Money Monster

'Money Monster' movie poster

Release: Friday, May 13, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Jamie Linden; Alan DiFiore; Jim Kouf

Directed by: Jodie Foster

In Jodie Foster’s latest, good old George is forced to strap explosives to his chest on live television and admit to everyone — everyone in Manhattan anyway — that he, the arrogant host of a colorful, high-octane financial talk show, is nothing but a crook. With a gun also pointed at him and his crew, and the assailant with a finger on the detonator, he has no choice but to play along.

In the interest of solidarity, so must we. That, and it’s just more fun going with the flow rather than trying to figure out solutions to the many questions Money Monster raises.

Clooney plays Lee Gates, the centerpiece of a whacky platform you might equate to real shows like American Greed or Mad Money, the latter to which this owes more with its in-your-face delivery and egomaniacal host. Clooney, one of those last vestiges of bona fide movie stardom, convinces as something slightly more than just a pretty face in front of a camera. His geeky enthusiasm over crunching numbers is actually sort of infectious, though  his sense of superiority and ego stroking could be obnoxious to those who don’t keep their eyes on Wall Street. Either way, job well done.

Behind the scenes, director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) juggles producers, camera crew, schedules and the unwieldy task of making sure Gates actually sticks to the day’s script. Mere seconds into just another broadcast she spots a figure lurking in the background, a man carrying some boxes who soon exposes himself as an armed and emotionally unstable investor named Kyle (Jack O’Connell) who has lost a lot of money thanks to a “glitch” in the system, resulting in the company he has sunk $60k into losing $800 million literally overnight. He demands answers from the ones responsible, and has decided Gates is one such individual. The other is Ibis CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West), who has conveniently gone incommunicado since the event.

What begins as a frightening confrontation turns into a nightmarish battle between protecting the interests of the bureaucracy and a need for total corporate transparency.   Police negotiations break down and other options are proving limited as well, particularly when NYPD brings Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend Molly (Emily Meade) on to the scene, hoping she can talk some sense into him. The plan backfires horrifically as Molly, rather than trying to calm him down, lays into him (again, on live television) with a barrage of insults and increasingly vicious barbs that get more personal by the second, leading to one of the most shocking and shockingly effective moments of the entire picture. It’s not exactly the cutesy, unnecessary detour into tender romance we’ve been trained to anticipate.

Money Monster proves to be quite the entertaining little potboiler. It’s distressing stuff but Foster also manages to find the funny in certain moments. One could argue the tonal disconnect between an act of terrorism and comedy, and yet the injection of some quips and the odd running joke about a producer obsessed with balls turns out to be one of the film’s greatest weapons, moreso than the overly familiar stench of disdain and dissidence as a poorly planned hostage stunt yields a much more complex discussion about class structure and the corruption of the American financial system.

There is a more ambitious film buried somewhere in this ‘leave no stone unturned’ approach to getting to the heart of corruption, but like Adam McKay with his own personal vendetta The Big Short, Foster sets the vacuity of morality and human decency as a dramatic backdrop in this world of high finance and “risk-taking.” Even if Kyle’s embodiment of the brokenness of the American dream isn’t something we’re experiencing for the first time, neither his bleeding heart nor the director’s obvious frustration is easy to ignore.

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 12.00.17 AM

Recommendation: Far from the perfect crime movie but Money Monster offers up a lot of food for thought with its combination of terrific acting, pulse-pounding action and a relatively complex but hardly labyrinthian narrative that makes it easy to buy into the plight of its characters, on all sides of the argument. Once you get over the incredibly strange opening act, Money Monster really opens up into something worth investing your time (and money!) in. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “What, is this a union thing?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Hail, Caesar!

'Hail Caesar!' movie poster

Release: Friday, February 5, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Ethan Coen; Joel Coen

Directed by: Ethan Coen; Joel Coen

There’s a new Coen brothers film out in theaters and it is called Hail, Caesar! It chiefly depicts a day in the life of a 1950s Hollywood fixer, a man charged with ensuring that studio productions stay on track and avoid disruption or shut-down due to various intervening factors, not least of which being a movie star’s actions away from the set. Call it a function of public relations but this custodial role actually seems even more thankless.

