Tag Archives: the ides of march

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 Master (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Paul Thomas Anderson – Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood

Cast:

  • Joaquin Phoenix – Gladiator, We Own The Night, Her
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Ides of March, Moneyball, A Most Wanted Man
  • Amy Adams – Charlie Wilson’s War, The Fighter, Man of Steel
  • Ambyr Childers – Playback, Crossfire, Gangster Squad
  • Jesse Plemons – Paul, Battleship, Flutter

Tom Cruise and John Travolta are two of the most well-known members of the Church of Scientology. Following the former’s divorce to Katie Holmes earlier this year, the nature of the quasi-religion/cult, founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1952, was came under media scrutiny, and not without some bad press. Yet, one key element that was not addressed during the Cruise-Holmes divorce was the type of individual who would join such a movement. The Master gives us some ideas in excellent fashion.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) looking like he needs to be seen by the men in white coats.

The Master is set during the 1950s, centred round Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). Freddie is a naval veteran who is yet to find peace with himself after World War II (WWII). He is suffering from a multitude of psychological issues and drinking anything to excess that he can get his hands on.

Randomly, he finds himself aboard a ship that is being borrowed by a movement, called The Cause. There, he finds himself mesmerised by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of the cult, believing that Lancaster has the cure to his problems.

The Master is a 144-minute art-house film with a peculiar atmosphere. The 1950s-style music has been adjusted, weirdly, yet aptly, to make one feel uncomfortable in almost every scene as we explore the nature of this bizarre cult through Freddie’s eyes.

One watches with bewilderment as The Cause’s followers lap up Lancaster Dodd’s (bonkers) ideology, as well as their aggressive reactions to those who dare to question any aspect of the dogma, even if it is illogical and contradictory. Moreover, one sees the 1984-style, brainwashing techniques that some cults adopt not only to allow people to join the movement, but to ensure that they are ‘committed’ to the cause.

Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) giving one of his fantastic, if crazy, speeches about how one is connected to previous and future existences.

The alarming craziness of The Cause’s ideology makes up for the slowness of The Master and the lack of activity in the plot. The quality of the acting does the same. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a master-class performance as someone suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and alcoholism (paint-thinner and lighter fluid included). He always looks exhausted, distressed, and like he’s about to blow a fuse. Additionally, his speech is consistently slurred, entailing that viewers will believe that Freddie is on the verge of a psychotic breakdown.

Whilst Phoenix is the stand-out performer in the film, the rest of the cast do their roles with equal capability, even if their ones are less challenging. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays exceptionally plausibly as the captivating, yet mad and flawed leader of the cult. Hoffman’s aura and charisma, as Lancaster Dodd, indicates why so many people in 1950s America were drawn to (the self-declared human-deity) L. Ron Hubbard. In addition, Dodd’s magnetic personality hints at how Hubbard managed to found the Church of Scientology and accrue millions of dollars from his followers. That all of this can be encompassed in one performance is testament to Hoffman’s acting skills.

Phoenix and Hoffman dominate The Master, thereby leaving little room for the rest of the cast to showcase their abilities. Nevertheless, Amy Adams plays very well as Lancaster’s wife, whose devotion to the movement is scarily absolute; similar things can be said for Ambyr Childers, who plays as Lancaster’s daughter, and who spends much of the time she is on screen teasing Freddie; and Jesse Plemons does a decent enough job as Lancaster’s son, who ultimately knows that his father is a phoney making it all up as he goes along.

Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams), Lancaster’s wife, appeaing to her husband to do something about Freddie due to his drinking problems.

Much praise should rightly go to the cast. But director Paul Thomas Anderson should also get credit for making The Master look like one is reliving 1950s America. The clothes, the hair-styles and the music all seem to perfectly fit into place. Furthermore, there is no mention of the term ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’ in the movie. This is because the term did not exist in those days. Still, it would have been easy for Anderson (even if it would have been patronising on the audience) to have had someone in the film state the obvious and make a factual error. After-all, in Gladiator Ridley Scott made Lucilla, the sister of Emperor Commodus, played coincidentally by Phoenix, outlive her brother when in fact she predeceased her brother; and in the 2009 Dorian Gray, Oliver Parker inserted the Suffragettes into the narrative, even though when Oscar Wilde wrote the book in 1890 the Suffragettes had yet to be formed. Anderson, therefore, should be complimented for not falling into such a trap.

All-in-all, The Master is a brilliant, but strange movie. The film might be slow, long and devoid of a linear plot. However, with superb acting and analogies to real-life cults, like Scientology, one is likely to be mesmerised whilst watching the movie from the point of view of the messed-up Freddie. Freddie might have ostensibly little in common with the likes of Tom Cruise and John Travolta but, through Freddie, The Master can give one an understanding for the sorts of people who join cults.

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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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