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Decent Ending to a Bloated Epic
I agree now with most critics of the Hobbit trilogy that this story went on far longer than needed. The fights seem dull and interminable rather than gripping and exciting. There doesn't seem to be any decisiveness to the conflict presented until the very end. The same problems with the battles with Smaug from the previous film are evident, on a much larger scale, in this film. This movie also leaves many loose ends unresolved, particularly with regards to the Arkenstone and the corrupt rulers of Lake Town. There is also much in this film that seems hastily concluded or unfinished. I am not saying the film is completely unsatisfactory, but it is far from being a perfect ending.
That said, there are positive aspects to the film. Bilbo Baggins remains the likable, sensible character holding this movie together. He represents the hobbit race perfectly: plain, humble, unprejudiced, unpretentious, and without the greed and lust for power that poisons the minds of the dwarfs, elves, humans, and orcs surrounding him. Bilbo is a credible audience surrogate, and remains the bright shining jewel of humanity (a metaphor for the baser Arkenstone, if you will) that keeps this film worth watching.
The other races of Middle Earth (whether "good" or "evil") are comparatively unlikeable, particularly the elves and dwarfs. Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf leader, is especially poisoned by greed. This film does a wonderful job showing the dangers of greed and power, and how Throin resolves these issues *by himself*. There is a vague hint that Thorin is not inherently greedy, but is manipulated by some supernatural power left by Smaug--I didn't like that aspect of it, as it did not ring true to me; having Thorin resolve a conflict that is entirely within himself seems more true to life. The elves, the "good" analogues to the repulsive orcs, don't come off much better than the dwarfs. Their leader Thranduil is moved by a strange sort of racism and cold-heartedness (his pale hair and flat effect reflect this coldness), which does the elves little good. Balin the Dwarf and Tauriel the Elf seem the most positive representatives of their respective races, and counterbalance the coldness of their leaders. As for the orcs, it's hard to feel true hatred towards them because there is no conflict within them: they are inherently, innately "evil", and that's that. They're ugly monsters with no complexity to their characterization. It's therefore easy to root for the good guys to kill the whole lot of them.
In all, the film could have been much shorter; ninety minutes would have been enough. I don't fault Jackson for expanding "The Hobbit" beyond the book into the appendices of "The Lord of the Rings" and the greater mythos of Middle Earth. His main flaw with the trilogy was that he focused way too much on fighting and action, and did not focus enough on the story as presented by Tolkien. The final film's greatest flaw was its failure to resolve loose ends from the previous film. Beyond that and the action, the movie is actually good, and worth watching. If you buy the trilogy on DVD, be ready to fast forward through large portions. The film may actually seem better that way.
Fascinating Story About a Western Mining Town
I hope to visit Butte one day as a tourist (I have no familial ties to the city whatsoever, which may make my interest seem peculiar), and this documentary certainly was helpful in providing a historical overview of the city. I found it interesting that the film included the ethnic background of those giving testimony about their town; it shows the myriad countries of origin of those who came to settle in "The Richest Hill on Earth." The witnesses who grew up in Butte during its heyday give the viewer an intimate look inside the city and its people. The documentary doesn't sugarcoat anything, and it goes into detail about the various labor upheavals throughout the twentieth century, the rise and fall of Anaconda, the waxing and waning of the fortunes of the working class, and Butte's ultimate decline. The film portrays the city's history so artfully that it seems like a fictional saga of rise and fall--except it's all true. It seems this documentary left nothing significant out.
Granted, a documentary for a general audience will only mine the surface history (so to speak) of a place; still, I found it not only an educational experience, but a personal one as well thanks to the testimony of the witness. I found especially moving the witness's description of the destruction of their neighborhoods during the digging of the Berkeley Pit. The toxicity of the Berkeley Pit is also described (for a flippant and dismissive description of the Pit, try to find a clip from the "Daily Show" discussing it. It wasn't all that funny, as I found a thinly-veiled East Coast contempt for the Mountain West permeating the skit, much like heavy metals permeate the pit's waters. But I digress). I highly recommend this to those with a connection with Butte, Montana or with an interest in Western history. Butte is a part not only of Western history, but also an integral part of the story of America's Industrial Revolution, which is not stressed that often in popular history books and in the media. Hopefully, this documentary will open the viewers' eyes to not only the West (which wasn't all cowboys and gunslingers), but to America's painful entry into the twentieth century as well.