As a modest Coen brothers fan, I bought a ticket. I watched as the film played. When it was over, I got up and headed for the exit. I got into my car and drove home. Such is the perfunctory, mechanical, obligatory, bland, boring manner in which the Coens chose to “make” their new film. This is a total head-scratcher, a real WTF-er.

All the elements seem to be in place for an uproarious, clever comedy. The talent is there behind the lens and the pens. The cast is the sort only directors with the kind of pull brothers Joel and Ethan now have can afford: Josh Brolin is the fixer, Eddie Mannix. George Clooney stars as Baird Whitlock, a name as epic as the film he’s starring in (you guessed it, Hail, Caesar!). Scarlett Johansson reinvests in her native New York accent playing DeeAnna Moran, the star of a spectacular water-themed production that will apparently involve lots of synchronized swimming, while Ralph Fiennes is a British director unhappy with a miscast  Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) in his stage drama. Frances McDormand isn’t exactly Marge Gunderson this time around but she does have the distinction of being in the film’s funniest scene (and it is great). Channing Tatum plays a tap-dancing Communist and Tilda Swinton has a double role as twin sister journalists.

Oh yeah, I think I forgot Jonah Hill but that’s okay, because so did the Coens. Hill’s cameo barely registers as it seems to have already had its time in previews that have played to death the little flirty moment he gets to have with Johansson. No harm, no foul though. At least I can say Hill is consistently compelling with the two lines of dialogue he gets.

Hail, Caesar! can hang its hat on other things besides its staffing. Visually, it’s a beautiful piece and a love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood. A sparkling sepia filter bathes the backlots of 1950s studios in a warmth that belies the business-like approach of both Brolin and the narrative at heart. But it’s not all glamorous, for the Coens seem to be indicting Big Business while celebrating the end product, the beauty of filmic imagery and the devotion of a cast to see its completion. Hail, Caesar! is, if nothing else, confirmation that the ‘magic of movies’ really lies in the sequence and number of phone calls a studio exec happens to make. But please, I turn to the Coens to be entertained, not educated. Or maybe I came to be educated, too, but I still put my needs in that order.

The film does very little entertaining. In fact it’s a surprisingly meandering, mindless affair where plot threads begin and taper off out of nowhere; where the comedy comes in spurts and the weirdness rules with an iron fist. Hail, Caesar! is perhaps at its worst when tracing Mannix’s single biggest problem of the day: locating and returning Baird Whitlock who gets kidnapped from his own trailer. This is a subplot that goes nowhere. A group of Communist sympathizers explain to Whitlock the arrogance of studio executives and how they get off on making millions for themselves (and their higher-ups) while never properly paying those who contributed their creative talents — several of the members of this clandestine group are screenwriters, you see — thus the reason why they are holding one of Hollywood’s biggest names for ransom.

Yeah — take that, you big meanies! This arc would have been compelling had it made any effort to engage the audience but philosophical and ideological ramblings (which seem to have this weird effect on the movie star) offer a painfully obvious exit for any theatergoer not well-versed in the Coens’ tendency to wander aimlessly every now and then. This time I don’t blame those people that couple for leaving; Hail Caesar! spends way too much time indulging.

And then it leaves such little time for other stories, such as DeeAnna’s concern over raising her soon-to-be-born child and Hobie Doyle’s aspirations. Mannix offers to protect the former’s image of having a baby out of wedlock (this is the 1950s, remember) by allowing her to put her baby up for adoption until she can claim it without the public becoming any wiser. Doyle is having a hard time fitting into a more talky role and must decide if he wants the western to define him as an actor or if he wants to grow and develop into something more. At least he seems to be comfortable finding a date to the premier of one of his own movies.

