Wednesday, October 9, 2013


 4 / 5 

Everyone who sees Gravity will have a purely visceral response.  It's impossible not to be overwhelmed and awed by the visual marvels and technical perfection of the movie.

This is not a story or a setting we have seen rendered cinematically, not like this.  The reason there have been so many comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey is because it's the last, maybe only, time another movie has given us such a simultaneously jaw-dropping and matter-of-fact view of space.

Gravity opens with a sequence as beautiful to see as it is mundane in its depiction of astronauts at work. It's impossible both for them and for us not to notice, at every moment, where they are; the Earth rotates majestically behind them, the vast loneliness of space engulfs them.  Even though Gravity wasn't shot as an IMAX film, if you see it on a giant IMAX screen, especially in 3-D, the first impression Gravity makes is mind-blowing.

That's the second and third impression it makes, too -- there are few moments in Gravity that don't stun visually.

For a solid 10 minutes, the astronauts work in space, fixing the Hubble Space Telescope while connected to the space shuttle.  It's obvious and impossible to overlook that one of them is Sandra Bullock, the other is George Clooney and the third is probably not all that important to the movie since he has an Indian accent and we never see his face.  (It's a sad fact of modern big-budget moviemaking that the guy with the Indian accent won't be vital to the story.)

But Clooney and Bullock are immediately convincing, and even the most cynical moviegoer may have the fleeting thought, "How did they get movie stars into outer space?"

In that stunning opening scene, Clooney's character, a veteran astronaut named Matt Kowalski, is the jokey, jocular old man of the crew, doing his best to calm the nerves of an anxious first-time space-walker named Ryan Stone (Bullock), whose job is to fix the Hubble.  Dr. Stone is not used to any of this, and grows irritated by the way Kowalski jabbers with mission control and plays around in a high-stakes environment.

Those stakes are about to grow more than any of them know, because in a moment that is a textbook example of how to provide a lot of explanatory detail in a compact window, the astronauts learn they're in huge danger.

The incident pushes Gravity into an unexpected place: The movie becomes a very expensive, very elaborate two-hander, with Clooney and especially Bullock moving front and center.  If either of them faltered, the movie would be in jeopardy -- but they don't.

Neither do director Alfonso Cuarón, visual effects supervisor Tim Webber or any of the film's technical team.  Throughout, Gravity is absolutely riveting to look at.

The question, which still gnaws at me, is whether the remarkable, ground-breaking visuals are matched by the core story.  For all the vastness of space, Gravity is an intentionally small and sometimes claustrophobic film; the camera joins astronauts inside their space suits and whizzes through the cramped quarters of space stations that are nothing at all like the expansive ships of sci-fi legend.

But Gravity goes further than that, becoming an intensely personal story.  Bullock is particularly strong as a woman who finds herself in more trouble than she ever anticipated.  She delivers compelling, believable emotion, and it's hard not to get caught up in her plight.  And yet ... some of the finer points seem a little compact, maybe even obvious.

Gravity sidesteps the clumsy plot points of a similar movie made in the 1960s, Marooned, which took viewers into mission control and showed the worried faces of astronaut wives.  Gravity is not a melodrama, but it is, in the end, a human drama.  It touches on, but doesn't quite reach, some of the same emotions as Contact, another disarmingly beautiful movie about space travel.  Contact addressed the metaphysical and mystical questions about our fascination with space boldly and directly; Gravity sidesteps them a little too much.

When it becomes clear exactly why the movie chose its title, the revelation is oddly both lyrical and trite.  Set against the always-believable, never-less-than-magnificent backdrops, the emotional aspects of Gravity seem almost too, well, Earth-bound.

In another stunning cinematic accomplishment, though, Cuarón never allows us time to reflect on those qualms. In the moment, Gravity is a gripping, ravishing, groundbreaking movie.

Viewed Oct. 8, 2013 -- AMC Universal CityWalk


Monday, October 7, 2013

Lucy, Part II

The last time around, I wasn't sure whether seven weeks was the longest time I ever allowed to pass between movies; now, heading into the two-month mark, I'm sure it is.  You can be sure I miss movies, but the past two months have been a bigger, more intense adventure than any 3-D Imax blockbuster.  (Speaking of which, the moviegoing drought should break tomorrow with a planned show of Gravity.)

In the two weeks since my last post, much has happened, but the most important thing is that Lucy seems to be getting better with every passing day.

