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.

8/10

Movie Project #35 and #36: Grave of the Fireflies [1988] and Crash [2004]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Grave of the Fireflies [1988]
Grave of the Fireflies [1988, Isao Takahata]
Starring Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Akemi Yamaguchi.

Grave of the Fireflies is unlike any other animated film I have ever seen. It is simultaneously beautiful and devastating as it shows life in Japan near the end of World War II. The movie follows two orphaned children, 14-year-old Seita and his 4-year-old sister Setsuko, as they struggle to get by in their war torn village. They find temporary solace in the home of a distant aunt, but she makes it clear that they are a burden on her and her family, and they are hardly welcomed in the household. Later, the children attempt to live on their own, but it is obvious that Seita is not in a position to take care of a young child. It’s heartbreaking to watch the two children fend for themselves as they struggle to acquire even basic nourishments.

This is an incredibly sad and tragic film, one that is made even more powerful because it is based on a true story. Grave of the Fireflies is an emotional experience, to say the least, and it may very well be one of the best anti-war films ever made. An absolute must-see. 10/10

Crash [2004, Paul Haggis]
Crash [2004, Paul Haggis]
Starring Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Thandie Newton.

Out of all the movies in my project, the inclusion of Crash is what garnered the biggest reaction. The initial response from commenters was mostly negative, but then it started to get some vocal support as well. It’s clear that this is a polarizing film, and that’s why I wanted to see it. As the credits began to roll, I had just one question: How the hell did this movie win Best Picture???

There really wasn’t much I liked about Crash at all. The film tries so hard to tackle the touchy subject of racism, even going so far as to incorporate at least a half dozen different races, all of whom make derogatory comments to each other. There are no likable characters, and they all act irrationally. The whole movie felt artificial and forced to me, as characters found ways to incorporate racist remarks into *EVERY* single dialogue exchange. Look, I know there are a lot of racist fucks out there, but I still have a hard time believing people speak this way all the time. Some of the character behavior was simply ridiculous, too, such as that of Terrence Howard’s character, who exploded into a fit of rage that was completely out of character considering his past actions. The entire film had an air of pretentiousness to it, right down to the pompous soundtrack that tried to make everything more dramatic than it really was. With hackneyed writing and dozens of pathetic stereotypes, Crash is an embarrassment that should not have even been nominated for Best Picture. 4/10