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Review – Gravity 3D (15) [2013]

Gravity - title banner2

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alfonso Cuarón – Love In The Time of Hysteria, Harry Potter III, Children of Men

Cast:

  • Sandra Bullock – Crash, Premonition, The Blind Side, Minions
  • George Clooney – Syriana, The American, The Ides of March, The Monuments Men
  • Ed Harris – A Beautiful Mind, The Way Back, Man On A Ledge, Frontera

Music Composer:

  • Steven Price – Attack The Block, The World’s EndFury

Movies that have delved into the realms of outer space have usually fallen somewhere in the triangle of the sublime, the ridiculous and the farcical. Avatar, Star Wars I-VI, and Lost In Space give credence to this (erratic) trinity in varying ways. Among the spaceships, the ray-gun shoot-outs, and the convergence with antenna-eyed or raptor-style aliens, there has been little room (ironically) for realism in a film set in space. Until now. It may have none of the above, but Gravity gives us a true and uncomfortable feel for what it is like to be outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) making some repairs to the shuttle in view of Earth.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) making some repairs to the shuttle in view of Earth.

Gravity centres round Dr. Ryan Stone (Sadra Bullock), a Mission Specialist. She is on her first expedition into space, led by Matt (George Clooney), a veteran on his last voyage into space. Dr. Stone is making repairs to the shuttle that she and Matt are flying with, when debris from an explosion on a Russian satellite smashes into their shuttle. With the shuttle damaged irreparably, Dr. Stone must find another shuttle if she wishes to return to Earth.

That is essentially the storyline for Gravity. One problem with the plot is that the film uses up its central premise within 30 of its 91 minute running time. This means that for the last hour, the movie recycles itself instead of flesh-eating alien invasions or putting inter-galactic arsenals to the test.

But for those who would rather see another Star Wars, Prometheus or Elysium, do not lose faith. Gravity is very engaging. It has moments of knuckle-whitening tension, amplified by the fast beat, gradual crescendo and sudden silence of the music; all whilst our main character tries to reach another space vessel before her oxygen runs out. In respect of tension, the movie is similar to Sanctum; only in Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón’s directing style increases one’s ability to empathise with the protagonists’ predicament.

Predominantly, the film is seen through Dr. Stone’s eyes (or rather her space-helmet), as she swims around in the boundless, atmosphere-less blackness. Without a centre of gravity, the movie enables viewers to appreciate what it’s like to be in space, rotating endlessly unless one can find something to hold onto. And unlike (the lamentable) Lost In Space, Gravity gives audiences a genuine taste for how scary it would be to get lost in space and to lose contact with the only people who might be able to find you.

Matt (George Clooney), from behind his space helmet, gazing and admiring Earth, amidst the peace of outer space.

Matt (George Clooney), from behind his space helmet, gazing and admiring Earth, amidst the peace of outer space.

In part, one feels the depth of this horror because of Sandra Bullock’s energetic performance. Her character is almost always in panic (as any human being would be in her situation) and this exacerbates Dr. Stone’s (somewhat) complex personality. Due to an unhappy episode in her past, we see her mindset switch from despair to a willingness to live on (and vice-versa) repeatedly. This is something which viewers can relate to on a human level, and it was very important that Bullock achieved this feat. For much of Gravity, she is alone on screen, and if she had failed to show Dr. Stone’s personality to the full, audiences would likely have stopped caring about her.

The only other significant character in the film is Matt, played by George Clooney. And Clooney (surprise surprise) plays himself again as the smooth-talking, handsome wise-head, who goes and comes back (for plot convenience) to give sage advice. That is not to say that Clooney performs his role badly. It is just that we have seen this too many times already.

Bullock and Clooney aside, Gravity is remarkably consistent with its depiction of reality in space. Too often in (bad) films, one sees/hears characters breathing and talking in space. Here, however, there is none of that nonsense! The only time one hears sounds is through the space suit’s microphone, which is so refreshing (and illustrates that not all filmmakers have the paucity of knowledge of physics as Sidney Furie, the director of the rightly-maligned Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.)

Dr. Stone trying to grip a bar on the shuttle, or else she could be find herself adrift in the endless, empty abyss of space surrounding her.

