Kill The Casting Agent! Levitt Explores Why T.V. Shows Fail

 

tv

The recent axing of several new TV Shows recently has inspired me to try to make sense of the carnage. clearly many shows are obiviously shelved due to poor time slots, inane premises, or just good old fashioned bad writing. However, more often than not, I feel that bad casting is at the core of viewers deciding to switch channels.

Alex Inc-  Braff In Charge????

ZACH BRAFF

Ordinarily popular Zach Braff should should never ettempt to play anyone who is in charge of anything. On screen, the last thing the congenial Braff  exudes is a sense of decisiveness or authority.  In any conceivable workplace,  it seems un-imaginable to picture Braff managing anything more nuanced or pliable than a sock display.  Furthermore, with his feather-weight, nebbishy personality,  it was ridiculous that he would be cast as the boss of noted tough-guy actor, Michael Imperioli, (previously “Nicholas” from the Sopranos) . To most half-awake viewers, Braff and and Imperioli thrown together in an office can only have one conceivable final outcome… after a few tense seconds, Braff finding himself on the receiving-end of a violent pistol whipping.

Just Say “No” To Imaginary Cast Members:

imaginary

Clearly TV Viewers don’t cotton to invisible characters that only the lead can see.  With the cancellation of a whopping four shows with imaginary characters this season: “Kevin probably saves saves the world” ,”Imaginary Mary” with Jenna Elfman,  and Jane Lynch’s “Angel From Hell”.  These characters often prove obnoxiously devilish, cutesy or overly sanctimonious, in the final analysis, there must be some logical reason nobody else can see them. “too annoying for this world” gets my vote.To me, the appeal of imaginary friends, peaked with “Harvey The Rabbit”

9JKL-I Think I got your Role By Mistake

jkl

The casting agent for the show 9JKL should be sued. On its face, the decision to cast Mark Feuerstein and Dave Walton as brothers makes no sense.  Carlton is a foot taller than Feuerstein and other than being Caucasian, both men share little of the same physical features .In addition, the decision to cast irresponsible/smarmy looking actor, Dave Walton, as a married doctor and boy-scout appearing, Mark Feuerstein, as divorced actor seems insane.  Obviously, the actors two should have swapped roles because they seem ideally suited to each other’s parts.  Perhaps the cast list had mixed up their roles or a stage hand hand given them the wrong sides and they just stayed with it. Whatever the reasons,  I have not seen such a head-scratching casting decision since  Henry Winkler “The Fonz” was hired as the spokesman for “OneReverse” a reverse mortgage company.

“Kevin Can Wait”- Take My Wife…Please.. or “Quietly Kill, Then Replace”

splitscreen

Erinn Hayes,  who was cast as the wife on “Kevin Can Wait” didn’t work.  She wasn’t horrible but Hayes’ regular, classy laid-back style couldn’t keep pace with Kevin James’  frequently physical, larger-than-life zany comic energy. So, In a quick Knee-jerk response, the show  quickly decided to end her character’s arc by killing her off. The death was accomplished with all the swiftness and discretion of a mob hit. Nobody saw it coming and the cast barely spoke about it. Quickly, the show teamed Kevin James with his partner from “King Of Queens”,  Leah Remini and  rekindle the old “familiarity breeds contempt” relationship they shared as husband and wife . Now, though, they were just co-workers.  The same contemptuous bickering that is so relatable in an average marriage just doesn’t wash in the workplace.  That’s why companies force you to go through harassment prevention training and take a test!

Please Report to Tim Meadows’ Office

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*Sometimes casting choices out of left field just work . During his SNL heydey, I would never have suspected that Tim Meadows had any kind of a knack for playing school principals.  But every time he appears as a principal in “, “The Goldbergs” “Teachers” etc. amazingly he shines. Some actors , it seems, are destined to play important roles (King Lear or Winston Churchill), Tim Meadows was born to make teenagers tuck in their pants and spit out their gum.

