REVIEW: Desierto

16 11 2016

desiertoWhat do you do when the scope of your filmmaking calls for a big screen experience but your story only has the breadth to sustain a short film? It’s a trade-off that filmmakers must consider when determining how to bring an idea to fruition. In an ideal world, short-form storytelling would have a place on in theaters apart from film festivals, but that world has not yet arrived.

Jonás Cuarón’s “Desierto” faces such a dilemma with an admittedly thin plot set in a foreboding, larger than life landscape. The film boils down to a survival tale along the U.S.-Mexico border where migrants scuffle across in search of their families on the other side, facing their threat personified in the form of a nativist vigilante militiaman. (His truck is adorned with a Confederate flag and a bumper sticker declaring “My Home,” in case anyone missed it.) With retribution on his mind and a rifle in his hand, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Sam begins taking the immigrants for target practice.

In some respects, “Desierto” has the makings of a great elemental survival movie, especially when so much responsibility for the fate of the group comes to ride on the shoulders of Gael García Bernal’s Moises. Cuarón does, however, dole out enough specific information about characters and their circumstances that it calls for greater development. The inhumanity of their assassinations cries out for the film to treat these migrants with humanity, which is something that Cuarón does not take the time to do in full. Stretching the material that could barely sustain a 45-minute short seems to command all of his attention. Cuarón provides thrills, chills and international ills, but empathy is the missing ingredient. B2halfstars

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REVIEW: Gravity

19 01 2014

The story of Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” is quite simple. Astronaut Ryan Stone’s spaceship is obliterated by Russian satellite debris, and she must find her way back down to Earth or float away until her oxygen runs out. Only Murphy’s Law propels the narrative – that is to say, everything that can go wrong with technology will go wrong.

In a sense, this bare-bones script suits the film’s visual bravura perfectly. There are no flashbacks, no cutaways, and only minimal reference to Stone’s past. With nothing to distract, we are trapped with Stone. We’re left to share in her panic, breathe her remaining air, and drift through the starry void.

Total immersion is the only way that “Gravity” should ever be consumed; it’s such a shame some viewers will have to watch it on a television, a laptop, or even a cell phone that perhaps the film should never be released for home viewing. I found myself legitimately worried that pieces of flying shuttle shrapnel were going to fly off the screen and harm me when I saw the film in 3D. For how extensively the film utilizes the technology, it only once resorts to gimmickry of tricks with space.

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