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GRAVITY - In space, substance doesn't matter
The critics who drool over GRAVITY must be as oxygen-starved as Sandra Bullock's character. Visually arresting, yes. But GRAVITY is a triumph of style over substance, and fantasy over plausibility. (Many spoilers ahead.) Leave aside for the moment the utter implausibility of the chain reaction of satellite disasters. (Satellites orbit at different altitudes. That's space 101.) In my former life as a journalist, I wrote a long article on space junk. A collision with one piece of flotsam would have plausibly sufficed. A fusillade of space junk is overkill. And Ed Harris's alert about the first mishap was a clumsy telegraph of the crisis to come. Would that the director had invested one-tenth the attention he gave the pictures into the plot. Also ignore Bullock's out-of-control Chinese capsule surviving re-entry into Earth's atmosphere ... or landing within a dog-paddle to shore on a planet that's 70% covered by water. Oh, and space capsules are DESIGNED for water landings, which means they DON'T flood when the door opens. Forget all that. Instead, focus on character, which is what movies are all about -- or should be. The actors can't be faulted for the sins of the writers: Clooney is written as a one-dimensional, wise-cracking Danny Ocean. Bullock sounds like her character from SPEED, not a brilliant Harvard Ph.D. In one of the hoariest moments of the film, Bullock actually PAUSES in her tortoise-like race to safety to listen to Clooney's pep talk (can't we drive a stake through that cliché?), then gets a second wind -- while breathing Co2 -- and sprints the final yards to safety (another cliché). Upon reaching the Russian capsule, she wastes time stripping and napping -- for the sake of the director's silly rebirth metaphor -- while Clooney waits to be rescued. Again, the actors are doing the best they can with the material they have. But the only Oscars this film deserves are for the visuals. Certainly not for acting, writing, or music. (Composers: The single, sustained note that slowly builds to a thunderous crescendo is a cliché. Oh, and you just telegraphed the outcome.) Which brings us to dialogue. To quote one screenwriter, "Why does every director assume he can write?" Anyone who's been in a life-or-death moment knows that people just don't engage in serial wise-cracking or kill time with long anecdotes. The sheer silliness of some of the lines undermined the spectacle of the images. As for Bullock's monologues (e.g., the baby broadcast, the ode to Clooney) -- well, the writers wrote themselves into a corner there. As a writer, I appreciate the challenge of putting words into her mouth when she has no one to listen. What came out rang false.... Want a good film about a disaster in space? Watch APOLLO 13. Enjoy -- or try to -- GRAVITY for the 3D spectacle it is. But don't let it go to your head.
Life Goes to the Movies (1976)
A lost gem
I saw this three-part series on TV when it first aired, with Henry Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, and Liza Minnelli as hosts. Occasionally PBS would re-run it, but it hasn't appeared in years. It's an insightful, poignant, affectionate look at America's love affair with the movies. From Frank Capra to Woody Allen, it spans the decades when some of our greatest actors, directors, and writers were turning out films that would become classics. A shame that you don't see it on cable somewhere -- perhaps Turner Classic Movies or American Movie Classics. More's the pity that it's not available on DVD. If you love movies, cast a vote to bring this documentary back to life.