Tag Archives: George Clooney

“GRAVITY” Review (✫✫✫✫)

“In space, no one can hear you scream”

We fade in on a list of statistics about space as the edgy synthesizer music builds in the background.  The earth rotates at a speed of about 1000 miles per hour.  The temperature is about -273 degrees celsius.  There’s no gravity.  No oxygen.  No air pressure to carry sound. No one to hear you scream or cry for help. Nothing to save you if your suit fails to sustain you. Nothing to stop your momentum if you’re flying in the wrong direction. If you get into trouble out in space, you are all alone. Life in space is impossible.

This sort of tension and desperation is felt on an emotional level so intense in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity that I feel like I’m in space experiencing the same things that these characters are experiencing, not watching the chaos unfold from mission control.  The plot follows three astronauts who are working on repairing a satellite in orbit. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a mission specialist who is working hard at repairing the satellite on her very first space mission. Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is an experienced space veteran who is retiring after this final expedition.  Shariff Dasari (Paul Sharma) is a flight engineer who carries a photo of him, his wife, and child inside his suit.  Early into their mission, the team gets a warning from mission control, saying that there is debris from a missile strike on a Russian satellite orbiting the earth, but that it shouldn’t collide with their trajectory.

Now if that isn’t a case of foreshadowing, I don’t know what is.  Eventually, the debris sets off a chain reaction of destruction, and it eradicates the shuttle that they came on.  Shariff is killed, Kowalski loses communication with mission control, and Stone is left desperately hanging on to her life as she floats aimlessly away from their space module. When Stone and Kowalski eventually meet up again, they have to race against time and fate as their oxygen levels continue to deplete, and need to find a way home before they are truly lost in space forever.

Man oh man, where to start.  Gravity is a film for a generation, a picture that is so convincing and so believable in its approach that its nearly impossible to think that it wasn’t even filmed in space.  It is visually stunning, emotionally gratifying, immensely captivating, and surprisingly involving, a picture that latches you on in its first shot and doesn’t let you go until hours after you’ve left the theater.

Who is responsible for this feeling of attachment and interest?  Why that is director Alfonso Cuaron, of course, who co-wrote the script with his son Jonas. Cuaron, who is most known for his mainstream films including Children Of Men and the third Harry Potter movie outdoes himself here. Not only has he made a compelling and visually breathtaking science-fiction film that visually challenges that of Avatar and Inception: he’s also made a emotionally captivating story with the human interest equivalent of Argo or Captain Phillips.

Oh, I’m not saying he isn’t already a great director: lord knows he’s delivered as much visual and emotional appeal as he did with Children Of Men and Prisoner of Azkaban.  But Gravity is head and shoulders above anything else he’s done in his entire career. Why? Everything in the movie is immaculate and intentional, from the physics and dangers of space to characters emotions and complexions. Look at the delicacy and the concentration on Cuaron’s shots. Look at how well he orchestrates a scene, whether a large, imposing space station is crumbling all around Earth’s orbit, or a astronaut is just awkwardly fitting herself in tight corridors around a space station. In each shot, there is interest, there is intricacy, and there is involvement. Whether its a big, intimidating destruction scene or a small conversation between characters doesn’t matter. The interest remains, and its boy does it keep your attention.

Visually, the film is unparalleled, hooking you on with all of its space-station grandeur and elegant scenery of earth from outer space. Part of this no doubt goes to the visual effects team led by supervisor Tim Webber, but a large accreditation needs to be made to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski, who collaborated on Cuaron’s other films including Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien. Lubeski, who was nominated for an Oscar a few years ago for Terrence Malick’s Tree Of Life returns with the same artistry and craftsmanship that made him an artist in his own right. The camerawork in the film evokes a feeling of both reprehension and serenity, the same eerie feeling you get when you watch the slow, steady moments building up in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It works in conjunction with the film’s plot and with Cuaron’s handling of it, a marriage of collaboration so essential that its doubtful anyone could be as fluid or as controlling as Lubeski is, not even Wally Phister’s steady, reliable camerawork from Christopher Nolan’s Inception or Dark Knight trilogy.

