Monday, October 14, 2013

Gravity keeps you on the edge of your seat

A dazzling array of effects and an unbeatable performance from two prolific actors makes Gravity a box office pull. 

Warning: Spoilers aplenty ahead! To fully discuss this film we will need to divulge
story detail so if you haven't seen Gravity, please do so first. 


ARTH VADER (AV): The Gravity screenplay was written by acclaimed director Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter, Children of Men) with his son, Jonas. This movie was rumored to have been "in the can" for years, because incumbent movie house, Warner Brothers supposedly didn't know what to do with it so it was shelved until a recent push got it in rotation for release. This beautifully crafted stand-alone story happens in no particular time but it's story arc depends on the use of the Space Shuttle Endeavor (SSE) – now grounded (in the real world) along with the rest of the Space Shuttle fleet. The film even implies the International Space Station (ISS) is unfinished. So we know it's frame of context is a few years ago. What did you think of this movie's premise, Pontificator?

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I think this film is the closest representation of actually being is space of any other film ever made. The only way this can be improved would be to install some Disney-like mechanism to simulate weightlessness and add movement. I couldn’t help but to reflect about how real this film made space...and how real scary space is.


AV: This movie's entire experience revolves around two characters; Astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) as the two characters maintain a complex and engaging relationship. The two then suddenly are forced to work through cataclysmic events that fictionally occur some 90 miles above the Earth. Which brings me to the scenery. I have just one thing to say about the cinematography in Gravity: OMG.

I have literally not seen visual effects this stunning since maybe Avatar and the direction of this movie is brilliant as it is all set in space all CGI'd and indescribably gorgeous. The direction is masterfully handled to give a sense of awe and incalculable depth with Mother Earth as the backdrop. Thoughts, Pontificator?

TP: George Clooney and Sandra Bullock...both great actors for which I can recall both good and bad past performances, but in this film, they are nothing short of spectacular. For a film that is only an hour and a half long, they were believable and developed their characters well, drawing me in so that I cared what was happening to them...and the direction of the film made it feel like it was all also happening to me. Simply superb in casting choices, acting and directing.

AV: While it is fair to say this entire movie is one big effects shot, I have got to say, I barely noticed. The viewer is totaled immersed into an unexpected orbital drama as it unfolds. Gravity was shot in 3D and was intended to be a total immersion into the environment and the pure beauty and splendor of the Earth as a backdrop makes for a gripping, visually stunning film. Watching Bullock's tears break free of her tear duct and come spiraling toward me in 3D is a movie visual I will not soon forget.  Tell me where you weigh-in here, Ponty, but the scenes incorporating the spacewalks, miles above the Earth will be as memorable 20 years form now as they were the night I first watched this film. 

TP: This is where the film takes off Vader. As if having a great story and stellar performances wasn’t enough, the special effects brought space into the theater. As is my new standard, I will always opt to see a film in IMAX 3D... and for this film, there really is no better way to experience it. I can’t count the number of times I winced and flinched as debris leapt off the screen. It was pure brilliance when the camera, focused from outside the space suit, kept zooming in and subtly rotated, putting you inside the suit... feeling very claustrophobic and disoriented (constant spinning will do that). This film displayed the type of CGI that makes a movie exceptional, the type that simply cannot be detected and for which you don’t give a single thought about as the movie swallows your mind and emotions.


AV: This was the first film, at least in 2013, that made me feel emotional connectivity to the characters. This was  also the first movie in a long time that made me hang up my hang ups and just enjoy what was being presented. I dare say this was also the first 3D movie that made me jump and dodge when debris and shrapnel came barreling at me through events of the film. This film didn't make me watch, it made me emotionally invested in characters that had depth, meaning and shortcomings. To me, Ponty, this film epitomizes why we watch movies. The experience mattered. 

