Let the Children Lose It, Let the Children Use It: The Martian, reviewed.

Matt Damon portrays the titular hero in THE MARTIAN.

“There are a bunch of severe psychological effects that would happen to someone being isolated for almost two years. And also the anxiety and stress of being on the verge of death from various problems for so long—most people would not be able to handle that. The loneliness, the isolation, the anxiety, and stress—I mean, it would take an enormous psychological toll. And I didn’t deal with any of that. I just said like, ‘Nope, that’s not how Mark Watney rolls.’ So he has almost superhuman ability to deal with stress and solitude.

“And the reason I did that was because I didn’t want the book to be a deep character study of crippling loneliness and depression—that’s not what I wanted! So the biggest challenge were the psychological aspects, and I just didn’t address them and I hope the reader doesn’t notice.”

— Novelist Andy Weir, to Ars Technica’s Lee Hutchinson, last year.

“Let the children lose it

Let the children use it

Let all the children boogie.”

David Bowie, “Starman,” 1972.

My review of The Martian, screenwriter Drew Goddard and director Ridley Scott’s inspiring and so-good-I’m-mad-it’s-not-great adaptation of Andy Weir’s superb novel, is up at NPR now. Further Reading: My interview with Martian star Matt Damon for Air & Space / Smithsonian.

After the Raid: Uprising, reviewed.

Anthony Manough and Cynthia D. Barker in MetroStage's

Reviewed in this week’s Washington City Paper: Gabrielle Fulton’s Uprising, about Osborne Perry Anderson, who wrote the only first-hand account of the doomed 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry led by abolitionist John Brown. In this “rolling world premiere” at Alexandria, Virginia’s MetroStage, a mix of Negro spirituals and original songs power Fulton’s story of a romance between Anderson — a fugitive for his role in Brown’s raid — and a Pennsylvania field hand named Sal.

Some wonky characterization aside, I found it to be a powerful and not-glib exploration of heroism and sacrifice. My review is here.

Personal Is Geopolitical: Chimerica and Women Laughing Alone with Salad, reviewed.

Background: Tessa Klein, Diana Oh, Julie-Ann Elliott, Jade Wu, Jordan Barbour, Jacob Yeh, Kenneth Lee, and Kelsey Wang. Foreground: Rob Yang and Ron Menzel. (Teddy Wolf)

Kimberly Gilbert, Janet Ulrich Brooks, and Meghan Reardon in %22Women Laughing Alone with Salad.%22 (Scott Suchman)

My review of the U.S. debut of Lucy Kirkwood’s sprawling, ambitious drama Chimerica at the Studio Theatre is in today’s Washington City Paper. Also reviewed: Women Laughing Alone with Salad, a surreal feminist comedy from Sheila Callaghan making its world premiere at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. For those keeping score, that’s one great play by a woman that’s not officially part of the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival, and one pretty good play that is. Read those pieces here, or pick up a dead-tree WCP, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away gratis — and you don’t even need to have an Amazon Prime subscription! Continue reading

Pop Culture Happy Hour No. 259: Mr. Robot and Title Sequences

Christian Slater and Rami Malek in

I am always grateful for an invitation to rub elbows with the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew. All your favorites are there around the table this week: Intrepid host Linda Holmes! Indefatigable regular panelist Stephen Thompson! Inexhaustible other regular panelist and Pal-for-Life Glen Weldon!  And then there’s me. The four of us merrily dissect the paranoid charms of Mr. Robot, showrunner Sam Esmail‘s much-discussed USA Network series about a brilliant but also probably off-his-rocker sometime-vigilante computer hacker involved in an anarchistic conspiracy.

I think I got to say more or less everything I meant to about the show, though none of us had seen the season finale when we recorded the episode, as it had not yet aired. Wait, no: I didn’t mention how clever I think it is that we, the audience, are cast as Elliot-the-hacker’s paranoid delusion. In voiceover, he addresses us as “you” while acknowledging that we’re imaginary. Smart. I also like that he disguises his data archives of the people he’s hacked as home-burned audio CDs. The fake labels he Sharpies onto them often suggest a connection between the album and the person: His psychiatrist’s archive is labeled as the Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues, for example.

You may recognize the Coney Island Wonder Wheel, featured prominently in Mr. Robot‘s pilot episode, from this very website. Continue reading

I’m Interviewing Matt Damon

Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) finds himself stranded and alone on Mars, in THE MARTIAN. (20th Century Fox)

I’m a big fan of Andy Weir’s debut novel The Martian. I was actually listening to the audiobook on the day in April when I visited NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, where the book is partially set. (It’s also set in space and on Mars.) I was out there doing some reporting for my day job with Air & Space / Smithsonian, and it was in that capacity that I got on the phone this week with Matt Damon, who plays the story’s protagonist, stranded astronaut Mark Watney, in Ridley Scott’s film adaptation, due out Oct. 2. The film hasn’t screened for critics yet, but the fact its release date was moved up by nearly two months suggests the studio is convinced it works. Continue reading

Period Piece: The Man from U.N.C.L.E., reviewed.

I’m a sucker for sixties spy shit, and that Guy Ritchie’s new big-screen version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is, unlike most reboots of stuff from the period, actually set in the period is a big selling point for me. It luxuriates in the clothes, cars, and music of the era, updating only the sexual politics. My NPR review spends an unlikely sum of real estate discussing Dirty Dancing.

Gun Play: One in the Chamber, reviewed.

Grace Doughy, Adrienne Nelson, and Dwight Tolar in "One in the Chamber."Director Michael R. Piazza’s new production of Marja-Lewis Ryan’s all-medicine, no-sugar play about the long aftermath of an accidental shooting is a tough sit, but well-performed. Does that matter? My review is in today’s Washington City Paper.