Gravity

Gravity is one of those films where you are acutely aware of all of the components of moviemaking:  cinematography, sound, special effects, acting, props.  All play key roles in making this space thriller a real gut-punch of a movie that sticks with you.

The story line is simple.  Astronauts are working on equipment in space when disaster strikes, and they have to figure out what to do.  They’re cut off from the world and alone in an impossibly hostile environment.  And that’s where all of the elements of the cinema arts come in.  In these days of blasting soundtracks, how many movies feature absolute silence, or only the sounds of panicky breathing, to help tell the story?  In these days of explosions and superhero epics, how many films require you to watch tiny things, like ice crystals forming on a space helmet?

The zero-gravity environment of space is a perfect setting for jaw-dropping technical wizardry, and Gravity doesn’t disappoint.  The weightlessness special effects looked spot on and, in the case of a tear forming into a tiny drop of water and floating toward the camera, moved the story forward.  Equally impressive was the camera positioning and sets that gave a true sense of the claustrophobic nature of spacecraft and their tininess against the vastness of the universe.

George Clooney is perfectly cast as the wisecracking veteran who falls back on years of astronaut training to develop a game plan on how to respond to the crisis.  Sandra Bullock is a revelation as the first-time space voyager who must draw upon the will to live as she faces challenge after challenge.   Bullock shows an emotional range I didn’t think she had.  And while the physics of their space adventure may be sketchy, thanks to the actors the human story rings true.

Gravity is well worth the price of a ticket.  Just be sure to budget time afterward when you can talk about “how did they do that?”

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

I wasn’t sure I was ready to see Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close.  Even though 10 years have passed, 9/11 still is a very raw and difficult memory.

The film is about a New York City family’s response to a 9/11 loss that leaves a gaping void in their lives — but it is about a lot more than that.  The story is told from the perspective of Oskar, a bright boy who suffers from obsessive/compulsive tendencies and related emotional problems.  His father tries to connect him to the world through games and challenges.  When 9/11 sweeps his father from his life, Oskar tries to make sense of his loss while at the same time keeping his father’s memory alive, and his mother tries to help Oskar as she struggles with her own, overwhelming grief.  Oskar decides to accept a new challenge that ends up also causing him to interact with his fellow New Yorkers — all of whom also are attempting to cope with their own issues.  The script manages to explore the emotions of 9/11 without being cheaply exploitative.

I thought Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close was a unique, intensely powerful movie.  Thomas Horn makes his acting debut as Oskar, and he turns in a stunning, riveting performance as Oskar wrestles with feelings of loss, curiosity, and guilt.  Tom Hanks plays Oskar’s father with customary deftness, and Sandra Bullock delivers a quietly moving performance as Oskar’s mother.  The film is filled with many fine performances, including John Goodman as the doorman of Oskar’s apartment building, Max von Sydow as the mute Renter, who communicates through notes, tattooed “yes” and “no” on his palms, and facial expressions and body language, and Viola Davis as Abby Black, one of the people Oskar encounters.

An event as momentous as 9/11 deserves appropriately powerful cinematic treatment.  Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close delivers.