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Review of HBO’s ‘True Detective’

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So, this was originally going to be a Facebook post, but it started to turn into one of those long, ungainly rants amid a sea of memes, one-liners and family pics, so I thought it would warrant an airing here.

I just finished watching the first season of HBO’s “True Detective,” and I must say, I’m a little underwhelmed, although I don’t want to diminish the superb acting performances of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. The first few episodes were fantastic. I think episode four was possibly the climax for me, but the show seemed to drag a bit from there. I got through the last four episodes mainly just to find out what was going to happen.

In the end, I think we were left with a bunch of unanswered questions − What’s the deal with the Yellow King and what are the larger implications of the Tully family and government’s involvement − and an albeit creepy, yet anticlimactic resolution. But perhaps my biggest gripe is that Rust, Matthew McConaughey’s character, is this skeptical, nihilistic philosopher type through most of the show, and then in the last five minutes after solving the case, he suddenly believes in the afterlife and that light ultimately wins out over darkness. This, after the show tried so hard to convince us of Rust’s firm grasp on the hard truths of reality.

The Atlantic’s Spencer Kornhaber perhaps said it best:

Rust scoffed at tent worshippers, and the Carcosa cult’s belief in the supernatural had terrible consequences, but Rust ends up joining all of them by buying into comforting, irrational mumbo jumbo.

So perhaps Rust’s nihilism over the course of the series was just the setup for one big, cosmic punch line about the human yearning for meaning.

If so, the ending of the show leaves me with a kind of despair, that the most unflinching of characters, who was at the core a decent person in spite of his nihilism and who was ready to meet life as it comes, ultimately just reverted back to the old human habit and the easy path of trying to find meaning and purpose in the meaningless.

Kudos to the show for attempting to deal with some of the more heady questions of life in a buddy-cop genre that is, in itself, a cliche, and some of the philosophical musings from Rust were profound indeed, but I’m afraid that only lasted for 7 3/4 episodes. The ending killed any professions of profundity for me.

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Written by Jeremy

December 22nd, 2014 at 12:12 am

Anita Sarkeesian and violence against women in video games

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More than a year has passed since I have commented at any length on feminism and the issue of gender equality because frankly, the blog/YouTube wars and constant bickering between feminists, the men’s rights crowd and those who are somewhere in between made my head hurt. As such, I’m a little bit behind the curve in becoming aware of this Anita Sarkeesian person, who seems to have made quite a stir in the atheist and gaming community with her long-form videos about misogyny in gaming such as this one:

I recently became aware of her because of a recent interview she conducted with Stephen Colbert. While I have not watched all of her videos, I have watched “Damsel in Distress” parts one and two, in which she claims that the majority of action and adventure video games depict women as merely pawns or objects in male-centric narratives. Men, in her view — and she provides example after example — take the lead role in most of the games, with any females taking a backseat as secondary characters or love interests that the male character must rescue from certain doom because the females are disempowered, weak and incapable of saving themselves. In the first video in this series, Sarkeesian mainly focuses on two of Nintendo’s largest franchises, “Super Mario Bros.” and “The Legend of Zelda.” I was never as into Zelda, so I will focus on her critique of Mario Bros. As she recounts the story of the game, the princess, Peach, is captured by the villain, Bowser, and Mario must go through eight grueling levels to save her. Sarkeesian thinks that Mario, Zelda and other longstanding franchises that began decades ago could and should have been modernized to more robustly include strong women characters into the narrative.

First, as The Amazing Atheist pointed out, (and my linking to him doesn’t imply that I agree with him on every point) Mario and most of the other games she talks about follow the monomyth narrative structure, in which the protagonist begins the story in his or her everyday life, something unusual or bad happens and the hero goes on an adventure to right a wrong. Or, as Joseph Campbell put it:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

True, a majority of the action and adventure games that follow this structure feature a male protagonist and a female character that the male must either protect or rescue from peril. Like Mario, as in more modern games that follow this structure, the male typically goes through all sorts of dangerous challenges to protect the female because he either loves her or she is an important person.

