Gravity Movie Review 0 111

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It’s not often that a film comes along that truly pushes the boundaries of what cinema can be, one that can astound on a technical level to immerse you in an experience that’s truly unforgettable. Gravity is one of those films.

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón – the man behind such films as Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También and not to mention injecting some much needed gravitas into the Harry Potter franchise with Prisoner of Azkaban – has delivered a mind-blowing motion picture, with countless jaw-dropping visuals and use of sound that brings new meaning to the word immersive.

The plot centres on medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) working alongside veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) on her first real space mission. The seemingly normal mission suddenly goes terribly wrong as debris from a Russian satellite comes hurtling their way, destroying their shuttle and leaving Ryan free floating in space. She then must work together with Kowalski using the remaining communications system to try and get back to safety.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Gravity is one of the most visually breathtaking films to be released in a long time and certainly one you must see on the big-screen if at all possible. The bigger the screen the better, in fact. The result of literally years of technical development surrounding just how they were going to make this thing – new technology was actually invented to get around the problems of shooting long takes in zero-gravity environments, for example – it’s nothing short of magnificent to behold. Cuarón’s ballet-like utilization of the camera helps that feeling of immersion, while its use of 3D is completely justified (shock horror!) as it’s woven into the film to envelope you in this weightless, dangerous world outside our own. It often conjures up the feeling that you’re actually falling into the screen. Just think about that for a second; how many films – those that strive for spectacle and the wow factor at any rate – can you truly say has that sort of effect? Gravity stands out from the pack in an age when big-budget is king in Hollywood.

Cuarón also makes exquisite use of sound or, at times, lack thereof. The stunning score by Steven Price (The World’s End, Attack the Block) accentuates that feeling of impending doom that repeatedly ramps up the tension throughout, while extended moments of silence filling the beautifully sparse and endless environment provides a simultaneous sense of awe and fear. Space is very much like a character in and of itself; there’s no big bad alien villain here but the environment is presented like a monster without a face.

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However, this isn’t just a vacuous visual spectacle – Cuarón has achieved a nail-biting, seat-clawing, heart-pounding series of thrills that escalate to almost unbearable tension at times, hurtling along at a swift pace towards the end of its surprisingly short 90 minute runtime. It doesn’t waste any time but also doesn’t rush things, achieving that Goldilocks runtime that few other films ever manage.

For all its technical wizardry, though, Gravity is actually a very straightforward film and therein lies the relatablity and beauty of why it works so well. Although it features the requisite scientific jargon to make a believable space movie, it doesn’t over complicate the plot with them, drawing you into this very human story of scary survival. Attempting to anchor the film emotionally could have come off as mawkish or overly sentimental but it’s handled with genuine conviction and authenticity in a way that allows the audience to grab onto the human aspect just as the film throws us into a physical cinematic experience.

This balance is largely achieved thanks to Bullock’s central performance, who really carries the emotional weight of the film on her shoulders. Despite Clooney’s voice coming over the communications, helping her to stay calm in these most dire of situations, it’s basically a one-woman show; in the hands of a lesser actress it wouldn’t have worked and she should rightly nab herself an Oscar nomination come that time.

Gravity doesn’t ever achieve the sort of level of ideas or intellectual profundity of something like 2001: A Space Odyssey, of which it bears more than a passing resemblance, but neither does it aim for that kind of loftiness. Nevertheless it provides a layer of humanity underneath the spectacle as it deals with themes of human connection, motherhood and people’s amazing ability to fight for survival against even the most adverse of environments. Ultimately it’s a stunningly achieved tension-filled experience of the sort that just doesn’t come along that often. It really throws you feet first into a terrifyingly believable situation that makes you wonder “what would I do?” The technical mastery on display, Bullock’s fantastic performance, Steven Price’s powerful musical score and much, much more all add up to make for one of the year’s absolute best films.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 537

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 562

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

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