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Passengers and Problems

Posted on December 13th, 2019

Dave!It's Friday! Which would be great except I'm working all weekend.

This post is a spoiler-laden discussion of the movie Passengers from 2016 which stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. If you haven't seen the film, then go watch it (or not, it's up to you) before proceeding (or not, it's up to you)...

Passengers Movie Poster with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt's faces above a space ship floating through space.

I put off seeing Passengers despite being a big fan of Chris Pratt and a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence because I read a couple reviews on Rotten Tomatoes which said it was problematic, so I passed. The review that sticks in my mind most was called Passing Jerks, which I just Googled... it was by Ryan Syrek at The Reader. His review was particularly harsh, because he essentially boiled it down to a "love your abuser" flick. Something I had no interest in watching.

Fast forward, and...

A while back I saw that Passengers was on, and decided to see just how awful it was.

Except I actually liked it.

Jim Preston is on a space ship that's on a 120-year journey to a colony on another planet. Thanks to damage to his sleep pod by an asteroid strike, he wakes up 90 years early and, because reasons, it's impossible for anybody to go back into hibernation for the rest of the journey.

It's at this point I am going to agree with Ryan Syrek on one thing... Pratt's character of Jim Preston is pretty awful when he decides to wake up a woman named Aurora from sleep because he fell in love with her writing (and looks, I'm sure). Since she can't go back into sleep, he does this knowing that he's dooming her to die on the journey... then lies to her and tells her that her sleep pod must have been damaged too.

But to all of Syrek's other points? Not so much.