Obviously, high-profile exceptions to this pattern exist within the gaming industry, but since they go all but unnoticed by Sarkeesian, I will briefly mention some here.

In many cases, like “Assassin’s Creed Black Flag” and “Red Dead Redemption,” female characters guide players through certain parts of the game and are imperishable parts of the storyline. Annie Stoakes, a cattle rancher and important character to the central story of “Red Dead,” competed in a gun duel tournament against male opponents. The game’s Wiki page had this to say about Stoakes:

Annie’s father did not adhere to the gender roles of the day: He raised his daughter to be a successful, independent rancher in a violent, male dominated society.

In “The Last Of Us,” the main character, Joel, lost his daughter 20 years before the main storyline begins. Through the early part of the game, he is accompanied by a female ass kicker named Tess, who helps him escape Boston. Through most of the rest of the game, Joel partners with a quick-witted and emotionally unflappable teenage girl named Ellie, who becomes an ass kicker in her own right.

In her two videos, Sarkeesian paints the impression that there are virtually no strong female protagonists in video games, now or in the past. While there are certainly fewer males than females in leading, playable characters in video games overall, which is probably because of the demographics of people who play action and adventure games and the demographics of those who development them, Sarkeesian conveniently fails to mention some prominent females that did actually command lead roles.

Metroid, which was another of Nintendo’s most popular franchises, follows the protagonist Samus Aran. In the first game in the series, players did not know until beating the game that the main character was, indeed, a female. This goes unmentioned in Sarkeesian’s analysis. More modern games that have featured woman in prominent and empowered roles, including the following:

  • Lara Croft, “Tomb Raider”
  • Chell, “Portal”
  • Aveline de Grandpre, “Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation”
  • FemShep, “Mass Effect”
  • Joanna Dark, “Perfect Dark”
  • Jill Valentine, “Resident Evil”

This doesn’t mention the countless number of strong female characters in the Final Fantasy series and other role playing games over the years. For more examples of lead female roles, see here:

In two videos that cover almost 50 minutes of content, Sarkeesian concedes that there has been a “moderate increase” in the number of lead female roles in video games recently, but can only be bothered to specifically mention two titles, “Beyond Good & Evil” and “Mirror’s Edge,” in 30 years of development. Also included in her list of games that disempower and objectify women was “Dante’s Inferno,” which I thought was a head-scratcher since the game is based off Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” one of the greatest works of literature of all time, and in the game, the main character literally claws through the terrors of hell to save his love, Beatrice.

Sarkeesian does not seem like a person who is interested in presenting a fair picture of the video game market or even the entertainment market. Unlike Sarkeesian’s uneven presentation of the problem — and misogyny and violence against of women in video games is a problem, just as it is in real life — the video game industry has produced a number of strong, empowered female characters. I would be interested to know that if the roles were reversed and a large number of video games suddenly came out with female characters victimizing males and that somehow spoke to a larger problem in society, would Sarkeesian come to the defense of disempowered males? I should hope so, but for some reason, I’m not sure.

Of course, I wouldn’t care if she didn’t; I would just like to know if she’s at least willing to be consistent.

Last, I couldn’t help but wonder why Sarkeesian’s critique was limited to video games. If the problem of disempowering and objectifying women is prevalent in video games, it is certainly prevalent in movies and television, and perhaps it’s prevalent in the entertainment industry because it is, most unfortunately, prevalent everywhere. The problem, then, is not violence in video games, or even violence in movies and TV, but violence, abuse and objectification of human beings, male, female, gay, lesbian, black or white. Assholes and abusers will probably always exist, so I’m not here to offer a particularly optimistic view on stamping out all three of those anytime soon, but in this case, video games provide yet another example of art imitating life, not the other way around.