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Actors Who Are Always Cast In The Same Roles (part 2)

Matthew Mcconaughey

horndog

He Aint Nothin’ But A Horn-dog

Whatever he’s playing, an attorney, stock trader, or high school drop out, one thing is for sure, Matthew Mcconaughey is playing a character who is horny.  He takes roles of people who never do anything by halves and are always “up” for a new sexual conquest.  So, you will never see Mcconaughey playing a deprived or sexually repressed role like a priest or an avid stamp collector.  It could be Matt’s wolfish/evil smile, his tan skin, spaced-out acting style…or maybe he used to be a  fat, dateless teenager and is using his screen career to overcompensate… I don’t know.  but whatever the reasons, one thing is clear…if you’re a respectable woman and you see this Mcconaughey sidle up to you at a party, I’m not sure if you would want to go feeding him any oysters.

Joan Cusack

sister

She Aint Heavy, She’s My Sister

Its a good bet that if Joan Cusack is in a film, she’s related to one of the leads…Sister, cousin, aunt. Perhaps its her quirky, non-sexually threatening looks that always guide casting agents to pick her as supporting sibling or maybe its the fact that she has appeared in 10 films with her actor brother, John Cusack (usually playing his sister). Although determined looking and usually put-together, Cusack usually gives off the reluctant whiff of resignation/caution and that she lets the film’s protagonist do all the heavy lifting.  It is my impression that if Cusack was to play a role whose character would throw sisterly caution to the wind and take some risks ( Jump into a burning building to save a cat or Eat NY Street-meat) this (twice-nominated actress) would actually win an Oscar.

Martha Plimpton

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It Rhymes With Witch

Physically, Martha Plimpton looks like someone who just keyed your car. The sarcastic and satisfied smirk on your face lets you know that she either just screwed you (in a non sexual way), is in the process of screwing you, or will someday take you out on the back stoop and deeply screw you.  I say screw you (non-sexually) because Plimpton’s characters would never want to leave open the possibility of a mutually satisfying screwing. Her characters just enjoy being  evil.  So, you’ll never catch Plimpton donating coats to the homeless or working the phones at the “Make A Wish Foundation”.  Plimpton gets plenty of work as an evil foil.  Maybe casting agents put her in a lot of films/tv because they genuinely fear the prospect of  her nasty retribution.  Well, All I can say is, if you find yourself cast as one of Martha Plimpton’s Co-Stars, make sure all your life- insurance payments are up to date.

Loretta Devine

devine

I’ll Take My Eggs With A Side Of Sassy

You will never catch Loretta Devine playing a librarian.  She wants to be loud and noticed. asserting herself in her cheeky, blustery way Devine tends to play roles which are constantly demanding their rights whether or not the situation warrants (such as school administrators, social workers, or buttinsky aunts). Not content to just get her way. Devine’s characters always seem to always want her co-stars to admit and even loudly proclaim that she was right.  Also physically lumbering, and  I would never want to see Devineplaying a part where she would be in charge of anything delicate. Museum curator-( then, adios one-of-a-kind King Tut Skull!) or hospital phlebotomist ( then, “whoopsie, sir, sorry about that massive scar on your arm”.)

If you didn’t catch part 1 of my “Actors Who Are Always Cast In The Same Roles” article, just click this link: https://wp.me/p6Hm24-1J

Levitt’s Review Of “I’m Dying Up Here” (A-) (Showtime, Sunday, 10-11 PM E.)

dying

When I began watching Showtimes, “I’m dying Up Here” I thought the tone of a show about comedians too despairing and similar  to the Tom Hanks/Sally Field film, “Punchline”. In Punchline, the impulse to do stand-up seemed more like a curse than a freedom.  The comedians were sufferers; unable to lead a normal life because they were addicted to the rush of performing. Too many times in these kinds of true-to life shows about comedians are depicted  comedians as only “on” when hit the stage and then, post-performance; collapsing in some sort of destructive/drunken cocoon in the corner.

The success of “I’m Dying Up Here”, though is that it successfully shows the comedians have three dimensional lives on and offstage. When not performing, There are numerous exchanges where each comic is just standing around shooting the shit and being normal knuckle-heads.  Other shows about comics also fall lazily into familiar templates; comedian as detached funny commentator (Gaffigan) or being a bottom-rung comedic pee-on (“Crashing”).  “Dying”, instead, presents a solid close-knit band of “working” comedians.  There are no break-out performers (save for the occasional visiting celeb or A-Lister).  By in large, each comedian is a-work-in-progress, honing their craft, and- aside from the inevitable jealousies- generally supportive of each-others success.

