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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 12.28%
Just Average: 5.26%
Pretty Crappy: 5.26%
Sucks: 21.05%

5 reviews, 27 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Stars Look Very Different Today"
5 stars

Thanks to the technological advances brought about by the advent of CGi technology and the like, things that would have once been impossible to pull off only a short time ago are now commonplace sights at the multiplex. The trouble is that since the filmmakers have too often chosen to sacrifice such elements as character and story in order to focus on such state-of-the-art miracles, most of these sights, as spectacular as they may be in theory, rarely register as anything more than eye candy that provides a momentary thrill or two but which fails to make any lasting impression on their audiences. "Gravity," the new film from Alfonso Cuaron, accomplishes any number of things in spectacular fashion but its most astonishing achievement may be the way that it restores a sense of genuine excitement and wonder to the moviegoing experience. Unfathomably complex from a technical standpoint and startlingly direct and pure in terms of emotional drama, this is easily one of the best and most memorable films of the year.

"Gravity" starts off with one of the most amazing opening sequences to kick off a film in a long, long while. High above Earth in the thermosphere, a trio of astronauts have left their space shuttle in order to do some maintenance work on the Hubble telescope. WIth the planet looming enormously in the background, veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) is looking to break the record for the longest spacewalk as a way of capping off his illustrious career while Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer on her first space mission, is struggling to acclimate herself to the unusual sensations of weightlessness while performing her repair tasks. For a while, everything seems to be going according to plan until Mission Control warns that debris from a nearby Russian satellite that has self-destructed is heading their way. This incident sets off a deadly chain of events and before the three can return to their ship and get away, they are bombarded with shrapnel that kills the third astronaut, destroys both the shuttle and all communications with Earth and sends the untethered Stone hurtling off the Hubble and into space.

From a storytelling standpoint, this scene--which runs maybe 15 minutes--is a narrative marvel in the way that it quickly and efficiently establishes its story, its two central characters and, most importantly, the unique venue in which we will be spending the duration of the film. The premise is one that practically anyone can relate to on some basic emotional level regardless of whether they have any particular interest in space exploration or not. The characters are also easily recognizable as well--Stone is eminently capable but nevertheless understandably freaked out about her current circumstances even before things go haywire while Kowalsky is one of those people whose goofball attitude masks a steely-eyed competence that springs into action at a moments notice.

Visually, the film pulls out all the stops to present an incredibly convincing suggestion of the vertiginous thrills of floating around in outer space. To make matters even more impressive, the entire sequence is presented in what appears to be a single unbroken take in which the camera slowly and methodically circles the area without ever breaking its stride even when all hell suddenly breaks loose. This is amazing enough but what really sells the sequence is that it never overtly calls attention to itself. Done badly, most viewers would be spending their time trying to spot the seams but because they are so swept up in the drama instead of the technique, it is likely that audiences won't even register just how stunning the scene truly is from a purely cinematic perspective.

This ability to create awe-inspiring visuals that actually serve the story instead of distracting from them has been a hallmark of Cuaron's entire career. Although he has only made a handful of feature films to date--"A Little Princess," the Ethan Hawke version of "Great Expectations," "Y Tu Mama Tambien," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Children of Men"--each one, with the exception of the ravishing but dramatically inert "Great Expectations," has been an overwhelming experience both technically and dramatically and when he fuses the two together--recall Clive Owen running through a building beset by anarchy with the infant representing humanity's last hope in one seemingly unbroken shot in "Children of Men"--the results can be literally breathtaking. Not since the heyday of Steven Spielberg and the likes of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "E.T." has a filmmaker been able to not only dazzle the eye and the heart at the same time but somehow make it look easy in the process.

This time around, he manages to top himself in both regards. The screenplay, which he co-wrote with his son, Jonas, is a little miracle in the way that it takes an idea that is both elemental enough for anyone to immediately grasp and complex enough to understand why no one has attempted it before and figures out a way to develop it in ways that allow the film to grow richer and deeper as things progress without ever losing sight of its basic dramatic core. Some people that the notion of watching people floating around in space for 90 minutes, no matter how well it has been executed from a technical standpoint, might get a bit tedious after a while but the Cuarons always keep things fresh and interesting utilizing ideas ranging from new and unusual perils to surprising shifts in its visual perspective that are handled so deftly that you hardly notice the change at first. Technically, there is not one single moment on display that does not offer up some kind of astonishment and even though there are plenty of articles out there explaining how everything was done in minute detail but I plan on giving them a wide berth so as not to destroy the virtually seamless illusion that Bullock and Clooney are really up in the stars floating around in zero-gravity.