TP: I looked very deeply at this film Vader. I had no choice as I struggled to survive my ordeal in space. I was horrified at the death of my colleagues and was unprepared for the finality that punctuates the cold of space. I wanted to immediately put out that small pocket of fire I passed as I went into the next section of the station, I know how dangerous fire can be... especially in space, but I didn’t, and almost got toasted. I was sure I could save Matt, but he didn’t think so and took the decision out of my hands. I was sure I was hallucinating after he returned, when he opened the hatch and exposed me to space unprotected... and I didn’t die. I went through a lot to get back to Earth, and live life again... at least I think it was me. Such was the effect of this film, the power in both performance and cinematography that in taking a profound gaze, I became a part of everything that was going on. This is the type of experience all films should give us, but only a few can accomplish.


AV: My first response to this is no sequels, please, it's simply not that kind of film. If one views all movies as fodder for becoming cinematic series, trilogies or franchises, then we miss opportunities to tell rich, engaging and notable single stories that are free of follow-ups and t-shirt endorsements. Gravity also matters because it shares a potent story of human perseverance and we don't need sequels for that, we just need more of it. P-Man? 

TP: Vader, the only thing that can ruin this film is a sequel. I think it should stand alone as an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking, and not be marred by a sequel that won’t hold nearly as much...weight.


ARTH VADER rates Gravity: This film marks the first true cinematic Sci-Fi experience of 2013. An unbeatable set of very human performances from Clooney and Bullock, visual effects we will be talking about for years to come coupled with a frightening and heroic original story makes Gravity the must-see cinematic experience of the fall. This is what movies should be. I don't give perfect film reviews out lightly but gravity, sends ten (10) busted blocks into the stratosphere… and I expect this film will do quite well come award show season. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Gravity: From the moment the film began, and I was greeted with a spectacular view of our planet, I knew this was going to be something special. No aliens, no battles, no warp speeds... just people doing their jobs, and faced with an unfortunate situation... in an environment that is exceptionally beautiful, while being deceptively hostile. This is a survival story, that burned up nine (9) blocks on reentry.

Gravity: 9.5 / 10 Busted Blocks
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Friday, October 4, 2013

Drinking, Alien Robots and Old Friends Unite At The World's End

Simon Pegg's new movie gets him through
The World's End—with a little help from his friends. 


ARTH VADER (AV): Completing the so-called "…" trilogy (Paul apparently doesn't count) Simon Pegg's third big movie is World's End. Being a fan mean loving the content and the people behind it. I guess I qualify. In the vein of epic world-ending tales–heck, this one even says it right in the title–World's End continues to off-track, situational comedy and British humor sensibility make this movie unpredictable and downright entertaining. I tend to be leery of any movie that is heralded as "laugh-out-loud-funny" (because it means it usually isn't) but this film delivered the goods, following in the footsteps of some pretty well-loved its. Ponty, did you think World's End synched up with it's Pegg predecessors? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Straight from the brains of Egdar Wright and Simon Pegg, there are no books or previous material featuring the events or characters in this film. I didn’t see the previous two films Vader, that said, I’m a fan of British humor and the only continuity I saw that counts is in the film, and I didn’t see any errors in that department.


AV: All the usual Simon Pegg suspects arrive for this twisted boys-night-out tryst. Nick Frost plays Andy, Simon Pegg (or "Gary")'s best bud, but cast is superb. Gary's is stuck in 1990, reliving what even he proclaims in the best time of his life. He solicits life-long buddies Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steve (Paddy Considine) and Peter (Eddie Marsan)–along with Andy–to these hometown to finish a pub crawl. Hi jinks ensue when just as the festivities begin, an alien plot to take over the world and replace us with android duplicates is revealed. Things are further complicated as Gary long-lost love interest and ex-high school fling Tracey (Rose Reynolds) joins in and events really unravel.

TP: World’s End was brilliantly cast for what it was meant to be. I’m an avid watcher of BBC America television, so I feel right at home with the British accent’s, slang, humor, and mannerisms. Simon Pegg (Star Trek) is the glue and nucleus of the core group and everyone plays off him well. Martin Freeman (The Hobbit), also a very established talent, is convincing and funny. Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes) brings his character to life with the cliche story of being the victim of a bully, and generally avoiding physical confrontation at all costs. Paddy Considine and Nick Frost round out the quartet of this well paced and zany sci-fi comedy with Frost also being a pivotal character involving reconciliation with Pegg.


