Movie Review: Gravity [2013]

Gravity [2013]

Gravity [2013]
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Running Time: 91 minutes

It’s easy to get swept up in the hype surrounding Gravity. Alfonso Cuarón’s latest effort is truly a technical marvel, and it is one of the most visually stunning films to come out in years. This is the type of feature that begs to be experienced on the biggest screen possible — IMAX 3D, preferably — and it’s the rare release that is garnering nearly unanimous praise from critics and audiences alike. Taken on these merits alone, Gravity is worth the trip to the theater. However, it is lacking in a few crucial areas, and these issues keep it from reaching the “instant classic” status that many are quick to label it as.

In theory, the idea behind the film is simple. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a rookie on her first space mission, and veteran astronaut Ray Kowalski (George Clooney), on his last mission before retirement, are performing a routine spacewalk before disaster strikes. A Russian missile strike has caused a massive chain reaction, sending seemingly endless amounts of space debris heading directly toward them. Their shuttle is destroyed, and soon the two protagonists become split apart.

At this point, our attention is focused primarily on Ryan and her will to survive. She is given a slight bit of back story involving a tragedy that occurred back home, and this is used as an attempt to get us to connect with her. In reality, this little nugget of information feels contrived. Ryan’s story is something that has been done to death in cinema — can this emotionally broken character overcome the overwhelming odds to stay alive? — and the overall writing leaves a lot to be desired. There is also quite a bit of on-the-nose symbolism regarding the rebirth of human life, some of which feels out of place.

Gravity [2013]

Yet it is a testament to Ms. Sandra Bullock that we are in fact still able to resonate even slightly with her character. The decision to cast Bullock and Clooney — both of whom are comfortable and longtime fan favorites — was a stroke of genius. Going into the film, we already have some sort of connection to the characters simply because of who plays them. Bullock delivers what may be her finest performance yet, and she will certainly get some love during awards season. Clooney is basically playing George Clooney here, but it works for this role. His casual demeanor is the perfect complement for Bullock’s nervousness, and he makes the best of his limited screen time. I truly believe that much of the love for this film comes down to these two actors; if Robert Downey Jr. and Angelina Jolie, both of whom were originally attached to the project, had remained in the film, it could have been an unmitigated disaster.

It is especially impressive that even with these script problems, Gravity is a compelling film. The combination of Alfonso Cuarón’s direction and Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is a match made in heaven — just take a look at the film’s remarkable 17-minute opening shot as an example. Their work truly makes it feel as if you are floating in space, and the 3D is entirely organic. It remains to be seen how the film will hold up on DVD/Blu-ray, but as a theatrical experience, few are better.


Poll Results: Favorite Alfonso Cuarón Film

Children of Men

– Children of Men: 10 votes
– Gravity: 3 votes
– Y Tu Mamá También: 3 votes
– Great Expectations: 2 votes
– Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: 2 votes

This one was never in doubt. Children of Men is considered to be a modern classic by many, and it held the lead the entire time. I might have to ask the same question in the future — perhaps Gravity can make its way up to #1?

This Week’s Poll: Let’s go the horror route this week. Last year during October I asked several horror-themed polls, but there was one I neglected: what is your favorite type of horror film? I realize this is a pretty broad question, and many films can fit into multiple genres, but think about what you tend to gravitate toward in general. Are you a fan of the long-running slasher series like Halloween and Friday the 13th? Do you prefer more psychological films like The Shining or Rosemary’s Baby? Feel free to add in a different subgenre that I might have missed as well.

Movie Project #11: Y Tu Mamá También [2001]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Y Tu Mamá También [2001]

Y Tu Mamá También [2001]
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón, Carlos Cuarón
Country: Mexico
Genre: Drama
Starring: Maribel Verdú, Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna
Running Time: 106 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I can’t remember where I first heard about this film, but it caught my attention years ago. Since then, I have seen it pop up in many “best of” lists, which has made me want to see it even more.

Accolades: New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Film, One Oscar nomination (Best Original Screenplay), two BAFTA nominations, one Golden Globe nomination

It seems only fitting that I follow up Luis Buñuel’s fantastic erotica, Belle de Jour, a film that showed little in the way of nudity, with Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También, a film that revels in its sexual freedom.

Here is a film that takes pieces from many cinematic themes — a coming of age story, a road movie, a tale of best friends, and the seduction of an older woman to a much younger male — and ties them altogether into something very unique. I can’t say I have ever seen a film like it, even though it still feels familiar.

Y Tu Mamá También [2001]

Julio (Gael García Bernal, a recognizable face from Amores Perros) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) are two teenage boys that are also best friends. They seem inseparable, especially when their girlfriends go away for the summer. Now free to do whatever they like, they party, drink, do drugs and try to get laid whenever possible. At a wedding, they meet Luisa (Maribel Verdú), the Spanish wife of one of Tenoch’s cousins. Both teens are instantly smitten with her and, in jest, they invite her on a road trip to a secluded beach that no one knows about. She finds their gesture flattering — and amusing — but politely declines. Later, when it appears her marriage has hit a rough patch, she decides to take them up on their offer, much to their surprise.

Y tu mamá también [2002]

Julio, Tenoch and Luisa all hit the road together and drive through the Mexican countryside in search of this mysterious beach. This gives everyone involved — us included — to learn something new. For us, this trip provides a glimpse through rural Mexico, showing economic disparity while also beautifully evoking its many different cultures. For the characters, they are all discovering new things about themselves and each other, for better or for worse. It goes without saying that things will not be the same by the time they come back.

Y Tu Mamá También is frank with its subject matter, and full-frontal nudity is a common occurrence. However, there is nothing sleazy about this film, and in fact, it should be commended for not concealing anything. This is a wonderfully told story that feels raw and authentic. Best yet, it is honest, and by the end of the film I felt like I really knew these characters. All three grow up, just not perhaps in the way you might expect.