I notice that I haven't really described much about what happens in "Gravity" beyond its opening sequence. That is deliberate because this is a film whose marvels are best experienced first-hand and with as little advance knowledge as possible. I will tell that what occurs runs the gamut of emotions ranging from knuckle-whitening terror (including one visual shock that will creep out even the hardest horror fanatics to wide-eyed wonder without ever stumbling and even manages to find a couple of moments of genuine humor amidst the chaos. I will tell you that Sandra Bullock delivers what is the finest performance of her career by far--working pretty much in isolation for the most part under the kind of physical circumstances that few actors have ever experienced, her transformation from a scared shirtless and emotionally devastated woman to someone determined to survive her extraordinary situation is as amazing as anything else on display. I will tell you that while Clooney's presence may strike some as a bit too glib and garrulous for the otherwise serious circumstances but putting him in the film turns out to be a pretty canny decision because just as his character is trying to orient Bullock's to the unfamiliar sensations she is experiencing, Cuaron is using his familiar face and persona to do pretty much the same for the audience. If there is a misstep during the film, it is in the addition of the personal tragedy in Stone's background that both distracts and drives her along--it is handled well enough but it is a detail that could have been dropped without anyone missing it too much.

"Gravity" is one of the very best films of the year--the kind of undeniably ambitious work that swings for the fences in virtually every scene and winds up connecting far more often than not. There are plenty of films these days that call themselves "epic" because they cost hundreds of millions of dollars and smear their visual effects across the screen like the frosting on a cheap cupcake but in terms of ambition, size and scope, this is the rare movie fully deserving of the appellation. This is not the kind of movie that one can properly experience while watching it on an iPad, a phone or on some junky multiplex screen the size of a postage stamp--it needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible and while such add-ons as 3D and IMAX usually offer viewers little more than additional charge to the ticket price, they are deployed so beautifully here that they are pretty much essential to its presentation. No matter how you see it, however, it is a certainty that it will not be drifting from your memory anytime soon.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22837&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/03/13 20:52:08
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Venice Film Festival For more in the 2013 Venice Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Zurich Film Festival For more in the 2013 Zurich Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Telluride Film Festival For more in the 2013 Telluride Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/16/19 bored mom Astronaut overcomes grossly botched physics with special effects and by stripping. Twice. 3 stars
2/13/17 morris campbell good visuals tight pace its overcoming tragedy for those who dont get it 4 stars
12/09/15 Mike Oxlong Absolute poo 1 stars
4/26/15 the rock overrated as hell 1 stars
4/25/15 Terror Most overrated film ever 1 stars
9/13/14 Zobox Good not great 4 stars
5/15/14 SID RUMKOWSKI Space junk. Clooney plays the Hostess twinkie in this. 1 stars
4/11/14 Smitty great effects - total lack of scientific reality 2 stars
4/11/14 EDWARD BENITEZ very good film but Bullock did not deserve a Best Actress nomination 5 stars
4/06/14 reptilesni Pretty damn good. I wish I had seen this in IMAX. 4 stars
3/08/14 fernxi Turned off after 10 min. Hollywood (en) acting =/> hype, 2 stars
12/09/13 Langano Great visual effects, the rest doesn't measure up. Good, not great. 3 stars
11/23/13 Female Scientist Puke-not spin induced-VILE religious subplot, whimpering female lead-come back Ripley! 1 stars
11/15/13 Sarah Quinn This movie is very overrated but a very good movie and I've them props for all the praise. 4 stars
11/11/13 alice Only worht a look for the 3D. Did not like the acting and lyrics (irritating at times) 4 stars
11/07/13 Joebeducci I liked your review. Could I get some feedback on mine www.squidoo.com/how-good-is-gravity 4 stars
11/04/13 radium56 Flawless. 5 stars
10/29/13 puddleduck I wish I had save my money and watch the Discovery channel. Overblow drivel. 1 stars
10/16/13 Bob Dog Good movie! 3 stars
10/16/13 Man Out Six Bucks Finally something fresh. Definitely one for the big screen 5 stars
10/12/13 mr.mike I don't often give this rating. 5 stars
10/11/13 annabelle Grove occurrance at owl creek bridge? 4 stars
10/08/13 Charles Tatum Very intense, never lets up 5 stars
10/06/13 KingNeutron I wanted to SCREAM at Bullock's character the whole time! 2much gasping!! 2 stars
10/05/13 Drew WOW! Amazing 5 stars
10/05/13 davofern Simply brilliant 5 stars
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  04-Oct-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 25-Feb-2014


  DVD: 25-Feb-2014

Directed by
  Alfonso Cuarón

Written by
  Alfonso Cuarón
  Jonas Cuaron
  Rodrigo Garcia

  George Clooney
  Sandra Bullock

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