Friday, 8 November 2013


Academy Award Nominations: 10

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director (Alfonso Cuaron)
  • Best Actress (Sandra Bullock)
  • Best Original Score (Steven Price)
  • Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki)
  • Best Editing (Alfonso Cuaron, Mark Sanger)
  • Best Production Design (Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woodlard)
  • Best Sound Editing (Glenn Freemantle)
  • Best Sound Mixing (Skip Lievsay, Christopher Benstead, Niv Adiri, Chris Munro)
  • Best Visual Effects (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould, Nikki Penny)

Dr Ryan Stone is on her first space mission aboard the Explorer accompanied by Matt Kowalski, a veteran on his last mission. In the middle of a spacewalk, they receive word from mission control that a destroyed Russian satellite is destroying other satellites, creating a chain reaction of debris heading their way. Stone and Kowalski attempt to get out of its way but they're too late: They get hit by the debris, and are left stranded in space, untethered to any shuttle or station, with no communications with Earth and no way of getting home...

Usually in this paragraph, I'll ramble about the history of the film being reviewed, whether it's sequels or the material the film's based on, I might even touch upon the production history before kicking off. I'll be honest, I knew nothing of Gravity until the first trailer appeared. Wow. Then the second trailer appeared. Wow. Since then, it's been everywhere: George Clooney and Sandra Bullock lost in space from the director of a Harry Potter film. No-one knew much of the plot or what would happen, and slowly but surely we found out the film is three years in the making after being written by the director and his son. It's been a long time since I've seen an original film not based on another text. Gravity is, unfortunately, a rarity in modern cinema. Let's hope that trend is bucked after this, because... Wow.

Gravity is stunning. Why sugar coat it or go a long way around saying it? It's stunning, it's a stunning piece of cinema. But where to begin? Let's go with the cinematography. This film has been excellently filmed by Emmanuel Lubezki, cinematographer previously on The Tree of Life and Children of Men. Given that this film is mainly a green screen production with heavy special effects, that's no mean feat. Essentially, the film has been shot in a series of long takes where the camera is completely fluid, moving from long shot, to close up, to third person, to first person, all in one seamless movement for a good 20 minutes. The way the film has been shot is just one element (of which there are many) which contribute to the audience's involvement in the film; you feel like you're there with the characters, whilst also being taken out of it and made to look at the horror and the beauty of the situation. The editing is minimal because the cinematography does all of the editor's hard work for him. It captures wonderfully the beauty of space, as well as the terror of a vast, uncontrollable, unending setting in which there are no directions, there's no up or down, there's no control, and personal locations are completely subjective. With the film being a series of long takes, it takes a fantastic amount of talent and control from its lead actors.

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are given a monumental task in Gravity; they have to get through a series of long takes without any mistakes, they were asked to act in a situation where nothing was real and they were surrounded by green screens and cranes with only the hope that they're doing the right thing, and there are no other acting performances in this film; they are left to carry a 90 minute film by themselves. They did it, man. Research tells me that most of Sandra Bullock's scenes were shot while fastened into a giant mechanical rig simulating weightlessness, where she often spent 10 hours a day without breaks. Good for her, because she's still amazing. Terrified, yet optimistic; brave, yet flawed. George Clooney is great as well playing a stereotypical veteran astronaut on his last mission, evoking any number of sci-fi space films with a veteran commander. He's charming, charismatic, brave, bold, smart, all of the above and more. But it's Sandra's film, despite some dodgy dialogue.

If anything, that's the only fault with the film. The dialogue, technical space mission stuff aside, sounds like it was lifted straight from a 1950s B-movie adventure. However, I dare say this film overcomes this because it's such a non-important part. It's not about what they say, it's about what they do and where they do it. Alfonso Cuaron is a fantastic director, and this proved it. How he creates the situation, how he lets it play out, how he resolves it, it's all spot on and really engages the audience with its characters. He calls upon a number of sci-fi tropes and themes, especially in the hiring of Ed Harris as the voice of mission control (think Apollo 13), to make the audience know what kind of territory they're in with this film: As soon as you see Sandra Bullock essentially becoming Ripley from the Alien films in one scene, you know Cuaron's influences here. It explains the B-movie dialogue: Gravity is a big budget, effects laden, sci-fi B-movie that surpasses its inspirations. It even out does Wall-E at one point.

Overall, this film is an event, an experience that needs to be seen in the cinema. Don't download it illegally, don't even wait for the legal download or the DVD or Blu Ray. This film needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible, with the biggest sound system possible, and as much as I hate to say it, it needs to be seen in 3D. Being set in space, you don't really lose that much light from the 3D glasses, and the 3D effects, which were done post-production, are essential to the experience. Cuaron has managed to portray both the sheer beauty and the sheer terror of open space. I'm giving this film 5 out of 5 stars because I've never seen a film that has immersed me in the watching experience as much as Gravity did, I don't think I've ever left a cinema screen so exhilarated and near-breathless. It may lose a star, star and a half once it leaves cinemas because this film was made for cinematic viewing, not for home viewing. If you're going to watch Gravity, do it in the next 5 weeks at a cinema in 3D. Don't wait until you can see it at home, because you'll be missing out on what makes this film great.

