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Movie Review: “Gravity” (Take 2)

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(Editor’s Note: “Gravity” is such a major movie this fall that we’ve run two reviews. See Stephen Silver’s review here.)

“I got a bad feeling about this..”

It might be one of the most overly-used clichés in movie history. Plus, if a character does happen to utter this phrase

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in "Gravity"

Even in space, people need jobs.

during the content of a scene where little or nothing is currently happening, you best believe that something “bad” is about to go down.

So, when accomplished astronaut Matt Kowalski verbalizes this more than a few times during the first act of the film, you’re just waiting for that “bad” thing to happen.

However, this “bad” thing is completely unexpected as far as the rest of the crew of the space shuttle Explorer is concerned. See, this small crew is on a routine mission to fix, what I believe is, the Hubble Telescope. But little does this crew of floating spacemen (and women) know, their routine mission is about to hit “disaster flick” status.

Such is the premise of the new science fiction-thriller “Gravity.”

Let’s get back to the realms of space, shall we. While the rest of the crew is stuffed inside the docked Explorer shuttle, a team of three is out dancing with the stars – having pulled maintenance duty. Among them is Kowalski (played by George Clooney in a fatherly role – much like the part he played in “The Perfect Storm”), who’s the fun-loving, wise-cracking, storyteller of the crew. Just to add a fun fact: he’s also on the verge of breaking the all-time, cumulative spacewalking record, which indicates that he’s visited the blackness of space quite a few times in the past. This is why he’s flying around in infinite circles, regaling Houston and the crew with interesting (and familiar) anecdotes and generally enjoying himself – an act of jetpack tomfoolery which he might or might not regret later on.

With Kowalski doing his best impression of Elton John’s “Rocketman,” Medical Engineer Ryan Stone (played by a fantastic Sandra Bullock – I smell an Oscar nod) is doing her best not to fill up her spacesuit with perspiration. A doctor on Earth, this is Stone’s first trip into space, which she was able to make before NASA cuts her funding (for what I’m not quite sure – they might have mentioned it, but ultimately it’s not important to the overall plot of the film). Her job is to fix

Bullock in "Gravity"

Bullock… working on another Oscar nod.

whatever needs fixing, but she’s not exactly the coolest astronaut in the class. However, she is maintaining due to Kowalski’s knack for alleviating the tensest of situations, which is again something that might or might not come up again during the rest of the film.

Also out there with Kowalski and Stone (sounds like detectives in a 1970’s TV police drama, don’t they?), and literally just eating up space, is a third astronaut buddy named Shariff (played…uhh, well… voiced by Paul Sharma). They might as well have called him Yeoman Shariff, as the audience (like Star Trek films/episodes) know he’s not long for this world. I could personally tell you that his role in “Gravity” is not such a lengthy or important one, but I’d rather just let you know this: He’s so important you never even see his face… and I mean NEVER.

So, now that I’ve introduced the crew of the Explorer, let’s blow them up shall we?

As, Stone is putting the finishing touches on her work, which finally lessens her anxiety levels, all hell breaks

A space disaster in "Gravity"

Did somebody leave the pilot light on?

loose.

It seems that the Russians have accidentally destroyed of their own satellites, which mission control in Houston tells Explorer is NOT on course to hit them. Well… not yet anyway. The crew goes about their business until they get another message from Houston. However, this one’s not as positive as the last one. The debris from the felled Russian satellite has caused a chain reaction, which has caused a bunch more satellites to explode… which, in turn, as created a lot more space debris to travel though outer space at the speed of a bullet. And it’s all headed straight towards the Explorer.

What happens next are some of the most tragically beautiful cinematic sequences I have ever seen. The catastrophic images of destruction that are placed on the screen are amazing to behold. They really make you feel like YOU are up in space, ducking chunks of  what was the Explorer.