  • "You get to watch a boring dick grow a beard for the first half of the movie." Well, duh. That's the entire catalyst of the movie. We are meant to feel just how boring and lonely your life would be if you were alone for a year. It's context as to why he does something so reprehensible.
  • "The number of times Aurora is preposterously placed into situations where her clothes must come off would be appalling..." Did I watch the wrong movie? There was exactly once that her clothes "must" come off. Jim takes her for a space-walk and she can't fit in the space suit in the dress she's wearing. But Jim turns around and all that he (and the audience) sees is her dress sliding across the floor. Yeah, she is wearing a swimsuit those times she's like, SWIMMING, but it's a perforated futuristic one-piece with more coverage than a bikini! Where is all this "male-gaze" bullshit Syrek is talking about? Arguably J-Law looks her most alluring when she's fully-covered in a red dress. Did I go to the bathroom when all this bodice-ripping happens? As Syrek noted, the only nudity was Chris Pratt's ass... and it was meant to be humorous... and show that he had completely given up. If anything, this was a movie for the female gaze.
  • "Michael Sheen is forced to watch all this shit as a legless robot chained to a bar." Well, yes. If he were a robot capable of independent motion who could do stuff with Jim, perhaps the guy wouldn't have been so lonely? Sheen played a crucial role as a sounding board for the first half of the movie... and a moral compass at the start of the second half... and the "guy" who eventually spills the beans.
  • "The premise is shut-yo-damn-mouth preposterous, the visuals are “Yeah, I’ve seen 2001 and every other sci-fi movie since too” uninspired." The premise is preposterous? In what way? A meteor strike can't happen in space? Equipment can't malfunction? A person can't make a morally horrific choice? What? When you watch a science-fiction film which takes place in the future, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief has to enter the picture. Otherwise, why the fuck are you watching the movie?
  • "He confines her to die on a spaceship with him because he thinks she’s cute." Except not really. The movie goes out of its way to show that he read all her writing (she's a writer) and fell in love with her smarts, humor, and talent... as well as her looks. When a reviewer sets up a straw-man argument like this, how can you take them seriously? You can't. If you felt that the attempt to build reasons for waking her up were weak, then say that. Don't outright lie.
  • "The naked message in the film then is “ladies, even if a man does the literal worst thing possible to you, forgive him." Except she doesn't forgive him. Up until there's a disaster which forces them to cooperate, she makes this very clear.
  • "Forgive him or die alone like the sad spinster adrift in this life you fear becoming." And here where Syrek is just being an asshole. Once the disaster has passed, Jim finds out that the Auto-Doctor pod can serve as a hibernation chamber to keep Aurora asleep until the ship arrives at the colony in 88 years. She doesn't have to be a "sad spinster"... she can put the entire mess of his disgusting act behind her and move on with the life she intended. By omitting this salient fact, Syrek is being all new levels of disingenuous.
  • "This is gonna sound crazy, but the two fall in love, then have a problem, then work together and reconcile." Crazy how? At the time Aurora falls in love with Jim, she doesn't fucking know that he woke her up, she thinks her pod malfunctioned like his did! They are literally "the last two people on earth" at that point and, thanks to all that Jim researched on Aurora, he knew they were likely compatible. So it's perfectly natural that they would fall in love. And yes, they reconcile, but that's her choice. He is willing to let her go back to sleep. She has the option of going back to sleep. But, as anybody who has been in love can attest, turning off those feelings is not always easy... even when the person you're in love with doomed you to death on a spaceship because he was so horribly lonely that he couldn't help himself. On top of that, they had just faced death together, and that's a bond that's not easy to shake either.
  • "Nothing Jim could say or do could forgive this sociopathic action, but it’s only that much more insulting to women that he’s a boring nothing-person who is, for real here, the supreme goddamn worst." Again, did you fucking forget that she had the option of going back into hibernation? Did you go to the bathroom during that scene? Because, yeah, if she forgave him because she felt she had no other choice and it was better than dying alone, then sure, that would make for an awful movie... but she had another choice! What she forgave was NOT that he had awakened her. What she forgave was that he was so lonely that he wronged her terribly. And the film made this abundantly clear when she thought she was going to be forced to live out the rest of her days alone if Jim died (which is why she risked her life to save his). And how was he a boring nothing-person? She mentioned early on in their relationship that hanging out with him was the first time she didn't feel alone... in her entire life! They did fun things together. He was constantly working to improve himself. He had skills. He was always working on something. He risked his life for her... and was later willing to giver her up (seriously, if he was a sociopath, wouldn't he have kept the fact that the Auto-Doctor pod could hibernate her to himself?). He did everything he could to make up for what he had done. He wasn't a sociopath who thought he did nothing wrong... he was haunted by what he had done, and said he wish he could have stopped himself. On top of that, he looks like Chris Pratt.
  • "Passengers is morally reprehensible and functionally inert." Jim's initial act is reprehensible, but the rest of the movie is about redemption. And if you had paid any sort of attention at all, you might have seen that the story actually makes this exceedingly clear. If Ryan Syrek doesn't feel that anybody is worthy of redemption, then perhaps he is functionally inert?
  • "It is anti-entertaining and potent nightmare fuel for anyone who dares think women have agency outside of finding a nice man." Except Jim is not a nice man. He never thinks of himself as a nice man because of what he did. Aurora made it clear that she didn't think he was a nice man. Even the robot fucking bartender didn't think he was a nice man. And, for the last fucking time, anybody who thinks that the message of the movie is that "women don't have agency outside of finding a nice man" wasn't paying fucking attention. Which is kind of a movie reviewer's job, isn't it? But, being a guy myself, I am not going to let my thinking decide any of this. I will, however, let Jennifer Lawrence's thinking decide it. I've watched countless interviews she's done and I am certain that she wouldn't do a movie with such a message. Indeed, at the time this film was made (and probably even today), she could have made any damn movie she wanted. She didn't have to make Passengers at all. But she did. So perhaps we should listen to women when it comes to this stuff?
  • "A nuclear reactor failure factors into the climax of the film. I rooted so hard for that reactor failure. So hard." Jesus. There were FIVE THOUSAND PEOPLE PLUS CREW ONBOARD! Wouldn't wishing 5000+ people dead just to kill one man make Ryan Syrek a morally reprehensible sociopathic nightmare? If it doesn't, it does make him (at the very least) completely self-unaware.

