Treating space travel with Gravity

gravity movie poster
Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuarón and written by him and Jonás Cuarón, is a visually stunning examination of working in space. I suspect this movie would be one of the rare beasts that rewards viewing in 3D.

But it’s not just gorgeous and exhiliarating to watch — at its centre is a human story, a tense, captivating physical and emotional journey dealing with both outer and inner space. And thankfully, character exposition is minimal and natural, and melodrama absent.

Sandra Bullock plays a doctor, Ryan, recently attached to NASA to conduct an experiment. She and veteran team leader Matt (George Clooney, reliable with humour and dependability) are marooned in space when bad things happen to their transport. Again and again. Their mission becomes one to get back to Earth.

The physics of space is beautifully, strikingly, rendered on the big screen — thrust and counter-thrust, in an environment with no resistance. Propelling through the confined sections of a space station littered with floating debris — not as much fun as you might expect. Think space walks are genteel? Think again — velocity matters.

Particularly impressive is the way sound travels only in intense POV scenes, transmitted through spacesuits, while broad scenes are conducted in the silence of space — only the occasionally intrusive score to be heard.

Bullock is ideal as the doc who has to dig deep — not action-movie deep, just humanly — reading instruction manuals, thinking laterally, using wit and dry humour and sheer tenacity in the struggle to survive. Her journey is intense, and well worth strapping in for.


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Christmas viewing: Ides of March, Black Mirror, American Horror Story

I’m starting to quite like George Clooney. I like his attitude. He isn’t afraid to play the non-hero, either. He does subtle and quiet well. We saw one of his latest movies, Ides of March yesterday: it stands out from the pack of twee Christmas fare; our choices were quite limited. The movie tracks the campaign of one of those things they do in America, where candidates to run for president must face off against each other to represent their party … Clooney is the green of the piece, espousing policy that will never be accepted in the American dream however much we might wish, things such as alternative energy and a fair health system for all. And he’s doing well, if only he can win this one state over, it’s all the way to the White House. The focus is on the campaign managers, how they fight for the public’s vote. It’s image and it’s spin and it’s dirty tricks. Ryan Gosling is trying to fight clean. Unspectacular and unsurprising though the movie may be, watching Gosling’s tyro fall is a bittersweet delight. Well played, all.



To the small screen, and there are two shows we’ve gulped down recently: American Horror Story and Black Mirror.

American Horror Story puts such a delightful spin on the trope of the haunted house, it is must-see. It doesn’t throw the viewer any bones, either; flashbacks can occasionally be jolting and confusing, but it all comes out in the wash. The ghosts are amazingly well drawn, to the point where it took quite a while to work out just who was haunting who. And Jessica Lange’s performance is to die for. Heh.

Black Mirror, alas, a mere three episodes of which have been made, is British. Three standalone episodes survey issues of society and technology. The first, a terrorist demands the UK prime minister fuck a pig on national TV, or the kidnapped princess gets it — media and internet communications are in the spotlight. The second, a future world, and celebrity can be the way out of drudgery, but there’s a price… And in the third, what if we all did have implants that allowed us to never miss a thing — memory on instant playback?

Black Mirror comes from Charlie Brooker, the writer who gave us Dead Set, simply one of the best zombie dramas of recent years, and Black Mirror is likewise sharp and unstinting. Brilliant dialogue, perfectly timed, superb world building without and not needing explanatory notes, effects that enhance without jarring or looking trite.

And one of the things that makes all three shows stand out is the quality of the acting. From the minor to the majors, the casting on all three is superb. Black Mirror in particular makes impressive use of non-verbal cues — the silence can be so telling. Black Mirror has to be one of the best shows of 2011. Let’s hope there’s more to come…


Speaking of more, the trailer for David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has me all excited (the eight-minute version moreso; the Trent Reznor-Atticus Ross soundtrack is a delight). Not so much, the last of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, but I’ll go anyway. And Ridley, oh Ridley, you had me all in a fluster about Alien “prequel” Prometheus, and then I was told it’s being shot in 3D, and now you’ve got me all afeared. Thank goodness there’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on the way: we saw a trailer while waiting for Ides of March, and the cast, the mood … it all looks just bloody brilliant.


The American: nice shot, man

The American is the second feature film from Anton Corbijn, following on from the brilliant Ian Curtis biopic Control, and though this thriller is a different beast, once again the photographer’s eye is up front and centre on the big screen.

The story, about an tired assassin/gun maker to the nefarious who seeks a seachange and lurv after a life of loneliness and violence, isn’t remarkable, and there are occasional, minor bumps in the logic road.

George Clooney, and his co-stars, are superb; Clooney is so understated, as is so much of the film. Funnily enough, if an American studio had made this movie, well, it would most likely have been such a different fish.

But instead of sparking, flipping, roaring car chases and huffing foot chases and cut sequences of martial arts and amazing volleys of inaccurate gunfire all set to a thumping techno beat, we have a far more contemplative movie: it still has car chases, foot chases and exchanges of gunfire, but this is a character piece, and it’s beautifully done. Even the soundtrack is treated with minimalist regard.

Much of the charm is in the direction, with almost still images striking such emotional chords: Clooney framed in a cafe window, looking out, seeming so small and paranoid and very alone, is one that sticks in the mind. But these remarkably evocative images are everywhere, whether in the twisting streets of an Italian village or the panoramic landscape or the framing of the characters, making this a real joy to watch.

Bullseye.

Up in the Air

In Up in the Air, George Clooney plays a professional traveller. He’s got negotiating airports down to a fine art as he closes in on his key goal in life: to be one of the elite travellers to clock 10 million frequent flyer miles. In this goal, he is aided by his job, flying around the globe but chiefly the USA as a hired gun, firing employees for gutless bosses. He also sidelines in presenting talks about his way of living life, known as the empty backpack: Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham doesn’t believe in weighing himself down with possessions nor responsibilities, applying that philosophy to relationships, even family. And yet he can show remarkable understanding, if not compassion, for the victims of corporate downsizing he faces every day.

It is a well-rendered story, the casting spot-on: Vera Farmiga as his love interest gobbled up the screen, and Anna Kendrick fitted her suit as ingenue and foil perfectly.

The movie has a lot to say about family and humanity, and hits emotional buttons without using a sledgehammer. The ending is sublime, and I’m still not sure to what extent Bingham’s journey has been altered. Has he learnt something or is it simply too late for him to make the most of his lesson?

Maybe it’s simply a case of what goes up, must come down…

As someone who loves travel, and has recently battled the burden of an accumulation of possessions, I found much to appreciate in this tale. Life is a balancing act, somewhere between being happy on the ground and being light enough to fly. And happiness, this film tells us in no uncertain terms, is best enjoyed when shared.