The thing is – they’re attached to a story that is nothing more than your typical action movie. You know the story that I speak of (I call them “quest movies”): Something goes wrong – go from point A to Point B – something goes wrong – go from point B to point C – something goes wrong – go from point C to point D… and you get the idea. It just so happens that this “quest movie” has two of the more gifted actors of our generation in it, not to mention one of the most visionary writer/directors working in the film industry today in Mexican auteur Alfonso Cuaron (“Children of Men” and  “Y tu Mama Tambien” stand out to me).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that “Gravity” is a bad movie. On technical merit alone, it is one of the most ambitious and breathtaking examples of what movies can accomplish. Although I know how movies are made (with green screens, CGI and such), at certain points I found the kid in me asking, “How did they do that?” and “Did they really film that scene in space? How did they get the cameras up there?” If you only need one reason to see a movie, then the aesthetics are your reason to see this film.

If you need TWO reasons, then you’re in luck. I do happen to have a second reason in my pocket right here.

Bullock fiddling with knobs in "Gravity"

Now… how do I get “Breaking Bad” on this thing? I hear the last episode was off the chain.

And that reason is: Sandra Bullock’s performance. I know I said earlier that the overall story of “Gravity” was a simple one and one that I’ve seen in dozens (if not hundreds) of movies before, but a possible third reason would be director Cuaron (who also wrote the film with his brother Jonas) ability to turn any tale into a wondrous, fantastical triumph in storytelling. It’s not the story it’s how you tell it, right?

Back to Bullock and her tour-de-force turn as isolated astronaut Ryan Stone. Although she spends most of the film panting and breathing heavily behind a veil of glass and swimming in an especially large spacesuit, she manages to exude emotion with every, single one of those huffs and puffs.

There is one particularly memorable scene, that combines the brilliance of both Cuaron and Bullock, in which Bullock’s character strips off her astronaut suit after a harrowing spacewalk and with every piece of equipment and clothing that is peeled off, it’s almost as if she is reverting back to the womb. And with the way Cuaron lights the proceedings, it takes on the characteristics of a rebirth. Now, it is laid on a little thick, as even the most surface of film watchers are sure to pick up on the metaphor, but it doesn’t make it any less meaningful.

Clooney (who, after “Solaris,” is back for round two behind the helmet) does a great job here too, providing

Clooney reaches out in "Gravity"

Grab it… grab… it…

small doses of humor before the tension takes hold of the audience, because once that happens, it doesn’t let up until the credits roll. There is a little bit of sexual tension between Stone and Kowalski, but mostly it’s like a father-daughter relationship. Actually, now that I think about it, it’s more like a coach-player tandem, with Kowalski supplying Stone with pearls of wisdom throughout, as well as the occasional, well-timed pep-talk when times get genuinely rough… and boy, do they get rough.

Without giving up too much of the plot (even though it’s not THAT original, you’ll still be riveted nonetheless, as you’ll wear out the edge of your seat watching it), there is a specific moment, which occurs in the film’s third act, which almost made me go from liking the movie to hating it – just like that. It’s a polarizing moment and by the time you pick your jaw off the floor, you’ll realize what’s REALLY going on and it’ll all make sense. Again, I’ve been on a spoiler-free diet recently, so I hope I didn’t binge out and break my routine with this piece of cinematic info. Basically, I hope I didn’t give too much info away telling you this piece of the story.

All in all, if you like a “Castaway” type of film, in which a small cast is put in an irksome situation, where they find turmoil with

Bullock contemplates in "Gravity"

This film is full of beautiful imagery… thanks to shots like this from director Alfonso Cuaron.

every step they take, but eventually discover their courage in a metaphorical journey of self-discovery, then “Gravity” is the movie for you. Just do yourself a giant favor. If you have an IMAX theater in your immediate vicinity, SEE THIS MOVIE ON THAT IMAX SCREEN. The visuals and the sounds are a feast for the eyes and ears and are increased 100 fold on an IMAX screen.

Your brain will NOT have a bad feeling about that.

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