeckis is back with The Walk, which is one-third of a great Hollywood spectacle, depicting the high-wire walk between the Twin Towers profiled in the documentary Man on Wire, and two-thirds same kind of overly cutesy whimsy that Zemeckis overdosed on in Forrest Gump. It's also only the fourth-best Zemeckis movie playing in theaters this weekend, and its three superiors have been dominating film-circle discussions all throughout 2015.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future, Zemeckis’ greatest cinematic achievement. Co-written with Bob Gale, it’s a timeless sci-fi adventure that, by the grace of all heavenly powers, has yet to be tainted by any soulless, money-hungry remakes or reboots. It's also the rare film whose sequels are nearly as much fun and not woefully inferior embarrassments. To celebrate the Back to the Future trilogy’s cohesiveness and overall excellence, the Museum of Modern Art is showing the three films back to back this Saturday.
Who would you rather hang out with: Marty McFly and Doc Brown, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt using a distractingly bad French accent? That’s not exactly "Sophie’s choice."
Where to see it: Museum of Modern Art, Saturday beginning at 2:00 p.m. and ending at 10:00 p.m.
One of the year's best documentaries is also a love letter to NYC…
In Jackson Heights (2015)
Director: Frederick Wiseman
Is Frederick Wiseman our greatest living documentarian? Quite possibly. He's at least our most prodigiously prolific and in the past two years alone, he has made the disparate worlds of high art (National Gallery) and collegiate bureaucracy (At Berkeley) into endlessly compelling and shockingly exciting environs. Wiseman’s acclaimed documentary style is highly specific: I don't think he even knows what a talking head is and his peerless, purposeful edits tell as much of a story as the scenes themselves. His films aren't historical or journalistic, but they have stayed dependably long in recent years, which undeniably takes a toll on one's posterior but is nonetheless richly merited because they unmistakably unravel at the speed of life.
This is why a three-hour-plus study of Queens' multiracial, multi-ethnic Jackson Heights neighborhood and its continued efforts at holding together in the looming face of intrusive gentrification is almost predictable Wiseman material, and beautifully so. A setting so diverse and a topic this loaded need the kind of patient and humane approach that Wiseman has been employing for decades to coax out his subjects’ deeper nuances and develop these worlds for an eager audience's inquiring eye.
At first meeting, everyone has trouble envisioning a Wiseman doc as anything more than a chore, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. If this specific issue or this medium interest you even slightly then I cannot possibly recommend In Jackson Heights enough: it's documentary filmmaking at its most impeccably implicative, presented by a master who, bless him, shows no signs of ever slowing down—or, you know, speeding up. —Matthew Eng
Where to see it: Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, Sunday at 6:00 p.m. (Standby only)