Movies 101: Gravity

My usual jam is to tickle your movie fancy with what I call “Movies 101” reviews. Thoughts on films, past and present, wonderfully contained in a 101 word candy coated shell.

But every now and then, a picture comes along – – “talkies” as they’re referred to these days – – that warrants the time and effort of 101 words and then some.

Behold:  Gravity.

A friend of mine summed up the new Alfonso Cuaron-helmed – – holy crap I’m never joining the space program – – space epic, with a single, perfect word.

Exhausting.

Gravity is a brilliantly orchestrated, intense ride that allows little opportunity for the audience to catch it’s collective breath. And yet, for a movie that follows the increasingly frustrating and tragic tale of George Clooney and Sandra Bullock somersaulting through the insane vastness of space, the film manages to be a remarkably intimate and gratifyingly immersive journey of life, death, and, rebirth.

In short, it’s a tale about soul searching. A visually stunning, eardrum tickling tale about soul searching.

Now, before I go any further, I’d like to step aside for a moment and give myself a “good game” pat on the ol’ fanny. I am proud of myself for avoiding any and all reviews, spoilers, and promos beyond the initial teaser trailer that debuted a few months ago. I wholeheartedly encourage everyone who’s anyone and anyone who’s someone to stay the flippy-flapjack away from anything that even remotely mentions to the film – – and just go see the film.

Oh, and dish out the extra few bucks for 3D. Don’t ask. Just do.

Now, I consider myself to be pretty well versed in the how’s, why’s, and huh?s of cinematic storytelling. I usually have a pretty good gauge of what a movie will probably be like before even seeing it. And, that’s not me being some snobby movie elitist.  It’s just that when you’ve seen a bazillion or so flicks in your day, and given the usual Hollywood trends of studios trying to outdo one another by basically Xeroxing the same scripts, whiting out the names writing in new ones – – you develop a sort of Spidey sense for how movies work, and mine gave me a pretty strong inkling of how Gravity might play out.

“Oh, it’s ‘Open Water’ in space” I says to myself, I says.

And you know, yeah, it kinda’ is. But holy shnykies, Mr. Bill! That’s not even half of the half of the half of the half of the half of it.

I consider myself a storyteller. It’s what I love. It’s what nudged me on my merry way to La-La land. It’s what keeps me employed in this crazy and often nightmarish business where hopes and dreams come and go without warning or remorse like bits of space debris wreaking havoc on Jorge and Sandy.

I came to this town to make movies and I have been ridiculously blessed to have been a part of the magic in so many different ways. Yet every now and then a movie comes along that makes me think “y’know what? I have no business being here.”

Alfonso Cuaron is a master. He has vision. He has ideas. He has a way of bringing stories to life unlike anyone else. And in a day and age where the common theme in movie-making seems to be “we need to throw more money and more CG and more plot twists and more . . . STUFF at the screen” to the point where most new releases are drowned into obscurity in the wake of their own obnoxiousness; Cuaron manages to take a very simple idea and make it simply extraordinary.

That’s not to say this movie isn’t brimming with computer generated visual goodies. Nearly every shot involved hours of compositing and effects work. But there is a functionality to his method. There is no gimmick. There is no spectacle. Nothing about this film is done for the sake of being done. Much like how the good composers score music to be a character in the movie rather than just background music, AC (as we’re calling him now) works the camera in such a way that his visual style becomes an integral part of the story. We truly see every frame through his eyes – – a trick of the trade only a select few directors have mastered.

I’m not claiming he’s the next silver-screen messiah or anything. Of his other work, I have only seen Children of Men, which is really good – – albeit bleak – – and thus, not really worth multiple trips to the well. And I hear great things about Y Tu Mama Tambien.

But I still feel comfortable in saying that, as a director, as a filmmaker, and as a storyteller, Cuaron takes a giant (and might I add, confident) leap toward the title of “visionary.”

Admittedly, I had my hesitations about the cast. And that is with me being an admirer of both Clooney and Bullock. I’ve been a huge George Clooney fan since The Peacemaker and (especially) Out of Sight. And Sandra Bullock has always been one of those “chick flick” actresses who is not only easy on the eyes and the “like” button, but actually has range as an actress. She is now at the stage of her career where she has nothing left to prove, and seems legitimately excited to take on vastly different roles from picture to picture.

Though we hear other actors, most notably Ed Harris as NASA mission control, we only see Georgy Porgie and Bullock Pie through the entirety of the picture. Going back to Open Water; I remember feeling how incredibly distracting it would have been had the two actors in that film been big names.  With Gravity also being such a contained, intimate concept, knowing it was Clooney and Bullock, I feared the film might suffer from Tom Cruise syndrome where – – as great a talent as Tom Cruise is, he is always still, to some level, “Tom Cruise.”

Before even stepping foot into the movie theatre I kept thinking, “I wonder what this would be like if they went a potentially less distracting route and wrangled the likes of a Kyle Chandler or Sam Rockwell to team up with Jessica Chastain or even new uber-IT girl, Jennifer Lawrence.”

But hear me now and listen to me later, those woes were quickly thumped by the business end of my Doc Martin’s (just kidding, I don’t wear Doc Martin’s) because – – what’s the term? Oh yeah. Holy nuts! – – Ms. Bullock and Mr. Clooney (or Georgdra Cloonock for short) were an absolute triumph.

Clooney’s role, though not as demanding, was brought to life wonderfully in large part to his natural charm and effortless likability. Some might argue that he’s George Clooney being George Clooney. Say what you want, he brings a certain tenderness and calmness to the table as a wily, been-around-the-block, NASA vet who feels more at home drifting through space than on his own home planet, which juxtaposes quite nicely with Bullock as the distracted, easily rattled science officer on her first mission.

And speaking of Sandra B. It feels silly to fling a term like “career defining role” into the universe to describe the performance of an Oscar winning actress who has tickled both our funny and dramatic bones over the years. But this may be her most mature performance to date. It’s easily one of her best, if not the best, dramatic turn of her memorable career.

I would love to cannonball into a deep-rooted discussion of the metaphorical and philosophical flavorings of the movie; and perhaps by slipping the terms “metaphorical” and “philosophical,” I’ve given too much away already. But to wrap-up my relatively spoiler-free praise for the film, allow me to simply say that Gravity is every bit as thoughtful as it is intense, every bit as unique as it is familiar, every bit as encouraging as it is frightening, and all-together, a wonderfully crafted work of cinematic mastery. It begs to be enjoyed on the big screen. And it deserves to be appreciated for years to come.

(1341 words later. . . )

Grade: A

 

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