Tag Archive: George Clooney


Gravity (2013): Grade: A

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Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron

Written by: Alfonso Cuaron & Jonas Cuaron

Starring: Sandra Bullock & George Clooney

James Cameron: “I think it’s the best space photography ever done, I think it’s the best space film ever done, and it’s the movie I’ve been hungry to see for an awful long time.”

Buzz Aldrin: “I was so extravagantly impressed by the portrayal of the reality of zero gravity. Going through the space station was done just the way that I’ve seen people do it in reality. The spinning is going to happen — maybe not quite that vigorous — but certainly we’ve been fortunate that people haven’t been in those situations yet. I think it reminds us that there really are hazards in the space business, especially in activities outside the spacecraft.”

Quentin Tarantino has named Gravity one of the top ten best films of 2013 so far.

When a filmmaker spends four years of his life (mainly to invent technology to make his film possible!) defying what has come before to make a bold, impactful statement in cinema, you breathlessly anticipate a generation-defining experience on the scale of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Pulp Fiction. With Gravity, Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron has done what so precious few filmmakers have ever done: he has crafted a blockbuster type of story and infused it with an art-house sensibility to create an experimental thrill ride that has set a new benchmark of excellence. Its astounding to look back at Alfonso Cuaron’s American career beginning with a little children’s film called A Little Princess, then diving into low-budget foreign fare with Y Tu Mama Tambien, switching to a franchise blockbuster with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and now vying for James Cameron’s crown with a huge sci-fi artsy/commercial studio picture. Filmmaker Ang Lee is the only director I can think of who has displayed an ability to adeptly traverse across an eclectic diversity of genres and styles of cinematic storytelling.

Gravity’s plot is stunningly simplistic and I do not mean that in a derogatory way. Unknown actress Sandra Bullock plays Ryan Stone, a rookie astronaut on her first mission to install a new experimental instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope. Accompanying her on the mission is Matt Kowalski, played by another unknown actor, George Clooney. During the mission, the astronauts receive word that the Russians have fired a missile into a satellite and now the debris from the satellite is heading toward the astronauts at the velocity of a speeding bullet. Unfortunately, the astronauts are unable to avoid the satellite debris in time. Their shuttle is destroyed and the two astronauts are hurled out into space. With depleting oxygen and with more satellite debris headed their way, the astronauts must quickly figure out how to survive and get back to Earth.

The baseline understanding of Gravity is that it is fantastic and groundbreaking. Like with such films as Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon, Gravity is designed to be viewed in IMAX and 3D. With that said, this is a film that as spectacular as it is in terms of technology and thrills on the big screen, it is one whose seams will be a lot more apparent if you watch it on the small screen. Furthermore, once you have seen Gravity once, it will have less repeat watchability because you will know what happens and that sense of dreaded anticipation that makes the film so fun to watch will be gone.

Since watching Gravity, I have spent more time defending the casting choices of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney than anything else that pertains to this film. I too have never been a big fan of Sandra Bullock’s performances or her film choices. I cannot say the same for George Clooney, who may not have a wide range when it comes to acting, but the quality of his films cannot be denied (e.g. The Descendants, The Ides of March, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up in the Air, Burn After Reading, Michael Clayton, Syriana, Good Night, and Good Luck). With that said, allow me to dispel any of your reasonable notions that no film featuring these actors can be any good. This may be my first and very last time that I will sing the praises of Sandra Bullock’s performance. Playing the role of a mother who lost her daughter in an accident and now spends her life buried in her work to forget the pain, Bullock does a fine job conveying the pain and loneliness of her character. Mind you, my approval of her performance is less an approval and more of a pleasant surprise that I finally got to see Bullock deliver a performance I could tolerate and respect. As for Clooney, admittedly, he puts forth the same schtick he has done in just about every movie he’s ever done (including Syriana, for which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor). I don’t find anything wrong with that. Just like with other famous actors who have generally delivered the same type of performance, you either respond to it or you don’t.

Putting their performances aside, I was disappointed that Bullock’s character basically amounted to another stereotypical female. Dr. Ryan Stone was prone to emotionality and fear. She was inexperienced. When faced with a problem, her first response was to lock up and panic, and we almost never saw her approach a situation calmly and with intelligence. I wish we could have seen more of a heroine instead of someone who simply pauses, reflects, and waits for the next disaster to strike, and when that disaster comes, she is unprepared. And not surprisingly, when she decides to totally give up and die, the film “resurrects” the male character so that he can push her to move onward.