There’s another half-baked story involving entertainment beat reporters Thora and Thessaly Thacker — anyone notice a pattern yet? — in which both are morbidly curious about the disappearance of Capitol’s prized possession in Baird Whitlock, and both still have questions about his legitimacy as a star in the first place. Some scandal about sleeping with a male director to get a role early in his career? What? You could almost consider the Thacker sisters prototypes of the folks over at TMZ, their ability to show up at any time and out of thin air simultaneously alarming and amusing.

The Thackers’ presence is microcosmic of the Coens’ unusually tedious throwback: at its best it is a mildly amusing, grin-inducing gossip column. At its worst it is a waste of time, with some moments so dreadfully boring it’s a wonder how a film that’s critical of the film-making process managed to keep them in the final cut.

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 4.23.51 PM

Recommendation: One of the Coens’ weakest efforts to date, Hail, Caesar! has its moments but too often the laughs are lost in an unfocused narrative that spreads itself too thin across an arguably too ambitious cast. That said, those who are cast in the film fit right into the scene and do well with what material they have. There’s no such thing as a bad performance here but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a cast this good fail to compel in any significant way. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “Would that it were so simple . . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

A Very Murray Christmas

A Very Murray Christmas movie poster

Release: Friday, December 4, 2015 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Sophia Coppola; Mitch Glazer; Bill Murray

Directed by: Sophia Coppola

A Very Murray Christmas is kind of an odd package. It’s a fairly self-indulgent vanity project but only in the best way possible. I mean, how do you say ‘no’ to Bill Murray?

It’s a movie but not a movie; a musical but not really a musical; a short story without much of a tale to tell. It’s roughly an hour of Murray lamenting being left alone for Christmas Eve as he’s holed up in the famous Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan as a blizzard rages outside, preventing anyone from traveling anywhere and from taking part in his Christmas Special in which he is to live broadcast a number of classic tunes for the masses to enjoy.

Then the weather intensifies and shuts down the production, leaving him to his own devices in the hotel lobby, where he slowly starts gathering random hotel guests and staff members together for an impromptu session of Christmas caroling. In essence, this is Murray’s way of saying Happy Holidays without resorting to social media. It’s a live recording of him nudging even the grumps into the holiday spirit. He starts off the film in a lousy mood and slowly overcomes his depression as said guests gather round in drunken merriment.

Despite the aimlessness of it all, A Very Murray Christmas is a good bit of fun. It’s cozy and will fill your heart with warmth come the surprisingly entertaining introduction of Miley Cyrus and George Clooney in a bizarre dream sequence that results after Murray collapses in the hotel lobby after drinking one too many shots of tequila.

It’s a who’s who of the Murray entourage. The guest list is rather impressive: Amy Poehler, Paul Shaffer, Jenny Lewis, Maya Rudolph, Michael Cera, Demitri Dimitrov, Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, David Johansen, Miley Cyrus, Julie White, Chris Rock, George Clooney (he seems to be owing Murray a favor after Murray did Monument’s Men) and members of the band Phoenix all donate their time to the cause.

Ultimately this is nothing you will regret having missed but for the Murray faithful, this Christmas special makes one feel as though this is the closest they can get to actually interacting with the great Bill Murray. That in itself is a gift.

A Very Murray Christmas

Recommendation: Fans of Bill Murray are going to greatly enjoy this while anyone else who isn’t so much a fan are probably going to find it a chore to sit through. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 56 mins.

Quoted: “I don’t even know how to express my shame in this moment. The Murricane skulking down the back stairs like some $25 an hour, Twin Cities hooker.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.theguardian.com 

Tomorrowland

Release: Friday, May 22, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Brad Bird; Damon Lindelof

Directed by: Brad Bird

The thing to remember about Tomorrowland is how easily it will be forgotten.

The rest of the summer season isn’t likely to spare much sympathy for those wishing this weren’t so. In a few short weeks Jurassic World is going to claw to pieces any memory of George Clooney starring alongside another former doctor (as seen on T.V.), the great Hugh Laurie. Remembering the escapism in Disney’s latest live-action flick after experiencing the upcoming fifth iteration of Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt will pretty much be mission: impossible. And do I even need to make a Terminator: Genisys pun? That film thus far isn’t looking like it’s even going to try to be good but it’s sure to find an audience that is going to remember the moment when Arnie delivered on his promise of being back.