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Written by Jeremy

November 14th, 2014 at 12:44 am

On alleged racism in the WWE

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WWE has taken a beating in the wrestling community recently for at least three incidents of alleged racism or stereotyping against some of its former top stars, including Alberto Del Rio, the original Sin Cara and Ricardo Rodriguez. Sin Cara said WWE created a bad environment for Latinos to work and claimed he was subjected to numerous incidents of racism from WWE employees, noting that the company higher-ups could be “very racist:”

(There) are different cases. I have never complained about anything. … Sometimes the “gringos” are very racist, sometimes (managers) made ​​racist jokes.

The company’s Chief Operating Officer and on-air head of The Authority heel faction, Triple H, allegedly nicknamed Rodriguez “Bumblebee Man” after the character on The Simpsons, according to reports from Rodriguez.

Del Rio’s case is perhaps the most serious incident that has come to public light so far. Del Rio, whose real name is José Alberto Rodríguez, reportedly overheard a racist joke against Mexicans come from a WWE employee named Cody Barbierri. According to Del Rio, he told the employee, “Say that again to my face,” to which the employee smirked and did not apologize. Del Rio slapped the man and was subsequently fired after previously being told he was just going to get a three-week suspension with no pay.

Here’s Del Rio’s recent account about what happened:

Apparently, the employee threatened to sue the company over the incident, so Del Rio was fired. The employee in question is apparently no longer with the company.

One isolated incident is one thing, but three Latino workers having problems with the company in such a small window of time could be a bad sign, especially since WWE trips over itself to promote its Be A STAR anti-bullying campaign. STAR stands for show tolerance and respect. And Vince McMahon doesn’t exactly have a glowing record of anti-bullying himself, drawing heat for mocking former announcer Jim Ross’ bell’s palsy in front of millions of people on RAW.

Pro wrestling fans know that WWE has pushed certain Latino stars to the top, most notably Rey Mysterio Jr. and Eddie Guerrero, but pushing Hispanic wrestlers has always been more about making money by tapping into the large Latino demographic than seeking diversity in the company. Mysterio, who has been injury prone as of late, became famous way back when WCW was around and only later transitioned to WWE. As his star was fading, WWE had hoped that Del Rio and Sin Cara were going to be the next big Latino stars. While Del Rio reached the upper midcard and had some main event matches, Sin Cara was mostly a failure.

As a side note, I thought the editing job in the Del Rio interview above was interesting. For some reason, the producers left in “fucking” but edited out what immediately followed, which if my lip-reading skills are correct, was “racist prick.” Perhaps that was done at the request of Del Rio.

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‘Pacific Rim’ film review

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This is going to be short — really short — lest I waste anymore time analyzing a movie that’s already taken two hours of my life. I knew that “Pacific Rim” was going to, at best, include 1 1/2 hours of over-the-top CGI action porn, with shallow actors and a contrived, nonsensical plot. I knew that going in. But we got was actually more than two hours of action, most of it either under water or in the ocean, a boilerplate hey-look-it’s-another-white-guy-hero surrounded by a cast of forgettable token characters — the kooky scientist, his even kookier partner and, of course, black male and Asian female supporting roles.

The film lacked any discernible heart, depth and scant reason to care whether or not the robots succeeded in saving whatever generic Pacific city they were trying to save. My interest in the film, with still about an hour to go, tanked when the main analog robot, named Gipsy Danger (Wait, how or why would a robot from the year 2020 still be analog?) and the alien were fighting each other and destroying the city in their wake, crashing through buildings and chasing each other through the streets, presumably causing a shocking loss of life all the while. A few minutes later after the alien was defeated, we see the Jaeger team back at the base cheering in celebration after the victory, with no consideration of the gigantic number of people who were just crushed under the hero robot’s heel, impaled as the combatants tromped through the city or who simply fell from skyscrapers to their grisly deaths. Are we to believe that all 2 million people managed to find one of the Kaiju refuge stations in a matter of minutes? Hardly.

In any case, the action and effects were spectacular, but I judge all movies on the same criteria — acting, depth, emotion, character development, etc. — no matter the genre, and no amount of “CGI motherfucker, CGI!” can save a movie with a bland plot and lifeless characters.