A big issue with thrill ride films like Gravity and Jurassic Park is that the technology overtakes the story. Sometimes, as with these two examples, the technology is ground-breaking and exciting enough to dwarf any issues the movie may have, such as the lack of a complex narrative. That is not to say that Gravity’s story is weak. Alfonso Cuaron is known as a visual storyteller and you see that skill displayed here, in which the dialogue is secondary to the visuals in terms of telling the story. By the way, the opening of Gravity is probably the best use of silence I have ever seen – it perfectly sets the tone of the entire film. In addition, it is a testament to the filmmaker’s storytelling skill that despite the fact that 80-90% of Gravity is all CG, you will never once be distracted by the technology or, alternatively, be drawn by it to the detriment of what is narratively going on in the film.

In terms of the technical craft that went into making Gravity, I can’t say much more than what I have already said. Cuaron boldly commits to the idea that what we will see is not a fictionalized/fantasy version of space that we see in every other space movie, but that the outer space our story takes place in is the real thing. Hence, there is no sound other than the voices of our characters. When there is an explosion, you do not hear it. Cuaron accomplishes creating a space that comes off feeling airless, isolated, and hermitic. Supplementing the sound design is Steven Price’s fantastic score, which perfectly marries the silence of space. Furthermore, Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki should be credited with creating instantly iconic shots and compositions that will forever be hailed as essential additions to space-set filmmaking. Now not being a fan of 3D, I was also relieved that for once someone was able to make good use of the format. The 3D is never overwhelming. It is used judiciously and sparingly, frequently to heighten the emotional moments rather than serve as a battering ram of laser pyrotechnics.

Gravity may not have the philosophical ambition of 2001, the space adventure to which it is most often being compared to. However, fairness demands that we recognize this film for trying to be something else. With its deliberately archetypal characters and chewy dialogue, Gravity feels a lot like something James Cameron would have made and that is an enormous compliment to make. In short, Gravity is a brilliant, unerringly entertaining thriller that will make you believe in the higher power of movies, of how a giant screen, a darkened room, and a story can take you to places you can’t even imagine. As a fun little tidbit of information, the voice of Mission Control is Ed Harris, who played Flight Director Gene Kranz in Apollo 13.

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Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez met early in their careers in the early 1990s at the Toronto Film Festival. Tarantino had RESERVOIR DOGS and Rodriguez had EL MARIACHI at the time. They fast became friends and their careers developed on a similar pace. Tarantino followed up with PULP FICTION at around the same time Rodriguez came up with DESPARADO (an American, higher budget remake of EL MARIACHI). Both filmmakers, especially that of Tarantino’s, gained huge success and they became part of a new wave of indie movies that attracted the attention of mainstream audiences. When it was announced that Tarantino and Rodriguez would collaborate to make FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, film nerds shit themselves all over. With Tarantino writing the screenplay and Rodriguez directing, it was inconceivable that anything short of an instant classic would be made.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is about two brothers, Seth and Richie Gecko (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino), who are bank robbers on the run. They are attempting to flee to Mexico, where they plan to retire on their stolen fortune. Along the way, they kidnap a preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his two children (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu). Driving the family’s RV across the border into Mexico, the motley crew seek out a biker bar called The Titty Twister, where the Gecko Brothers have arranged to meet up with their contact. However, The Titty Twister ends up being far more than a titty bar – it’s a hellish haven of blood-thirsty vampires!

This film made it pretty obvious that although they may be good friends, Rodriguez and Tarantino’s styles do not compliment one another. The first half of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN works beautifully and you’re completely taken in by the characters, the dialogue, and the situations. This first half is everything that occurs before the characters enter the Titty Twister and it has Tarantino’s work all over it. The dialogue scenes are long and satisfying, with exchanges that crackle with a constant energy. The Gecko Brothers are obvious Tarantino creations. Dressed in their signature black suits (just like Jules and Vincent in PULP FICTION), the brothers have a certain coolness about them and Tarantino has injected smart and quirky attributes into them (Richie wears a retainer because he grinds his teeth and he apparently likes to watch cartoons). The locations in the first half are also classic Tarantino – old shitty motels and diners and stores and products with interesting 1950’s sounding names like Benny’s World of Liquor and Big Kahuna Burgers (also featured in PULP FICTION). Finally, we have actors from Tarantino’s usual stable of actors such as Harvey Keitel (RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION), Juliette Lewis (NATURAL BORN KILLERS), and the use of Blaxploitation stars such as Fred Williamson.

