Monthly Archives: October 2013

Houston, I Apparently Have a Huge Problem

Being the only person on the planet who didn’t like Gravity feels kind of like being suspended alone out in space.

gravity movie

**Spoilers ahead, and grumpiness**

First let me practice some sloppy equanimity and point out the things I did like about this movie:

  1. The visual effects are exquisite and create a real sense of boundlessness, especially in the first scene, which goes an impressive twenty minutes or so without a single cut.
  2. A movie set in zero gravity is perfect for 3D, and there’s a great scene where Sandra Bullock’s tears leave her eyes and fly up into the air.
  3. She was pretty awesome as always, and at the end, when she laughs after experiencing gravity for the first time, I got chills.

But overall the film felt to me like a satire of Hollywood’s love affair with cliché, like the movies Jerry and the gang would go see on Seinfeld.

Or this:tumblr_lxqpz8wO571qey5y8

Does that make sense? Do you still care? Anyway, here are my problems, which I also explained to the bathroom mirror this morning, after the dog stopped listening:

The Writing

To me, when you take visually stunning cinematography and pair it with bad screenwriting, it’s like seeing a gorgeous woman put on too much makeup.

I'm still not over this.

I’m still not over this.

And hearing Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock say, “Welp, I’m either going to die up here or get home safe—either way it’s gonna be a hell of a ride!” is like seeing Heidi Montag the first time after her 19 plastic surgeries.

It’s like—why did you have to go and mess up something so perfect and beautiful?

The Characters

If I see one more “courageous cowboy” character I’m going to burn down the internet. George Clooney, I’m talking to you here. The only reason this guy is even in the movie is to ask Sandra Bullock expository questions before he floats away, all cool with dying and whatever, totally untransformed by the experience of suffocating in space.

And in an attempt to give Sandra Bullock’s character, Ryan, some insta-depth, they toss in the ol’ “I used to have a daughter…until she died!” line. ASTRONAUT PLEASE. For me, a tragic loss only works in a character’s backstory if it unlocks something now in the protagonist, but even though Ryan has ample opportunity to reflect upon the afterlife and annihilation while she’s floating around aimlessly in space, she doesn’t, leading me to suspect The Dead Daughter is just another lazy Screenwriting 101 trick to induce sympathy. (I have a heart of cold steel.)

The Tension

It’s a cheap move to prey upon an audience’s sympathetic nervous system response and call it narrative tension. I mean, yeah, I was squeezing my wife’s hand pretty hard. Because it’s anxiety-provoking to watch flames come close to human skin, and see an oxygen meter drop to 1%, and listen to a beloved actress gasp for air. Not because the character’s predicament was uncertain, or the storytelling was compelling. I mean, by half an hour into the movie, Sandra Bullock is the only character left alive. Did I ever for a second think she was not going to escape the drama she was in? Of course not—I still had a freaking hour left.


The Good Wife

The Good Wife

My wife loved the movie, because she’s the kind of smart and empathic viewer who is able to both be critical of works of art but also appreciate them for what they are. (She’s like a generous Midwestern Buddha whose good qualities go on so long they will need to be the subject of another blog, another time.)

“But it was just an action movie,” I whined as we left the theater (catching the glares of a LOT of George Clooney fans).

“And why did you think this was not going to be an action movie?” she asked me quite gently.

And that’s when I realized it’s all about expectation. Something about the trailer seemed to promise the existential chill of Melancholia, and I was so disappointed that Gravity didn’t deliver that I didn’t just appreciate the movie for what it was. I mean, typically I really like those kinds of blockbusters. But I spent the whole time complaining instead of just recognizing that I should have just stayed home and watched Melancholia again if that was what I really wanted.

Time for me to digress. Thank you Dog, and Wife, and Internet, for listening. I needed to get that off my chest.

P.S. Watch Melancholia.

Twenty-year-olds Are Sweet, Sweet Idiots

I never realized how sad that Miley Cyrus song is until she sang an acoustic version on Saturday Night Live. (Yeah, I stay home on Saturday nights. What?)