The Big Bang Theory (2007)
Mediocre Show. Unlikeable Characters.
I thought Peter Griffin was the most annoying and unlikeable TV character currently on the air. Having been introduced to Sheldon Cooper, I will have to revise my opinion.
My family *loves* this program, though I fail to see what makes it special. The main male characters are cartoonish stereotypes of twenty-first century nerds. "Geeks", "nerds" and "betas" (take your pick of a slang word for a smart yet unhip individual) sure do *love* their video games and comic books! They are socially awkward, and know nothing about how to mingle with the in-crowd. This stereotype is fairly new in American culture, but it's been beaten to death so many times that depictions of characters that meet these stereotypes cause me to yawn. "Big Bang Theory" relies on these stereotypes for 100% of its humor. Added to this is another stereotype, this one of the above-average-but-not-a-genius girl whose role is to teach the socially inept nerds how to fit into society. She serves as the foil and audience surrogate, though I found her character to be just annoying as the nerds she's supposed to teach.
The trite stereotypes are bad enough, but the arrogant attitude of the show's protagonist, Sheldon Cooper, makes the show unwatchable most of the time. Yeah, the stock character of the nerd is supposed to be smart and socially awkward, but he is also supposed to be charming and endearing. Sheldon is a narcissist who thinks he is above everyone else, including his university colleagues. He is utterly condescending, rude, unkind, and lacks even the most basic modicum of empathy. These traits are supposed to be "quirky", but instead they make him come off as a repulsive jerk who *should* be shunned not only by the "cool" people, but by his fellow nerds as well. Yeah, Steve Urkel was a weird genius geek with a talent for robotics and nuclear physics, but he seldom put anyone with an lQ lower than his down. He was kind and sweet-natured towards the average-IQ Winslow family, and treated everyone around him with respect. Sheldon loves to lord his intelligence over everyone around him, and his arrogance blinds him to his own flaws, weaknesses and gaps in knowledge. Rather than learn from his mistakes and become a better person, he remains the same smug, cold-hearted jerk week after week. He may be a genius at physics, but he feels knows "everything" about "everything" as well. He treats his girlfriend, a biologist from the university, with the same arrogance he treats everyone else. The biologist girlfriend likes him for his brain, but fails to see Sheldon's more negative traits as hindrances to a lasting relationship, including his utter lack of emotional intelligence. Why any sane woman would want to stay with a guy like this is beyond me; the biologist girl (played by Blossom) is way too good for the likes of him!
The shows stretches my suspension of disbelief beyond what I can accept. If the men on the show really are Cal Tech faculty members, they would not waste their free time worrying about the minutiae of comic book characters; as other reviewers have said, they'd instead focus their minds on mashing and smashing the atom. I might like the show more if Sheldon and his colleagues (I hesitate to call them his "friends", as his cold demeanor seems to preclude any real warm bonds with other human beings) focused their time on physics experiments instead of World of Warcraft games or debates about comic book characters. Urkel may have been a fanciful character, but he loved science so much that he didn't have time to devote to any other hobbies. For persons who brag about their intellect, I've yet to see Sheldon and his colleagues do anything related to science in their apartment or on campus. Sorry to say this, but I doubt that grown geniuses in their thirties would devote most of their free time to hobbies best left to younger men, like comic books or RPGs, and that they would do so to the exclusion of more intellectual pursuits. Their immature personalities and petty squabbling also make them more akin to five-year-old children rather than adult men. They argue over stupid, trivial stuff and whine like babies when they don't get their way. It's a pain to watch, but my family *loves* the show.