In short, the first half of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is character-driven and we’re fully immersed in a world created by Quentin Tarantino. So its quite a jolt when the film takes a complete tonal shift and turns into a vampire action movie. Its not the fact that the film turns into something completely different that bothers me (Joss Whedon’s CABIN IN THE WOODS does this as well and does it far better). I just didn’t find the second half of the film to be all that entertaining nor did the two halves of the film compliment one another. It wasn’t scary nor funny and it was as if I was watching a very bad straight to DVD horror film. This makes me wonder if Tarantino and Rodriguez recognized how uncomplimentary their styles were and decided that their next collaboration (GRINDHOUSE) would comprise of two entirely separate films. Interestingly enough, Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR was stylistically the same as FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but I think I enjoyed PLANET TERROR far more because I knew what to expect from the beginning. In contrast, I was expecting a melding of the two filmmakers’ styles in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but instead I got one film that could not connect the two halves.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is George Clooney’s first major feature length film. Many cite to OUT OF SIGHT as the film that finally turned Clooney into a movie star. In just about every role he’s played, Clooney more or less performs his characters in the same way so if you like Clooney in one film, then you’ve liked him in every film he’s done. Here he flies off the screen as Seth Gecko, clearly lapping up the opportunity to flex his acting muscles and his roguish take on this dark antihero. Tarantino provides backup as Seth’s younger brother, Richie. Where Seth is instantly likeable despite his short fuse of a temper, Richie is a nauseating sex offender with a taste for rape and murder. Strangely enough, however, Tarantino’s nerdy brilliance in real life channels well into his character.

Harvey Keitel (with an on-again, off-again Texas accent) brings his usual level of excellence to Jacob, the preacher who has lost his faith in God after losing his wife in a car accident. Keitel does a great and believable job as playing a man who has lost his faith, but who at the same time struggles with this decision. His performance is restrained and subtle but without losing any of its intensity. Finally, we have Juliette Lewis, who plays the preacher’s daughter and despite not having many lines, she steals many of the scenes she is in. She sort of reminded me of her character in CAPE FEAR, but here she plays down the sexy nymphet and plays up the innocence of her character (after all, she is a preacher’s daughter).

The horror portion of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is only going to interest you if you’ve never seen a good horror film. If you want to see a horror film along these lines and that has been done much better, check out Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD 2 and Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE. Both of those films have the whole buckets-of-blood thing going but with more style and a sense of comic timing that FROM DUSK TILL DAWN completely lacks. Here, Robert Rodriguez is clearly behind the horror part of the film and at times it seemed like he didn’t quite know what to do with a bigger budget. The Titty Twister is a major location and its set up to almost be a character unto itself. However, we’re barely shown the contours of this bar before the action begins. Consequently, you don’t get a sense of place and mood before all hell breaks loose. Furthermore, we are briefly introduced to characters played by Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Salma Hayek, and Cheech Marin. They are all two-dimensional characters and they seem to be included in the film to simply increase the cast’s name recognition. I felt cheated that none of these characters received better treatment in the screenplay.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN was a film that probably brought much more joy to its filmmakers and actors in making it than for the viewer watching it. If it wasn’t for the influence and prestige of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN would have unlikely been made. Without those names behind it, this story is no better (and actually worse) than any episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT.

After a horrendous summer movie season, the fall/winter movie season has thankfully begun and I can only hope that it will help erase the memory of the past four months. Unfortunately, THE AMERICAN won’t be joining the fight to salvage 2010 despite some things that go very well for it. Focus Features has deceptively marketed this George Clooney drama as an action movie, which cannot be farther from the truth. Its an unbearably slow, but stunningly beautiful looking movie that’s about very little.

