Monthly Archives: October 2013

Your Thought for the Day

 Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes. ”

— Oscar Wilde


Your Thought For the Day

If you haven’t seen Gravity yet, two things are about to happen: First, I am about to spoil the entire plot for you. Second, I will likely dull your enthusiasm for seeing it at all, so problem one might not matter.

A whole lot of internet/blog/movie review man-batter has been splattered over Alfonso Cuarón’s latest epic example of how much he hates editing. It seems that we’ve become so used to anything involving space and science fiction being absolute shit, a passably intelligent and entertaining film gets raves for being revolutionary. I find this sad. But, I’m used to being the lone voice in the wilderness, so let me be the one to stand up and say Gravity is… okay.

That’s it. It isn’t brilliant. It isn’t realistic. It isn’t the “finest performance” of anyone’s career. It’s a relatively entertaining film that’s not quite as full of plot holes and general bullshit as, say, Transformers 3, but is utterly inferior to its thematic grandparent, Apollo 13.

The one accolade Gravity does deserve is that it’s gorgeous. The FX work and the filming tricks used to capture Cuarón’s torturous, never-ending takes are nothing short of pure artistic mastery. If you’re going to see the film, find the biggest IMAX 3D screen you can. It’s well worth it.

As for the story, that’s the real problem. It depends on two things: realism, and intensity. To me, Cuarón sabotaged both of those elements too frequently for the film to really work.

In a sense, Gravity is better served by Cuarón’s long-(fake)-single-take fetish than, say, Children of Men (which I hated), but it still would have been more arresting had the filmmakers not jumped through all the hoops they threw into the air just to make certain things feel like an uninterrupted take. Frankly, I feel like a lot of atmosphere and dramatic potential got thrown by they wayside to accommodate things like an opening shot that feels like it’s a 12-minute single take. The truth is, some judicious edits here and there would have made the film much more affecting for the audience.

My first major problem with the plot arises when George Clooney’s Matt Kowalski is towing Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone back to the shuttle. Stone keeps repeating to Kowalski, a veteran astronaut with we-don’t-know-how-many-but-LOTS of spaceflights under his belt, the deteriorating condition of her O2 supply. So Kowalski keeps her talking. Stone wants to keep quiet, and Kowalski urges her to tell him her life story several times. I understand that Stone is an irritating character, but if you want to kill her, why rescue her in the first place?

What follows is a movie that over-explains to the audience, and wears its sappy emotionalism on its sleeve as badly as any Robert Zemeckis movie. All that was lacking was for Stone to name her space helmet “Wilson.”

Setting aside the overarching, inescapable conclusion that there’s just no FUCKING WAY either Kowalski or Stone would have survived ANY of the space catastrophes they endure during the film, let me skip ahead to the third act of the film, where things really go to hell. I understand that the Cuarón brothers behind this film are Mexican, and come from a culture steeped in way to much Carlos Castaneda-style Magical Realism, but it has no fucking place in a movie like Gravity. When Kowalski’s shade reappears in a CO2-induced hallucination (or WAS it!… sigh), I rolled my eyes. It was so obvious, and such a pathetic manipulation of the audience, it made me angry.

It made me even more angry when (naturally… again, Mexican Magical Realism) an otherwise rational, reasonable scientist only finds salvation and redemption after she has a sudden, final-act religious epiphany, going so far as talking to Kowalski’s dead self and explaining what he should tell her own dead daughter (ostensibly in Heaven), and thanking God with her final line of the film. I was too busy stepping around my own vomit to notice anything else.

Also, the closing minutes of the film turn into an utterly retarded videogame. First, Stone must escape the trap of the tether Russian Soyuz. Then she has to solve the puzzle of launching it. Then the puzzle of getting it to the Chinese station. Then the puzzle of the EVA (don’t forget to grab the fire extinguisher in Level14, or you’ll never complete!). Then a puzzle, then a challenge, then a puzzle… blah, blah, blah.

Let’s face facts: the bitch is dead. In fact, I like to believe she’s lost at the beginning when she spins off into the blind dark side, and everything that follows is a CO2-induced hallucination as her brain dies. That makes me smile.

There was one element to Gravity that made me absolutely furious. I mean Man of Steel, spitting-with-rage, wanted to scream at the screen apoplectic; there are three moments (that I counted) in the film where Cuarón has something added in a post — a CG water droplet, a CG tear, a CG spark — hit the camera lens. As if it had happened during filming. As if we were there.

What. The fuck. Was that?

Seriously, can ANYONE explain the thinking behind this to me? Did the film suddenly become a reality show? Is this now the fucking documentary of Ryan Stone’s escape from death ALONE in space?!? And if she so’s fucking ALONE, what’s the FUCKING CAMERA CREW DOING THERE?!?

I have never seen a better example of a director losing the thread of the story he’s telling in exchange for abusing film technology. In those little, cynical moments, Cuarón invalidates everything he’s done telling the story. It becomes a movie. There’s no possibility to suspend disbelief; the director just inexplicably demanded you become aware that you’re watching a movie by inserting something that, had it happened for real, any sane filmmaker would have used CG to remove.

Alfonso Cuarón has immortalized for all of us the moment he changed from a filmmaker to a hack.

Welcome to the club.

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Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. — Napoleon Bonaparte