MovieRant: Anti-Gravity.

Warning: the following is full of spoilers. Do not read if you haven’t seen the movie. I’ll be giving everything away! You have been warned.

gravity

I am going to go against the tide (or against the gravity, maybe).

I saw Gravity the other night, and I thought it was just okay. Not horrible (like Man of Steel), not a masterpiece (as is being espoused), but just okay with the occasional really good bits.

Five things I liked about it ~

  1. It’s visually magnificent. It’s an overwhelming visual spectacle, particularly in 3D, communicating the vastness and solitude of space. There won’t be a moment you’re not immersed in the film.
  2. The score is brilliant. It’s atmospheric, it’s uplifting, and befitting an epic.
  3. The acting is excellent. Sandra Bullock’s had her critics in the past. For mine, she’s effectively always playing herself, (except in The Blind Side, where she played herself with a Southern accent). She’s great here. Ditto for George Clooney, although he doesn’t have much to do . (Disturbingly, he’s back to his head-wobbling best in one scene. Come on, you’ve seen him wobble his head whenever he’s playing debonair).
  4. There’s a story. Yes, an actual story. That’s unusual in today’s Hollywood, where story is secondary (if that high). Gravity tries to be about something, and the effects are vehicles to tell that story as best as possible, rather than the stars, with a story interwoven throughout to tie it all together.
  5. It’s original. It’s not a superhero movie, it’s not a reboot, it’s not a mindless action flick (although it disguises the fact it is an action flick), it’s not an adaptation. That list comprises most of what Hollywood makes today.

 

Five Things I Didn’t Like ~

  1. This is a story about survival. When your film is predominantly made up of one character, guess what? It’s a safe bet that until the climax of the story, that character’s safe. I understand that in most movies, there’s an unspoken pact between movie and audience that the protagonist won’t die, or at least won’t die before the climax, but here, because there is just the one character, that means all the threats she faces are just threats, or the movie will end prematurely (and that’s obviously not going to happen).
  2. The character’s stupid arc. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) lost her daughter in a schoolyard accident and now feels a sense of hopelessness. Stone’s thrown into peril, at which point she fights for her survival. At one point, with everything going wrong, and nothing to go back to (on Earth), she gives up. But she comes to realisation that life’s worth living and that she has to take care of herself. So she battles on. This might have a point if we hadn’t already seen her fight for her life repeatedly previous to this epiphany. They’ve created a resolution that already existed.
  3. The story goes all in too early. Stone is servicing the Hubble Telescope during a spacewalk. Debris from a Russian satellite hits and destroys their shuttle. Stone is cast adrift. Kowalski rescues her. They must grapple to anchor themselves to the International Space Station. This is the opening of the story (and kills the other three crew-members). Then it’s basically just this happening again and again and again: Stone needs to get to a location, is almost cast adrift, debris hits, she moves onto the next location. Cue repeat. (I know this is the point of the movie, but it becomes self-defeating.)
  4. The best and most meaningful scene happens too early. Kowalski and Stone thruster-pack to the International Space Station, hoping to use a module to get back to Earth. There’s one remaining module, but its parachute has already been deployed, making the module useless for re-entry. Kowalski and Stone overshoot the station. Stone latches onto several of the parachute’s suspension lines with her foot, and grabs Kowalski’s tether with her hand. Kowalski’s inertia is pulling Stone clear from the parachute. Stone tries to hold on. Kowalski asks her to let go (or they’ll both be sacrificed), and when she doesn’t, he untethers himself and floats off, leaving Stone to reel herself back in by the parachute’s suspension lines. Cool scene. But wouldn’t something like this have worked better as the story’s climax (although I understand that fundamentally changes the story)?
  5. Murphy’s Law runs rampant. What can go wrong will go wrong … and it just keeps going wrong. It creates tension until you’re programmed into expecting every foul-up that’s going to occur. Then it’s like, Okay, fire away.

Sleuth (Sir Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Alec Cawthorne) is one of the best movies I’ve seen containing limited locations and actors. You can never guess what’s going to happen next. But as difficult as this story must be to tell (whilst attempting to keep it engrossing), Gravity – by virtue of what are meant to be its strengths – becomes predictable, with the only real (sustained) wonder coming from the visuals and music.

I would’ve actually preferred had the bulk of the crew survived the initial impact, and then the events of the story lopped them off one at a time, so we had no idea who might survive. Then you could’ve slotted in a scene like the one that occurs when Kowalski untethers himself to save Stone, which would’ve had meaning had they spent eighty minutes of film-time together and bonded. I understand that changes the story but, for mine, that would’ve been far more compelling.

Still, Gravity is better than most movies out there at the moment.

MovieRant: The New Universe of Star Trek.