George Clooney plays an American assassin who works for some British old guy, which is all we’re given about the character. THE AMERICAN opens somewhere in Sweden where Clooney is with some beautiful woman we presume to be his lover. Suddenly some Swedish gunmen show up trying to kill Clooney, but he disposes of them quickly and then he kills his lover. No explanation is given as to what is going on, which I liked. We next see Clooney talking on the phone with his British contact, who sends Clooney to a village in Italy to hide out and await further instructions. When he gets there, Clooney is given an assignment to build a bad-ass sniper rifle for a woman assassin (Thekla Reuten), who is scheduled to show up to pick the weapon up from Clooney and pay him for his services. At the village, Clooney befriends the local priest (Paolo Bonacelli), who seems to immediately see right through Clooney’s “photojournalist” façade. Clooney also meets a friendly hooker (Violante Placido) who falls for him and that, as you may not be surprised to find, complicates things.

My main gripe about THE AMERICAN isn’t about its slow pacing because anyone can tell you that with the right story, a movie can be paced in any manner and it won’t detract from the enjoyment of the movie. Where pacing becomes an issue is when other, more important elements of the film fail to work. With that said, THE AMERICAN loves to take its sweet fucking time from one scene to the next. I could tell I was in for a slow burn when the opening sequence opened without any music and the camera lingered on shots like a car moving through a long tunnel to its very end. Although its duration is not long (1 hour and 45 minutes), THE AMERICAN feels like a much longer movie so I don’t recommend you catch the late night showing.

Where THE AMERICAN mostly fails is in its story. In the end, its really about a whole lot of nothing and even with the sparse story we’re given, this is the type of story we have seen countless times before. I didn’t want to see a formidable assassin spend the majority of his time in the movie building a rifle for another assassin. What kind of stupid asshole assignment is that? Why should anyone give a shit about such an assignment? Now I know the movie is not really about that. Its about Clooney, a cold-blooded, hardened killer, who learns to feel, to love and be loved. His assignment is meant to make him realize that the life he’s leading is no longer for him. Admittedly, I did not go into this movie expecting this. I didn’t read the review for the film so I didn’t know what it was really about and I solely went off of what the trailers showed me. The trailers made the movie look like a Hollywood action thriller and what I got instead was a European character study.

Furthermore, I would have bought into the film’s plot if it had been well executed and this is where pacing becomes more important. The story did not have enough substance to sustain a slow paced movie. The filmmakers should have provided more backstory to Clooney’s character. We’re basically told nothing about Clooney’s character, which would be an interesting way to present a character in a better crafted story. However, since we already have little to work with, it would have been nice to have done more with Clooney’s character. The filmmakers should also have conceived of a more interesting assignment for Clooney rather than have him build a gun for someone else. There are a few action sequences to break the monotony, but they are few and far between, too short, and unimaginative. The action climax is hilariously anticlimactic and you feel a little cheated for having to wait so long to get such a lame ending.

Where THE AMERICAN works is in the good performances given by all the characters and the visually arresting cinematography. I enjoyed Clooney’s subdued performance in this movie more than his performance in last year’s UP IN THE AIR.  Unlike that movie, Clooney doesn’t play Clooney here. He doesn’t try to be a modern reincarnation of Cary Grant like he seems to do in most of his movies. Here he displays a cold, unemotional visage and he’s a man of very few words. He possesses a dark and isolated view of the world where he trusts absolutely no one. This is a side of Clooney I have not seen before and for that, I better appreciated his performance. Its subtle and he relies more upon his body language and mannerisms to convey his intent rather than upon dialogue. Of course, this also means that he’s probably alienated 99% of his audience, which is female. Women like to watch him charm the fuck out of them and instead they’re going to get a Clooney who’s more prone to kill you than to fuck you.

Another strong aspect of THE AMERICAN is the stunning cinematography by DP Martin Ruhe and first-time feature film director Anton Corbijn. Corbijn is a Dutch photographer and music video director who directed the music video for Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” and Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box.” His photography and music video work is quite evident here and I felt that the director focused on the look of the film much more than anything else. You can freeze frame any shot in this movie and you will have a perfectly composed shot suitable for framing. There’s no doubt that Corbijn knows how to visually design a movie, but I’m not sure if that translates into an ability to shoot a movie where he has to tell a story.

THE AMERICAN is a dreary movie that had it been injected with a bit more juice, it probably would have turned out to be a far more exciting film. However, as it is, the movie is a snail-paced bore of a film that tells a story that’s been told countless of times in better movies.