Rating: *****

Gravity was released on 4th October 2013 and is no longer being shown in cinemas.
This review was edited and updated for its inclusion to Best Picture Nominee Season.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World

Eons ago, Bor, father of Odin, defeated the Dark Elves led by Malekith and hid their weapon for plunging the universe into darkness, the Aether, leaving Malekith and the Dark Elves to enter suspended animation until the Aether is found again. Meanwhile, in the present day, Thor is almost at the end of a two year war to bring peace across the realm while his brother Loki languishes in prison, and Jane Foster is still on Earth, now living in London. However, while investigating an anomaly, she is pulled into a portal to another realm where she discovers the hidden Aether, which takes residence inside Jane Foster. When Thor finds her, he realises she is ill and brings her back to Asgard but it's too late, the damage has been done and Malekith has been reanimated and is coming back for the Aether. Thor needs a plan to stop him, but that involves having to trust the one man he can't trust: Loki...

Can you believe it's only been two and a half years since Thor came out? It really seems like the kind of film that's been around for longer than that, especially since The Avengers was only a year and a half ago. Nonetheless, we're now into Phase Two of Marvel's Cinematic Universe, and here's film number two after Iron Man 3. I'll be honest, the trailer made the film look as epic as any other Marvel offering, but I came into Thor: The Dark World with tempered expectations. Where do they go from what we've already seen? How do they make any epic series of films even more so? For the first time in a long time, I came into a film ready to be disappointed and looking for its faults. I liked the first one, and I'm a big fan of what Marvel have been doing and comic book films in general. Well... long story short, I was wrong. This was fantastic. Let me explain why.

For the first time in a long time, Marvel hasn't tried to outdo the previous film in terms of scale. Don't get me wrong, there's still multiple big battle scenes and the enemy our hero has to vanquish is great, but they haven't tried to "Man of Steel" things by destroying absolutely everything in order to better the amount of damage and to make the final boss fight more epic than the one in the last superhero film. What we see in TTDW doesn't try to outdo its predecessors, it builds upon them to tell a surprisingly compelling story. What we get is a far more compelling drama than we've seen before from Marvel where we get to see more of the characters than ever before. Thor 2 is unlike Thor more than any other Marvel sequel is unlike its predecessor. The only film that comes close to being like Thor 2 is Iron Man 3; they deal with similar themes and the characters are given more time to develop and allow more of their traits and personalities to emerge. I like where Phase Two is heading.

All of this is down to a script that relies extremely heavily on its main cast of actors pulling off fantastic performances, but not its leading stars funnily enough. Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman are not anything special in his film, they do their thing and get the job done. Instead, it's Tom Hiddleston's Loki who steals the show AGAIN. The performance is great and the character is developed so well in this film, it's hard to see them not bringing back the character at least one more time. Anthony Hopkins is given more screen time as Odin, and plays an ailing and embittered king really well. Plus, Christopher Eccleston is fantastic as Malekith considering he doesn't speak English for half the film. He's menacing, and presents a true threat to Thor which is what a story like this needed.

What I like about this film, is that as dark as it gets at times, there hasn't been a funnier MCU film to date, and that includes all films featuring Iron Man. The character of Darcy, Jane's assistant, was the comic relief in the first Thor and she's given the chance to step up that role where she has some of the best lines in the film. Dr Erik Selvig makes a welcome reappearance, but they've shifted his character That, and the development of another side of Loki's character means he's able to more playful and funny in this film. There's some great writing at work here too, allowing for a random, hilarious, un-natural yet un-forced Captain America cameo in the midst of a serious piece of drama. The film is, of course, wonderfully shot and looks amazing, and never goes too over the top with the effects given this is a film about a man with a magic hammer. A majority of the action that occurs in London is non-CG, which is nice, and its always nice to see a film like this take place somewhere other than America, just another thing that sets this film apart from its predecessors.

Overall, I was impressed with this film. I didn't think I'd like it, I thought Marvel had reached the end of the road in terms of innovation, perhaps naively so. Marvel have a multi-arc, multi-year, multi-film plan for their MCU, and this is only the beginning of Phase Two while they're already planning for the end of Phase Three. As far as I'm concerned, this is the first film that makes me think there is life for Marvel after The Avengers; Iron Man 3 dealt with a character shift but the action remained much the same, whereas Thor represents the beginning of a complete shift of focus from non-stop action onto character development and drama. I think there's still some ways to go with Phase Two before we reach The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but I think this film represented the first of three films to initiate the change of direction for the MCU. The next two? Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. Only time will tell if these are as successful as Thor: The Dark World, but if the post-credits sequence is anything to go by...

Rating: ****1/2