Dr. Stone trying to grip a bar on the shuttle, or else she could be find herself adrift in the endless, empty abyss of space surrounding her.

Moreover, audiences are treated to stunning visual effects. The emptiness that is outer space, in all its wonder, is shown to be disconcertingly large. What’s more, the 3D (for once) enhances the visual experience, even more so than it did in Avatar and Star Trek II: Into Darkness. In Gravity, when debris flies at Dr. Stone, one jerks one’s head out of the way, believing he/she will otherwise be hit! Considering how often the 3D does little more than darken the film and add a couple more quid to the cinema ticket, one must applaud Cuarón for augmenting the experience in a positive and noteworthy way.

Over-all, Gravity is a great demonstration of what being in outer space feels like. That the film has no alien encounters or futuristic ray-gun fights gives the film an ironically grounded dimension that has been sorely lacking in so many other movies that have ventured into space. Due to Sandra Bullock’s great acting, the extraordinary level of consistency regarding the physics of space, the amazing special effects and the 3D, Cuarón has treated us to outer space’s awe-inspiring massiveness, as well as how frightening space can be when out there, lost.

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Review – The Ides of March (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

During the campaign to become the President of America, the public and the media tend to focus so greatly on the candidates and their running-mates that the people behind the campaigns frequently fade into the background. The Ides of March, in fascinating fashion, reveals some of the darker arts that go on behind the scenes in presidential races, and why a term synonymous with the assassination date of Julius Caesar is so apt.

The main men behind Morris’ campaign, Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Ben (Max Minghella) and Steven (Ryan Gosling), sitting and discussing the campaign with the journalist, Ida (Marisa Tomei).

The Ides of March is not a true story. But much of the film, directed by George Clooney (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night, And Good Luck, Leatherheads), is based round the unsuccessful run of Clooney’s father, Nick Clooney, for Congress in 2004. The movie centres round Steven (Ryan Gosling – Fracture, Drive, The Big Short), a relatively young and idealistic Junior Campaigns Manager for the Governor of Pennsylvania, Mike Morris (George Clooney – Michael Clayton, The American, Gravity). Morris is in the running for the Democrat presidential nomination, and is up against Senator Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell – A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Ocean’s Thirteen, Ca$h). To gain the necessary number of Democrat delegates for nomination, Steven and his boss, Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman – Capote, Mission Impossible III, The Master), attempt to court Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright – Casino Royale, Source Code, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), who holds the delegates for Ohio, a key state for nomination.

However, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti – Saving Private Ryan, Cinderella Man, 12 Years A Slave), Pullman’s Campaign Manager, has secretly made an agreement with Thompson, offering the Senator the position of Secretary of State in exchange for his endorsement. For Steven and Paul, the agreement must be broken at any cost. Simultaneously, Duffy pulls a trick or two of his own, with Steven in the thick of it. Thus, the campaign backstabbing begins.

The plot for The Ides of March is not particularly fast-moving, but it is interesting and revelatory. Certain aspects of the storyline might go too far (as some of the scandals would be almost impossible to keep hushed up with the current hawk-like media), but over-all it is plausible. Indeed, it is believable that some campaigners would betray their loyalties for personal gain, hence the film’s title being so fitting.

The pretty intern, Molly (Evan Rachel-Wood), out for a drink with Steven.

Paul and Duffy, the characters played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, respectively, epitomise the modern day Marcus Brutus, the friend-turned-assassin of Caesar. Both, Hoffman and Giamatti, play the ruthless sort of individuals who would use underhand tactics to ensure that their candidate would come to the fore.

Without being outstanding, both actors play very well. Moreover, their characters teach Steven a lesson in the malicious nature of political campaigns and politics in general too. If one leaves the cinema with a bad taste in their mouths about politics, this might reflect the director’s disillusionment with the industry after his father’s failed campaign. Could Steven’s experiences in The Ides of March divulge some of what happened to Nick Clooney in 2004?

Regardless, Steven’s actor, Ryan Gosling, gives a solid performance in the lead role. The changes he goes through, as events around him get nasty, are praiseworthy. It also gives Steven’s personality a third, survival-type dimension that makes his character credible. Yet, Gosling is far from brilliant; he lets himself down when Steven’s with Molly (Evan Rachel-Wood – Thirteen, The Wrester, True Blood), the cute, just-out-of-college intern. Their conversations are, at times, painful to watch, and their exclusion would have benefitted the film.