Ryan Syrek reads like one of those movie reviewers who considers themself to be a morally superior social justice warrior who is so far above any possible failing that they can completely omit pertinent information about a film which doesn't support their narrative. If he would have at least acknowledged that the film addressed his problems... but still failed to win him over... I could at least respect his critique. As it is, I cannot help but go back to his first paragraph...

"What’s that, Chris? You want to be a super-duper, dimple-chinned movie hunk? Bend over and bore us while your once-charismatic baby blues go fully dead inside."

First of all, Chris Pratt's eyes are green.

Second of all, saying that Chris Pratt "bent over," thus using a homophobic slur to say that he sold out his career to star in this movie, makes the only passing jerk here Ryan Syrek. Talk about somebody who must be dead inside. Because, just like J-Law, Chris Pratt is one of the biggest movie stars on earth and doesn't have to sell out a damn thing.

As for me? Yeah. The movie is highly problematic... at first. But I cannot ignore that there were explanations for why the characters acted the way they did. Jim did a horrendous wrong not just for fun or because Aurora was pretty... it was because he was horrendously lonely and couldn't stop himself after reading her words which felt as though they were speaking just to him. Aurora didn't forgive him because she didn't want to die a lonely spinster, she forgave him because that was the choice which was least painful to her after she had fallen in love with the guy. She chose to forgive him. She chose to rescue him. She chose to stay with him. Far from being a victim, Aurora could have gone right back to her life the way it was going to be at the end of the movie... but all the choices were hers and she made her choice. Then, as we find out from her book, she didn't regret the choice she made and the life she lived.

Like I said, I enjoyed the film. I thought it had a lot to say about redemption and forgiveness that many critics overlooked in a rush to be politically correct. The special effects were pretty great too.

And I really liked the ending where they show the tree that was planted and the home that Aurora and Jim built together... plus a maintenance robot who has apparently been harvesting vegetables...

So... I don't know if I recommend this movie or not. I can see where people might have serious problems with it, and that's okay. To me it worked, and the film itself addressed many of the criticisms that were dropped on it. But don't listen to me... or the critics... if the film looks interesting to you, judge for yourself.

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Friends

Posted on May 14th, 2010

Dave!Today would have been one of my best friend's 50th birthday had he not passed away nine years ago. I try to think of what crazy thing I might have done to celebrate the occasion had he lived to see it, but I am drawing a complete blank. Probably because I don't care about a birthday party... I just want him back. People say that you miss a person less and less as time goes on, but that certainly hasn't been the case here. There are just too many reminders.

He loved Dr. Who, so any time an episode airs, he's there. He never got to see any of the "new" series that began in 2005, and so I can't help but wonder what he would think. Enjoying Dr. Who is mostly impossible for me, as it's the most frequent painful reminder that he's gone. But it's not just Dr. Who. As a fellow sci-fi geek, he was often the first person I'd turn to when some new sci-fi television show or movie debuted. The crappy Star Wars prequels were made even worse because my friend wasn't there to laugh with me over the heinousness of it all. It works both ways, I suppose. He was around to experience the sheer brilliance of The Matrix for which I am eternally thankful... but he was spared from the awful sequels which destroyed the franchise for me. Small consolation, to be sure, but when your best friend is gone, I guess you have to cling to whatever small blessings you can find.

And then there's Star Trek.