Popularity notwithstanding, Brad Bird’s envisioning of an idealistic future won’t stick around for very long as it amounts to frustratingly little more than a spectacular visual experience. This land of tomorrow-ness . . . or whatever . . . looks magnificent in all of its shiny, Emerald City-esque grandeur. Actually it’s more than that. Tomorrowland is magnificent. Who wouldn’t want to go there — whoever could find it, that is?

Strangely enough, Tomorrowland‘s most glaring issue, its cluttered mess of a screenplay — the product of one too many collaborators it would seem — succeeds in arousing curiosity. Curiosity about what in the world is supposed to be going on. What this parallel universe is supposed to stand for; why Laurie couldn’t have been handed a more fleshed-out role. I’m getting a little ahead of myself, so it might be helpful to focus on the clutter for now, just to avoid a review filled with clutter.

Story opens with a narration by George Clooney’s present-day Frank Walker, a boy-genius inventor who became disenchanted with this semi-mythical metropolis having been exiled for some reason or other.  Probably some bureaucratic explanation. Oh, yeah — that’s what it was. He invented a jet pack of some sort that had little practical use, as noted by David Nix (Laurie), Tomorrowland’s presiding jerky-jerk-face. The narration is part of a video recording involving him and someone else off screen. Frank continues explaining how he spends the next couple of decades as a hermit, denying his past and any connection to it. Despite all this serving as half the exposition required, there’s enough material already to warrant a full-length film on its own. But Frank isn’t the only relevant Tomorrowlander . . . (Tomorrowlandite? Tomorrowlandian?)

There is also Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), an intelligent and adventurous young girl, daughter of a NASA scientist who, naturally, has access to some pretty high-tech facilities and yet no sense of boundaries. When she’s arrested for poking around her father’s work place and subsequently released Casey finds herself in possession of a brightly colored pin — the kind that, when touched, transports that person to a place far removed from their current surroundings. Skepticism about what she’s experiencing soon is sidelined in favor of even more narrative expansion when a precocious young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) appears almost out of thin air. Her posh hairstyle and British accent suggest charm and sophistication, a stereotype Disney is still comfortable with in 2015. Athena’s initially quite the enigma, possessing a wealth of knowledge and wisdom someone her age couldn’t possibly have. Over time she trends away from mysterious and stops just short of a total annoyance.

Considering the quirks inherent with each of these intrepid explorers, we’re given such little depth and personality. Protagonist and antagonist alike dutifully adhere to the script, simultaneously forfeiting their right to creatively express themselves. It’s a little saddening knowing the House of Mouse refused to open its doors to creative writers on this particular project. House Laurie is not quite as compelling without the guidance of some spectacular character development, though he is passable here. Clearly Clooney received a phone call one afternoon, urging him to clear some time in his schedule to up Tomorrowland‘s recognizable faces quota, because his character functions as a cardboard cutout of the typical adult jaded by a few sour life experiences. Granted, if I was told my ingenious inventions were an epic fail as a young boy I suppose I would pout too, but there’s no other mode Clooney gets to switch into.

The denouement isn’t exactly the bright light at the end of the tunnel, either. We spend a great deal of time building up to something; what we are lead to believe will be some kind of infiltration of an ill-defined utopia. At the very least we are expecting some great drama inside the halls of Nix’s . . . what, his lair? Do you call this tower a lair? Let’s call it a lair. Instead, it turns out Nix has been using his power to guard Tomorrowland from potential invaders (meaning all of us trapped in the real world, one that is perilously close to being annihilated from El Niño or something) and doesn’t care if his actions mean the deaths of millions. Sure, it’s the wrong position to take when faced with the choice of either saving mankind or letting it die out, but Nix is no sinister villain. The writing just doesn’t allow for anything other than a small bout of fisticuffs between Laurie and Clooney.

