Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” Is A Masterpiece

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Beirut’s Film Festival is peaking early this year, on its opening night to be precise, when Gravity lands onto its screens.

Going with high expectations into a movie is almost always a recipe for disaster. More often than not, movies fail to satisfy that craving you had thought they would, leaving you feeling cheated. I had high expectations for Gravity, it blew them all out of the park with its opening scene alone.

Sandra Bullock is Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first space trip with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). A seemingly simple mission immediately goes awry, as is expected, when Russians destroy a satellite that was orbiting Earth, sending debris flying at bullet-speed towards the astronauts. As their space shuttle is destroyed, Stone and Kowalsky are left to drift in space as they try to find a way to go back home.

Gravity may seem like a typical science fiction movie at first sight but it’s nowhere near that. It’s a gut-wrenching tale of fear, despair, loneliness, friendship and survival. Gravity is spell-binding. Every minute of its 90 minute running time is irrevocably captivating. Everything its characters do is believable, adding to the overall effect of the movie. We had gotten so used to Hollywood blockbusters overwhelming us with special effects in order to turn their movie into a hit that I thought I reached a point where no movie could impress me from a technical viewpoint: hadn’t we seen them all?

What we hadn’t seen was Gravity. The use of special effects and 3D in this movie is not gimmicky, it helps to tell a story. The techniques employed to film the movie are masterful. There are shots there which are so brilliant I have no idea how they were filmed.There’s a reason why James Cameron said this was the best space movie ever made. There’ s also plenty of good reasons why Darren Aronofsky said this is the type of show movie-makers will learn from for years to come. They were both not lying.

Alfonso Cuaron is a visionary. After Gravity, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be on every movie fan’s favorite directors list. His movie makes you feel like you are one with the astronauts as they drift afloat, at the mercy of the gravity-less space they are in. His camera runs ever so smoothly, fluidly, giving the impression that the entire movie is one unbroken shot. His command over his work is so evident that the effect is near-hallucinatory: it draws you in, makes you believe you are one with Bullock as she strives to stay alive, as she fights for every breath she could take.

Bullock is terrific. This could very well be her best acting performance to date. I can definitely see a best actress nomination for her at this year’s Academy Awards, effectively telling her naysayers that her win for The Blind Side a few years ago was not a fluke. Bolstered by great work from Clooney and, at the beginning of the movie, Ed Harris’ voice guiding them all the way from Houston, Bullock takes in every fiber of her character and gives it back to the audience tenfolds. You can see every emotion on her face as it unravels. You can see her tears as they drift off her face (literally). You can feel her elation at times. You can feel her despair at other times. She helps the movie be as great as it is.

If there’s ever a movie that requires you to check in your movie genre stereotypes at the door, it’s this. I am blown away. Gravity is astonishing. It may pull on your heartstrings sometimes, but it’s never sappy. It’s a towering achievement in technique while also being a cinematic experience that is sure to trouble your senses, especially with its epic musical score. If the Oscar race is off to this start, other movies are at a terrible disadvantage. I am in awe.

5/5

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Movie Review

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is the story Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a young American boy who lost his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) in the 9/11 attacks. Trying to cope with the passing of his father, Oskar, who happens to be a very inquisitive boy, tries to make sense of the world. Feeling disconnected with his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock), Oskar sets on a quest across New York City to find one last clue that his father might have left him in a blue vase, which he finds among a stach of things he collected of his father, including his father’s last phone messages on an answering machine he never shared with his mother. The last “hint” is one involving a key and the last name Black, to which he will spring up one last quest involving 472 people with the last name Black in NYC, hoping he’d find the lock which fit the key.

As the movie opens, Oskar, who’s implied to have Asperger’s, says: “If the sun were to blow up, we would still have light and warmth for eight minutes; I feel like my eight minutes with my father are running out.” Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is Oskar’s quest to cling to those eight minutes as long as he could.

Many have called this movie trite and over-indulgent. I disagree. My main problem with Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was not the subject matter, which you cannot but appreciate, but it was that the main character, Oskar, is more often than not grating, making it difficult for many to relate to his struggles especially when at a moment he snaps at his mother, telling her he wishes it was her in that tower instead, simply because she couldn’t explain why his father had died. It might be how the character was written but Oskar isn’t likeable at most of the movie’s run. There are moments, though, when he’s at his most vulnerable that his child-self shines through. It is then that you appreciate the performance by Thomas Horn, who does a good job, despite his character’s flaws.

Sandra Bullock is great and saddening as the mother trying to protect her son while receiving his bashing for things out of her control. She provides much realism to the movie. Tom Hanks, in the little screen time he gets, embodies the role of the caring dad trying to break his son out of his shell and into the world through little quests in search of ordinary things sparsed throughout New York City, requiring his son to interact with people.

While on his quest, Oskar will cross paths with an old mute man renting at his grandmother’s place. This old man (Max Von Sydow), whose name is never revealed, will help Oskar on his quest by helping him rise above his fear of ordinary things such as trains and shabby-looking bridges. In doing so, Max Von Sydow gives a great performance without uttering a single word.

In a way, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is not really about 9/11 as it is about coping with death. It focuses less on the American tragedy of a country and more on the tragedy of the Schell family. Its main shortcoming is in the fact that with trying to aim for universality, it comes off short from hitting the mark within its niche. Some of the movie’s sequences seem forced. Some are even out of context and irrelevant to the overall flow. In a way the whole sequence with the old man could be removed without affecting the storyline one bit. The movie is not seamless. It feels rickety at points. And that’s a shame because it could have been so much more.

6/10