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Written by Jeremy

September 28th, 2014 at 7:32 pm

A first read of Stephen King

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I did feel, however, that I demanded something different (something more?) from a novel than I guessed most of the readers of Stephen King did. (Not that this made me morally superior, just more demanding, a high-maintenance reader.) – Dwight Allen

***

As I am 240 pages into my first – and probably last – Stephen King novel, “Needful Things,” I find myself agreeing with every sentiment in this column about what separates fiction from literature, and why King simply doesn’t measure up, and as far as I’m concerned, he can’t hold Thomas Pynchon’s literary jockstrap.

I’m actually not looking forward to reading more in this book because A) it is needlessly long and B) it is endlessly dull and formulaic. A small town in Maine. A creepy new business owner comes to town. Stupified locals buy his trinkets that just so happen to fulfill their most base desires. Creepy guy gets creepier. And I can only assume, the shit gets weirder, and I don’t care. I’m sure some zany stuff is afoot, but King hasn’t made me invested in the characters, so I also don’t care what happens to them. I could put the novel down right now and happily move on with no desire to know what happens next. That’s a bad sign for an author of King’s calibre.

As such I really don’t get King’s mass appeal. Is everyone’s lives so boring and depressing that they can be fulfilled by even the most basic escapist fiction? I mean, this novel, so far, has no heart, it doesn’t examine any higher truths about humanity or the human condition, it is written in language most middle schoolers could follow and the plot itself plods along at an uninteresting snail’s pace. If the majority of people read novels simply for a compelling plot, boy are they missing out on the truly enriching and soul-fulfilling experience of actual literature, which this is not.

As Dwight Allen put it:

King may be an adequate enough escape from life, if that’s all you require from a book of fiction, but his work (or what I’ve read of it) is a far cry from literature, which, at its best, is, sentence by sentence, a revelation about life.

A “sentence by sentence … revelation about life” is what I require from literature, and this is not literature.

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Written by Jeremy

August 31st, 2014 at 12:51 am

Myers reaches new level of arrogance

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I actually sympathize with Coyne who seems to be scratching his head on this reaction from PZ Myers on Robin Williams’ death.

Here’s Coyne quoting Myers:

Here’s how you don’t respond to Williams death: as P.Z Myers has in a post at Pharyngula, in which he claims that the media (and our government) has taken advantage of Williams’s death to draw attention away from racism and other social problems. In other words, we’ve been manipulated:

 I’m sorry to report that comedian Robin Williams has committed suicide, an event of great import and grief to his family. But his sacrifice has been a great boon to the the news cycle and the electoral machinery — thank God that we have a tragedy involving a wealthy white man to drag us away from the depressing news about brown people.

. . . Boy, I hate to say it, but it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction. No one wants to think the police might be untrustworthy. [This refers to the police shooting of black teenager Mike Brown in St. Louis.]

And think of the politicians! Midterm elections are coming up. Those are important! So people like Barack Obama need to be able to show their human side and connect with the real concerns of the American people by immediately issuing a safe, kind statement about Robin Williams, while navigating the dangerous shoals of police brutality and black oppression by avoiding them. Wouldn’t want to antagonize those lovely law-and-order folks before an election, you see.

Wealthy white man? Really? This is one of the most contemptible and inhumane things I’ve ever seen posted by a well-known atheist. It reeks of arrogance, of condescension, and especially of a lack of empathy for those who loved and admired Williams not because they knew him, but because he brought them happiness and made them think.

Well said. But I wonder if Coyne was caught off guard by Myers’ “arrogance” and “condescension,” which isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Surely Coyne isn’t just now discovering that Myers’ comments often reek of arrogance and condescension. And atheists wonder why believers sometimes brand nonbelievers as close-minded pricks. Its because of assholes such as this.

Postscript: After sleeping on it and talking in the comments section, I had a few more thoughts on this. I think the point Myers was trying to make about the media milking Williams’ death was probably a legit gripe, but it was far overshadowed by the statement about “wealthy white men” and “it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction,” which were particularly abhorrent. The man hung himself after a lengthy battle with depression and addiction and still managed to be one of the most beloved figures of our time; whatever the media and politicians hope to gain from his death is beside the point.

