Sunday, October 20, 2013

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

At the end of one's tether ...

"Life's an awfully lonesome affair.... You come into the world alone and you go out of the world alone yet it seems to me you are more alone while living than even going and coming." -- artist Emily Carr

You've lost your young child through a freak accident.  Hurt and without bearing, you are adrift from your own life.  Everyday living gives you little meaning or hope.  There is no solace in the words of others and you are, figuratively, at the end of one's tether.

What are you choices?  Give up, give in to grief, or to trust in yourself and move on.  Stop letting the past and the way you have done things limit what you can do in your future.

Gravity is a metaphor.  It turns that figurative isolation into literal isolation. This story of astronauts struggling in the hostile vastness of space is rife with symbolism.  George Clooney's character, Matt Kowalski,  represents the past that Sandra Bullock's character, Ryan Stone, must release in order to move forward.  Entangled in cords, dodging the debris of a space station damaged by falling satellites, the both of them are doomed to die unless one or the other releases himself and allows the other to fight on and hopefully live.  Clooney's choice allows Bullock's character to go on, to not be limited by his literal weight and the figurative weight of her past. When she finally gets out of her capsule back on Earth, she struggles to stand and finally gets back on her own two feet, reveling in the moment that is much more than a physical release.  It is an emotional one.

I could be way off on my take of Gravity.  Maybe I've listened to one too many reviews of artsy French new wave films or stayed up too late trying to find meaning and subtlety where it was never intended.  But I don't think so.  Alfonso Cuarón is one of my favorite directors and he is not a plodding Hollywood hack.  With his fellow Mexican directors and friends, Guillermo Del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, they have carved out a niche as original, visual and artistic talents not constrained by conventional American/Anglo narratives. Their movies are full of symbolism and allegory (Babel and Pan's Labyrinth most notably).  And it is my belief that Gravity continues that trend.

I have purposely not read, watched or listened to any reviews of Gravity (except my bud Wil) because I didn't want to be influenced by what someone else may think the movie means.  I didn't even want to see a confirmation of what I saw.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are stars and very good actors and do nothing in this film to change that opinion.  Clooney is funny and charming, as always.  Bullock is subdued, for her, but this serves the role for the most part.

I will not get into the technical aspects of Gravity.  They have been extensively described elsewhere.  Suffice to say, Cuarón has infused Gravity with a realism that gets about as close to what I imagine space would actually feel like.  I saw it on a normal screen but will be revisiting it with IMAX 3D in the near future.

So, why didn't it completely work for me?  Too much detachment.  For all its visual beauty, I believe it lacks a heart.  Something just kept me from altogether buying in.  I can't even quite put my reservations into words.  Secondly, with the movie being very short for an Oscar-worthy film (90 minutes), more time could have been spent explaining exactly why a doctor is installing something on Hubble.  How did she even end up at NASA?  I'm not expecting awkward exposition or anything, but it seems like a little more could have been revealed through her conversations with Clooney's character.  Lastly, Bullock's role seems just a bit too much like a trick role, à la Tom Hanks in Cast Away ... a role set up to present well to Oscar voters.  Maybe just a bit too much earnestness and not enough reality.

I'm definitely curious how a second watching may temper my opinion.  Like similar space movies, Moon and 2001, Gravity has a way of making real the quiet, yet ominous isolation of space.  And similarly, I didn't appreciate those movies fully the 1st few times.  Grade:  B

As usual, Mr Stachour at Journal Wunelle has done a bang-up job of a review of Gravity here.  Much smarter than I, a superior writer and possessing much more knowledge of life in thin air, I think you'll like his take.

Saturday, October 05, 2013


I'm not a racing fan per se. I don't dislike it. As a general sports nut, I will watch a bit of everything. A NASCAR race , maybe some motorcycling racing ... and occasionally a Formula One race. But it's been awhile since I followed it with any kind of regularity. About 10 years ago, one of my best friends was a big Formula One fan and this almost forced me to become aware of racers like Michael Schumaker. But I was sadly (and blissfully) unaware of the rivalry in the 70's between British driver James Hunt and Austrian driver Niki Lauda.

An interest in racing is not necessary to appreciate Rush. The race scenes are great but ultimately it is the interplay between the Hunt and Lauda characters that is the strength of this movie. Since watching Rush, I've done a bit more research into both Hunt and Lauda and see how well each of their characters were cast in both looks and demeanor. Thor's Chris Hemsworth has always had that natural charisma and rakish good looks that Hunt had. And Daniel Bruhl, now also being seen in The Fifth Estate, does a fine job in the role of Lauda. Olivia Wilde, while being in a smaller role as Hunt's wife (for a time), is gorgeous. Her acting is fine, but she just doesn't get a lot of screen time. I did find it fascinating that she left Hunt to go out with Richard Burton, revealing how big Formula One was at the time and the level of celebrity that it had attained.

The rivalry between the drivers is at the heart of the story. Though they were drastically different: Hunt, an unredeemable playboy and lover of life and Lauda, a prickly and calculating tactician, it was their relationship to each other that drove both of them. While not getting too in-depth into the events of the movie, it is the drive to race and beat each other that gives them strength in crisis situations off-the-track.

Racing is just the vehicle, pardon the pun, for the point of the story.  As the poster says, "Everyone's driven by something."  Both of the racers are driven by a need to rise above the expectations of their families.  Hunt has a maniacal need to experience everything to the fullest, something that makes him seemingly careless in real life and hard to beat on the track.  Lauda, from a family of high achievers in business and government, feels that driving is the only thing he can do well and he is going to prove that he is the best.  Good movies make a person think about your own life in a more immediate way than books do.  The best movies will even motivate us to action or to changing something in our own lives.  While I'm not intimating that Rush caused me to reevaluate my life in any substantive way, it was successful in getting me to at least think about the reasons that I do things in work and in my personal life.

It's one of the best movies I have seen this year.  You root for each of the drivers despite (and sometimes because of) their obvious shortcomings.  They are are so focused on their driving that relationships outside of racing are strained.  Their differences in style cause conflict between the racers early on but grow into a grudging respect.  While I believe this is done primarily for dramatics in the movie, as the drivers were actually quite close in real life and even shared an apartment early in their careers, there's no point in letting the truth get in the way of a good story.

Director Ron Howard knows how to tell a good story and I've always been a fan of his work (Frost/Nixon, A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13 being my favorites).  The movie clocks in at about 2 hours but does not seem long.  The characters are established well and organically without slowing down the narrative.  I recommend Rush.  Grade:  A

(Expect a fairly rapid-fire barrage of movie reviews over the next few weeks.  I've finally gotten into a writing mood and will hammer out reviews of most of the decent movies I've seen this year.  No particular order ... I'm just going to let the subject matter or emotions of each lead me to the next in line.)