The show is full of talented real-life comedians and actors.  A stand out in the cast for me is the club owner, Goldie Herschlag  (Melissa Leo) who resists the greedy/grumbly stereotype and, though thick-skinned maintains a good. mature working relationship with her comics and a sporting interest in their careers. As the series progresses, it will be good to see more of her personal life take center stage…she might even get the itch to pick up the mic.

goldie

I also like the fire-cracker energy of Adam Proteau ( R.J. Cyler)  He is not as guarded as his contemporaries and has more raw vital presence on the stage and is interesting to watch and set him apart from the other comics.rj

 

Finally, Cassie Feder (Ari Graynor) shines as the show’s only female comedian.  The show’s writers do not make her cast as a typical salty/sassy Joan Rivers or Bette Midler over-sexed clone.  In fact, she disdains stock material in favor of a richer, more personal and confessional brand of humor that should yield rich dividends later on.

carlene.jpg

So far, in my review of “Dying”, I haven’t mentioned that the show is set in the 70s and that is, in large part, because I really don’t find the time frame to be that relevant to the show’s atmosphere.  The show is cast in the 70s because that’s when stand-up was king.  If people wanted to see comedy, they had to leave their homes to see the likes of Pryor or Carlin since there was no cable/internet outlets.  I think a strength of the show is that it doesn’t beat you over the head with 70s references or slang that takes you of the action. The 70’s setting is just atmosphere, man!

One of the show’s few negatives for me is the heavy-handed backstories.  The writers of “Dying” can’t seem to resist the temptation to make each comic the product of a bad home life.  Every comedian’s dad apparently drank too much and beat them up. Yipes, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the audience at Caroline’s on Father’s Day ! Thankfully, though, the back-stories take a back-seat to the rich and realistic stand-up and the tight-knit relationships of the comedians.

Now that I’ve given this show a pretty great review, I thought I would temper my analysis with a little reality.

Although the writing and acting are first-rate, Here is why I feel the show might get cancelled.

cancelled

 

 

Nobody On “Dying” is a Zombie, vampire, or otherwise living-challenged Individual

By comedian standards these guys are relatively normal earth-bound dudes.  nobody is drug-addicted (at least not violently so, sticking up a 7/11 at 2 in the morning to get enough money for “blow”).

The Lead actress is not a sex-pot-  Though attractive and talented, the lead actress is more interested in her career, than trying out out experimental, cinematically pleasing sex positions.

Nobody gets wacked every week–  Shows like Sopranos, True Blood, and Boardwalk Empire tended to like to sacrifice a different character every week to keep everyone interested and guessing.  Stand-up comedy,  although competitive,  is not exactly a blood sport.

Nobody is mentioning Trump or politics- Trump and political commentary are hogging the airwaves this summer with all the Russian/collusion shenanigans.  To me, my interest in Russia really peaked with Rocky 4.  But, This show with its occasional references to news or pop culture, (Billie Jean King V Bobby Riggs anyone?) seems miles away from being topical.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Levitt Spotlights Richard Dreyfuss Movies

dreyfuss

Richard Dreyfuss is one of my favorite actors. up there with Paul Giamatti and Gene hackman. . Unlike many of our greatest actors Denzel Washington or Tom Cruise who command the screen and exude confidence, Dreyfuss constantly displays a jittery un-confidence…  sort of a Paul Giamatti after 6 cups of cofee. Dreyfuss nervous laugh and hyper delivery style make him always interesting to watch. His comic delivery style and smart alec quips also temper his more annoying roles.  His best characters are tense, creative types uncomfortable in their own skin, and display a restless, ambitious energy and usually brighter, more self aware than everyone around them, and are meticulous in their pursuit of perfection. You might meet the archetypal Dreyfuss character in the street while trying to hail a cab at the same time. His entitled behavior and insistence that his needs come first might grate on you initially but, at the end of 5 minutes, you’d probably find yourself agreeing that he probably was the most deserving of the cab and even offering suggestions on the best route.

