Saturday, October 5, 2013

Gravity review; an experience you won't soon forget

Alfonso Cuarón may be the best film director, you've never heard of.  And if you have heard of him, you'll agree that we need to see more of his work in the United States.  Cuarón wrote and directed Children of Men in 2006.  A terrific film about a world where humans could no longer reproduce.  He also directed what some consider the best Harry Potter film of the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  It's been 7 years since we've seen Cuarón's work, and boy was it worth the wait.  The elder Cuarón, and his son Jonás, wrote this year's space exploration thriller, Gravity.  The film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Cast
The film sports some of the best visuals you will ever experience in a feature film.  But all that is for not, if there is no story to tell, with really interesting characters.  That's where Bullock and Clooney come in.  Let me start with Bullock.  She gives a performance that puts her Oscar winning role in The Blind Side to shame.  Bullock plays a scientist who is running away from something.  No spoiler here.  She is living her life in a zombie like state.  With very little experience, she's asked to board a space mission, to repair a telescope in space.  After she unexpectedly floats away from the telescope, we start to peel back her character's layers, and discover what makes the character who she is.  Bullock plays it perfectly!  She evokes the same fear we have as an audience, with not knowing what will happen.  Her inexperience, is our inexperience.  Her character has such a terrific arc over the course of the film, you can't help but feel for her.  Bullock is definitely an A-list actress, but has just enough 'girl next door' in her to keep her relatable.  You'll have yourself asking, "what would I do in that situation?"  Just a brilliant performance that will most definitely be recognized by the Academy.

Clooney is just flat out perfect for the role!  Maybe too perfect, and I'll get to that later.  He plays a sort of rebellious astronaut; but at the same time, he's an experienced, fatherly figure to Bullock.  He gets the funniest lines in the movie ( for what little humor there is in this serious film).  I really enjoyed where the writers went with his character.  He and Bullock had great chemistry in the film.  When you see the movie, you'll know how vital that chemistry is to the success of the film.  Awesome!

The Visuals
The special effects are masterfully done in this movie.  We've seen a lot of 'space movies'.  But really, seriously, nothing quite compares to this movie.  The detail on planet Earth, from outer space, is impeccable.  You can see every coastal region, the different colors of the ocean depending on the depths of the water, every mountain range.  It is something that will definitely require multiple viewings.  Special effects company, Framestore, has created a character out of space.  I mean seriously, SPACE, is a character in the film!  Awesome!

While on the subject; this is a movie you MUST experience in the theater.  I know how annoying going to the movies can be.  I know how annoying people are these days, and how little respect they have for the movie-going experience.  But trust me, this will not be the same film on your ginormous big-screen TV at home.  My only regret is that I didn't see the film in IMAX, or in 3D.  Yes, I said it.  I, the hater of all things 3D, wish I would have seen this movie in 3D.  But you really have to to appreciate the size and scope of the film.

The Director of Photography
Have you ever heard of Emmanuel Lubezki?  If not, it's too bad, because he has captured some of the most memorable films in history through his lens.  He has been nominated for FIVE Academy Awards; for everything from Sleepy Hollow to The Tree of Life.  What Lubezki does in Gravity is nothing short of perfect.  He makes the audience a part of the film.  With every toss and tumble of the characters, we lose our sense of balance and need to look to the theater floor to regroup.  And I'm not talking about the stupidly over-used shaky cam of the 2010's.  I'm talking about pulling the audience in, and making them feel like a bystander to the events onscreen.  There were several scene in which I caught myself holding my breath, until the unrelenting action slowed down; then finally exhaling.  He was able to magically capture emotion... like fear and a sense of urgency, through his lens.  What an amazing job.

The Score
Steven Price is a Grammy winner, but has only worked on a few feature films.  You wouldn't know it after listening to the music for this film.  This had to be a tricky thing for Price and director Cuarón.  The very first frame of the film is text, explaining to the audience that there is no sound in space.  And silence is just as powerful as a roaring orchestra can be.  Price masterfully uses both beautiful music AND silence throughout the film.  Yes there was the obvious, fast paced music during the action, but the subtle character driven moments are what I loved the most.  This blended perfectly with the performances of the actors, gave us no choice but to feel what the director wanted us to.

The Writer/Director
Speaking of the director; Alfonso Cuarón is the best film director, you've never heard of.  I'm saying it again because hopefully this will be a push for super stardom.  And maybe that's not something Cuarón wants.  But I really hope we get to see more of his beautiful, thought provoking writing and directing.  In a day and age of ridiculous, big budget action films, movies like Gravity prove you can have the best of both worlds.... action and visuals, with character driven stories.  If you pay attention, it's a rare breed of director than can pull off this difficult task.  Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, and now Alfonso Cuarón.  Bravo, Alfonso and Jonás.  Bravo!

What I didn't like about the film:
Tell Me More
There is only one, small issue I had with the film.  There is not enough time spent on George Clooney's character.  We learn so much, with very little dialogue, about Sandra Bullock's character.  But we're left wondering who the Clooney character really is.  What life events made him the man he is in the story?  What are his motivations?  He can't just be the funny father figure, can he?  There has to be more to him, and I would have loved to see it.

The Verdict:
A True, Instant Classic
I mentioned James Cameron above, and here's a quote he gave this week, that sums it up for me...
I was stunned, absolutely floored.  I think it's the best space photography ever done, I think it's the best space film ever done, and it's the movie I've been hungry to see for an awful long time.
I couldn't agree more.  I love space exploration films.  Apollo 13 directed by Ron Howard, is among my favorite films of all time, but Gravity is better.  Nice touch by the way, having Ed Harris voice mission control; a similar role in Apollo 13 that garnered an Oscar nomination for the actor!

I know I keep saying this, but Gravity is an experience, not just a film.  It's so rare that a movie grabs us, and forces us to take the ride alongside the characters.  The writing and directing are top notch, along with a memorable performance by Bullock that will stay with me for a long time.  The visuals, cinematography and score are also terrific.  What more could you ask for?  The Oscar race has officially begun, and I think Gravity is well on its way to the top of people's lists for best films of the year.

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