Bird manages to steer his film in a perpetually positive direction — Tomorrowland rarely stops to look back, opting instead to embrace the future, eager to find something better than what came before — and yet the end result leaves one completely indifferent to this world building. After these two hours, one ought not be blamed too much for wanting to live in the past, in a time before they were taken to a world that turned out to be built out of false promises and perhaps a few unfairly high expectations.

Ever reached for the glued-down . . . world-transforming Tomorrowland pin?

Recommendation: Best described as a family adventure for Friday night movie nights, Tomorrowland may look good but its mostly surface gloss. It doesn’t feature any stand-out performances, and yet the experience isn’t done a disservice because of average acting. The emphasis on optimism hardly rings hollow, but the communication method is woefully unmemorable, which is disappointing given its exciting marketing campaign prior to the release. Disney (and Brad Bird) can do better. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 130 mins.

Quoted: “Every day is the opportunity for a better tomorrow.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Monuments Men

106664_gal

Release: Friday, February 7, 2014

[Theater]

Hollywood’s golden boy, the man who no one thinks will actually age is not only going grey, he’s becoming uninteresting. His latest directorial effort fails as a historical work of art, but succeeds in the extreme in showcasing A-list celeb vapidity. I’ve never been the biggest sucker for the handsome devil myself, and with the release of The Monuments Yawn, I’m ever more comfortable on my little island.

After watching this film, if you find yourself in agreement that the guy is overrated, I’ll move over and share some space. This island is big enough for the both of us.

The latest contribution from the Ocean’s Eleven star is threefold: Clooney’s front-and-center as art historian/appreciator Frank Stokes and can also be found behind the camera directing a cast with its own sense of history. He also wrote the story. The likes of John Goodman, Matt Damon, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville and Cate Blanchett were all at his disposal, as Clooney attempts to dramatize a most unusual circumstance — with the exception of Blanchett’s character, the rest form a band of art buffs who are tasked with locating and recovering precious works from a Nazi regime quickly crumbling during the final year(s) of World War II. They must go behind enemy lines and risk their lives in an effort to ensure der Führer isn’t successful in completely eradicating a culture via the hoarding and subsequent destruction of their remaining artistic creations.

By George, the man’s got a fascinating premise to work with, a heck of a cast, and an indisputably impressive film résumé that has earned him many a star and stripe. Yet he does a disservice to all of the above by creating a film that’s as boring as history courses are to the students who perceive their enrollment in them to be a complete waste of their time.

There’s no denying that one of the world’s most recognizable names has eked its way into a position of absolute authority. We’re at a point where seeing ‘Clooney’ beside the directorial credit is less of a surprise as it is an assumption confirmed; the longer you endure as a performer, the transition from actor to director is a bridge that will inevitably be crossed. . .just because. Of course, there are names aplenty who have realized their storytelling abilities are best demonstrated from the director’s chair, while still being able to show a modest level of conviction in their on-screen presence. Clooney is such a big name that the fact he’s a director now might be a reality we are going to invariably dismiss as the norm for aging A-listers.

In the many instances he comes up short as a director here, it’s not for a lack of trying. With a well-selected cast and a beautiful, authentic sense of time and place, his intentions are earnest and noble. He infuses wit into a story that, given the heaviness of the historical context, really could use it, and he appropriately selected class acts like John Goodman, Bill Murray and Bob Balaban as the vehicles for comedic relief. Too bad they never manage to yank the material out of neutral and become truly funny, as they more often than not are known for being capable of.

Costumes, make-up and set design are all impressive as well, particularly the set design. The film oozes 1940s quaintness. Dull browns and greens compose most of the shots taking place outdoors, while rich hues of mahogany and other colors of royalty help accentuate the dominance of the presence of the Third Reich, even in its state of decay in this moment in time. All actors are outfitted in appropriate garb that feels of the day, while the use of a portable radio that Frank discovers plays up the nostalgia factor wonderfully.

