There are some movies that you watch, and some movies that you experience.  Like Avatar before it – Gravity is a film that must be viewed in IMAX 3D to be truly appreciated as the filmmaker intended.  Here, Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) crafts a beautiful masterpiece, a stunning film that is nearly flawless.  On a personal note, there are two things that I find terrifying: the ocean and space.  I never want to be any place where I cannot breathe normally.  Space seems equally frightening and beautiful to me, and Cuaron captures that unique duality perfectly.

The movie takes place entirely in space, and the visual aspect of the film was nothing short of breathtaking. I’ve never seen a movie, science fiction or otherwise, feature such a stunning depiction of the planet and stars.  You have no choice but to be captivated, as there are no extraneous distractions on the screen.  There is just simplistic beauty; nature unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed.  The phenomenal backdrop is viewed from the perspective of Sandra Bullock (The Heat) and George Clooney (The Descendants) as Ryan Stone and Tom Kowalski.  The astronauts are on a routine space mission, when they find themselves in the midst of a harrowing ordeal.

I felt an uneasy sense of apprehension throughout, as I knew something was going to go wrong.  That’s attributable to having seen the trailer, but also because of the movie’s atmosphere.  There was such profound peace in the silence of space; I knew it would be disrupted.  While making a repair on a satellite (I think), Stone and Kowalski get word from Houston that the Russians have destroyed one of their own satellites, causing a field of debris.  Initially the blast particles would not have reached them, but a ricochet effect has placed them in harm’s way.  First we wait with baited breath for the interstellar onslaught, and then our collective hearts stop as pieces of debris come hurtling through space at our beleaguered pair.  I was so enraptured that I found myself dodging the debris too, as the 3D effects made me feel like the objects were coming right at me.

From top to bottom, this was a stellar film.  I’ve already described the breathtaking imagery, but the performances were equally impressive.  Bullock’s range is on full display, as Dr. Stone teeters along the precipice of disaster for most of the film.  She showed the full gamut of human emotion, as Stone was at times terrified, courageous, vulnerable, and at one point just decimated psychologically.  When characters are isolated in such a manner, the merits of the performance are allowed to shine through.  Bullock is the centerpiece of the film, and there is no doubt that viewers will be emotionally invested in such a human, nuanced character and performance.  Clooney gives an amazing performance as well, and he only gets more charming with age.  His presence is calm and soothing, a reassuring beacon in the abyss for Stone as she fights to survive.

This is a film that must be experienced, not just with the eyes, but with the entire being.  This is not a passive viewing experience; I was spellbound but fully engaged for the entire film.  Never have I felt that I was vicariously sharing the experiences of a character as I did while watching Gravity.  I’d be shocked if the film did not receive a slew of award nominations, particularly for cinematography.  The camera work was phenomenal and there were scenes rife with meaningful symbolism, particularly one where Bullock is filmed as if she’s in utero.  The weightlessness of space allowed Cuaron to experiment with perspective and imagery in brilliant fashion.  What more can I say?  A must-see film.  Grade: A.

Man on a Ledge

Lots of factors play into my decision whether or not to see a particular movie.  Sometimes the story itself looks intriguing, like Limitless or the recent Chronicle.  Other times, it’s the director that draws me in.  I’ll go see an M. Night Shyamalan movie just off GP, because I’m a fan.  More often than not though, it’s the cast that attracts me.  I like Sam Worthington (Avatar, Clash of the Titans), so when I belatedly heard about Man on a Ledge, I didn’t need much convincing.

Worthington stars as Nick Cassidy, a former police officer wrongly convicted of stealing a priceless gem from Wall Street titan David Englander, played by a scary-looking Ed Harris (Appaloosa).  Englander framed Cassidy, who was disgraced after being sentenced to prison.  After being denied parole, Nick decides to take desperate action to clear his name.  I won’t reveal the elaborate ruse that takes place, but lets just say that he devises a plan to escape from prison and soon he’s a fugitive.  Everything that happens next is all part of a carefully designed plan to exonerate Nick while finding out which other cops on the force helped set him up with Englander.  He enlists the help of Officer Lydia Mercer, (Elizabeth Banks, The Next Three Days) who is called in to talk him off the ledge.  Ah, the ledge.  Why is Nick on the ledge, and how can that help him clear his name?  Well, if I told you all that I’d spoil the movie wouldn’t I?  While Nick is on the ledge he forms a cautious bond with Mercer.  A recent mistake in the course of duty has caused her to lose favor with her peers on the force, just as Nick did when he went to prison.  This bond proves useful, because when the you-know-what hits the fan, Mercer is Nick’s only ally.

I think a lot of people are reluctant to see this movie because it seems familiar, or one note.  It’s a little smarter than that though.  It was relatively suspenseful throughout, and certain elements of the movie made it a solid caper.  Worthington let his natural Australian accent creep in a few times, but other than that he gave an earnest performance as the unlikely villain turned hero.  Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau) and Edward Burns also make appearances.  I wasn’t blown away by any one particular performance, but this wasn’t that kind of movie.  It was more plot-driven than character-driven, though the cast was more than capable.  I enjoyed the way it all unfolded, and by the time it’s over we see that Nick had a very strategic plan in place, using his law enforcement experience to predict everyone else’s moves.  The movie even offers a slight commentary on society (or at least jaded New Yorkers) by showing the perverse fascination with which passersby watch Nick, rooting for him to jump.  Was this movie deep and twisty like The Usual Suspects or as clever as Inside Man?  Of course not, but sometimes a distant second is good enough.  You won’t be blown away, but you won’t be disappointed either.  Wow. I just read the previous sentence and that was a lukewarm endorsement LOL. I’ll put it in better terms: Grade B