My advice is to watch reruns of "Family Matters" instead of "Big Bang Theory." Urkel seems like more a real scientist than anyone on "The Big Bang Theory," and his personality is more likable and realistic, in spite of "The Big Bang Theory" writers' pathetic attempts at verisimilitude. I hope someday Jaleel White guest-stars as "Professor Steven Q. Urkel" on "The Big Bang Theory," and participates in a Jeopardy-like competition with Sheldon, and beats him badly. If that happened, I might like "Big Bang Theory" a little more; as the show stands, it's fairly unwatchable.
A Fascinating Story of a Passionate Individual
I have to confess that this is the first Werner Herzog movie I've seen; I am no expert, and cannot comment on his oeuvre. Based on this film alone, I admit that Herzog is definitely a bold director who makes no compromises to complete his vision---just like the protagonist of this film.
Herzog paints an intriguing picture of a wealthy entrepreneur in early-20th century Peru who is unique among his peers. He is a genuine aesthete, and has a vision far beyond the mere accumulation and enjoyment of wealth. The film portrays the nouveau-riche rubber barons, who are Fitzcarraldo's friends and acquaintances, as vulgar, money-driven people who have accumulated so much wealth that throwing some money away means nothing to them. They mock Fitz for his failed ventures as a railroad builder and an ice maker, already setting him apart from his peers. He only decides to exploit a new area for its rubber not simply to become a fat and happy baron, but as a means to an end: he wants to bring culture and beauty in the form of an opera house in his frontier settlement. This dream drives his dangerous adventure into the jungle, with a single-mindedness that puts other rubber barons to shame. Herzog does not shirk from depicting Fitzcarraldo as mad and irrational, but also also treats him sympathetically. He is mad, but he is a determined dreamer, willing to do what it takes against overwhelming odds to make his strange dream come true. From this film alone, it seems Herzog places value on the individual with powerful dreams and ambition, and, while not above criticizing the individual for his recklessness, also treats him with unabashed admiration.
This movie is a bit troubling in its depiction of a white protagonist who ventures into the jungle and "tames" the natives. Fitzcarraldo is apparently considered by the natives as some sort of superhuman who fulfills a prophecy, and they risk their lives to complete the Herculean task of lifting his immense riverboat up a hill using only primitive winches and their muscle power. Granted, the lifting of the boat is a visually amazing scene, one of the best set pieces in cinema I've seen; still, the implications of what this scene depicts is troubling. While Fitzcarraldo may be a nicer white man than the other rubber barons living in the Peruvian jungle, he is nevertheless just as exploitative of the native peoples who live there: they consider Fitzcarraldo as some sort of "special" person they need to work for, and they work for him without compensation of any sort. This movie does not engage enough with the troubling issues of colonialism and the exploitation of native peoples around the world; the film's focus is primarily on Fitzcarraldo and his state of mind. I wish the film would have explored the themes of colonialism more acutely than it does. As it stands, the movie seems a bit too Eurocentric and treats European exploration and exploitation with a triumphal tone.
In all, this was a fascinating movie. It is, so far as I can tell, the only movie to depict the Amazon Rubber Boom. I would have liked this film to have focused more on the plight of the Indians rather than just on Fitzcarraldo and his vision; I suppose that will have have to await another filmmaker. The film makes great use of special effects and lush tropical scenery to depict the story of a driven man. There are some "Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness" tones to the riverboat voyage, but "Fitzcarraldo" is a much *much* less dark movie, though of no less quality than Coppola's work. Highly recommended.
The Lego Movie (2014)
A Fun Movie, but With an Ambiguous Message
From a visual perspective, "The Lego Movie" is spectacular. The computer animation seems flawless, and the depiction of the Lego World was amazing. This film's second positive attribute is its clever writing and humor. I loved that the Lego people placed supernatural power on everyday household items that wandered into their world. This film could have been absolutely terrible. It, like "The Transformers" of the '80s, or its predecessor "Gobots: Battle for the Rock Lords," could have been panned by anyone over 13 as just a cash-in to sell more Legos. This film does have adult sensibilities, and the screenwriters envisioned a movie that had an actual message worth saying. For cynical parents, this movie is *not* merely a cash-in that will have your children screaming tantrums for an Emmett and Lord Business Playset; this movie has fully-fleshed-out and funny characters. Chances are you, the grownups, will be laughing and even empathizing with Emmett and his other plastic friends.