High praise, I know, but it’s well deserved. The visual effects alone have not made this movie. It’s Lubeski’s intricate framing and filming that not only captured these great shots, but intensified them, evoking the anxiety and unease of space just as much as the visual effects and sequencing does.

Bullock and Clooney are affectionate and grounded in their performances, pun intended.  Going in to the movie, I was really worried that the both of them were going to phone in their roles and just let the visuals take over, much like the Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich action movies you see nowadays. Boy, was I wrong. Their characters are real, charismatic and likable people in their own right, people who you’d probably like to sit with and share a conversation with over at Starbucks. Their chemistry is infectious with each other, as memorable and dynamic as the relationship Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon shared with their crew mates during Ron Howard’s Apollo 13. You don’t only care for these characters because of their situation: you care for them because they are human beings, because they have hopes, dreams, and letdowns of their own and you want to see them make it through all of it.

This is what I love most about the movie: not just that it handles itself well as a science-fiction movie, but it handles itself well as human drama, period.

This is seriously one of the best films of the year. I’m not saying that because it is science-fiction. I’m saying that because it is seriously one of the best films of the year.  Under a different director, a different writer, cinematographer, composer, or even under a different cast, this film could have failed.  It’s hard to take a movie that takes place in an enclosed, blocked off environment separated from society with only one or two characters and make it interesting, and the filmmakers here have accomplished that in spades.

But Gravity is much more than a survival film.  It’s more than a science-fiction film.  It’s an epic and emotional story about an astronaut trying to survive, a woman trying to cope with living, reality, and tragedy, and the unhindered spirit that pushes her to keep living, even when all of the forces of nature tells her that she can’t. It blurs the line between science fiction and science reality and is quite possibly the best space movie I’ve ever seen.

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OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2013

Ah yes, its that time of the year again, ladies and gentlemen. It’s Oscar time, where forgettable movies to get gold statues, while great movies get ignored.

Calm down, calm down, I’m just kidding. Except not really. People know that I’m openly critical about the Oscars for a number of reasons, mostly because the movies that were nominated were given those nominations by bloviating pundits and not genuine movie lovers. Don’t agree with me? Look at the following movies that weren’t even nominated for best picture: Rush. Harry Potter. The Dark Knight. Pan’s Labyrinth. Black Hawk Down. Fight Club. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rear Window. Psycho. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. 

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy the majority of the motion pictures that are nominated at the Oscars, and I usually agree with their picks of who wins best picture. I absolutely love The Lord of The Rings trilogy, I love Rocky, The Godfather, Slumdog Millionaire, Titanic, and I uphold that Schindler’s List is the best academy-award winner for best picture of all time. Just because those movies deserved it, however, doesn’t mean those other movies don’t deserve mention, and I find it absolutely despicable that the academy snubs pictures that have made a large impact on society. I mean, everyone’s heard of Oliver! before, right? RIGHT?!

Okay, rant over.  This year is a very interesting awards race, with Gravity, American Hustle, and 12 Years A Slave the frontrunners for the best picture race, not to mention all of the other awards in the ceremony. I’ve already written my top ten list of the year, so I won’t bother you with the details of which I think is better. Let’s begin the predictions.

BEST PICTURE: Since Sundance of last year, 12 Years A Slave has been recieving the most steadfast buzz that lasted all throughout the year into this ceremony. While I agree that Gravity is a great frontrunner, I don’t think that consensus is going to change. Plus, look at the academy’s track record. Based off of previous data, the academy loves to give the best picture Oscar to movies based on real events and that statistically grossed less than 100 million. Not only is 12 Years based on the true story of Solomon Northrup, but it also grossed 96 million dollars. I’m sticking to my gut here. 12 Years A Slave is winning best picture. 