Even though the recorded version of the song hits a lot of minor notes and the tempo is kind of slow, the video (concept: sexy rave-party with giant teddy bears) gives it a fun, sparkly feeling, like you’re a fresh 20-year-old who just jumped into a pool of Fresca.

But strip the song of its slick production and auto-tuned vocals, and plop that 20-year-old on a stool with her hair combed down, and we can’t stop turns from a fun lyric to admission of a problem; we won’t stop from a cry of rebellion to a mournful prediction of the future.

Miley Cyrus on SNL

“Holy [super freaking bad word],” I said as we watched. “This song is depressing.”

“Yeah,” my wife said. “I told you.”*

As we watched the performance unfold, I realized how unlucky Miley Cyrus is. Because when I was twenty? I think I also had some idea in my head that I was going to live forever and always have that kind of ripple-less, creamy skin that, now that I’m older, I realize I did not spend enough time admiring in the mirror. But at the same time, I also had lots of adults telling me “No, you’re not invincible. You’re just twenty. And twenty-year-olds are idiots.”

"La di da la di, we like to par-tee"

“La di da la di, we like to par-tee”

I suspect Miley Cyrus doesn’t have the benefit of these types of adults in her circle. The wild grin on her face during her performance was the saddest part—she’s still clueless, has no idea what the song means to everyone else. She thinks it’s a party anthem, not a howling testament of the despondency and restlessness of American youth.

“I don’t think Miley has any [really freaking bad word] idea how depressing that was,” I said as we watched her high-five her guitarist and stick her tongue out triumphantly to the applauding audience.

“No,” said my wife wisely. “But Pharrell does.”

That’s when it hit me—this song works because it can go either way, which to me is the best kind of art. (Just like Animal Farm can be read as an allegory of the Russian Revolution, or a fun book about talking animals. Either way, it’s awesome.) So it’s okay for Miley to have fun up there, just as it’s okay for her producers to wink at the rest of us through the lyrics.

(Bear in mind that the witness I bring to this performance is in her thirties, wearing pajamas, and has one eye on the clock because it’s really late.)

But Miley? If you’re listening? You’re an idiot, sweetie. The very best kind.

*This is true. She figures things out before I do, including math problems, Trivial Pursuit answers, and other people’s genders.


Tonight after dinner I dashed out in the rain to move my car from in front of my house to the garage. At the same time, my neighbor from across the street—to whom I have never spoken, not for malicious reasons but because we’ve never run into each other like this before—ran out to her car, and there was a brief moment where we both paused by our cars, fobs in hand, rain splattering on the street.

“Hi there,” I said.

She didn’t say anything. Just got in her car and slammed the door, started the engine. Then I saw her burst into tears and careen off, sobbing.

I know a few things about this neighbor: one, she and her live-in partner have a complicated, loud relationship that often ends with her pushing him out the door and screaming that she NEVER wants to SEE him AGAIN.

Two, sometimes she makes the partner sleep out in the car for days as punishment, until one day her neighbor across the way (yeah, that’s me) gets paranoid that he’s dead in the car and calls the police, and the officers wait patiently while he knocks on the bedroom window and begs to be let back in.

Three, she has a pretty cute kid who plays with a rusty watering can in a slow, mournful way in the front yard.

A couple of days ago I was working from home when my dog alerted me to the exciting presence of an ambulance and police car in front of their house, and together we watched as the neighbor talked to paramedics and officers in the front yard before getting her purse and climbing into the ambulance. As they drove off, her partner stood on the porch pacing and doing that thing where he jerks the cigarette out of his mouth after each puff, like it’s the most disgusting thing he’s ever tasted.

I have it in my head that I want to be friendly with this woman, whether she wants it or not. I want to find out what her name is and when I see her outside I want to say, “Oh, hello Susan, nice day, right?” or “Julie, you left your car window down,” or “Hey, Michelle, I heard you crying last night, is everything okay?”

And then she’ll come over to my house and we’ll sit and have some wine by the big front window together and she’ll look across the street at her house and cock her head and say, “Huh. It looks different from over here.”

But one of the things I’ve learned about living in this neighborhood is that most neighbors’ reaction to that kind of idealism is HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

So. For now we just sit and watch from the window, waiting for a knock.