You'll remember the basics, I'm sure: While Jeff and I were on vacation in Europe, something happened to Lucy -- something that, it turned out, was a rattlesnake bite.  Lucy went through three surgeries within the first few weeks.  The first was to cut away a large amount of skin around her neck area that had died off due to the snake venom.  The second, a day later, was to close the wound -- but it turned out to be so large, and such a massive amount of skin was now missing, that the doctors had to perform skin-flap surgery, in which surgeons sliced into Lucy's neck in order to create three-sided flaps that could be pulled over and stitched together.

This was mostly successful, and for about two weeks, Lucy looked like a real-life Frankenweenie, with so many stitches that the surgeons never even counted.  "We just needed to get the wound closed, there wasn't time for details like that," one of the veterinarians told us.  When we tried to make our own count, we would lose track at around 45.

A third skin-flap surgery helped close the remainder of the wound, and for several days, it looked like the only area of trouble was about the size of a dime.

Most doctors who deal with surgery at this level will likely tell you that very little ever goes exactly as planned, and whether it was because there was too much trauma to Lucy's little body, or because some of the skin simply wasn't healthy to begin with, the stitches in the third surgery area started to open unexpectedly.

Though Lucy's spirits rarely flagged, it was clear this was not working.  A large area under Lucy's neck began to look like beef jerky.  It was not adhering to the rest of the skin and something needed to be done.

Meanwhile, Lucy began developing an odd skin rash, at first in just a few places, then, increasingly, on her face, neck, shoulders and legs, especially around areas that had been shaved for surgery.  It seemed mild at first, something that could easily be controlled by antibiotics.

But after a fourth surgery to try to close the now-open wound, the infection started to get worse.  Lucy's face started to swell for reasons that could not be explained.  Surgeons and the veterinary hospital's medical director were all stumped, because the skin cultures and scrapings showed nothing out of the ordinary, but there was very clearly, very visibly something.  Odd swelling didn't seem to react to standard medications, and because 12-year-old Lucy is also arthritic and on a commonly prescribed medicine called Rimadyl, she could not be administered a steroid.

What was causing this reaction?  No one knew, and the tests weren't revealing any answers.  The only solution was to begin removing medications and see if she showed any improvement.  Since skin cultures showed no bacterial growth, antibiotics were removed; though she had gone through four surgeries, had fresh stitches and had a rather large open wound, doctors recommended discontinuing her pain medication; in case things didn't get better, she needed to stop the Rimadyl so a steroid could be given if needed.

Lucy was on her own, with only some over-the-counter Benadryl for assistance.  Moreover, our little sewn-up dog needed to get some holes punched in her to take deep skin samples for biopsy.  We wondered how much more she could handle.

And, as our dog has done so many times, she rallied.  The swelling subsided, and though the odd skin pustules have remained and dried up (a sign that is helping vets identify the cause -- though, slowly), Lucy started to show signs of being, well, Lucy.

For the first time in more than a month, her eyes began to sparkle.  She began to bark when her older brother, Edward, would defend the house against small neighborhood poodles and the mailman.  Our biggest problem became keeping her quiet.

Lucy still has a large, scary-looking open wound under her chin.  Depending on the results of the biopsies, she may have one final surgery, but that decision hasn't been made yet.   For now, and maybe forever, the vets are comfortable with letting it remain open, and we have become surprisingly comfortable slathering Neosporin on it three times a day.  There's a good chance that the tissue will continue granulating and new skin will grow; time will tell.  Maybe she'll just have one whopping scar.

Our wallet has taken a big hit; yes, we've considered a Kickstarter campaign.  Ultimately, this is one of those difficult times that simply has to be gotten through.  We'll sacrifice a vacation or two.  Christmas will be looking a lot different, at least under the tree.  If you see us wearing the same clothes next year as this year, we hope you'll forgive us and understand why.

Lucy's snake run-in has been expensive, but could there be a better way to spend money, especially too much money, than feeling you've made a difference?  I never thought I'd be one of those people who spoils a pet, who spends more money than I'm comfortable with on veterinary care; I used to say I'd be one of those pragmatists who only goes so far before accepting reality.

Except that I have accepted reality: Lucy is getting better.  She's got a ways to go, but Lucy is becoming Lucy again.  Nothing else I've ever known, or perhaps will ever know, is worth that much.

I never imagined one little dog could go through so much.  I guess she really wanted to stick around.  I'm glad she felt that way.