The wonderful re-imagining by J.J. Abrams last year was truly bittersweet. Yes I loved the movie. But enjoying it was impossible. Both my friend and I were massive fans. We went to at least a dozen Star Trek conventions together over the years. We met all the primary (and many not-so-primary) castmembers of "The Original Series" and "The Next Generation" series and collected their autographs. We talked about the shows for hours. Star Trek was such an hugely important diversion for the both of us that it's unthinkable that I could ever see anything even remotely Trek-related without my best friend haunting me. The sheer number of great memories I have from our wacky adventures at Trek conventions alone could fill a book. I've been so sorely tempted to share some stories from those days on my blog, but I can never bring myself to do it. It would be like giving away a part of him, and I'm entirely too selfish to do that. Memories are all I have now, and they've become like some closely-guarded secret that I never want to share. A part of me hopes I change my mind one day, because there are tales entirely too good not to share. I guess we'll see if I get less selfish in my old age. Somehow I doubt it.

Our shared sci-fi infatuation also treaded into literary diversions. We attended numerous book signings and author readings together for writers such as William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Douglas Adams, and many others. This is something for which I owe him a tremendous debt, because I'm certain I would have never attended these on my own. I look back on my life and remember such incredible moments as hearing Douglas Adams read from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or Clive Barker discussing the thinking behind his own personal favorite novel, Imajica, and wonder what memories I have that could possible replace them. There aren't any. Those moments... those shared moments... are priceless. And I owe them entirely to my friend.

If there was one area we had =zero= overlap, it would be music. His favorite musical artist was Tori Amos. I've never understood it. Even after he dragged me to one of her concerts I was left unimpressed. No doubt she is a truly gifted songwriter and performer, but her stuff just isn't for me. He, of course, had no interest in my 80's New Wave music addiction. New releases by bands like Depeche Mode and The Thompson Twins that would put me over the moon for weeks were just something for him to laugh at. I remember when Depeche Mode's Ultra was released we were in Seattle, so I picked it up. When we got back to his place, I was so excited to listen to the album that I couldn't hop in my car and drive home to listen to it... I had to listen to it now and popped it into his CD player. The minute Barrel of a Gun started thumping through the speakers, his reaction was to pick up his cat, cover her ears, and say "It's okay... it will all be over soon." Insulting my favorite band like that would have been unforgivable if it weren't so damn funny. Whenever I hear a song from Ultra I just picture his cat looking completely puzzled as my friends hands covered the side of her head. I love the memory almost more than the music.

Television, books, movies, sci-fi, comics, and all the geeky crap that went with them were an integral part of what kept us friends for so long. But they were all incidental to the one thing that brought us together... computers.

My friend ran a local computer bulletin board system (BBS) where other computer geeks could dial in with their telephone modems to send messages to each other and share information. It was a crude (very crude) precursor to equivalent services that would later become commonplace on the internet, but that was all we had. Every once in a while users from the various local BBSs would assemble in Real Life for a "Pizza Bash" where many friendships ended up forming. Including ours. Despite different platforms (I was Atari, he was Amiga) the wild computer frontier was an adventure we shared until the day he died (though it was a lot less "wild" in later years).

I don't have a single computer-related memory worth remembering that doesn't have my friend in it. Even when I didn't know who he was, and a "personal computer" was just something freaky and new at the high school library to goof around with, he was there. And, as he was six years ahead of me in school, that's quite a feat. Turns out he helped the local computer shop install/maintain/repair the school computers from time to time. And so he was there from the beginning for me (he was also there when we got to meet Kiki Stockhammer and Wil Wheaton during a NewTek Video Toaster workshop, but that's another story).

The great equalizer between us in the computer platform wars was the Macintosh. I bought a Mac so I could use Photoshop with the pricy scanner I had just purchased. I was instantly smitten, and my loyalty to Atari computers vanished overnight (an Apple Whore was born!). My friend remained a steadfast Amiga user, despite my constant pressure for him to switch.

Until Myst.