But considering all of these qualities, The Monuments Men should be so much better. It needs to be so much better. If the story were a map, we’re lost instantly in an incoherent jumble of directions, references, points of interest and a few other historical bits and bobs. At the very least, the journey we are meant to undergo throughout France and Germany is set up for some entertaining discovery. Instead what we are provided is a sprawling mess with an alarmingly low payoff come the long-awaited conclusion. Poor, if not nonexistent, character development is chiefly responsible for the way in which this film peters out into nothingness.

This mission is a noble undertaking, and so it stands to reason we should have some fairly compelling characters to deal with for two hours. As it turns out, this is arguably Bill Murray’s most uninteresting turn ever as Sgt. Richard Campbell, whose shining moment is cracking a tooth on some shitty food. Bob Balaban’s Preston Savitz feels nothing less than squandered; and while Goodman and Dujardin have more work to do, it’s still menial as compared to Clooney’s talky lead.

As per usual, good old George is perfectly satisfactory as a leading man, playing the invigorated art appreciator who’s responsible for rounding up the troops (I really need to cease and desist with the cute puns). His directorial eye isn’t so trustworthy though, as he clearly has no idea how to control tone. The Monuments Men is monumentally tone deaf as it switches from comedy to drama back to comedy and even to romance from time to time in the space of a few short scenes. Plenty of films slip in between genres, but none feel as bipolar as this one does.

Worse than any of the aforementioned, the film is really a tough sit because it so often falls flat. This includes the comedic side of things. Clooney proves he’s as incapable of writing a convincing, historical script as he is directing it. His most recent directorial effort is a cardboard cut-out of what should be compelling filmmaking; it’s flimsy, hollow and yeah. . .cardboard-y.

Best just to stick to the basics, George. You know, looking great in front of the camera and all that jazz.

mm-1

2-0Recommendation: Tall order, recommending this one. The Monuments Men is a massive disappointment on virtually all levels. The main reason to go see this at this point is for the sake of seeing Mr. Clooney in another role, playing alongside otherwise excellent big-screen legends. Here, everyone (with the exception of the man himself) seems wasted in a movie that doesn’t seem interested in. . . .well, making anything interesting. I’d say skip this if you can help it.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 112 mins.

Quoted: “Take a goddamn cigarette, Private.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Gravity

Gravity-2013-Movie-Poster

Release: Friday, October 4, 2013

[Theater]

Whatever you do, don’t let go. . .

You know, when those first trailers hit theaters circa late July, and the last image is of Sandra Bullock in a space suit doing some somersaults against a void punctuated by dots of light, my reaction — along with those of several other moviegoers at the time — was to just start snickering. That one scene really set itself up for parody. Not to mention, the situation seemed just hopeless, ostensibly impossible to conclude. . . happily, anyway.

In short, my first impression of Alfonso Cuarón’s follow-up to Children of Men wasn’t likely the one he intended. However, my chuckling might be mostly blamed on what the trailers did. Make no mistake — the ones for this film are very, very good. But they do only show part of the real terror that you’re about to witness.

It would certainly seem that on the surface (I know, clever right?), Gravity is a very limited concept. A routine mission turns catastrophic from the unintended effects of a Russian-launched missile that destroys several satellites, and sets this particular crew on a collision course with a wall of space debris just above the Earth’s atmosphere. The crew must find a way to survive — however many of them that may be, and however ridiculous the odds are. That is simply the story we’re given. You could describe the film in one breath.

Good thing you’re only going to have that one breath for the endurance of this 90-minute stress test. The premise may be simplistic, but therein lies both the genius and the reward associated with Cuarón’s sci-fi thriller effort. The most basic of situations, flaws, or missteps that we take (and take for granted) here on earth, under the influence of gravity, instead have dramatic and devastating effects and consequences in space.

From the moment the opening shot is established, be prepared to feel weightless and for your stomach to be in knots from the dizzying heights you’re about to experience. Cuarón and his brilliant camera angles thrust you into the black emptiness surrounding our lonely planet, and similar to how J.J. Abrams managed to convince us that we were all floating in space with the Enterprise, he establishes time and place perfectly — which might sound silly considering that space is more or less stripped of any of the rules and regulations we like to govern our daily lives by on Earth.

