Monday, October 7, 2013

Why Gravity is a $105 Million Dollar Lifetime Film

Don't let go!  But let go. What?

Like many people seeing Gravity for the first time, I loved it. All that space junk flying at you, the beauty of being in outer space, the constant edge-of-your seat action, the amazing camera work, the pithy banter between George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

But then it was impossible to not question all the implausibilities. Especially when I’m watching the film with my astrophysicist brother who happens to work at NASA.

“WTF? They would never send a doctor into space for a spacewalk?The Hubble? This is ridiculous. Minimum two years before she'd ever get out of the craft!”

I had to move to another chair. He was a running commentary.

But given all the praise and great reviews, I had to give this movie a Girl Scouts try. I love the director, and Sandra Bullock, so was kind of expecting Speed in outer space but visually stunning.

Immediately I knew Bullock had a troublesome back-story because she was quiet and intense and never smiled. Even George Clooney’s eyes could not pull her away from some electrical board she was trying to fix.

Then BAM, space chaos garbage comes hurling their way. Everybody is killed and now they need to travel miles away to get to another satellite. I could hear my brother moaning. I moved to the top of the theater.

George Clooney took this all in stride, like dead people were just another speed bump on the cosmic highway.  He was playing the guy from Oceans 11 or 12 or 13. 

Meanwhile, I was trying to work out this horrific back-story. Death of a husband, middle child syndrome, custody battle, post traumatic stress from gang rape. I went all over the place. What the hell happened to Sandra Bullock?

But whatever it was couldn’t have been that bad if she was chosen to go to outer space out of 1000’s of other more highly qualified candidates.  But okay. She must really be Einstein smart.

The script bangs us over the head with her inability to nail a specific training exercise. Landing. Just shoot me now. Smart but not that smart. I mean I parallel parked on the first try. Also she would've never been trained for this specific task anyway, but why quibble?

The movie is so implausible that if winged angels came to their rescue I would not have been surprised.

The dialogue is pretty hokey. All I can actually recall now is, “You can do it Sandy!” though I’m certain that’s not the line.

I was halfway through my tub of popcorn. Give me that damn back-story already.

Finally, en route to the Chinese or Russian or Lebanese shuttle, which would never be within their view anyway, we learn she lost a daughter, her only child, in some school or car accident. Her coping mechanism was, “I just drive.” WHAT?!?!?

“Oh, come on! You must be joking!”  People around me were getting angry.

“What, you’re buying this?”

"Folks you can't be buying this? Just, no." ^ ^ ^ ^ 

Not only do we NOT need this backstory, or any backstory, it’s not plausible just by the way Bullock is acting. There is no worse tragedy than losing a child. To act this is extremely difficult.  I did not see this in her face. Not once. And worse, I felt nothing.  Which means she wasn't conveying this on any level. 

AND the film didn’t need it. Isn’t it enough they have to get back to earth on limited oxygen and no spaceship? This actually made me angry.

“I want my 17 bucks back.”
“Shut up lady!”

I sigh and slumped in my chair. My brother probably left.

No decent ‘by the numbers’ script is complete without the sacrificial moment. Sandra and George are tethered but only one can make it to the Lebanese shuttle. Which also makes no sense since if George was on his A-game, all he would have to do is cling on to Sandra, then climb up to the ship. But we wouldn't get:

“Let me go, Sandy. Save yourself. Let go.”  This moment is also the big existential reveal.

Here, I felt like I was watching a Roger Corman movie.  He disappears into the stars happy as a dog under an elm tree on a hot afternoon.  

“Look at the view of the Ganges. Wow.”  Why not the South of France or Detroit or Yosemite?

Anyway, if she let him go, he would've just floated there, hanging out, not magically be pulled into deep space My brother later told explained how gravity works in space.  He doesn’t live in LA, or see many films.

“How can you work in this town? That is the height of filmmaking?”
“Well, I had nothing to do with it.”
“I always told you there is no logic in Hollywood. Why are you still here?”