The Rom coms

goodbye

Dreyfuss is not your typical rom com actor. He looks smart not suave.  rude not charming. Frequently with approaching with a self-satisfied smirk, he looks more like a guy that will push you out of his way than kiss you.   So the films in which he shows his rom com chops are usually include a competitive spark where he spends a good amount of time fencing with his romantic partner and the woman usually succumbs not because of his innate charms but seem almost sucked into his competitive energy and passion for his work. What makes Dreyfuss’ RomCom films:  The Goodbye Girl (acting)and The Competition (piano) The Buddy System( novelist, inventor)  richer than your garden variety romcom is that they are not just about a romantic relationship but also about intertwining career with love.  Dreyfuss is not your typical pining lover. He meets his female co-stars on equal footing and they are frequently. swept up in his enthusiasm and passion for his work. The plot-lines in these films are not about misunderstandings, mistaken identity, or silly games. all his female co-stars know exactly where they stand with him. Instead their romantic rival is Dreyfuss’ work passion:acting excellent, piano playing excellence etc.  His co-stars  struggle comes when they find out how truly committed he is to his work. Amazingly, although Dreyfuss is pretty single-minded/strong in his pursuit of career, in most of Dreyfuss’ romcom style films he is generally very well matched with the woman.   In The Goodbye Girl, Neil Simon creates a vibe similar to Hepburn/Tracy (but funny) in which, Dreyfuss needy actor character runs off the rails into flights of arrogance, self obsession, or negativity.,  Marsha Mason skillfully reels him in.  Similarly, in “The Competition”, Amy Irving is the piano-playing rival/lover who frequently applies the breaks/pedal on Dreyfuss’ arrogance and makes him see things in perspective.  So often typical rom coms are just simply about the peaks and valleys of a relationship and that’s it . For example, in “When Harry Met Sally”  Whether Harry Sold aluminum siding for a living or Sally was an investigative journalist is irrelevant. It was barely mentioned and never explored. They are limited only to their feelings toward each other not to the greater world at large.

Richard the Geek

geek

Dreyfuss also plays his share of geeks -(UFO Enthusiast, shark expert)  in Close Encounters he plays an obsessed with UFOS.  sort of a proxy for Spielberg.  A channeler of extra terrestials and the untamed forces of nature (shark expert in Jaws), His nervous, four eyed wonder is mirror for the audience member fascinated,  He’s not a square jawed schwartzenneger/stallone hero using their  fists and brawn to battle the unknown, Dreyfuss’ weapon of choice is a camera or a microscope. He’s not going to box with the aliens, stare them down, or insult their mothers  He’s there to observe and we follow along with his hyper rush for discovery. Knowing,  he’s no match so he stays out of the way, he is content to observe. fueled by scientific curiosity. The quest is made more interesting because of Dreyfuss’ volatile, twitchy energy. He is no staid lab coated technician working laboriously over a problem.  Instead, frequently Dreyfuss gets his hands dirty; diving into the water and entering a shark cage (jaws). He also builds alien sculptures with shaving foam or mashed potatoes and then even boards an actual alien ship at the end of the film. sure, in examining creatures of the earth or of other planets,  Dreyfuss may frequently outstay his welcome but he always does come in peace.

Richard Dreyfuss The Actor

actor

The Goodbye Girl is probably Dreyfuss’ quintessential performance. In this film, Dreyfuss cares more than is seemly for public adoration. Normally, its more manly to downplay or hide outward ambition behind nonchalance. But  Dreyfuss is too full of ambition to content himself with just the love of a good woman his character also wants to be a famous stage actor.  His face and paunchy body displays all the nervous ticks for this hunger.  He practically jumps off the screen and begs the audience to give him an acting career.

Whose Life Is It Anyway-  This is the film in which Richard dreyfuss is stripped of his creative outlet as an actor and as subject in the film… his body.  He plays a sculptor who suffers a horrendous car accident rendering him quadriplegic and unable to sculpt. Dreyfuss must show a whole host of disparate,conflicting emotions all bedridden  Despite your feelings on the film’s theme or Euthanasia in general,the pure despair Dreyfus manages to capture in this flick is more potent than a lot of his sillier, more lightweight roles.

