Interstellar

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Release: Friday, November 7, 2014

[RPX Theater]

Written by: Jonathan Nolan; Christopher Nolan 

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Interstellar is a fascinating adventure, even if its credibility is trumped by spectacle.

And somewhere throughout this epic excursion to the far reaches of our universe I half expected Matthew McConaughey to make the pithy observation that Dorothy is not in Kansas anymore. Alas, that moment never came.

DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT

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There has been a healthy dose of speculation about the latest Christopher Nolan spectacular, on both ends of the spectrum — hype surrounding the fact that Nolan’s grandiose vision would now sync up with quite literally the most grandiose thing ever, space exploration, and caution against the inevitable: against getting hopes up too high (you know, in case Mr. Nolan isn’t actually infallible), and that the science needed to truly pull a feat like this off would likely not gel with the blockbuster formula. At least, not without alienating the majority of theater attendees.

Turns out, and in the wake of the dizzying height of such hype this last week, the cautioners were more accurate than they were naysaying; the positivity has been running a little unchecked. Try as I might to remain level-headed, I got swept up in it too. I for several months felt like a child after chugging an entire box of Pixy Stix. There was no way Christopher Nolan was going to disappoint. Not with this material, not with this cast, and particularly, not when he’s this experienced.

To that end, Interstellar is poised to represent a new standard to which audiences are going to forever hold Nolan accountable. In the build-up to the release, it was all we had to just assume the best of an intergalactic voyage through a never-ending web of stardust and dark matter. I’ve always thought it’s easier (and less scary) to imagine the size of the universe rather than to sit there and calculate its dimensions. Similarly, being ignorant to what the movie actually presents seems to provide a sense of innocence. It’s only in this moment the conditions might seem perfect, that we might have a truly comprehensive look at our place in the universe.

Interstellar is a movie that works best when not questioning, at least too deeply, the very heady developments taking place in the clutches of deep space. Contrary to Nolan’s ambitious hiring of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne as the film’s chief scientific consultant and executive producer, there isn’t a significant moment in the extraterrestrial portion of the narrative that passes without some level of suspension of disbelief. In fact, this happens more frequently than Thorne and any physicist are going to admit.

I don’t want to damn the science part of the fiction. I’d rather grin and go along with the logical gaps, because this film is a lot of fun for being about a very real end of a very real world. This is the most confidently something as technical as physics has been handled in a major motion picture event in some time. Possibly ever. The theory of relativity exists as a recurring theme and quantum physics crops up on more than a couple of occasions. Although reading textbooks isn’t required before sitting down to watch this, some scenes are sure to throw viewers for some exciting but head-scratching loops. Credit most assuredly needs to be given to Nolan for reaching out to field experts like Thorne who could give his film an immediate legitimacy a single filmmaker otherwise could not.

OLD AGE SHOULD BURN AND RAVE AT CLOSE OF DAY

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Nolan once again reaches out to his brother Jonathan for the tall task of penning the script. This was a smart move. Good thing in an industry like entertainment nepotism doesn’t really count for much. He isn’t playing favorites, he just knows what he likes and knows how to get it.

It’s been proven on multiple occasions that the dramatic overtones of Christopher’s directing fall into a blissful matrimony with Jonathan’s perception of human nature. His script suggests a viable endpoint for a species that has for far too long remained ignorant to their impacts on their global environment. Culturally, we no longer exist. We are just a physical collection of individuals still surviving on the surface of this tired planet. In whatever year this is we aren’t exactly in denial but we also have not changed a great deal between present-day (in reality) and the present-day in the film, some near-future where the only food source we have left is corn. Jonathan can see how much trouble we are in today and extrapolates that, say, fifty years into the future with Nostradamian confidence.

The space epic is seated deeply in reality, which is what is most remarkable about a film that also features black holes (a relatively recent scientific discovery), rips in the space-time continuum, and a grab-bag of other assorted mind-bending phenomena. So easily the intellectual reach of Nolan’s direction could tip the proceedings into the realm of the ridiculous — and once or twice it does — but the performances he extracts from the likes of McConaughey, Jessica Chastain (who plays a fully-grown version of Murph, the daughter McConaughey’s Cooper leaves behind on Earth), and Mackenzie Foy (the younger Murph) ensure that we are distracted enough from some of the more obvious offenses.

Getting away from some of the more practical considerations, the production on a creative level is a thing of beauty. I’ll touch back on the practical for just a second: once we get into space the first thing that should be taken notice of, just like in Alfonso Cuarón’s brilliant Gravity of last year, is the deafening silence outside the space vessel. In a second we realize we are in a place we don’t naturally find ourselves. Unlike Gravity, the curvature of the Earth outside the Endurance’s windows is as close to familiar ground as we will be for the remainder of the film.