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Written by Jeremy

August 13th, 2014 at 12:47 am

Interview with Robin Williams

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Here is an honest talk with Robin Williams from April 26, 2010, with comedian Marc Maron. He talks honestly about depression, addiction, mortality and of course, comedy. He even contemplates the notion of suicide at about the 56:00 mark. It may change how you think about Williams.

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Written by Jeremy

August 12th, 2014 at 9:12 pm

Top 50 alternative bands of all time: 20-29

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Click here to see picks 30-39.

20. The Flaming Lips

Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face/Do you realize we’re floating in space/Do you realize that happiness makes you cry/Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes let them know/You realize that life goes fast/It’s hard to make the good things last/You realize the sun doesn’t go down/It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

Do You Realize/Do You Realize/that everyone you know/Someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes let them know/You realize that life goes fast/It’s hard to make the good things last/You realize the sun doesn’t go down/It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face/Do you realize

21. Weezer — Weezer blazed onto the scene as a band that still had that metallic punch of guitar distortion and fuzz, but without all of the angst or pensiveness of some of their contemporaries. While the self-titled “Blue Album” and “Pinkerton” are beloved fan classics, the band still enjoyed with acclaimed success the “Green Album,” “Maladiot” and “Make Believe,” selling a total of more than 9.2 million albums in the United States and about 17.5 million worldwide. “Make Believed” reached number two on the U.S. charts and number one in Canada. And, of course, all those accolades aside, they brought geek rock to the mainstream:

22. The Replacements  No top alternative list would be complete without The Replacements, and they just edge out Sonic Youth and the Meat Puppets for their sheer longevity and influence on the industry.

23. Depeche Mode  Not to overstate matters, but Q Magazine has listed Depeche Mode as one of the 50 bands that changed the world, and “the most popular electronic band the world has ever known.” At more than 75 million albums and singles sold worldwide, Depeche Mode is one of the most successful bands of all time. Enough said:

24. The Offspring  One of the highest selling punk rock bands in history, The Offspring’s third album, “Smash,” sold 20 million by itself, with the breakout tracks, “Self Esteem,” “Come Out and Play” and “Gotta Get Away.” After the mediocre offering, “Ixnay on the Hombre,” The Offspring enjoyed its greatest mainstream popularity to date with “Americana,” with the songs “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)” and “The Kids Aren’t Alright.” The band had another standout track in 2012 with “Days Go By.”

25. Arcade Fire  With just four albums under their belts since the release of “Funeral” in 2004, Arcade Fire has seen a meteoric rise in popularity, basically skipping over the sophomore slump phase and going straight to cult status as one of the most innovative, diverse acts of this generation. Among their many accolades, the band won the Grammy of the Year award for their album, “The Suburbs.” Their most recent offering was “The Reflektor, which “Rolling Stone” named the top five release of 2013. Here they are performing the French cover, “Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son:”

26. Sonic Youth  Sonic Youth has been around for as long as R.E.M. and is an influential as any other band on this list. With their experimental and ferocious guitar style, they came to define alternative grunge before grunge was a thing, releasing five albums before 1990s. An idyllic photo of band member Kim Gordon walking across her bass tells the story of “disaffected youth” like no band before them could. And one only has to listen to the opening seconds of “Kool Thing” to hear the inspiration behind songs like Nirvana’s “Aneurysm” and many others.

27. Coldplay  To say that Coldplay has, at least temporarily, abandoned their roots is probably a mild understatement here in 2014 with the release of the squeaky clean, synth-pop, lovefest known as “Ghost Stories,” but the band was once an influential rock act in the same vein of Oasis, Radiohead and U2. While I personally enjoyed parts of “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends” (not the least of which was a tune that didn’t even make it onto the official cut, “Life in Technicolor II“), I view “X&Y” as Coldplay’s last true rock album. The rest of it — well, let’s just stick with classics: “X&Y,” “A Rush of Blood to the Head” and “Parachutes.” That’s really all the Coldplay you need to put them in the top 30 on this list.

