Gravity was that rare film that reminded me why movies must still be watched on a big screen in a darkened theater. Its straightforward story of a marooned astronaut is, on its own, nothing spectacular. The presentation of that story is what makes Gravity so memorable. The first ten minutes alone are a revelation, particularly when viewed in 3D. This is no glitzy, brash science fiction spectacle. It’s a movie grounded in realism (a few nitpicks notwithstanding) that still has a graceful dreamlike quality. I’ll probably be a little disappointed when I watch it again at home, but I’ll always have that memory of the breathless vertigo I experienced when I saw it the first time.
I played the role of the Frustrated Moviegoer this past weekend. On Saturday, I had planned on seeing Ender’s Game, but last-minute staffing changes made that impracticable. On Sunday, I had planned on seeing 12 Years a Slave with a friend, but thanks to a chronic parking shortage in Uptown. it was sold out by the time I arrived. That may have been just as well, as I’m not sure my chair would have fit in the Uptown Theater’s jury-rigged stairlift.
I have a long weekend coming up, which should give me ample opportunity to reverse my cinematic fortunes. I may even try to squeeze in the new Thor movie if the reviews are encouraging. Be prepared for a bunch of reviews next week.
Gravity is a dazzling achievement that should cement director Alfonso Cuaron’s reputation as one of the most visionary filmmakers working today. The story it tells is a straightforward one; two astronauts (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) must figure out a way to survive after a horrible accident in Earth orbit. That’s it; no aliens, no fancy starships, not even another human. The only company these two have is the Earth itself, which looms in the background in breathtaking resplendence. The rest of the movie is a white-knuckled exploration of zero-gravity physics.
Gravity doesn’t have the emotional or thematic heft of Children of Men, Cuaron’s other masterpiece. But that’s okay because Gravity‘s currency is spectacle. Both Clooney and Bullock deliver fine performances, but the movie could feature Paris Hilton and Justin Bieber and those first 15 minutes would still be awe-inspiring. This is a movie that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible. It demands to be seen twice.
The World’s End is the concluding chapter in the so-called Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are the first two). Like the first two, TWE features Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in another variation of the buddy movie formula. Here, Pegg plays Gary, a feckless guy approaching middle age who never managed to recapture the glory years of his youth. Gary is on a quest to reunite with his high school friends for another try at an epic pub crawl that they first attempted in high school. That attempt ended short of Gary’s goal to reach The World’s End, the twelfth and final stop on their planned route.
Gary cajoles his friends into traveling back to their hometown of Newton Haven and their crawl begins at a rather generic-looking pub. The movie has plenty to say about the Starbuck-ification of British pub culture. A few pubs later, Gary gets into an altercation with a local who is not exactly human. The friends eventually realize that a sinister force has taken over the town and they must escape. But Gary convinces them that they must finish the pub crawl so as not to raise any alarms.
The movie is squarely aimed at aging Gen-X’ers like myself. The soundtrack alone could have been culled from my CD collection circa 1997. Pegg has a gift for playing men who are not quite ready to accept the responsibilities of adulthood and he and Frost play off each other with skillful ease. And the many fight scenes are choreographed with a finesse that many straight action movies lack. TWE is a funny, charming movie that is the perfect remedy to the onslaught of grim blockbusters that rampaged through cineplexes this summer.
Director Neil Blomkamp gives us another politically-minded science fiction romp with Elysium. We meet Max, an ex-con living in the blighted Los Angeles of 2154. The Earth is an environmental and economic wreck, the super-wealthy departed long ago to live on Elysium, an orbital habitat where everything is sunshine and dinner parties. Max gets a lethal dose of radiation at the factory where he works and his only hope of survival is to somehow get to Elysium and use one of the magical med-pods that furnish every rich person’s living room. And so Max decides to take that One Last Job that might earn him a ticket to space.
Blomkamp also directed District 9, another science fiction film that had a political subtext. District 9 managed to convey its message with a light touch and even some humor, but Elysium is a bit more heavy-handed. It still works quite well as an action movie, particularly in the first two-thirds. It’s when Blomkamp tries to drive home his message about how everyone deserves to be treated decently by society that the eye-rolling begins. Still, Matt Damon delivers a compelling performance and it’s fun to watch Sharlto Copley, who played a nebbish bureaucrat in District 9, swagger across the screen here as a psychopathic mercenary.
Somebody also needs to explain to me how a space station can maintain an atmosphere without any visible enclosure. Because that really bugged me.
The latest trailer for Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity has already sold a future ticket to me. In what looks like a single tracking shot, we see a space shuttle mission quickly go south as orbital debris wreaks havoc on everything, sending astronaut Sandra Bullock flying into space while fellow astronaut George Clooney does his utmost to remain calm amidst the chaos. It’s a gorgeous yet terrifying scene that reminds me a bit of another continuous shot in Cuaron’s Children of Men that had film geeks feeling faint. Let’s hope the rest of the movie is just as gripping.
Here’s the trailer:
If only Zak Snyder could have shown the final cut of Man of Steel to the creative folks at How It Should Have Ended. The world might be a slightly better, happier place. Instead, we’ll have to watch the video below and imagine what might have been.
Pacific Rim has giant robots getting into fistfights with giant monsters. This fact alone should be enough to compel you to buy a ticket, but the movie also does a great job of building a world that feels lived-in with a minimum of exposition. The plot itself is something of a paint-by-numbers affair, but who cares because GIANT ROBOTS ARE FIGHTING GIANT MONSTERS! And it looks fantastic. An extensive nighttime combat sequence set in the middle of Hong Kong is dazzling for its use of neon colors. This is a movie that should be watched in traditional 2-D to fully appreciate the visuals. It may be the most fun you’ll have at the theater this summer.
Man of Steel is mostly an excuse to watch overpowered superpeople trash populated areas while we mere mortals cower in fear. And that’s fine. Plenty of movies play upon our secret desire to burn this mother down. But Man of Steel doesn’t do much else that might make its scenes of destruction part of a more memorable story. Director Zack Snyder provides a few interesting twists on the Superman mythos (the difficulty in adapting to an alien environment, Krypton as an authoritarian regime) and a few cynical attempts to appeal to Christian audiences (Clark Kent doesn’t get his shit together until age 33), but the core story seems to get lost amidst the feast of destruction. Perhaps the sequel will give us a more substantial reason to care when Supes obliterates another city that isn’t Metropolis.
Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t shy about appropriating material from classic Trek lore. To say much more would require spoilers, but some fans may find this latest re-imagining too derivative of the earlier and perhaps better version. I can see their point, but I’m also a sucker for new spins on old stories. And J.J. Abrams brings some interesting twists that improve upon the original formula. For example, a certain alien species looks way more badass. Benedict Cumberbatch (I still say he’s a refugee from a parallel Dickensian universe) is also one of the more memorable Trek villains to antagonize Kirk in a while.
But I’m still trying to understand why “Lens Flare” isn’t listed in the cast credits.