Mr Holland’s Opus– In this film all the trademarks of the Dreyfuss character are on full display, the ambition, the frustration, the meticulousness,. He embodies the typical teacher persona: surrounded by “Knuckleheads” who can’t truly appreciate his lessons and  The nagging feeling that he would always rather be somewhere else.   Scene after scene presents this conflict. But because Dreyfuss most enduring quality as an actor is always  his restless competitiveness, he is a great match for this character because,  Along the way he does get seduced to even excel in the very thing he hates: He becomes an excellent teacher.

 

 

Actors Who Can’t Do Accents

Some Film Actors like Meryl Streep are adept at playing characters with a whole range of different accents and regional dialects. However, some film actors who should be best kept nameless  but who I will now mercilessly name are best kept to their “mother tongues” because when they try to venture into changing the natural rhythms and cadences of their voices, the results are often quite painful to the human ear.

Park The Cah in Haavad Yaaad

hanks

Having gone to school in Boston, I know that the regional accents are often subtle. I can therefore categorically say that not everyone speaks like John F. Kennedy after a visit to the dentist.  Unfortunately, I don’t think Tom Hans or Rob Morrow ever got my memo.

Sure  Charles Van Doren famously lied about getting the answers on 21 in the film Quiz Show, but I believe the more grievous crime was Rob Morrow’s ridiculously thick “bahstonian” accent in Quiz Show. Its lucky he was a lawyer and not a dialect coach. His clients would sue.

Tom Hanks is a respected actor known for versatility in comedy and drama.  Yet accents are not his strong suit.  Even Forrest Gump where he must put on a southern accent is cartoon-ish and only aided somewhat by the reality that Gump was mentally challenged so therefore  spoke in a halting and overly deliberate way.  But, Hanks bizarrely bad boston accent in “Catch Me If You Can” cannot be attributable to any inferior intellect.  In this instance, Hanks character was in complete control of all his faculties…except for speech.

2 thick accents don’t mix

crowe

Russel Crowe is known for his intensity and dissolving into the characters he plays.  unfortunately his australian accent doesn’t always make the seamless transition.  In A Beautiful Mind or Cinderella Man  his accents it still sounds like a mix of australian/new york or australian/southern.  A mumble-mouthed jumble… a verbal concoction that savages two dialects in the process.  Maybe the more merciful way to go was to dub Crowe’s audio using another actor.

Keanu-Bad

keanu

In the history of bad accents, Keanu Reeves should be given the gold trophy.  In the film Dracula, his accent is so bad you wish that a vampire would put an early end to his life. In the film, “Devil’s Advocate”, Keanu voices a southern accent so fowl, him and his law clients deserved death by lethal injection.  In fact, in most films Keanu seems even barely able to speak his native language, English, with any degree of fluency or meaning . When he is called on to speak, Reeves talking pattern is as awkward as any space alien or a 6 year old reading a Dick and Jane Book for the first time.

Holly Hunter- The accent from nowhere

holly

Holly Hunter has an eccentric sounding southern accent which she cannot shake and even sounds out of place in films in which her characters are supposed to have southern roots. Simply put,  her voice doesn’t exactly match her face.  When watching any of her films, you might always find yourself asking,  Why does this character have this weird southern accent?    So film-makers almost have to concoct a colorful backstory to explain why Holly Hunter has an eccentric southern drawl…ie her character often summered in a farm in rural Arkansas. fittingly, she Hunter was honored for an Oscar for  her work in the Piano, in a role in which she did not speak out loud.

Speak Russian?  Nyet!

malkovich

I think its safe to generalize and say that most actors cannot do a convincing Russian Accent. Inevitably, they all sound like some variation of “Boris” from the old Bullwinkle Cartoon . For instance  John Malkovich’s ridiculously over-the-top accent in “Rounders”. If he tried that voice in real life, He’d be laughed out of any self-respecting Russian Bathhouse or denied service in any restaurant in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn which served pirogis. Thankfully, in the film “Inside John Malkovich” the actor was not called upon to to illicit any  particular foreign accent. The last thing you’d want to be is trapped in his subconscious or the scene with the multiple malkovich’s all speaking in bad Russian continuously. Nyet, Definitely Nyet!