Valid question. We have this discussion whenever he visits. He thinks I’m better than Hollywood. He thinks I should have been a pediatrician like Dr.  Helen Taussig. He’s probably right.

Finally we have  Bullock on her own, I thought, yes, now we can do Speed in space, get our girl power on. But then remembered Bullock is super nice in every movie. My hope is deflating.

Banging around rag-doll style, she gets into the shuttle, the first thing she does is strip to her Luluemon skivvies and do a kind of fetus dance. No ventilation suit or diaper for Sandy. Can I just say this woman has an incredible body? I couldn’t stop staring at her as she floated to and fro, all muscle, smooth, perfect skin. Also her hair magically stayed in place.

So the gravity had no effect on the amount of product in her hair. I could use that. I tend to frizz in the mountains.

More obstacles, bigger obstacles, running out of obstacles. Then the do or die moment.

She’s also run out of all possible solutions. She can’t leap frog to the next shuttle that will maybe take her to Earth. So she gives up.  Ah fuck it.  I can’t do it. WHINE WHINE. I’m not Angelina Jolie. She would rock this shit. Melissa McCarthy would make it work. Helen Mirren would land this thing. Me, nah. I need a man.

Then her dues ex machina arrives in the form of… George Clooney, her own personal space ghost with mad skills that will save her life.

Btw, if I am ever in a situation where I might die, I want George Clooney to save my life.

He basically tells her how to drive. DRIVE. It’s now 1950. “You can do it Sandy! Just put your foot on the gas!”

Can you imagine if Jason Statham or Tom Cruise or Denzel Washington or Bruce Willis or pick your male action star played this part? Would they call it a day, give up and kill themselves? I think not. And they certainly would not get a dead female angel instructing them what to do. They would figure it out.

Whatever. She says some odd prayer to her daughter then does what George tells her, finds her way to Earth, fantastically without burning to death in some Chinese clap trap that theoretically would've have taken years... but again, she endures the heat, only to nearly drown even though space capsules come with all sorts of flotation safety systems.

BUT it could happen AND we get to see her strip again thus admiring the body beauty Bullock, now wet.  She must have cross- trained for a year. Seriously. I could not stop looking at her.

Alfonso Cuaron is without question an amazing director. And he made a visual masterpiece.  But break it down and you have a Hallmark movie.

I once had my own do or die moment. Eight thousand feet in the air, icy roads, pitch black, two sleeping girlfriends in the backseat as they appointed me the driver. I also put on the damn chains. Then I spun out. One side was mountain, the other a steep drop off to hell.  I knew enough to go with the spin then I worked the steering wheel until we finally stopped, one foot from the cliffs edge.

Both girls woke up.

"I had to stop.  Check out that view!!” 

They went back to sleep, I straightened out the car and we made it to the top. It never once occurred to me that we might die, go over the edge, or I should just call it a day.

I wanted to love this movie so much because how often do we get to see a female character overcome impossible obstacles on her own and succeed?? Never.

George Clooney fixes everything. He’s dead but tiny detail.

Finally on the ground, wobbly, wet and playing with the sand, she says, “Thank you.” The camera lovingly pans up her entire body to reassure everyone this was no stunt double. I found that strange, even creepy. And the moment of thanks.

Is this to god, George Clooney, her daughter?  Why not thank your own damn self? Despite the celestial help, she managed to blow through space using a fire extinguisher.  

The movie would have been perfect, implausible and all, if they took out the dialogue and gave Bullock the reigns to save her own life. Otherwise, it’s just another Woman in Peril Lifetime movie whose survival depends on a “smarter” man. What a wasted opportunity.

Rhonda Talbot weighing in on the film Gravity.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Even in Yosemite, Scarlett Johannson is Just a Breeze Away

I’m rarely spontaneous anymore, which happens when you have kids. You can’t just jump on a plane and go to Katmandu or drive to the Palm Springs Fashion Outlet on a whim.