JJ Abrams’ Star Trek movies aren’t just bad. They’re stupid.

startrekintodarknessSure, they’re gorgeous to look at. The reimagining of the ship and bridge (but not so much the God-awful Engineering) is majestic. Casting ranges from excellent to okay – at least nothing objectionable. The score is brilliant. As a package, it’s atmospheric, and creates the aura of The Original Series – well, if The Original Series had the budget JJ had.

Cosmetically, the movies will seduce you, if you let them.

But, for the moment, let’s take the Star Trek element out of this discussion. I don’t want people to think I’m criticizing these movies just because they didn’t do Star Trek right, or that they offended my Trek purist sensibilities. That would actually be indemnifying the movies from why they’re bad. Yes, they do stuff Trek. They stuff it into the stratosphere. But at their core, all Trek aside, they’re just bad, if not lazy storytelling.

Let’s consider that for a moment: storytelling. What makes a good story? In modern Hollywood, hellbent on delivering franchises, it’s action, explosions, and bubblegum fare that really doesn’t challenge the intellect. This is fast-food, spoon-fed moviemaking – if you’re easy enough, it’ll entertain you for the couple of hours it unfolds, but you usually won’t take much out of it, and come a year or two, it’ll be indistinguishable from the plethora of other indistinguishable action flicks.

For mine, a good story doesn’t have to be weighty. It doesn’t have to be Citizen Kane. It doesn’t have to be meaningful, or innovative, or moving, or substantial in those ways. It can just be a romp. I have no problems with that. There have been some great action romps. But what it needs to contain is tight plotting, believable scenarios (within the laws of that universe), and a logical motivation driving characters from Point A to Point B to Point C, etc.

That, for me, is story.

JJ’s Star Treks are not – ironically – logical movies. If you stop to consider the motivations of characters, you’ll be left wondering why they take the courses they do. In fact, they’re implausible. Underpinning this is a string of contrivances, a lack of any justifiable fluency in the narrative, substituted instead with coincidences. Characters stumble from one scene to the next, driven almost entirely by happenstance.

Watching these movies, it feels as if JJ and his writing (ha!) team sat around a table, brainstorming ideas of what they’d like to see in their movies – what would look spectacular visually, what would make a great action scene, what would be a fantastic surprise. In isolation, none of these events have to make sense in the universe they’re creating. They can (when they bother trying) rationalise it later with some flippant justification, hoping you’ll be too stunned by the sensory bludgeoning, you won’t question the lobotomized convenience of it all.

Search the Net. There are any number of sites which dissect the stupidity behind both movies. No, these aren’t just angry, indignant geeks – or at least not exclusively. They’re people who want a good story, who want tight plotting, who want to believe the evolution of actions and events is both believable and justifiable. That’s what these people question, but they’re dismissed as Trekkies who consider JJ’s movies sacrilegious simply because he’s had the temerity to reboot the franchise.

I have no problem with that as a concept. Reboot away. But make sense of it. And be faithful to the source material. Just because it’s an action movie doesn’t mean it has to be stupid. Action movies weren’t always this way. And it’s fine to reimagine Trek so that it can appeal to the masses. But remain dedicated to the core of what made Trek unique.

Now that’s come up, let’s look at what JJ’s done to Star Trek: if you watch any of the shows, they’re actually about hope, about this impossible dream that one day, humanity grows up, evolves, becomes adult, and explores the stars, learning, growing, maturing. They’re about complex relationships between diverse crews, about contemporary events expressed and explored through science fiction allegory. Even when there is war, it’s about the horrors of war and the repercussions for humanity. This is not a people who enter battle lightly or willingly.

They’re basically about every single thing JJ Abrams has missed in both his movies.

It’s not that these are bad movies, or just exclusively that they’re bad movies. They’re bad storytelling. Worst, they’re the vision of filmmakers who can hit all the right chords of Star Trek and yet not once really understand tonally what it was all about.

Obviously, these movies weren’t pitched at Star Trek fans. If they come along for the ride, great – and some will, simply out of desperation for the franchise to persevere, or out of longing for Trek, or because they’ll accept anything in the absence of good Trek. Watch Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. Many Star Trek fans have learned to swallow just about anything.

This a franchise pitched to the mass market, to people who flock to Transformer movies and can accept a Spider-Man reboot just years after its superior predecessor(s) screened, to audiences that simply like movies that really contain nothing at all, as long as they’re stylish doing it.

In an age where something like 50 Shades of Grey can be a best-seller, JJ Abrams’ Star Treks appeal to the lowest common denominator. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad if it was an intended marketing strategy, but it’s not.

The reality is if they weren’t operating off the Star Trek currency, most people would recognise them for the bland, stupid, convenient stories they are.

JJ can thank his stars that he has the Star Trek to hide behind.

God knows what he’ll mess up next.

Oh wait …