Now on to this film's themes, which may leave some parents puzzled. On the surface, this movie is about the conflict between creativity and strict obedience to sets of rules, mostly in the realm of art (I suppose you could say this conflict applies to all aspects of life, but "art" is the subject that came to mind first). Strangely, I think this film is morally ambitious as to its message, though that does not seem the case at all at least, not at first. The villain is, for lack of a better word, an "aesthete": he has a vision of perfection and beauty for the world that others may see as too strict and rigid; he literally wants to glue his subjects in place so that everything in the Lego World will be "perfect" as he sees it or "awesome", as the film's main song suggests. He is opposed by a group of subjects who refuse to ascribe to his vision of "perfection" and instead emphasize free thought and wild creativity over *any* order. On the surface, the film may be a parable about the struggle between democracy over fascism, but I don't quite see the film's message as being on that large of a scale. The message is about how best to create works of art; and, odd as it seems, I can see Legos as a medium through which artistic expression can come alive. This film has two extremes: there's the fascistic world of LegoTown, where everything is to be done according to specific sets of written rules; and there's the colorful, psychedelic Cloud Cuckoo Land, where there is no order at all: cynics would say the Cloud Cuckoo Landers live a life of anarchy and chaos, and it would be a wonder that things get done at all. The rebel Legos' devotion to extreme creativity has its limits, and this is shown in the film. It's up to Emmett, the protagonist, to find a compromise between extreme order and specificity and extreme creativity. He is, indeed "The Special"; the bridge that leads to a path of moderation between two extreme views of expression.
This film gives the grownup viewer a lot to wrap his or her mind around. The ambiguous tone will also confound those who think they have this movie's message pegged down. It's not just a kid's movie: it's a clever manifesto about the nature of the creative process! And it offers no easy answers! This message is wrapped around clever humor, silly characters, and excellent animation. By all means, take your kids to watch this film; but don't offer them easy answers about the film's moral, either.
Cesar Chavez (2014)
Superb Biopic of Great American Labor Leader
Some reviewers do not like that the actor playing Chavez plays him as a rather bland everyman as opposed to a great and charismatic leader. Truth be told, this portrayal doesn't bother me. Chavez's skills as a labor organizer come more from dogged determination and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds, as opposed to a strong, magnetic personality. Chavez's strengths, as shown in the movie, is that the man simply did not give up in the face of injustice. I think the way Chavez was portrayed did justice to one of the most famous labor leaders in American history. The filmmakers do an excellent job in making the injustices migrant farm workers went through palpable. There is little romanticization of Chavez the man or the United Farm Workers, and the film is commendable for showing that his methods were controversial. For example, his holier-than-thou approach with the rank-and-file in the fields did cause inter-union conflict, and his apparently noble aim of using nonviolence as a tool for labor is not completely unquestionable, especially in the face of violent opposition from the growers. The film is limited in scope and straightforward in the way it presents its narrative, which focuses on Chavez's most famous fight, the Delano Grape Strike and Boycott. The audience is seldom lost, and gets a pretty good understanding of how the events played through.
Pluses include that the film does at least show that the United Farm Workers was a multi-ethnic union, in that it included both Hispanic and Filipino laborers, and that both were equally responsible for leading the fight against the growers (one scene shows the flag of the Philippines across from the Mexican flag). The film does devote equal time between the farmworkers and the growers, and shows that the growers, too, could find strength in union---although this plot seems rather undeveloped. John Malkovich does a superb job as a grower determined to fight to the bitter end. Chavez is portrayed not as a messianic figure or even a larger-than-life man like Abraham Lincoln, but as a simple union activist who had as his main life's goal justice for the working man. Nothing in this film is "epic"; it is really a simple story told well. "Cesar Chavez" most closely resembles another movie about the struggle between workers and their employers: "Matewan", by John Sayles. Both films are raw in depicting the fight between unions and employers; unlike "Matewan," "Cesar Chavez" does not feel as bleak, and, for those who enjoy large doses of cynicism in their movies, will be disappointed with the latter film, as it is far more hopeful in its tone.
