The Martian (2015)

In The Martian, Matt Damon gets stuck on Mars and says, “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

His mission’s captain is a white woman. Also on the ship are a Mexican-American man, a German man (played by a Nordic man), and a white man and white woman (who are in love). A white man runs NASA, but is afraid to take risks. A Chinese-American man runs the tech (and is hooked up with the Chinese guys running the tech in China), while an African-American man runs the mission. Another young genius African-American man figures out the math. Kristen Wiig is present and at one point sorta tells a joke.

This movie was upbeat but serious (dealing with loneliness and difficulty without really going off the deep end into being a “brutal” or “difficult” movie), deeply procedural and easy to follow but still dramatic (because plenty of things go wrong), clear in its very simple stakes (Matt Damon might die), properly epic about interplanetary travel (it takes a super long time to get anywhere, and if you spend that time, you’re not on earth with your aging family; space logistics are mindboggling; Mars is empty but being a human not-on-Earth is mega dangerous), was filled with great images (dir. Ridley Scott), and never got too stressful (cf. Gravity (2013)).

A couple things though: Cameras in Matt Damon’s space station are recording his mission. He speaks to them throughout the movie, though the fate of the recordings is never known, so it’s pretty much just a trick to allow for direct-address. Well, okay, that’s narrative convenience, but compare with the mostly silent, way-more-lonely Robert Redford boat-survival movie, All is Lost (2013). Imagine Redford looking you in the eye in the beginning of the movie and saying, “I’m gonna have to boatsman the shit out of this.” Damon’s situation, despite being bleak, is still basically cozy.

And second, for a big budget movie so apparently sensitive to diversity in casting, it’s funny that The Martian still winds up with an imperious white dude who, as the movie’s lead, gets to tell the camera that it was he who “colonized” Mars by being the first to grow food in its native soil, was the first human to be alone on a planet, and who is, technically, also a space pirate. He also repeatedly complains that the only music available on the Mars outpost’s iPod is disco.

when I showed these thoughts abt the martian to davey he replied:

Nice, ya I think you get to what my main problem with what this movie was as well, the kind of twin factors of “who do we want to be saved” (a thing I think about a lot in the context of these movies was, in casting Apollo 13, Ron Howard said that they cast Tom Hanks not based on his believability as an astronaut, but because he was the person that culture most wanted to get back to earth) and the implicit idea that, again, we want Damon saved (I guess I’m tired of having feelings on the matter being taken for granted)… plus his transformation into colonist is also troubling, like that’s what we want saved? Seems regressive.

And there’s something about the measured reasonable engineer-like approach to seemingly unsurmountable problems that strikes me as kind of un-American. Like in the Martian he figures out what his needs are, the amount of time he has to meet them, and then sets out on a schedule (which put this way makes the Martian seem like a movie about working at an office)

In juxtaposition, in Die Hard, John McClane is faced with unsurmountable odds, and spends the next two hours climbing around in places he shouldn’t, dropping explosives willy-nilly down elevator chutes, and running across broken glass. Although theres a part of me that’s happy that Martian is trying to point us in this way, the fact that all-out insanity is not deemed “a way out” anymore [in fiction] is troubling to me on another level.

Sausage Party (2016)

Sausage Party is the story of a young hot dog that I think we can all relate to.  After all, who among us does not wish to pierce the veil of misinformation through which we view our lives?  Who among us would not wish to pass our newfound state of enlightenment to our fellow man freeing them from the shackles of profundity?  And who among us would not wish to topple the false gods who hold us in thrall, subject to their capricious and cruel whims?   Sausage Party tackles all these questions and more.  And as some of the more astute readers among us may have noticed, Sausage Party is indeed what we’ve all been waiting for, a The Matrix, for 2016.

Our hot dog’s tale begins, much like Neo’s, trapped in a wrapper next to many of his fellow dogs, isolated from the outside world not only by his physical trappings, but by an omnipresent dogma received as sacrosanct.  The world this food lives in is one where divisions based on aisle and place of origin have grown to become an intractable part of society, and where rules passed down devoid of original purpose must be followed.  It’s important to note that these consumables lack the written word, without which they are beholden to the whims of a society in thrall to an ever shifting oral tradition.  Through this the film raises some important points about the necessity of keeping a recorded history, without which the advancement of civilization is forever in doubt.    

Our hero the hot dog, has his reverie taken from him through cruel circumstance, but while his adventure begins with the pursuit of normalizing his situation, it soon takes a detour as he runs into some colorful characters, a Twinkie, a bottle of Firewater, and a box of Grits with whom he “takes the blue pill.”

While the hot dog is becoming “woke” we are simultaneously being shown the stories of Taco, Bun, Lavosh, and Bagel on a parallel journey to try and return to what they believe is their place in the world.  Although they are able to eventually find it, they find that through unexpected misfortune, there is much to learn even if one does not desire it.  The experience separates them from their companions and leaves them although richer in knowledge poorer for no longer knowing exactly who they are, and what to believe is true.

Sausage Party spends much of its running time exploring how hot dogs and other items of food struggle to find meaning, and how constraining it can be if they prescribe too much to systems built by others.  The film keeps to this notion so strenuously that it does not recommend even its own whole-scale rejection of systems, but recommends that one find their own way.  

I enjoyed Sausage Party and have as well been enjoying pontificating over its myriad insights, but I do have a couple of reservations keeping this from being a full blown endorsement.  One is that Sausage Party is not a good title for this film.  Better would have been  “Naughty Food Adventure” or maybe, “God’s Not Dead, For These Foods.”  I as well think Keanu Reeves should have been in the movie, seeing as how much it owes to one of his pioneering works.  Hopefully that will be rectified in the sequel. Other than these grievous errors, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Sausage Party is a well constructed and thoughtful film, one which does an excellent job of “thinking outside the bun.”