Gravity

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October 5, 2013 · Posted in Now Playing  

If Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity doesn’t make you catch your breath or feel your heart drop into your stomach at least once, Major Tom, you may as well cut your tether and float off into the void. You simply don’t have a pulse.

Cuarón and a bulging flight crew of movie magicians have crafted a suspense tale at once simple and spectacular, a straightforward story of survival that’s both visually stunning and viscerally gripping – and it clocks in at a satisfying 90 minutes, in itself something of a miracle in the current age of overstuffed blockbusters.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as members of a NASA team making adjustments on the Hubble Space Telescope when a disaster in low orbit leaves them fighting for their lives. Following an awe-inspiring opening sequence in which the space-suited crew goes about its duties against the heady vertiginous backdrop of the earth spread out below, the moment in which hell soundlessly breaks loose is positively hair-raising.

With their shuttle destroyed and the rest of the crew dead, the two stranded astronauts find themselves free floating in a Newtonian nightmare in which coping with the laws of physics is almost overwhelmingly complex…and every effort only serves to further diminish an inexorably dwindling air supply.

It’s virtually impossible to separate this movie’s conventional camerawork from its CGI – Cuarón’s planning and the execution by his technical team are seamless and absolutely brilliant. Opening with a breathtaking 13-minute take that plants us convincingly in the middle of the action, the screen is filled with images that would have been impossible to achieve so credibly only a few years ago. In either the 3-D or standard versions, it’s a magnificent achievement.

The script, by Cuarón and his son Jonás, is a beautifully understated piece of work. An impressive amount of it dares to do away with dialogue completely, choosing to let the silence of space carry the moment. Otherwise, it’s mostly devoted to utilitarian chatter and a few understandably desperate exchanges, all aimed at keeping the issue of survival front and center. Only one scene, in which we learn something about the background of Bullock’s character, seems extraneous…but Bullock plays it with such conviction that it’s a minor distraction at most.

Clooney brings his trademark regular-guy star power to the role of veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, a part originally intended for Robert Downey Jr. It’s still possible to hear vestiges of Downey’s quick-riffing bravado lingering in some of the lines, but Clooney makes the role his own, infusing it with warmth and low-key naturalistic heroism. It’s a fine performance and a generous one, Clooney choosing to quietly play his role to the hilt while allowing Bullock to remain at center stage throughout.

As first-time space traveler Ryan Stone, Bullock dominates the film. An engineer who’s uncomfortable in space to begin with, Stone spends much of the movie in a state of near-panic or worse. But far from being a typical movie heroine in distress, Ryan Stone is our POV character. Her panic is ours, starting from the moment the disaster sends her spinning off into space without warning, hands clutching reflexively and eyes searching frantically for anything to focus on. We struggle alongside her, hoping our own air will hold out, as she falls back on her training to find a way home. Bullock’s work here is wonderfully satisfying, an utterly relatable dramatic turn whose impressive physicality and sheer humanity prove to be as essential to Gravity’s success as Cuarón’s groundbreaking visuals. Hers is a magnificent achievement, too.

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Great Lobby Art 18

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August 11, 2013 · Posted in Legends  

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May and June Links

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June 29, 2013 · Posted in Legends  

Publication and a long stream of publicity duties forced this space to maintain radio silence for most of the last two months, sick so now we’re playing catch-up with an extra-long list of reviews, click profiles and articles posted by writers on film and TV.

Farran Nehme, illness the Self-Styled Siren, wrote a fond and appreciative farewell to the late Hollywood songbird Deanna Durbin.

Terence Towles Canote offered a brief but comprehensive survey of the memorable juvenile science fiction TV shows of the ‘50s on the A Shroud of Thoughts blog.

“Gloria” of the Home Projectionist blog interviewed one-of-a-kind actor Austin Pendleton about his memories of the shooting of Otto Preminger’s 1968 Skiddoo.

Writing on The Forgotten site, David Cairns reflected on the imaginative delights of Gerhardt Lamprecht’s 1931 production of Emil and the Detectives.

Glenn Kenny took a fond look back at the career of the late and very great animator Ray Harryhausen on his Some Came Running blog.

TCM “morlock” David Kalat presented multiple takes on the career and reputation of classic comedian Harold Lloyd. Part One is available here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.