This film is not without its flaws. I would have loved to have seen at least fifteen minutes devoted to Cesar Chavez's back-story as a union leader: how did he get into leading unions? Why did he feel the need to devote his life to migrant workers? How did he meet fellow union activists like Dolores Huerta? This could all have helped in fleshing out his character before we got to the main plot. The two minutes (or less) of exposition at the beginning was not sufficient as backstory. The film tries to balance its depiction of Chavez the labor leader with Chavez the family man. His turbulent relationship with his son is fairly undeveloped: the film could have benefited by spending more time on this subplot, or significantly less. As it stands, the subplot with the son who has problems with an uncommunicative father and with bigotry is rather choppily presented. There are also claims that the film is not true to history, particularly with the way Filipino members of the UFW have been seemingly relegated the background. I didn't think this was apparent, but it might have behooved filmmakers to have devoted a bit more time to the Filipino contribution to story of the Delano Strike and Boycott, particularly if they had any conflict with Chavez's methods. Lastly, this film, like the arguably better "Matewan", is highly polemic. The movie blatantly takes sides with who's "good" and who's "bad" on the political spectrum. Conservative viewers, who may like Chavez's lack of radicalism and his devotion to religion, will not like the persons this movie presents as "villains" (albeit unseen villains, except in historical newsreel footage).
In all, the film is a well-done story about an important part of American history. I highly recommend it. For comparison, watch "Matewan" on Netflix to get a better view of how American labor history is depicted on film.
Goes on Longer than Needed
WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
Unlike a lot of people, I preferred the first "Hobbit" movie to this. This is not to say that I hated the second "Hobbit" movie; far from it. I just thought that the middle installment had too much padding and plot development that did not need to be there. Even if one accepts the fact that Jackson was correct to fill the plot with elements from the appendix of "Lord of the Rings," and that these elements add to the movie there's still too much stuff here for this to be a completely satisfactory film. I once played devil's advocate and argued that Jackson was right for stretching "The Hobbit" into three films; now I regret that statement. If Jackson wanted a trilogy, he should have made each movie no more than two hours long, and that's being generous. The second film should have been no more than ninety minutes.
The first half seemed okay. I actually thought the action sequences in Mirkwood were *too* rushed, particularly with the spiders. I like that Jackson kept the Azog and Necromancer elements from the first movie in this one, if only to give the trilogy some consistency. I was more annoyed with the second half than the first; specifically, with the final quarter of the film, where Bilbo and the dwarfs fight Smaug. This sequence was padded beyond belief. There was no reason to stretch the fight against Smaug to half an hour, only to have the film end anticlimactically. The action sequences were not exciting; they were repetitive filler, and it was not right of Jackson to have taken the audiences' time with this.
In short, I thought the pacing was uneven (the first half moved events along too quickly, while the second half bogged down the pacing) and padded with unnecessary and ultimately boring elements. The thematic elements of the film were interesting, and character development was inspired. I liked how Bilbo has grown to be a strong, confident and brave individual compared with how he started in the first film. His diminutive stature and humble appearance only make him a more endearing protagonist, for whom the audience will sympathize with and root for all the way. Also intriguing is the change apparent in dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, presumptive "King Under the Mountain." He wasn't all that likable in the first movie, being a humorless, abrasive fellow. Here, he seems more sinister, seduced by greed and willing to sacrifice the life of Bilbo to gain power. While Thorin's malevolent nature is addressed in the movie overtly (via dialogue), I think the "Hobbit" addresses the nature of greed and power more subtly than the "Lord of the Rings" movies. There is no supernatural Ring of Power to lead Thorin astray; his dual nature is entirely within himself, influenced by no outside force, like Sauron or an evil talisman similar to the Ring of Power. The Lonely Mountain is less severe a goal than the destruction of the One Ring. The audience sympathizes with Thorin's quest to regain what is rightfully his; however, the means by which he will achieve this goal are questionable, and the prize itself does not seem worth the toll in lives Thorin is willing to pay (sending Bilbo alone to face Smaug; angering Smaug, etc). In all, the stakes are lower than "Lord of the Rings," but the subtle nature of the "good versus evil" struggle make this a more mature movie than the original trilogy.