28. Bush  Bush’s “Sixteen Stone” was one of a handful alternative rock albums in the 1990s in which almost half the record became a radio single. Off the strength of singles, “Everything Zen,” “Come Down,” “Glycerine,” “Machine Head” and “Little Things,” the debut album sold more than 10 million albums in the United States, although the band didn’t enjoy equal success in their native England. After 1996′s “Razorblade Suitcase,” the band fell out of the mainstream until 2011 when their new album, “Sea of Memories,” hit number 18 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.

29. Meat Puppets  Like Teenage Fanclub, Sonic Youth, The Replacements and The Flaming Lips, Meat Puppets influenced countless bands coming out of the early 1990s alternative rock scene, including Nirvana, Sound Garden and Dinosaur Jr.:

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Written by Jeremy

June 25th, 2014 at 5:05 pm

‘Transparent agenda’: ‘God’s Not Dead’ film review

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Here is a thoughtful review of “God’s Not Dead” from the atheist perspective. Even from the reviews and the trailer, we can glean that Kevin Sorbo’s character grossly misrepresents the atheist position and fails to have an understanding of basic philosophy, especially about the quote from Nietzsche on which the film’s title is based.

I’ve already given some thoughts on it after seeing the trailer and reading the synopsis, so I’ll let MrTweej take it away:

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Written by Jeremy

April 16th, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Spoilers: Short film review of ‘Gravity’

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So I had heard good things about the movie “Gravity,” starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and was excited to see it if for nothing other than the visual experience. Now that I actually have seen it, I can say that astounding visuals — and some decent but certainly not stellar acting — were about all this movie gave us. I mean, a movie that wins seven Academy Awards is at least worth one viewing, right?

Gravity-2Barely. Where to start? The movie had no semblance of a story. The only reason we had to care about Sandra Bullock’s character was that she had a daughter back home, except that she doesn’t have a daughter back home anymore. Her kid got killed in a freak accident on the playground. That’s totally plausible, right? Bullock was playing a character named Ryan Stone, and when Clooney asked about her seemingly masculine first name, we learn that Ryan’s parents wanted a boy. So, not only does Stone have reason to despair over her daughter, she’s got reason to despair over her own life. Frankly, halfway through the movie I found myself not caring one whit whether she made it back to Earth or not. At one point before the final sequence, she even resigned herself to give up the ghost and seemed satisfied to wait and die to the sound of an Asian parent singing a lullaby to a baby over the crackle of the intercom. Hell, burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere sounds like about the most exciting thing that could have happened to her at that point, but I digress.

Not only do we have no reason to care for Bullock, her character is completely inept — you know, from a technical standpoint — which for those paying attention, some technical skills with space technology might have come in handy 3 kilometers above Earth. We learn from her conversations with Clooney that Stone failed all of her re-entry simulation tests before coming onto the mission, so she had no business whatsoever in space, with or without a crew. When she finally reached the International Space Station after Clooney and the other crew member died, seemingly safe for a little while, she failed to inspect the interior of the craft and missed the fact that a couple wires had a short. Because of this oversight and in the ensuing fire and explosion, she lost most of the station and was relegated to a small pod in an attempt to reach a Chinese space station, her last hope to make it home.

If all that weren’t bad enough, at the end of the movie, after finally reaching the Tiangong, without having a clue what she’s doing — this might be a bad time to start reading the instruction manual — she somehow manages to start the engine, detach her pod and inexplicably initiate re-entry into Earth by randomly pressing buttons through a rousing game of eenie meenie miney mo. I wish I was joking.

And this from a flick that won seven Academy Awards? I guess storytelling isn’t requisite in movies anymore.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Without the impressive visuals to save it, the rating would have been like -2.

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Written by Jeremy

March 22nd, 2014 at 11:00 pm

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