“Danny” of the Pre-Code.com site offered a fresh peek through the keyhole at one of the kinkiest and most reviled comedies of the early ‘30s, the 1934 Smarty.

Stacia Jones of She Blogged By Night gave us a sharp and humane look at Liberace’s single stab at movie stardom, the 1955 romantic drama Sincerely Yours.

C. Jerry Kutner toured some of the great “small town noirs” on the Bright Lights After Dark site.

Bill Gibron celebrated the accomplishments of the late acclaimed fantasy writer Richard Matheson, on the Popmatters site.

David Bordwell flashed back to the intricate parceling out of moments in time in Michael Curtiz’s 1945 noir tear-jerker Mildred Pierce.

Enjoy this super-sized post and start clicking on these interesting and entertaining links.

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June 22, 2013 · Posted in Legends  

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May 14, 2013 · Posted in Legends  

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April Links

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May 3, 2013 · Posted in Legends  

Movie blogging in April was dominated by thoughts on the death of a much-loved critical voice in the film community, rx accompanied by some solid writing on Golden Age classics of  the screen.

Turner Classics “morlock” Susan Doll contributed a typically sharp and well-researched look at the unwritten censorship of Hollywood films long before the notorious Pre-Code era.

Jeremy Richey wrote a fascinating new take on the social criticism embedded in Murnau’s 1922 groundbreaking vampire chiller Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror on the Moon in the Gutter blog.

J. Gabriel, order writing as “monstergirl, hospital ” presented an epic interpretation of Edgar Ulmer’s 1934 The Black Cat on The Last Drive-In site.

David and Kristin Bordwell pooled their considerable talents to offer a heartfelt personal goodbye to the late Roger Ebert.

Find a kindred soul and share a look at these fascinating and well-written links.

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April 7, 2013 · Posted in Legends  

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March Links

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March 31, 2013 · Posted in Legends  

Online writers about movies covered the waterfront in March, patient with looks back at a pair of iconic actresses, one last stylish attempt at reviving the Yellow Peril, classic set design and a couple of offbeat extras.

Gary Cahall took us over the rainbow and beyond with an affectionate appreciation of the life and career of beloved character actress Margaret Hamilton at the Movies Unlimited site.

TCM “morlock” David Kalat offered a spirited defense of the underappreciated 1992 celebration of the Marx Brothers, Brain Donors.

The Grand Old Movies blog posted a lively take on the 1932 pre-Code sexy romp Red Headed Woman, starring Jean Harlow in her saucy prime.

Writer Jeff Flugel sang the praises of the decidedly un-PC – but highly entertaining – Christopher Lee/Nigel Green thriller The Face of Fu Manchu on The Stalking Moon blog.

At “The Forgotten,” David Cairns held forth on the Art Deco wet dream designs by Cedric Gibbons in the 1928 Our Dancing Daughters, with a side excursion covering the depiction of social class in MGM films.

Grady Hendrix of Film Comment returned us to the golden days of the Mad magazine movie parody, starring the usual gang of idiots.

Don’t just sit there – start clicking on these absorbing and entertaining links.

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March 22, 2013 · Posted in Legends  

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February Links

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February 28, 2013 · Posted in Legends  

What with Oscar awards, Valentine’s Day and just plain interesting movies to write about, February was a busy month for film bloggers and their endless fascination with the best the big screen has to offer.

Kristin Bordwell rhapsodized on the superiority of animation to many live-action films in current cinema, with a side trip to discuss the merits of this year’s Oscar nominees for animated features.

TCM “morlock” Kimberly Lindbergs presented a Valentine’s Day tribute to the demented romance Mad Love, featuring one of Peter Lorre’s most bizarre performances.

Gary Cahall offered a bouquet to losers in love in some of the great romantic movies of all time, on the Movies Unlimited site.

The Cinema Sojourns site gave readers an insightful take on Valerio Zurlini’s 1976 Italian drama of creeping madness, Desert of the Tartars.

Back to the Bordwells (and Peter Lorre): David Bordwell took a thoughtful look at the set pieces of Alfred Hitchcock, with a deep-focus examination of the original The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Brace yourself and start clicking these entertaining links.

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