“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”

The photography of ice bergs in Antarctica and Cate Blanchet may be the only reasons to see the Maria Semple novel put to screen. Likewise, the movie was enjoyable only in that it reminded me of the pleasure I had in reading ” Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” Director Richard Linklater missed most of the social satire that I found “laugh out loud” funny in the book. Some of this may have been because much of the novel entails memos, e-mails, blog entries, and blue-tooth phone conversations. These are hard to incorporate with a narrator daughter and the use of flashbacks. Present and past get emotionally distorted.

Blanchet is a cooler batty than the Bernadette Fox of the novel. Yet, the subjects of women adrift in the pressures of family and workplace are touched, as is the need for creative endeavors. Her “genius grant” 20 mile house has been demolished for a parking lot. This event has kicked her to the curb.

Bernadette is not a people person. Having once been an esteemed, prize-winning architect, we now find her housed in an unkempt Victorian where she breaks stained-glass windows to rescue the family lab ( cutely, named Ice Cream) from a stuck closet. She cuts their carpet in star-shaped-flaps and staples them to see if the floor is wet from the constantly dripping ceiling. She is an eccentric insomniac. She pours all her depression meds. in a jar like jelly beans for the taking. “Colorful, but hard to remember what is what!” Her psychiatrist, hired by Bernadette’s husband ( Billy Crudup ), tries a psychological intervention once it appears that Bernadette has enabled a scammer in stealing her identity. ” We’d like to present you with the reality of your situation”, she announces. Bernadette’s former colleague, Paul, ( Laurence Fishburne ) does a much better job at quelling Bernadette’s ” irrational chain of anxiety”, he listens.

Blanchet is fun to watch in her marabis with turquoise toes and her Hermès scarves. She naturally absorbs Bernadette’s wit in berating her neighbor , Audrey, ( Kirsten Wiig ) for using the word ” connectitude”. ” Audrey went to a grad school that ” thinks outside the dictionary”.

Bernadette’s identity crisis may begin with a literal mud slide of instability, but her daughter Bee ( Emma Nelson ) does not drift, as her husband does in the book. Daughter and husband present Bernadette with the namesake locket of her visionary saint, and her world is no longer mad.

“The Martian”

Matt Damon is Watney. He is a botanist stranded on the Red Planet with botanical powers. In just fifty-four days, he has grown green potato sprouts where nothing grows. Fifty million miles away from home, he is psychologically a cool problem-solver. Being left for dead on Mars,he tells us that he is “going to have to science the shit out of this.”

Much of “Martian” shows Damon taking inventory,doubling battery life,moving modules,making H2O by using wood shavings from a crucifix to create fuel and vapor condensation. He is spirited and funny. He needs a radioactive isotope, and he plays Donna Summers disco music, “hot stuff”, “I need hot stuff!”.

If constant communication is the hallmark of NASA,Damon works hard to reconfigure the signal. Using an old 1997 Pathfinder engine,he sets up a still frame camera and a spinning alphabet wheel to send “yes” or “no” answers and crude code. Damon chuckles that there will be no snappy repartee.

Jessica Chastain plays Captain Lewis, the person responsible for leaving Watney behind. She plays responsible well,but is not a very intriguing character. More collegial camaraderie comes from Martinus( Michael Pena),who quips that the Hermes is a lot roomier without Watney.While Watney sprinkles Vicodin crumbles over his baked potato, he videos Lewis to tell his parents that he has done something big and beautiful,bigger than himself. Director Ridley Scott gives NASA a public relations’ boost.

“Martian” is also a great promo for “doing the math”. The ending is much more exciting than last year’s’ space movie “Gravity”. Here a math whiz named Rich ( Donny Glover) in Pasadena adjusts a course that allows the original crew to pick up Mark Watney. With red ribbons flying,the hook-up is intense drama. Smarts and ingenuity win out. Chiwetel Ejiofor,Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels support from below, and Kate Mara boosts spirits from above. A film that champions brains and the astronaut training program and an up-beat can do spirit.