Hans Zimmer once again reminds the world of why he has a job scoring films. His work here is mesmeric, haunting, truly the stuff of science fiction and space exploration. Melancholic vibes are quickly supplanted by a racing pulse of optimism, determination. Where concerns grow about the convenience of certain plot developments, Zimmer steps in and whisks us to a galaxy far, far away. The musical composition of Interstellar is fantastical as much as it is fantastic.

I suppose in some ways Nolan’s latest was going to be a predictable affair. There was almost no way this concept could work perfectly. After all, what he is attempting is something no other filmmaker has really sought out, save for perhaps Stanley Kubrick. In Nolan’s vision we are shrunken to the size of worker ants. We have an enormous task ahead of us and it’s more weight upon our backs than we ought to be carrying, but we have no choice. A lot of things happen within this nearly three-hour runtime. But to credit the film editors, the running time almost seems insufficient. Arguably this is Christopher Nolan reaching for the stars while only managing to strike a new crater on the moon.

But even if it isn’t top-shelf Christopher Nolan, it still sits up higher than most films of its ilk in the last 30 years. Interstellar is a trip worth taking for the views and some reminders of how far scientific discovery actually has come if nothing else.

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4-0Recommendation: If it were any more serious, this film could be considered the most bombastic thing Nolan has ever undertaken. Fortunately he sprinkles in some much-needed humor to provide levity to this desperate search for another Earth-like planet. I highly doubt I need to recommend this film, but in case you are having any questions regarding the hype and whether it’s too much, it is a little overblown but certainly not enough to warrant skipping it at the theaters. This is a film, much like Cuarón’s Oscar-sweeper of yesteryear, that demands the big-screen treatment. It will lose so much if you wait for a rental. I also have to recommend seeing this on the largest screen possible, though you might save a few extra bucks by not going for the 3D. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 169 mins.

Quoted: “We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.”

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

TBT: Moonraker (1979)

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James Bond June continues! I’ll just come right out and say it: we are moving to a distinctly different time period, to a time where Bond’s chauvinist tendencies were left even less in check than they’ve been recently. A world where the action may not have been so beautifully rendered, but boy did it kick just as much ass as today’s often headache-inducing action sequences. This Thursday’s TBT appeals because the story is so radically over-the-top. This is, aside from a select few Brosnan outings, one of Bond’s least plausible adventures. But it’s a true classic. 

Today’s food for thought: Moonraker. 

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Status Active: June 29, 1979

[TV]

Mission Briefing: When a space shuttle is stolen mid-flight, Bond suspects the clever, conniving and enviously wealthy Hugo Drax to be behind it, and must form a plan to stop him from wiping out millions of innocent civilians. Drax’s ultimate goal is to start afresh on Earth with an entirely new populace, one the deranged man intends to begin cultivating in his own space station. There’s only one thing standing between Bond and the radical industrialist: Drax’ sizable bodyguard, Jaws.

Mission Support: 

  • Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) — considerable “technical experience”
  • Corinne Defour (Corinne Cléry) — loyalty may not be her strong suit, but being supportive of MI:6’s mission apparently is
  • Manuela (Emily Bolton) — 007’s Brazilian contact in Rio de Janeiro
  • Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) — chief target of MI:6, believed to be responsible for hijacking of the Moonraker; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Chang (Toshiro Suga) — Drax’s original bodyguard; highly expendable
  • ‘Jaws’ (Richard Kiel) — physicality outmatches speed and determination; Drax’s new right-hand man; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Dolly (Blanche Ravalec) — girlfriend of ‘Jaws;’ not proven to be particularly supportive of Her Majesty’s interests in the Moonraker

Q Branch: I don’t know what to tell you, 007. The technology is all on your enemy’s side on this one. What, between his cache of expensive little lasers, the fleet of Moonrakers (because one isn’t bloody enough!), and the cloaking device preventing any of us on Earth from seeing the orbiting space station, I have to say all the cards are in Drax’s favor here. There’s not much you can do, really, other than rely on those wits of yours. And in your ripe old age, I wouldn’t even trust those entirely too much. Best of luck out there Bond.