Levitt Reviews Sit-Coms

funny

I grew up with situation comedies.  Tuesday nights I would watch the Happy Days, Laverne Shirley Block.  In the 80s it was Cosby (pre-Gloria Alred) and Family Ties. 90’s it was Seinfeld/Friends/Cheers etc.  If I ever felt nostalgic/needed a palette cleanser, I could always watch Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore or Bob Newhart on reruns.  Of course, my favorite sit-com of all time would have to be All In The Family.  Its re-runs are still brilliant and laugh out loud funny.

Sitcoms were always easier to watch than Dramas. They don’t require as much focus on plot, the characters are always wittier than your classmates/workmates (no offense) and their characters don’t, like real life people, fall into periods of long moroseness and self-involvement (always fun to be on the receiving end of one of those phone calls/text chats).

The proliferation of gritty dramas about crime scenes, hospital rooms, FBI stakeouts, and of course reality shows has, through the years, made sit-coms an endangered species. I, myself, find that choose to watch more drama and reality shows than sit-coms because of the action, acting, and ever increasing sensationalist storylines (How To Get Away With Murder) or sexy subplots (Masters Of Sex, The Affair) that keep you gripped week after week.

But, endangered or not, there are still at least 8-10 Sit-Coms currently on air that deserve attention.  So, here’s my list of the worthy and the not so worthy.

people

The Big Bang Theory-  On for nearly 10 years, the show is now about half as funny as it used to be. I think the point at which the show “jumped the shark” to use a Happy Days term was the addition of Amy Fowler (no offense to Mayim Bialik). her joining with the show’s most nerdy member finally solidified the more domesticated/normalized nerds and made the much more like every other sit-com on TV and removed a lot of its outsider, satirical bite. Many complain that the characters are too much alike now and the show is more and more like “Friends” every day.  All that is true but,  Its instead my firm contention that, generally speaking, characters who are getting steady sex and involved in productive/satisfying relationships are simply just not very funny.

broke

Two Broke Girls-  This show is, to me, probably the funniest right now of the workplace comedies.  Sure the banter is wittier than people, given their situations/background should be allowed and this show features more raunchy insults and pop culture references than you can shake a stick at and sure, the accents of some of the characters (sophie and Oleg) are like nothing else in nature but for sheer volume of put-downs, one-liners, and sheer ridiculousness, this show probably wins all categories. Def worth a check out.

mom

Mom- Mom is my favorite sit-com on the air right now.  It has just the right blend of heart and humor to make most of its half hours truly satisfying.  The characters are not cookie cutter sit-com types.  Nearly each character is suffering from addictions so the usual preachy or condescending tone of a lot of family comedies is gone.  Instead, is very self aware characters (Bonnie- Mom, feisty, flawed, and largely amoral) played by the great Allison Janey and her more ethical/neurotic daughter (Christy) played by the no-slouch-herself, Anna Farris.  The two main characters have an atypical, sparring relationship that only goes to mom/daughter things when it needs to and never beats you over the head with anti-drinking platitudes.  When the characters do relapse into addictions, they do so semi-believably and hilariously and can always bounce off each other for ways to cope.  Chuck Lorre is expert at these Odd Couple, two and a half men blendings to mine for humor and pathos and the chemistry here of Allison Janey and Anna Farris is as good, if not better than anything else on sit-coms today.

Other honorable mentions:

Impastor- novel premise, likeable lead and supporting characters. has promise but doesn’t have quite enough satirical bite to be a good comedy about religion. More like a middling one like Amen with Sherman Helmsley.

Younger- Thin premise.  Woman pretends to be younger than she is to land a job. Isn’t that pretty much everyone, men too? Also  There’s really not that much of a generation gap between 27-40 that a good coloring job and some pop culture references can’t hide. The actress is likable and perky enough but physically cannot pass for younger than 35-37 on a good day.  Supposedly a comedy but lacks any real funny lines. Only the lead actress is really made into a 3 dimensional character so far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Levitt Reviews “The Martian” (B)

martian

“The Martian” is the most recent in the rash of survivalist flicks where one man or woman must use their ingenuity and fortitude to survive against a cruel and unforgiving environment.  Films like The Castaway and Gravity also pit their lead largely sole, character against a war of wits and humanity against mother nature or in this case “Space Nature” to stay alive.