I still recommend this movie, but advise patience. I wouldn't blame the audience if they walked out in the final thirty minutes. Still, if you like action for the sake of action, you'll probably love this film and will gladly sit through the whole thing.
American Hustle (2013)
An Amusing Comedy, But Not a Classic
PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD.
In brief, this movie is a comedic homage to "Goodfellas." Everything stylistic about this movie calls back to "Goodfellas," from the dialogue, the camera work, the characters' personalities, the use of pop music as a motif, and, most annoyingly (to me), the third-person limited out-of-body narration by the characters. This director obviously admires Scorsese, thinking him one of the great pioneers of cinema, and it seems that he wanted to make this movie as a valentine to him. I thought "American Hustle" was much more entertaining than "Goodfellas." For one, the tone is lighthearted, witty and fun; "dark" is not an adjective I would use to describe this movie. Second, some of the characters in this film have redeeming qualities--something sorely lacking in the cold and amoral "Goodfellas." I do question some of the producer's casting decisions, particularly that of Jennifer Lawrence as the protagonist's wife. This movie tries to touch upon themes of political corruption and its causes; the "villain" of this piece is not as rotten as he seems. The film seems to be saying that the ends justify the means, and that behind some Boss Tweeds there are noble Robin Hoods (that's not to say that Boss Tweed did no good for the people of New York; scholarly articles on New York history will reveal this). This movie does not have a pat morality, and I appreciate that point of view. I think viewers will, too, and will definitely appreciate that the comedic tone lightens these serious themes, preventing this from being a somber, depressing movie.
Now on to the negatives. Firstly: the plot. This movie is based on a political scandal that happened over thirty years ago, and is all but forgotten today. I know filmmakers--notably Louis Malle--have tried to make a film about the ABSCAM Scandal since the participants were sent to jail; but I think the ship has long since sailed on giving this subject a film treatment. Something more timely would have seemed appropriate this far ahead. ABSCAM is too obscure an event off of which to base a movie in 2014. Bigger scandals from around the same time, like the Iran-Contra Scandal or the Savings and Loans debacle, seem better for film topics; the general public might make an emotional connection, in the current economic mess, to the perfidious and larcenous behavior of those in the late-'80s Savings and Loan scandal; but I digress (which I love doing!). This film's second major flaw is the casting. I think Jennifer Lawrence is a fine actress. She did well here. The problem isn't with her acting; it's with her age. Her part calls for a middle-aged woman with crow's feet and a smoker's cough. This part called for an an actress of about forty-five who can generate pathos and revulsion at the same time. At 23, Lawrence still looks too young for the part. She is too baby-faced to play the part of a world-weary Long Island housewife. It seems odd to watch Lawrence pull off a performance of a yenta trapped in a shiksa's body. I found it distracting. An older actress ought to have been placed in this role. I thought Christian Bale was okay in his role, though he seemed interchangeable with other actors, like Matt Damon or Markie Mark. Ditto for Amy Adams. I don't expect Oscar wins for any of the actors here.
In all, I think "American Hustle" is an amusing and compelling movie. It works well as an homage to "Goodfellas," superseding the work of the director from whom it was inspired. Still, the plot and the casting of Jennifer Lawrence leave one puzzled. I recommend this film, but don't expect a timeless masterpiece, as all the hype would have you expect.