Performance Evaluation: While Roger Moore is unlikely to win the popular vote as to who the best/most memorable James Bond was, he certainly scores points by starring in this highly memorable and action-packed espionage film with a sci-fi twist. Moore as Bond establishes an ease of comfort in his assigned duties, a physical manifestation of cold-blooded killer perhaps no other actor has really shown. Squaring up against the likes of the 7′-2″ metal-mouthed, cable-chewing Jaws and the dastardly brain behind the entire operation in Hugo Drax, Bond must be prepared for supreme hostility in supremely hostile environments. As opinion will often vary greatly on who handles the pressure of the 007 status the best, it’s unlikely that many consider this particular performance from Moore to be among the most frequently mentioned, but Moore does enough to be memorable and amiable.

Moonraker is undeniably all about the novelty of the scenes. The adventure jettisons audiences out of the steamy outskirts of Rio de Janeiro and, later, into outer space for a fun and climactic battle, with the filming taking place in locations as varied as London, Paris, Venice, California, Florida, and of course, the second largest city in Brazil. Bond explores Drax’s shuttle launching facility, where he possesses multiple Moonraker shuttles. While we experience the requisite quips about saving the world, romantic proposals and/or whether or not martinis are best served shaken and not stirred, the world floats by the tiny windows of the villain’s space station. It’s just one extra layer of coolness applied to an already stylish and sexy franchise.

Yet the film certainly falls prey to the tropes of the late 70’s/early 80’s action films. Misogynistic themes skyrocket (Bond’s partner is named Holly Goodhead — not as bad as some in the past, but not exactly a flattering name by any means), and so too does the cheese factor. Bond’s inability to make the lamest puns at the most opportune times continues in Moonraker, yet the majority are not memorable. If you’re looking to evaluate Lewis Gilbert’s third (and final) directorial effort from a technical standpoint, the film’s age is often painfully obvious. But as it relates to the world of James Bond, this outer space exploration is somewhat difficult to top.

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3-5Recommendation: James Bond’s canon appeals to a consistent target audience, one that’s decidedly more male than female, but there’s also no use trying to deny this divide in opinion when it comes to talking “old school” James Bond versus modern versions. Moonraker may not be an awfully intelligent picture but it’s a film that stays relatively true to the novel and always remains a fun time. The last factor in determining if this film is for you is how Roger Moore appeals to your senses. Neither overly aggressive nor excessively mild-mannered, Moore strikes a safe middle-ground. While failing to be as memorable as either Connery or even Daniel Craig, he succeeds in delivering this material with plenty of tongue-in-cheek.

Rated: PG (how the. . .what the. . . really?!!)

Running Time: 126 mins.

Quoted: “My God. . .what’s Bond doing?!”

“I believe he’s attempting re-entry, sir. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.screenmusings.org 

The 86th Academy Awards Afterparty: Will there be pizza?

Despite my fascination with film, I consistently have never really cared for the awards ceremonies as I’ve always seen them as rather trifling procedures. The night of Sunday, March 2 barely amounts to more than a shallow beauty pageant. The proceedings inside L.A.’s famed Dolby Theater are in effect an incredibly expensive circus in which wealthy people converge on a single venue to watch their extremely well-off colleagues accepting gold statues as a way of validating that their work was actually experienced by more than just the people in that stuffy little room.

And don’t even get me started on the actual reporting on the event beforehand. Christ, the quality of the news on the Red Carpet makes a mockery of journalism to the highest degree. There isn’t an apology to be found or heard. Ever. Cameras (and conversations) prefer to be aimed towards fashion trends, intentionally converting performers into walking billboards for the young and impressionable. People aren’t really people in these moments. But that’s okay. . . .I guess. After all, these centers of attention are the same folks who gave us those great moments in the films we liked over the past year. Now it’s fun seeing Jennifer Lawrence stumble all over her real-life awkwardness. Or how about seeing sworn on-screen enemies pal-ing around together over a drink? That’s the stuff that causes the warm, fuzzy feeling in your tummy to grow intensely, apparently.

In spite of my ranting, the end-of-the-film-year presentation is actually greatly entertaining to watch. Why is that, you ask, understandably now confused.

Perhaps its partly because of the phenomenon of the fourth wall still protecting these successful and talented individuals from the claws of the public. We have a right to see our favorite action hero star stripped of his/her dramatic veil so we can get a better look into that person’s mind and see how they do what they do so well. Harrison Ford struggling to look sober during this year’s Oscars is one such insight that might well cause an obsession-fueled Twitter thread. Then there was Ellen Degeneres doing something as mundane as delivering pizza to certain members in the first few rows of the audience while Brad Pitt humbled himself by serving plates and napkins that caused us to nearly soil our pants from laughter.