I think they key to a major factor on whether a lot of these films being successful is the vulnerability of the lead actor. They must convey the loneliness and desperation of their struggle for us to totally emphasize and get invested in their struggle. Unfortunately, Matt Damon the film’s star and the lone astronaut who is marooned  on Mars after a horrific storm, is known for having a cool calm demeanor on screen. “The Martian is no exception.  Damon is, in large part, missing the  “oh shit, I’m alone on a desolate planet factor”  Its a little like watching Denzel Washington try to play helpless on screen. It doesn’t totally work.   The film needed someone with more vulnerability, more emotional subtlety in their performance. In addition in many scenes Matt Damon is seen being snarky (railing against disco etc) which, while funny and made him more likable removed me from the complete seriousness of his situation.

Matt Damon was, of course, thought of for this film for his star power but I think Damon should have refused for the good of the movie.  I think Matt Damon is too interested in being in control in the acting projects he chooses i.e. his ego wont allow him to play someone inept or deeply flawed.  In any film he chooses,  he has to show he’s the best, the most qualified character in the film. He played a card genius in Rounders, top CIA Assasin in The Bourne Films, in Good Will Hunting he was a math-genius janitor and Even in this film, he’s the self proclaimed best botanist on Mars!

Damon’s screen strength/arrogance also doesn’t play well when you consider that his crew has to go completely (and a bit unrealistically rogue, taking them a year off course, risking their lives, and in complete contradiction to direct orders) to complete a daring rescue of him in space.  Damon’s demeanor, to me, doesn’t inspire loyalty.  I had the same problem with Damon in “Saving Private Ryan” when after he was rescued by Hanks and his men,…they came all this way just to save Matt Damon?! and too top it off, he didn’t even seem to care about their sacrifice.

Because Damon is so unpreturbed throughout much of the film its Its up to the other characters to show their worried. Other actors particularly NASA engineer Mindy Park (played by mackenzie Davis) does an excellent job and conveying the nervousness and range of emotion necessary to be empathatic.  I think she should have played the marooned astronaut and left Damon to play some unconcerned Nasa bureaucrat instead.

The first half of the film the action is told in large part of Damon making a video diary of his daily life on the planet, gradually by degrees is able to grow food (whattaya know he just happens to be a botanist…that’s a lucky break!) and gradually able to communicate with nasa. Soon, complications, technical failures, and the barren-ness and oxygen less enviroment take their toll.  At times things do get a bit slow in the action as Damon is forced constantly to confront adversity and work each situation through in a math-like way to arrive at a solution. Soon, I almost wanted some kind of Mars Monster to come out of a crater and attack Damon to relieve the monotony and so Damon could bust out some cool Judo moves or something.  Instead there are long stretches of Damon planting crops, rationing food, and although interesting a documentary way were at times a bit dull.

I did enjoy the secondary characters in the film, Damon’s crewmates especially “Rick Martinez”, Michael Pena, are fun and Chwietol Ejiofor, who plays Dr. Vincent Kapoor, head of NASA’s Mars missions, conveys the humanity largely missing from Damon.   Less successful I thought was Kristin Wiig who seemed out of place in a cast of otherwise earnest actors. She’s not horrible but always looks like she’s holding back something that she thinks is funny so took me a little out of the action.

In the final analysis, I liked The Martian Okay but aside from Matt Damon’s casting, I generally have a problem with all vehicles which are largely one man shows like The Castaway with Tom Hanks. To be completely engaged on all cylinders , to borrow from aircraft jargon, I prefer more conflict, friction/clashing of wills, multi-person viewpoints to get lost and feel a stake in the action.  One actor, no matter how gifted, cannot frankly play all the sides of the same issue and, in this case, if you’re not totally in love with Matt Damon, you won’t be totally in love with “The Martian”.