REVIEW: Gravity

gravity movie

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

Behold the technical majesty of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.  Watch as debris from a Russian satellite smashes into a repair operation led by an American astronaut team, sending them whizzing, floating and spinning in the beautiful, terrifying abyss.  Watch it and take it in, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

I thought I did everything I was supposed to do with Gravity.  I saw it in 3D, I saw it in Imax and I saw it with a virtually sold-out crowd.  Why then, was it underwhelming?  There is an answer to that question, and it may be hard to hear for the many who have lauded praise on the film since its triumphant festival circuit.

This is a movie that was made solely for its own tech savvy.  It exists because of its technical mastery, not for any tangible idea.  Cuarón uses every cinematic element at his disposal to sustain uninterrupted awe, and it is one of the few movie-going experiences in recent memory that is truly exhausting.   By the time Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) hops from space station to space station and then back to (spoiler) Earth, her weariness is not just her own, but the audience’s as well.


Bullock carries the movie quite well, and is aided in parts by the effortless charm of George Clooney’s on-screen persona.  For long stretches, though, it’s just her dealing with whatever zero gravity obstacle Cuarón can throw at her.  There is a hefty bit of 3D gimmickry, more than there should be in a prestigious project like this, but for the most part it is effective as a grand aesthetic spectacle.  More troubling than screws and tears floating toward the camera, though, are the number of unnecessary tracking shots of Sandra Bullock’s ass.  The movie even ends on a close up of her heaving, wet-t-shirt-covered breasts.

Why?  Because Gravity is Cuarón’s playground.  The director of such rigorous works as Y tu mamá también and Children of Men has aimed his sights solely on the machinations of pleasure and terror, not as it applies to the characters, but to the audience.  This is movie as roller coaster, and the spectacle is undeniable.  It’s hard to put into words the awe of seeing a space station crumble and explode as the camera stays pinned to a twirling, panicked astronaut.   She then drifts hopelessly into space, as alone as any human could ever be.

The close-up of Stone’s face that follows that sequence reflects Earth and space while her helmet fogs up.  Even here, the effects do not relent.  There are quiet moments in Gravity that are as visually stunning as the relentless action sequences, but even in those moments the movie felt defined by its technology rather than enhanced by it.

Many have and will likely continue to compare this to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that would be extremely misguided.  Gravity attempts to justify its technological means with a human element, and who better to do this than two of Hollywood’s most charming stars?  It is not a cold, calculated examination of a technological takeover, though.  It is a technological takeover, and a beautiful one at that.

Grade: C

REVIEW: Room 237


Room 237
Directed by: Rodney Ascher
Starring: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns and John Fell Ryan

There are no talking heads in Room 237, at least not in the traditional documentary sense. Using footage from the movies, mostly Stanley Kubrick ones and mostly scenes from The Shining, Rodney Ascher creates an obsessive, absurd paean to the movies.  He weaves together five intensely different theories about Kubrick’s 1980 horror staple, all of them bizarre sometimes to the point of ridiculousness.

We are given the names of these people at the beginning of the movie when they each speak for the first time, and then we don’t see them again until the credits.  Ascher rotates between their explanations of what is really going on inside The Shining with the slyness if not the total condescension of a reality show host.  One man believes there are hidden messages about the genocide of Native Americans, another sees a heavily layered Holocaust subtext.  By far the most bizarre of these theories, though, is that of Jay Weidner, who believes that The Shining is Kubrick’s confession to helping the U.S. government fake the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

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CLASSICS: Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, & Peter George (screenplay), Peter George (novel)
Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, and Slim Pickens

Stanley Kubrick never made an original movie.  What he did was take works of literary fiction and make them his own, whether it was altering the plot altogether (most prominently in The Shining) or simply telling a story visually.

In the case of the latter, he was one of the most gifted American directors the world has ever known.  Dr. Strangelove may be his greatest film, although Kubrick devotees each have their personal favorite.  However, I’ll ask you to consider what he did with this movie.  He made a comedy, a genre that today seems stuck in visual purgatory, that is just as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the ears.  Considering Dr. Strangelove has one of the funniest screenplays every written, that is quite an achievement.

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REVIEW: The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, and Sean Penn

You always look at nature a little differently after you see a Terrence Malick film.  This is a man that you suspect has spent a great deal of time wandering through its various forms, envisioning ways to capture its essence.  Of course, all of us outside his friends, family and colleagues can ever do is suspect.  Malick creates his films, and then stays out of the spotlight.

The Tree of Life, his latest meditation on nature by way of the Big Bang, won the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and the one who was there promoting it was Brad Pitt.  In a way this is fitting since he and Sean Penn are all the marketing team behind this movie will have to promote it with.  It’s likely that countless Americans will attend this film to see Pitt and then be outraged.

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Our (Belated) List of Favorite Movie Directors

1. Martin Scorsese- It may seem unimaginable that nearly three years ago director Martin Scorsese had yet to hold an Academy Award in his hands, but it is the disappointing truth. The once would-be Catholic priest entered the film making world with hits like Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets which put him at the forefront of New Hollywood with his violent, audience-specific films. Though Francis Ford Coppola felt he was unfit to helm The Godfather: Part III, Scorsese quickly overshadowed Coppola to become an icon of his own, creating films filled with themes related to violence, machismo, Italian-American identity, immigration, Catholicism and New York City. Five decades of classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed, Scorsese set a style of quick editing, rock and roll soundtrack and frequent collaboration with actors and editors who claim Scorsese to be a living encyclopedia of film history. The film that did it for us: Though he’s created modern epics including a personal favorite, Gangs of New York, Scorsese’s talents are most apparent in Taxi Driver, a film with some of the most carefully constructed technical detail and powerful themes of isolation, violence, sex and how they are related and lead to destruction.

2. Stanley Kubrick– One of the unprecedented visual artists in all of cinema, it’s hard to not love movies when Stanley Kubrick makes them.  His gift for telling a compelling story is aided by those infamous distant shots, able to encompass the idiocy in The War Room (Dr. Strangelove) or gravity-defying in the great beyond (2001: A Space Odyssey).  He never told the same story twice, but each film carries with it his distinct visual flair,  helping him to create some of the most fully realized worlds the movies have ever seen.  Kubrick is one of the biggest influences on American cinema not only because of his artistic genius, though.  His ruthless dedication to his vision of the material led to feuds with his actors and the writers of the source material (both on The Shining.)  Perfectionism is costly, but with it he created many things that are, in fact, perfect.  The film that did it for us: There’s never been a more beautifully filmed comedy than Dr. Strangelove, and there are few as horrific.

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