It would appear that selling one’s soul to the devil of commercial filmmaking can in fact serve a purpose, assuming of course you do so with a ruthless pragmatist’s eye. For that is exactly what one of Mexico’s most adored modern auteurs, Alfonso Cuaron, did with his introduction to English-language cinema in his one mercenary venture, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (no slouch as a film on its own, incidentally). For the success he had with big-budget tentpole cinema not only made a boatload of money (and made a franchise legitimize itself in the process, after two unflaggingly hum-drum entries beforehand), but it paved the way for one of the finest films of its decade, 2006’s Children of Men. If the entirety of the Harry Potter franchise only existed to validate the existence of this one film, well, it would be a job well done, for Children of Men is exactly the variation of cold-brewed, home-spun, plaintive sci-fi we don’t much see anymore, and exactly what the world of cinema circa 2006 needed. Continue reading
Update (and edited score) 2018, on the eve of Roma’s release: It’s impossible as ever to ignore Cuaron’s signal audio-visual achievements with Gravity, but I find myself even colder on the film’s ability to connect the dots between charting our outer space, which it does so well, and truly destabilizing our inner space, a task on which it essentially punts entirely.
I’ve never seen a film quite like Gravity. On one hand, it’s a thrill ride to end all thrill rides, never letting up in subjecting its characters to situations from bad to worse during its slim but breathless 90 minute running length. Gravity is nerve-wrecking in a purely visual way that few films aim to be. This is a true edge-of-your-seat motion picture. But it’s much more than that too. Gravity is a film which tries to challenge what film can be on a technical level. Moreover, it tries to transform our understanding and appreciation of Earth and its surroundings visually while also playing to populist sensibilities and trying to earn its large budget back by showcasing destruction and visual splendor on a level beyond any other film of 2013. It’s 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Star Wars, and you’d be forgiven for thinking these two goals are incompatible, but more on that later. For now, I will simply say here that, for those simply looking for “the next big thing” in film technology, Gravity has anything else handily beat. This is a visually bold, singular, uncompromising film that will be remembered as a game-changer many years in the future. That it also happens to be quite good is just the icing on the cake. Continue reading