Surprisingly, George Clooney has only a limited role in The Ides of March. As ever, Clooney’s character, Mike Morris, is smooth-talking and suave (smug as well). But how many times has Clooney churned out this sort of performance? In saying that, Governor Morris also has a shady side, which gives him depth and virtually certifies him as a real (morally dubious) politician. Still though, Clooney’s performance here is one we expect from him, and is, therefore, nothing exceptional.

Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), looking very presidential, addressing an audience as part of his campaign to become the leader of the free world.

Clooney’s ability to act, direct, produce, and screen-write vary in quality. The directing and the production are fine, even if there is an unexpected amount of silence before and during scenes. The way the movie has been choreographed might seem peculiar as well, since discussions frequently begin a while before the people come together in the scene. That does not make it bad, just unusual. The same is true for the music, which Clooney probably did not use enough to his advantage to enhance scenes or uplift viewers, unlike The King’s Speech.

Nevertheless, Clooney has written the dialogue very well. It may not be on a par with The Social Network, The King’s Speech or True Grit; yet, it is always apt for the scenarios without being melodramatic.

On the whole, The Ides of March is a very decent film about an indecent industry. The world of presidential campaigns is one that often goes unreported, and this movie sheds light (or darkness) upon it. Above-all, just like its title, The Ides of March exposes the ruthless, double-crossing nature of politics and political campaigns, and why it is perhaps not an industry for nice, honest people.

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Review – The American (15) [2010]

Star Rating: 2/5

When one thinks of a spy film, the Bourne series, Munich and Salt spring to mind. Those movies were action packed and fast-paced; and in Salt, one at least watches Angelina Jolie wearing tightly fitted costumes and doing all kinds of interesting stunts and kicks. The American, on other hand, has little of these qualities; and George Clooney (From Dusk Til Dawn, Ocean’s Eleven, The Ides of March), playing the role of an American spy in Italy, fails to appeal to the audience in the same way that Matt Damon, Eric Bana and Jolie do in their respective films.

Clooney making out with Violente Placido at a picturesque and secluded stream.

In saying that, the director, Anton Corbijn (Control), has deliberately gone for a very different type of spy film relative to other recent movies within the genre. He has gone for an artistic film. One is forced to admire the beautiful Italian sceneries as well as tolerate the silence that dominates much of the film. The lack of dialogue in The American is reminiscent to Francis Coppola’s Lost In Translation. Consequently, there are numerous (and arguably pointless) scenes of Clooney alone, saying nothing. A lot of the time, the same is true when Clooney is with people. Questions asked to him are often left unanswered, which is poor-show from Corbijn.

Clooney, refreshingly, is not his usual charming self in The American. He cuts a sombre and lonely person throughout much of the film. Even in scenes when he is with people, like when he is with the priest having religious conversations or when he is with the escort/prostitute, Clara (Violenta Placido), Clooney is almost always distant, cold and unable to speak his mind. One imagines this could be indicative of spies in general: they can’t reveal their real jobs as that would most likely endanger their lives, their mission and their country. Occasionally, we see the paranoia that goes through the mind of a spy; for example, the constant look over the shoulder. But Clooney does not capture a spy’s paranoia as well as the actors in Munich do, which is a shame for him. That is not to say that Clooney does a bad job in this film. But devoid of a script, not to mention his smooth-tongue and amiable smile, he is not the same actor.

Clooney holding a rifle with a silencer as he practices his shooting accuracy.

Still, Clooney is one of the few bright spots in The American. (Other decent aspects include the gorgeous women he meets and sleeps with.) Irritatingly, the storyline, if there is one at all, has no context. Throughout the film, one wonders: why Clooney is in this small town in Italy; who he’s working for; who he’s targeting; and if he is an asset or a liability to his organisation. If the plot were fast-moving, Corbijn might have gotten away with this. But as it is slow, the movie is disinteresting and boring.

What’s more, The American is not especially entertaining. It does not matter how picturesque the Italian landscapes are or if some of the paranoia’s of being a spy are illustrated; a film’s first job is to entertain. Thus, Corbijn has let down Clooney as well as his audience.

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