Nevertheless, you’re there whether you like it or not, immediately drawn into the lives of these astronauts who are on a seemingly routine mission. We hear them going through procedures with the Command Center in Texas as they service the shuttle. George Clooney’s Matt Kowalski zips around in his spacewalk seat-thingy, ever eager to share the stories he’s acquired having spent many a year in the space program. Sandra Bullock’s medical engineer-turned-astronaut by contrast is a little more reserved and nervous on the job. She’s clearly not as accustomed to having the curvature of Earth as the view out her office/bedroom window. And it’s not like one can really blame her. The sheer scale of this film is more epic than any superhero film has pretended to be in recent years.

What does this film more favors than anything is the staggering attention to detail. From the lack of sound when the shuttle and space station get struck with the debris, to the lack of energy Bullock shows having run out of oxygen in her suit; from the way spits of flame react in zero gravity, to the way equipment rips apart like fine fabric — literally every possible consideration is accounted for here. (When you’re done picking up your jaw, try not to leave too much drool on the floor. Someone else is probably going to be sitting there later.)

Such precision applies to more than the tangibles, which, in a movie like this, are crucial in and of themselves. The acting on the part of Sandra Bullock is simply incredible. Her task in this movie is quite a difficult one. Shouldered with conveying the requisite terror and panic that our collective species is intended to feel in these extreme conditions, she also has a personal story to share, and her experience on this mission will entirely change her outlook on the rest of her life.

When fellow survivor Matt Kowalski asks her about her life on Earth — what she might be doing at this very moment otherwise — she explains she had a daughter. Her portrayal as Dr. Ryan Stone is an emotional tour de force for which Bullock should receive the highest of recognitions. (If there’s any justice in the world, she’ll earn Best Actress AND the film’s extraterrestrial elegance will earn Best Visual Effects.)

This is also not to say Clooney doesn’t get a word in edgeways, either. His ramblings are sources of relief when the tension in the air becomes almost unbearable; his timing is perfect. He’s not given the heavy lifting, that much is certain, but Clooney colors up a supporting character that might have fallen completely by the wayside considering what happens to our heroine here. Ed Harris also voices mission control for the very brief moments they are in contact with one another.  To me, that casting choice is a little funny since he has all of maybe five minutes of line-reading and is never seen. Still, its yet more evidence of the talent that gravitated towards this project. (Man, I really need to stop with the puns.)

Currently, this is the highest-scoring film I have seen this far in my young filmgoing career that wasn’t A) a documentary; B) an indie film with little-known actors in potential break-out roles; and C) not a historical film steeped in facts and statistics. All the same, it has received near-perfect ratings, and is likely to stand out as one of the most complete, immersive and thoroughly researched stories this year.

Oh, and it’s also not an animated film either. Those also tend to do extremely well considering the levels of creativity that are involved in their construction. Notable achievements such as Pixar’s Toy Story earn perfect marks because of their broad appeal (a G-rating helps) and the novelty of the world in which we are stolen away to. A world in which we do not want to leave. Well, here’s a film in which there’s a world we cannot wait to get back to.

Simply put, Gravity sets a new standard to which all coming sci-fi/space films will be and should be held. The director’s previous film, Children of Men, is widely regarded as a powerful and dystopian commentary on a not-too-distant future on Earth in which humans are no longer able to reproduce. But 2013 sees him offering up his magnum opus. Utilizing the most basic of plots and casting top-tier actors who may never have been better, Cuarón draws remarkable conclusions about the stubborn nature of human survival; the will to go on despite every adversity. It may sound a little hackneyed put that way, but with Cuarón’s vision, you can’t help but be grateful for his wanting us so invested in this new reality, this disconnect from humanity. This world that is at the same time without the world.

gravity-2

4-5Recommendation: If, like me, you chuckled at the previews for this, you need to go ahead and right your wrongs. I’m glad I did. Gravity might be the best film of the year.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 91 mins.  

Quoted: “How beautiful, the sun shining on the Ganges river. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com