BEST DIRECTOR: Everyone seems convinced that Alfonso Cuaron will win the academy award for best direction with Gravity, and that especially seems the case since he won the DGA award as well. I’m not convinced, however, that he’s the most fit for this award. Gravity, of course, was science-fiction perfection, accurately capturing the physics and dangers of space so perfectly that it could have been filmed in space for all we know. Equally as difficult, however, is capturing the cruelty of the slave era in a relentless, gritty, unhinging fashion, and director Steve McQueen did that masterfully all while maintaing his decorum. I won’t be mad if Cuaron wins and McQueen loses, and to be honest, both are very deserving in this award. All I’m saying is that if Cuaron wins, it will be the equivalent of Steven Spielberg losing for Schindler’s List to Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive.

BEST ACTOR: The battle has been in between actors Matthew McConaughey and Chiwetel Ejiofor, both nominated for their roles in Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years A Slave.I’m going with McConaughey for three reasons. 1) Since his win at the Golden Globes, he’s had a steady winning streak in many award ceremonies, including the SAG Awards. 2) His performance was stunning, sinking into this role of an aggressive party-hard cowboy turned health advocate, and 3) He’s Matthew freakin’ McConaughey. Do I really need to give a further argument?

BEST ACTRESS: Again, this battle is between Sandra Bullock for Gravity and Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine. There are two reasons why Bullock won’t win this year: 1) She won the academy award for best actress a few years ago for her performance in The Blind Side, and 2) I’ve never seen a best actress win for a science-fiction film in any year. So Cate Blanchett is the assumed winner. 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: I want every single molecule and fiber of my being to give the award to Michael Fassbender as a hateful slave driver in 12 Years A Slave. His performance was cruel, relentless and teeth-grinding all at once, and was so despicable as a villain that he surpassed Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in Django Unchained. He won’t win it. The dominant opinion has been swayed towards Jared Leto in his transformative performance as a transgender AIDS victim in Dallas Buyers Club. While I commend his bravery and his ability to slip so effectively into this role, it doesn’t change the fact that his performance didn’t shake me as much as Fassbender’s did. Fassbender played the more striking character: he’s the one that’s more deserving in the award.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: This is the only acting category where a consensus is generally already made. Besides Ejiofor, Lupita Nyongo stood out both as a character, as an actress, and as a spiritually broken slave who lost all hope at life and at happiness in 12 Years A Slave. Her performance truly broke my heart, and she deserves no less than the academy award for best supporting actress. 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: This battle is between writer-director David O’Russell and Spike Jonze, both responsible for their respective films American Hustle and HerBecause it takes a lot more ambition to write about a middle-aged man falling in love with a computer than it does to write a historically based crime-comedy-drama, my best is on Spike Jonze’s Her. Just because its a smarter story, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a better one.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: If 12 Years A Slave is going to have any chance in the best picture race, it needs more of a push than best supporting actress. It’s going to get that extra push in this category. Not only is it among the year’s best, but it is one of the most spellbinding stories of the year, only barely straying from the original text that Solomon Northup wrote all those years ago. Not only will John Ridley win for 12 Years A Slave: he deserves it. 

BEST ANIMATED FILM: I’m one of the relative few that did not enjoy Disney’s newest feature Frozen, a story based on the “Snow Queen” fairy tale about two sisters trying to save each other in a crumbling kingdom. While the characters were fun and energetic, they were equally annoying and ditzy, especially whenever the stupid trolls were on the screen. While I’m less enthusiastic about it, however, it obviously hasn’t disappointed its mainstream audience, garnering a 90% on rotten tomatoes and a rare A+ on cinema score. There’s no question on who’s winning this: Frozen will win the best animated feature award.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: I’ll give Frozen this: it had wonderful music. It deserves no less, then, to win the academy award for best song for their brilliant track titled “Let it go.”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: A few years ago, The Social Network won best original score for its energetic beats and its fluid synthesized sounds. For these reasons will Steven Price not only win the Oscar for Gravity, but deserve it because his music added tension, edginess and paranoia to Gravity’s already heart-pounding premise. 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubewski lost years ago with The Tree Of Life against Robert Richardson for Hugo. The Academy will make that up to him this year for giving him the academy award for best cinematography for Gravity, although I’m still sad that Roger Deakins is getting left behind for Prisoners. 