AV: The World's End does very little in the vein of special effects, For this kind of movie, effects take a huge backseat to the story and in the spirit of expediency, I have little else to say. Ponty?

TP: The special effects were better than I expected for a film that had a very reserved feel to it Vader. Kudos to the filmmakers for keeping the effects simple, but using them in such a way as to be very effective in conveying the urgency of the plight of the characters. The CGI wasn’t groundbreaking, but again, was very effective for driving home the point of “alien invasion.” There was a kind of “Doctor Who” feel to it all wherein the effects didn’t blow you away, nor did it seem they were supposed to... but were good enough so you get the emotional connection to the situation as intended.


AV: What I most enjoy about Simon Pegg's films is the lighthearted approach to VERY dark subject matter. Taking hallowed and favored genres like Sci-fi and zombie hour thrillers and even cop comedies (Hot Fuzz) and making them believable inclusions in to those genres while still making the comedy and the story you want to make is a talent for sure. I do have to say the end of this movie is an eye-rolling train wreck as the explanation from the *SPOILER!* great alien intellect shares high hopes for a bright future for humanity to the drunken remnants of the pub crawler's party. 

For me, the ending was downright ridiculous, bordering on senseless. The post-apocalyptic part was even more contrived and I kind of felt the film was off the rails and spinning wildly out of control at this point. Kind of a downer since I really enjoyed the movie up to the end… 

TP: For a sci-fi comedy set it Britain with a bit of a slapstick humorous feel, there is a lot going on. Gary King (Pegg) is trying to reclaim his youth, reconcile relationships, and achieve a sense of accomplishment, as a way to deal with his addiction, which becomes a focal point of the film as he becomes hell bent on completing the task of having a pint at twelve pubs... culminating at the last pub, The World’s End, even in the face of the dire circumstance of an alien invasion. It’s a classic, but yet original story, of divergent life journeys' from a youthful point, that for King, is the absolute highlight of his entire life.This path of reconciliation is shared with his friends making the film dig even deeper as they become more than just supporting characters, but tangible people the audience can identify with. Added to this the fact that there is an alien invasion underway and you have a film with serious juxtaposition delivering a unique flavor with an ending that is anything but... if life as we know it is the expected conclusion.


AV: Lets pray that this story begins and ends with The World's End. Again, with the word 'End' right in the title. Let's hope this doesn't begin some needless strain of films hell-bent on forcing us to laugh at things that just aren't funny. Forced humor is the worst kind. Pontificator, you're up. 

TP: This was the last in a trilogy (of sorts) starting with “Shaun of the Dead” and then “Hot Fuzz.” Although there is certainly room to expand the story, as the world condition at the end of the film could be endlessly explored, we will likely be left to draw our own conclusions as to the final fate of our heroes (well some of them) and disposition of the world.

ARTH VADER rates The World's End: I found this movie more entertaining than I was initially wanting to give it credit for. The character-driven storyline helped move along a pretty ho-hum story that got progressively more engaging I found myself caring more than halfway through about what would happen next. Lot's of genuine laughs, good campy dialogue and ridiculously fun story makes The World's End a good time at the big screen. With that, I give this movie seven (7) Busted Blocks as I down a flagon o' mead with me buds. P-Man? 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates The World’s End: Walking into this film with an empty cup left plenty of room for it to be filled at every pub visited. This film was funny, dramatic, hokey, and excellent... all at the same time. A great example of how to enjoy (momentarily) a passive (relatively speaking) alien invasion. I can see how it might not appeal to everyone, but for me it drunkenly busted seven (7) blocks... and left me thirsty for more. Cheers Vader! 

The World's End: 7 / 10 Busted Blocks
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