But my sister spontaneously showed up in LA from the East coast and she has three times as many kids as I do, so how could I just take her to Venice Muscle Beach? 

She had never been to Yosemite, and I hadn’t been in a while, so we threw together some clothes, got in my car and sped away.

Liz is my favorite sister. She’s funny, smart and wise. We are also both at a point of reexamination in our lives. What exactly are we doing?

Liz: I did it!  I can’t believe this is happening. Last year the San Jauns. Now this. Finally!

Liz carries three phones and they beep constantly with various texts from a variety of children. It’s amazing how organized she is, even when away.

I hadn’t really thought about my kids.

But, I was facing down a big fear. Leaving LA.  While I travel a lot, it’s not without great trepidation. Once I’m on my way, the anxiety leaves.  I was looking forward to facing down a giant Grizzly like in We Bought a Zoo. I truly believe I could do that. I’m the female Matt Damon.

After a few bad gas mishaps, (who even knew there was cheap gas made out of corn oil??) sandstorms and contaminated food, we found our way to the park. And just in the nick of time since it’s now closed now due to the government shutdown.  I met a lot of people up there, Russians, Slovakians, hundreds of employees.

Most of them have been working at the park for many years. It’s simply hard to imagine where they will go. They lived on the grounds, including the Yosemite Witch.  If you have not met her you have not fully lived. She’s awesome.

Meanwhile, I haven’t stayed in a cabin in the forest since I was in my early 20’s and that was only to impress some guy.  “Look at me! See, I’m THAT girl.”

Liz and I basically had two small beds encased in logs.

The point of the trip was to hike and scale Half Dome.  Looking at it seems ominous but not altogether impossible. 

I hiked Pikes Peak, but I was 15. And also I had more than shorts and flip-flops.

Of course I’ve hiked every trail in LA, and continue to do so. But the difference is from the first step of the Yosemite trailhead; it’s a steep, rocky incline, often pathless, often nothing but boulders to crawl over, or steps thrown together by falling rock. But what you see is stupid gorgeous.

Vernal Falls rainbow photo op ^ ^ ^ 

Without realizing we had taken the most difficult trail marked SEVERE, we also thought we were going four miles, not 12! Also this sign was turned backwards. We read, restrooms ahead. Eh. And of course it started to sprinkle.

All of this was fine except both of us were wearing lame shoes. I gave Liz my hiking boots, that were too small for her, and I wore rain boots; as in galoshes. The only thing the rain boots offered was grip on the bottom. Basically I’m going up a straight incline with duck feet.

Here we meet a lovely family of young Brits. The stud Jason Stratham father was carrying his 2-year old son on his shoulders and bouncing all over the place taking pictures. His model wife was carrying her 9-month old in a front carry contraption.  To make me feel worse about complaining on any level, they had their 70- year old parents with them, all gung-ho, cheerio and annoyingly chipper.

I basically hung onto this family because they knew Yosemite like they had built the place. This was the 2nd time up that day! WTF.

We were indecisive about which way to go. Back down, up or across.

How do you even make sense of that nonsense? ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ 

Jason Stratham: Just follow us. We’re going to the summit. The way down is much easier. Most of the trail is paved, or flat.

Me:  Like with tar?

Old Man: It’s a breeze.

That sounded perfect because I certainly didn’t want to go back down four miles of cliff stairs, so we followed them. I mean they were carrying small children. How hard could it be?

Well, it turns out Jason was a pompous liar. I sensed he climbed Mt. Everest a few times, possibly all of them had.  They were jumping and scooting over the boulders like squirrels, laughing, chatting. I started to hate them.

Often they would go off trail to get a better view. Old Man was tripping the light fantastic, “Look at this! Nevada Falls!  God’s country. Come on up!”

No thanks. Someone trailing behind me said: "We won the war douche!" WHAT!

I was afraid to see who it was and stayed focused on the foot tracks to stay on course. We eventually lost the Strathams because they were practically running to my wounded animal creeping. 