BEST FILM EDITING: Let me say something here: great visual effects doesn’t make for great editing. Likewise, a masterful editor knows not only when to cut away from a shot, but also on how long to stay on one as well. Although Joe Walker is more that deserving to win for capturing the tragic essence of 12 Years A Slave, I believe it will go to Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger for Gravity due to its technical achievements. 

BEST SOUND EDITING: “In space, no one can hear you scream?” Yeah right. I heard a mother in mourning screaming in space for 120 minutes and I was absolutely petrified.There’s no question on which movie this award deserves to go to: Gravity. 

BEST SOUND MIXING: Gravity for the same reasons as above. 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Gravity. End of discussion.

BEST MAKEUP: Dallas Buyers Club is going to win. If the academy dares to give the award to either Jackass: Bad Grandpa or The Lone Ranger, I’m going to invite them inside my personal port-a-potty and wait for them to realize that its the poo cocktail from Jackass 3.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: I’ve flipped sides on this one a few times now. First I thought The Great Gatsby’s flashy and colorful costumes were going to take home the award. Then I considered American Hustle for its stylish, contemporary costumes. Now, after giving it a second look, my mind is made up: 12 Years A Slave is going to win for best costume design.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: I was hesitant to name this at first, because honestly anyone can take this one home. The set pieces and designs for all of the film were spectacular in the least, ranging from the financially corrupt society that American Hustle portrayed, to the bleak, barren landscapes of 12 Years A Slave, all the way to the surreal, futuristic Stanley Kubrick-style buildings in Her. I’m ultimately going to guess that The Great Gatsby wins best production design only because it is excellent at displaying the roaring twenties as well as being the most diverse out of any other nominee. 

BEST DOCUMENTARY: This category started off controversial, leaving off one of the most critically-acclaimed documentaries Blackfish off of its list of nominees. Disregarding that, however, look at the other nominees. Out of any of the other selections, which one was talked about the most? Which one is the most controversial? Which one gave a clear, unbiased perspective of a serious issue and let the film show reality as it is?

Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer was praised all around for his film The Act Of Killing, a story about a former soldier revisiting his dark past and facing the truth about the lives he took long ago. It ended up taking many number one spots on many top ten lists, including Sight and Sound’s poll for best of the year. It’s no contest for me. The Act Of Killing is taking this Oscar home. 

BEST FOREIGN LANGAUGE FILM: The more I look into this category, the more I notice that The Hunt has been getting more and more buzz with moviegoers about the Oscars, and is the only nominee to be on IMDB’s top 250 films of all time (although, oddly enough, its listed for 2012 instead of 2013). Despite how praising the word of mouth has is, however, I’m convinced that it won’t win. The Great Beauty has been getting the most buzz out of any other nominee, and that buzz usually isn’t wrong. Plus, my ex-film professor loves it. That’s when you know two things: that it’s a bad movie, and that it’s going to be an Oscar-winner.

And here it is, at last, my three (least) favorite awards categories: the short films. Why do I say that? With the exception of one, I haven’t seen any of them. Nobody has seen them. Point me to one normal moviegoer who has seen any of these shorts, and I will pay him $100 to smuggle in DVD-ripped copies of them to my home theater.

Blehhhhhhh. Let’s finish this.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM: The only one I’ve seen out of any of the films in any of these categories is Disney’s Get A Horse, a buoyant and clever combination of classic 1930’s Disney animation with that of today’s three-dimensional standard. I got this category right last year, but that doesn’t mean I will do it again this year.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM: Cavedigger, because it has the coolest title. 

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM: Helium, because I can’t breathe. 

What are your predictions? Do you think Gravity is going to take the big picture home, or am I shortchanging 12 Years too much? Comment below, let me know.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write the president of AMPAS an angry letter about why Rush wasn’t nominated for anything.

-David Dunn

Correction 2/25: On the “best production design” category, ‘American Hustle’ was inaccurately identified as being “the roaring twenties that American Hustle portrayed”. The description was intended to go towards ‘The Great Gatsby’ and has since been corrected. 

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