Attack of the Clones Review (2010)
Amusing Blow-by-Blow Deconstruction of the Prequel
This review mixes the comic styles and sarcasm of "The Nostalgia Critic" with actual serious college-level analysis as to why the "Attack of the Clones"--and the "Star Wars" prequels in general--are flawed. Done straight, a blow-by-blow analysis might be dreadfully boring. Luckily, the reviewer plays his review for laughs by deconstructing the movie in the guise of a fictional character: a lovable homicidal maniac who sounds like Zoidberg from "Futurama" and has a strange affinity for pizza rolls. The silliness of the character makes the one-hour review a real treat to watch. The reviewer's analysis of *why* "Attack of the Clones" stunk is impressive. He really does a remarkable job picking apart every last detail of the film, from the clumsy writing for the love scenes, the implausible special effects, the lack of logic with regards to the multiracial Jedi using light sabers, and the poorly-defined characters. This reviewer should be a professor at a film school; he's that precise with his criticisms! If you're not a film buff, you might not find this interesting, even through the use of a fictional character; still, for fans (or haters) of the Star Wars prequels, Red Letter Media provides a real treat. You probably won't agree with every point the reviewer makes (and I get the impression he doesn't take every point seriously), but you'll nevertheless find him fascinating and amusing. The main flaw with this review is the inclusion of a plot revolving around a hooker trapped in the reviewer's house of evil. This seems perfunctory and superfluous, tacked on in order to add depth to a fictional character that needs none at all. Other than that, sit back and enjoy!
One of the Best Movies of 2013. Highly Creative!
Warning! Major Spoilers Ahead!
Alfonso Cuaron deserves enthusiastic plaudits for his creative thriller "Gravity." Unlike most sci-fi and action filmmakers, Cuaron is able to create a quality film from relatively little. The audience realizes that this film only has *two* on screen characters, and one of those departs early in the film. Sandra Bullock deserves at least an Oscar nomination for best lead actress simply because she is able to pull off an amazing performance with *no one else* to work against in the second half of the film. The audience plausibly feels her fear as she struggles to return to earth after a major disaster at her space station, which kills off everyone in her crew except for her and George Clooney. A film where a person talking to herself may sound off-putting, and the audience may assume the character nothing more than a madman; however, given Bullock's character's circumstances, the audience understands her every action and word throughout the proceedings.
The film is remarkable for its minimalist approach. The situation the characters face is not fanciful, but remarkably realistic for a science fiction movie. The setting is limited to the earth's orbit in the near future, rather than on Tattooine "a long time ago" or Pandora a hundred years from now. The "antagonist" (if the conflict in the film merits such as description) is not Darth Vader, Jabba the Hutt, or the "Sky People," but merely an accident and simple carelessness on the part of man: space debris from a Russian missile test. The vastness of space and malfunctioning spaceships and spacesuits I suppose count as "antagonists" in the broad sense because they are obstacles preventing the protagonist from achieving her goal. "Gravity" is storytelling reduced of all of its trappings to its most basic form. The episodic nature of Bullock's perils are gripping to watch in and of themselves. Cuaron takes simple fears, like that of floating off into the abyss of space, or a spacesuit running low on oxygen, and uses them to make for a compelling film. His use of expensive special effects is well done here, and fits in well with paradoxically simple story. There are no flashy fights with legions of spacemen or monsters, nor lush settings (other than the Earth from space) to distract from the story. Pacing is also well-done, as we, the audience, feel like we, too, join in with Bullock's plight.
George Clooney does well as the roguish, playful partner in Bullock's mission. He seems to be channeling Clark Gable in his portrayal of a clownish yet debonair "bad boy." He plays his part well here--again, remarkable in a movie with only one other visible actor.
The film's violence is limited to the perils of surviving outer space with limited resources. There is a brief scene where an astronaut gets his face torn off by space debris. Other than these concerns, the film doesn't seem inappropriate for younger viewers. This film is amazing because it has become a blockbuster in 2013, and yet has a very limited amount of violence and no sex at all. A dearth of sex and/or violence in a major Hollywood film in 2013--both traits being de rigueur if a non-computer animated kid's film is to be marketable--is refreshing. This film seems like a hopeful sign that movies will adhere to the credo "less is more," be forced to be creative in their storytelling, and will shed the crutches of excessive violence and gratuitous sex in order to capture an audience's attention. Hopefully, Cuaron will win Oscars for this film, and not simply those for special effects. I highly recommend this film, if only because it is so different and emotionally satisfying compared to the usual fare.