There was a sheer drop off to my right. Why the hell would I run?
Somehow I thought Brits were a bit daintier. I might expect this behavior from say, a German. Lots of Germans on the trail. They were not show-offy. But they were sturdy.

The 2nd fall was water flowing over slate.

Nevada Falls closer ^ ^ ^ ^

Me: Wow. That is exactly where some designer got his inspiration for those cool bathroom sinks.
Liz: What?

We made it to the top. Unlike Justin Beiber I did not have to be carried.  Seriously Justin? You're 17.

I mean, check my bad self out ^ ^ ^

It almost doesn’t matter where you go in the world, you will find a celebrity. Be it the Great Wall of China or Half Dome.

This kid is not only being carried by 250 pound men, but texting pictures of how he made it to the top and I suspect there was a helicopter waiting for his arrival.

Enough about him. Our summit was flat, with a shiny blue lake off to the side; the air was misty, we were dwarfed by Sequoias. Peaceful, and very few people.  Beautiful.  I could see why a few pros brought up tent gear. Billions of stars would poke through the night sky. Magical.

I saw some women lounging under a tree and knew from their designer outfits, matted makeup and coiffed hair they were from LA.

And wouldn’t you know, it’s a movie star. To her credit, she made the climb on her own, but brought along her award winning hair stylist and make up artist.

This was not a film shoot; she just went about her life this way. Camera ready.  We’ll call her Scarlett Johansson. 

We joined and all sat around, ate our energy bars, drank tons of water and talked about Hollywood. I knew the actress from a work thing, but her hairstylist just found this coincidence mad crazy. 

They were going for the windblown look. ^ ^ ^

Stylist: What a small world. Here we are, at the top of Yosemite! What are the odds? Sick!

Not really. I mean it’s four hours away. What I found insane was how actors really do travel with their beauty team even on long, wet hikes. No one actually took her picture except for her stylist.  I’m sure it will show up in a tabloid somewhere like it was an accident.

I did not come here though to see more Hollywood. So Liz and I said goodbye and ran off. I’d rather be with the pompous Brits.

We used the time stumbling back down to discuss all the possible 2nd acts we had been thinking of.  Liz thinks I should be a therapist and start turning my insights into money. Cute.

I told her what I thought she ought to do, but that’s private. She’s keenly intelligent, artistic and organized.  It amazes me how she manages her big family, keeps everyone on track and all of her kids are spectacular. I have a hard time with the car pool lane.

We could hear various worldly callings in the slight breeze on the summit, clarity I had not experienced in a long time. I even had a vision.

But that was the actual sky.

There is nothing more refreshing than a huge National Park to separate and remove you from your life, entirely. Not once did I think about home. 

At the foothill, by now we had both taken our boots off. I threw mine away. We caught up with the Stratham’s.  All refreshed, ruddy-cheeked, glowing. They did not look like they had just hiked and scaled for the past 14 hours.

Old Lady: “Enjoy your stroll?

Was she joking? Stroll? I could barely walk. I didn’t answer her. I suppose that was rude but I just wanted to get the hell off the mountain.

Then the actress and her stylists come clomping down on mules.

Actress:  Hi there! So much better taking a nag down. God, my feet were killing me. What happened to your boots?
Me: I threw them at a hungry bear.
Actress: Holy shit!  You still have five more miles. Glad you’re okay. Hey, do you want a picture with me?
Me: Nah. Thanks though. Enjoy.
Actress: Wasn't this fun!

My thighs and ass got a fantastic workout. Liz and I collapsed in bed.

The next morning I found this on my car. I had an unopened box of Dots candy on the seat.

I was about to plan another trip, this time with the kids, as they would just love Yosemite, when I saw this news.    I can't help but wonder what will happen to all those international travelers, the workers and the Yosemite Witch.

For us, back to Santa Anita Canyon. This is one of my favorites in LA.

Rhonda Talbot on Yosemite,  hiking insanity, movie stars, family, and Grizzlies.