Monthly Archives: October 2013

Review: Gravity

105575-gravity-movie“Are you sure you aren’t nauseous?” Houston asks Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) during “Gravity.” She might not be, but we are. Between the spinning cinematography and the sentimental dialogue, it’s hard not to leave the movie with your stomach (or at least your eyes) rolling.

The premise for “Gravity” is intriguing — what if you became detached from your space shuttle and left to free float completely alone — but the idea aimlessly drifts like the astronaut tumbling through space. Stone is the mission specialist on her first spacewalk along with veteran commander Mike Kowalski (George Clooney) when debris from a Russian satellite destroys their shuttle and hopes for survival. Yes, that’s right, the villain in this film is satellite debris. As if that wasn’t ridiculous enough, Stone and Kowalski play astronaut musical chairs by hopping from shuttle to shuttle in attempt to get back home alive. The film alternates between moments of introspection that try hard to be poignant but are ultimately boring and showdowns between Stone and the satellite debris.

We are supposed to be rooting for them, but their back stories are as thin as the oxygen left in their helmets. Kolwalski is a charmer full of crazy anecdotes and pep talks, so Clooney is basically playing himself. The debris have more personality than Stone, though. She’s a workaholic researcher who lost her daughter in a freak accident. There’s not much for her to return to on Earth, so why should we care about her? She doesn’t seem to either and spends half the film nearly hyperventilating to suicide. When Kolwalski and Stone speak, the dialogue is almost as cliche as a bad disaster movie and laughable, cutting the hard-earned tension in all the wrong ways.

But this film isn’t about the acting (and it’s not really Clooney and Bullock’s fault that their roles are so flat), it’s about the visuals. Director Alfonso Cuarón has always had a flair for style over story, and he takes it to an extreme in “Gravity.” We float, flip and crash through space along with Stone as we see the view through her helmet. At best, we feel like we’re in a really beautiful video game. At worst, it’s downright disorienting. In all seriousness, skip this movie if you’re easily prone to motion sickness.

“Gravity” asks a lot of the big questions: What does it mean to be truly alone? How do we cope with loss? How and why do we try to survive? Yet its grandiose visuals don’t make up for its minimalist answers.

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Review: Don Jon

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Within the first ten minutes of “Don Jon” an older couple walked out of the theater because the film was “terrible” and “disgusting.” What else did they expect for a movie about a porn addict? Yet “Don Jon” is fairly graphic — a tell-all, show-all of every “money shot” and the lewd desire behind it. This is both Jon and his namesake film’s problem; they try too hard to show and be too many things: the romantic comedy, the recovering addict movie, the critique on porn while paradoxically playing a lot of it. And just like porn is never fully satisfying, neither is “Don Jon.”

Jon wouldn’t be out of place in the cast of “Jersey Shore.” He loves only a few things in life: his body, his apartment, his car, his family, God, the ladies, oh, and especially porn. Smut is his escape and salvation — the one moment when he’s just empty. Jon is a deplorable character, but Gordon-Levitt plays him with a charisma and vulnerability that makes you like him. Unsurprisingly, being a porn addict makes it hard to keep a girlfriend, but when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) he’s determined to kick his habit, and this is when the film loses itself, too.

Barbara is a Jersey caricature, tacky accent, clothes and all. For all the nuance of Jon’s character, Barbara isn’t nearly as realized and seems to fulfill the stereotype of “the more beautiful the woman, the crazier she is.” Johansson plays her for camp, and even though she’s having a lot of fun, we’re not. Barbara falls into the part of the film trying to be a romantic comedy, but we don’t want Jon to get with this princess.

That’s okay because “Don Jon” swaps more genres than Jon swaps women. For the recovering addict part of the film, enter Julianne Moore as the sexy yet strange woman he meets in his night classes. Moore seems to fulfill the manic pixie dream girl stage of the film and barely gets a coherent subplot of her own as she tries to fix Jon’s life.

It’s clear Gordon-Levitt has been in the business for awhile. He can cast some of the best actors, knows how to direct with flash and style and writes a complex character he’s unexpectedly perfect at playing. Yet like the women in Jon’s porn, everything else is two dimensional and as self-indulgent as his addiction.