Category Archives: movies

Two reviews of GRAVITY

So here is an idea. My wife would like to watch the movie GRAVITY this evening, and as this will almost certainly be a day where I need to take it easy, I can write a review of the film.

But before I do that, I want to go ahead and write a review of the film.

I know, I know, it is all very confusing!

Though pulling out my oracular gifts is an option, I shall keep a closed eye to the future, not peeking at my own review before writing it. (If I could only do that with the rest of my writing… but then, I suppose, it would not be much fun, would it?)

As far as the movie is concerned, I will write my first review based off of what little I know of it from promotional materials, a trailer, the collective unconscious of Western society as interpreted by my Twitter feed, and the reactions of those I know who saw the film.

GRAVITY. The general public may not think much about just how dangerous existence in a near vacuum can be. Certainly, one cannot prepare for every contingency, but these two astronauts, and the support staff on the planet’s surface below, thought they had all their bases covered.

They. Were. Wrong.

Once the ball gets rolling, bringing one misfortune after another, the two begin to truly understand that their only support, the people running around with calculators and schematics, are very, very far away.

The soundtrack really captures the essence of their fight to survive, a battle against the machinery upon which they rely as well as against the coldness of space.

Audiences will not be sure of the fate of their two heroes, right up until the end.

– – –

Well, wasn’t that a riveting and kind of terrible movie review?

I am glad that we got that out of the way. Now, to get the full effect, wait around two hours before reading what follows.

You’re not going to wait, are you?

Well, that’s fine. I’ll be back in a couple of hours, even if you don’t notice my absence.

– – –

I’m back, and pretty wrong.

For one thing, the movie is actually only about an hour and a half long. Often, a ninety minute runtime is indicative of a bad movie, but making this one any longer would have hurt it.

For another, the overarching plot does not involve cooperation between our estranged astronauts and mission control back on Earth. I will not elaborate on the reasons, but what I have said so far should not be particularly spoiler-y.

The movie works, and I think I know one big reason why: the movie follows one astronaut, Ryan, and the narrative sticks to her. Even when she separates from companions, we get everything basically from her perspective. This helped ground me in the action, helped to make the story more personal, and, ostensibly, more real.

The action is intense, with the situation flying out of the control of our astronauts in the most feasibly dramatic way possible at every turn. It is especially gripping if. You have ever considered just how dangerous it is outside our atmosphere. Micro-gravity (not ZERO gravity, folks) and no air resistance means that every move you make matters, for better or worse.

Since the entire plot takes place throughout the process of recovering from the initial disaster, the writers did an impressive job of building characters. In this setting, it would have been simple enough to let the movie slide on the premise alone. And you know what? I would’ve enjoyed that movie okay. But this movie, with its human characters, slams the intensity into your face harder than I thought it would.

Another thing that they did was gloss over the reasoning behind the troubles that occur for our astronauts, only giving us (and them) enough information to grasp what is about to happen to them.

All in all, I would say that GRAVITY is a worthwhile film, well made, well acted, well written. Though its plot is certainly a bit unbelievable, the brand of unbelievability is more the ‘wow-I-can’t-believe-they-pulled-that-off’ than the ‘that-doesn’t-seem-scientifically-possible.’

Final verdict: watch it. With the lights off.

Pacific Rim: a reaction

Now that the general excitement over the movie has died down, I managed to secure a date (my wife) to the new robot-on-monster flick that had everyone abuzz.

This is more of a ‘reaction’ to some elements than a full-blown review, and should be relatively spoiler-free. Even so, I don’t recommend reading anything extensive about this movie, or watching too many trailers, before seeing it. The fresher it is, the more fun you’ll have.

Frankly, it was pretty awesome.

I don’t have a background in much mecha, though I enjoyed a few related concepts when I was younger. My family all played the hell out of One Must Fall 2097, a fighting game starring giant robots controlled by the minds of the world’s best fighters. Aside from being one of the only 1v1 fighting games I ever really enjoyed, it touched on some ideas which stuck with me into my adulthood.

Pacific Rim took the idea of tapping into the human brain to control robots and took it further: one mind alone, this movie says, is insufficient to handle the strain of controlling the giant mechanical beast. That’s where Pacific Rim really captured my imagination.

The ‘Drift’ exists where two minds connect, become meshed together, in order to form parallel processors to control the giant mecha, or ‘Jaeger,’ as this films mechanical gladiators are called. Just as you cannot expect that any two processors will mesh when strapped together into the same operating system, so must Jaeger pilots be sure that they are compatible with each other.

I really wish the film had enough time to further explore this bonding, to really help us feel the connection between two Jaeger pilots. As it stands, Pacific Rim does an acceptable job of implying all these things – and even explores the implications of such pairing – but as it was the movie’s most original concept, I was anticipating a bit more.

One thing I truly appreciate from Guillermo del Toro and his writing team is that the prominent female character, Mako, does not have a romance subplot. In a typical Hollywood summer flick, the two pilots would have overcome adversity and realize that they belong together.

Well, actually, that does kind of happen, but on a platonic level. Frankly, it would be sort of creepy for them to suddenly ‘want’ each other. It would be sort of masturbatory. After melding minds, the two know each other too well for any mystery, any romance, to take place. I was on the edge of my seat toward the end, fearing the worst, but left the theater not only content, but pretty happy.

One concept other than the Drift got my interest but was not really explored. The movie’s opening narration (so technically this is a spoiler, but less than five minutes into the film isn’t bad) details the rise and fall of the attacking monsters (‘Keiju’). The Keiju committed acts of terrible destruction while humanity got its act together, but once the Jaegers were an effective force against them, the Keiju were taken less seriously.

They tell us of how the Keiju were actually adopted into pop culture, and the Jaeger pilots became celebrities. Again, Pacific Rim used all the time it had pretty effectively, so I guess I wish the movie was ten minutes longer to give this a bit more exploration. As it stands, the whole era is glossed over, ending before the viewer’a eyes just after it begins.

Pacific Rim is largely a satisfying film. It may not break a lot of new ground, but it does everything it’s trying to do right. Also, its roots in familiar territory likely help elevate the few new ideas it did present. I highly recommend checking this out in theaters, not only because it’s a blast on the big screen, but also to vote with your dollars for movies rich in concepts and character development that makes sense.

Also, robots fighting monsters.