Myst was a revolutionary (for the time) graphical adventure game released in late 1993. More than a game, it was an all-absorbing work of art. There was nothing else really like it, and it ran only on Macintosh computers with a CD-ROM. I bought the game because somebody had recommended it to me, but never actually played it until weeks later. The minute I finally started the game, I called my friend at work and told him "YOU HAVE TO COME SEE THIS!!" So he ditched work and came over... then spent the next ten hours hunched over the computer with me playing it until the wee hours. He bought a Mac for himself the next day. That's a bond which can't be broken.

After he had become a Mac convert, my friend dragged out this awesome Macintosh "Picasso Logo" promo-light he had gotten from a local computer shop that was tossing it out. The light was absolutely beautiful and very rare. Mac Whore that I am, I of course wanted it. I coveted that thing every single time I saw it and joked with him once about stealing it. He just laughed that laugh of his and said "Well, you can have it when I'm dead!" For years after, I would joke about plotting his demise so the light would be mine at last. "It's worth risking a manslaughter prison term, you know," I'd say...

Mac Picasso Logo Promo Light
Photo taken from RedLightRunner

For the past nine years it's been agony every time some cool new technology is released and my friend isn't here to share it with me. Mac OS X was released the day before he died. The iPod came seven months later. When the iPhone was released I was depressed for days because it was Star Trek come to life and the first call I wanted to make on it was to my friend. How can I miss him less and less over the years when technology is all about being more and more? There's always something new coming out. He's always the person I want to talk about it with (Myst is available on the iPhone now, for heavens sake!). And that never fades. It never goes away.

March 24th, 2001 I was in Seattle celebrating my birthday with my sister and friends in Seattle. The next day as I was recovering from the drunken debauchery of the previous night, I got a phone call from my mother telling me I needed to call my friend's wife. But I didn't need to call. It's one of those moments you "just know" something terrible has happened and you're about to make a call that changes everything. But I did call his wife. And it did change everything. My best friend of the past sixteen years was gone.

After the funeral, my friend's wife and mother generously invited me over to see if there was anything I wanted to have as a reminder of him. And while there was a lot of stuff of his I'd have loved to own, there wasn't a single bit of it that I wanted. No "thing" could ever take his place. No piece of "stuff" would make me miss my friend any less.

So I politely refused.

After I took the Macintosh Picasso Logo Light, of course.

The bastard would have been furious with me if I hadn't.

Happy 50th birthday, Howard. I love and miss you every day.

   

Mars

Posted on January 15th, 2010

Dave!Finally.

At long last.

The news I've been waiting over 25 years to hear has just been released by Disney...

BURBANK, Calif. (January 15, 2010) - Principal photography is underway in London for Walt Disney Pictures' "JOHN CARTER OF MARS." Academy Award-winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton brings this captivating hero to the big screen in a stunning adventure epic set on the wounded planet of Mars, a world inhabited by warrior tribes and exotic desert beings. Based on the first of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Barsoom Series," the film chronicles the journey of Civil-War veteran John Carter, who finds himself battling a new and mysterious war amidst a host of strange Martian inhabitants.

After I had watched Star Wars in 1977, my 11-year-old mind was ensnared by science fiction and I was desperate for more. I had read a few teen sci-fi books here and there, but the genre never really caught hold. It wasn't until Star Wars that an obsession was born. I quickly became bored with the "kids" version of science fiction and decided to see what awaited me in the adult section of the library. That's when I found A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs...

John Carter of Mars

I devoured all of the Burroughs "Barsoom" books, and used it as a spring-board to the worlds of Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, Herbert, and other science fiction giants.

But it was the John Carter of Mars books that remained my favorite (so much so that I even "became" Edgar Rice Burroughs when joining in on Kapgar's "The Lost Blogs" contest).

Sure they are relatively flimsy stories filled with outrageous coincidences and tacky dialogue, but the bizarre creatures and fantastic places that are a hallmark of the stories more than compensated. It was those things that had me dying to see John Carter movies on the big screen.

And, after numerous false starts, that day has finally come.

Here's hoping Andrew Stanton doesn't fuck up a childhood dream...

   

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