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They aren’t on the silver screen at the moment, yet the likes of Amy Adams, Chris Hemsworth, the aforementioned Lawrence who can’t seem to catch a break from intentional or unintentional public embarrassment as Degeneres appeared to roast her before kicking off the ceremony this year, or a legend like Robert DeNiro — they all still possess a mystique we can never hope to chip away completely because they are in some way, shape or form still performing for us, the humble viewers. They give possibly the most honest performances of their lives before these particular cameras, but we will never get to be at the Oscar afterparty with them when they all shed the burden of the pretense and of the pomp and circumstance. And, possibly their clothes, too.

As a person who loves film I have been notorious for either accidentally or purposefully avoiding these sorts of events because a great majority of the time I either vehemently disagree with the ultimate selections or I just have no comment on what is going on at the time. There’s also that little issue I have with the false emotion surrounding it all. But nevermind that for a bit. This year I watched the Oscars from start to finish, even tapping into the Red Carpet action (which I will probably never do again, based on the intro paragraphs above). But with a few staggeringly honest acceptance speeches delivered by gold statue recipients, my faith in what these people are doing with their lives has been reinvigorated.

There were obviously the requisite number of speeches that dragged on for far too long, some that became dangerously close to sounding arrogant, and some that were borderline unintelligible. But thanks to highlights in Jared Leto (who took the stage for his snagging of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar), Lupita Nyong’o (with her remarkable work in 12 Years a Slave garnering her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) and the potentially crowd favorite Matthew McConaughey (the McConaissance can now be officially acknowledged following his Best Actor prize) this year’s Oscars offered up strong doses of humanity and humility, a display of appreciation that extends to those who have spent any amount of time paying attention to them — that includes us bloggers! There comes that warm, fuzzy feeling again. . .

Dedicating three hours to watching the awards ceremony proves that this movie-watching business is indeed an addiction. It is equal parts exciting and frustrating knowing that famous names are to receive even greater plaudits than they have already earned in being cast into money-making machines. Such is the nature of their jobs. Everyone should save themselves a pat on the back for me. Especially Mr. McConaughey. I say good for him.


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Photo credits: google images 

Aningaaq (Gravity “spin-off”)

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Release: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 

[Vimeo]

Written by: Jonás Cuarón

Directed by: Jonás Cuarón

In case you departed Earth recently and don’t know yet, the film Gravity by Alfonso Cuarón was nothing short of a revolution in filmmaking, albeit mostly from a technical standpoint. While still selling a considerable number of buckets of popcorn for being a seemingly high-brow sci-fi adventure film, the legend to proceed it will be much more for the sheer brilliance of its scientific accuracy, visual depictions of life in space and its usage of sound — specifically, the lack thereof.

So authentic in its visual detail and human emotion, Gravity seems to be one of those films that you simply can’t get enough of. If you’re going to see it in theaters, it’s one that must be done in 3D (yes, I just said that) and on the IMAX screen. Twice in a row. Some of the more hardcore of us may feel that even that’s not enough to satiate the appetite; fortunately, the brilliant director’s son, Jonas, is where and whom we should turn to next.

Not more than a day ago, it was revealed that Jonas had conceived of a 7-minute short film that shows what goes down on the other side of the desperate calls Sandra Bullock’s Doctor Ryan Stone makes to Earth to try and get help. The film, titled Aningaaq, deals with a major plot point in the film, and it should really go without saying here that if you have yet to see the full-length feature, you should not watch this short until you do. This WILL ruin the film for you, if you aren’t careful.

With that said, Aningaaq is pure brilliance, and serves as a fascinating companion piece to one of 2013’s most eerie and tense dramas. As was the case with the full-length feature, Aningaaq is similarly fraught with tension, though it’s far more limited and not as complex. It is nevertheless a must-see featurette for those who experienced Doctor Stone’s ordeal with isolation in space; it’s important to hear and see what the world is like on the other end of a poor radio signal that is effectively your only tether to the rest of humanity when you’re in orbit.

Ingeniously answering a major question some (if not all) viewers likely have, had or will have in a pivotal and highly emotional scene towards the end, these seven minutes of footage also serve as a good heads-up of what to look for come the awards ceremony, paying particular attention to the short film category. This strange title (referring to the Inuit man featured here) should be one mentioned at some point.

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To watch the film yourself (again, please see the actual film first) click the link below, which will take you to the Hollywood Reporter. Enjoy!

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/gravity-spinoff-watch-side-sandra-657919

4-5Recommendation: Given that you. . . well, er. . .liked Gravity, this will undoubtedly help establish an even bigger appreciation of what was just accomplished in this supremely intelligent piece of cinema. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 7 mins.

[No trailer available. Sorry everyone.]

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

Photo credits: http://www.filmaffinity.com; http://www.screenrant.com 

Gravity

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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.

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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