Gravity (2013)

GravityDirected by: Alfonso Cuarón. Released: October 4, 2013. Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris (voice). Runtime: 91 min.

As far as survival movies go, I usually like them. It takes a lot for me to hate them, but it also takes a lot for me to love them. It also seems that they’re usually either slow or thrilling. “Gravity” makes me conflicted. It is a good human drama with substantial symbolism, but it has such little substance in other major areas. Let’s say if the story substance is a wire in space; Bullock’s character would not want to hang onto that wire, because it would break within seconds.

The film follows Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, under the guide of veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), in command of his final mission before retirement. On a seemingly normal space walk, they are caught in the way of falling satellite debris. Their shuttle is destroyed and contact with Houston, and Earth in general, is severed. They are left adrift in space with only each other, and one hell of a view.

This is a terrifying situation. If this happened to me, I’d probably be that first astronaut who gets hit by debris and gets a nice hole in his head. You could throw a baseball through it. (It’s some seriously awesome CGI effects. I don’t think it’s a major spoiler because I don’t even remember the guys’ name.) It’s terrifying to even imagine oneself stepping into Stone’s space boots and having this happen to them. That makes Bullock’s character more admirable, because she keeps kicking and repeatedly escapes death; but her repeatedly escaping death makes the character slightly unrealistic, as well.

Stone is the main character, and she is somewhat interesting because she contributes to the film’s human drama aspect. She finds it tough to hang onto her hope because of something that happened in her past, that has also made her a reserved person. One of her motivations to go up into space is because of the peace. She struggles to forget about her past and try to find happiness… Experiencing a trauma is never easy. Rebirth is one theme of the movie. Stone floating in space is a literal and metaphorical journey for her to find her way again. I won’t go into further detail about that – it is better to watch the aspect for yourself. Hope is an occuring theme, too, because that’s a good motivation to survive. It feels like Stone has one layer, so she isn’t as compelling as the actress portraying her. Bullock performs mainly with varied types of breathing; an impressive way to convey emotions in cinema. One could tell what she is feeling throughout. This acting job seems difficult, and she does well.

As for George Clooney, the guy is good at being charming, but he is average here. He isn’t forgettable enough for people to ask “Which Batman starred alongside Sandra Bullock in Gravity? Val Kilmer?,” but he isn’t anything to praise. His character has many decent stories and he is good comic relief for such a situation, but he’s generic.

Director Alfonso Cuarón (“Children of Men,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) knows how to portray Stone’s pain well, but his story needs a lot of work. “Gravity” is good for Sandra Bullock and it is one of the most visually stunning films I have seen, in just about ever. If you’re just there for the effects, you’ll be satisfied. Some of the 3-D effects are pop-out scary, which is edge-of-your-seat intense. In one scene when a character cries, the teardrop is really cool. This experimental film works in a few areas, but it relies on effects too heavily to enhance its weak narrative.

The film’s first half is thrilling. But the good thrills are too repetitive, and when they’re repeated in the second half, it’s much less interesting. The screenplay’s main event is “escape inevitable death; from debris, fire, and lack of oxygen, and try to think of a way home,” and it happens over and over. It makes the second half have moments well worth a yawn or two. A more diverse screenplay would be welcome, and the character development leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps it is strange to expect more from a minimalistic filmmaker; but alas, this is one highly anticipated film of 2013 that doesn’t make me feel any sort of passion for it.

Score: 63/100

Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific RimRelease Date: July 12, 2013Director: Guillermo del ToroStars: Charlie Hunman, Idris Elba, Rinko KikuchiRuntime: 132 min.

“Pacific Rim” is the first movie I attended a premiere for since “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” back in December. As the day of the premiere approached, I became more and more excited. Heck, I could hardly even sleep one night coupled with my excitement and crappy sleeping habits. Let’s just say, “Pacific Rim” satisfies in most of its critical aspects.

As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, and creatures attack at an increasingly rapid rate, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to go on a high-stakes mission in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.

There are some refreshing aspects to this feature that one might not see in an average summer tent-pole. There’s no leading star power, but Charlie Hunman (TV’s “Sons of Anarchy,” “Children of Men”) is good as a character you’ll enjoy, but you probably won’t remember his name. In this film, there doesn’t have to be much star power, because everybody knows the real stars are the robots (Jaegars) and the monsters (Kaiju). If one had to compare this to anything, it’s like a “Godzilla” movie and that Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game. There’s a lot of new content here, and it’s an awesome ode to monster movies. This is going to stand out in memory as one of the most original movies of the year.

I appreciate that this movie isn’t merely just a visual feast. The story gets care put into it and it keeps the viewer guessing. It’s ridiculous at times, but it’s going to have to be in a sci-fi monsters vs. robots feature. The concepts of the Drift and the Neural Handshake are fascinating. It is the most effective storytelling presented in a movie event so far this year, so that’s a compliment to this, but not exactly to 2013 blockbusters as a whole. The thing is, one’s average big-budget extravaganza has a larger focus on visuals and less on story – so to see that in a film like this is refreshing. Though, like the modern big-budget flicks, this is going to feature a lot of loud noises!

There are also some appealing characters, even if they aren’t memorable. Mako (Kikuchi) is given layers, as something from her past is haunting her. Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Elba) is quite possibly the character you’ll care about the most. Elba delivers one of the year’s most memorable speeches, and it’s still pretty damn effective when one finally sees the movie after seeing the trailer seven times. The research team of Newton (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman, “The Dark Knight Rises”) is comedic gold, and one of the movie’s best aspects. It also shows that this movie has a comedic way about it, as well, even if it has the tendency to be cheesy. That pairing is the movie’s best aspect besides the big battles, of course.

The battles everybody is anticipating are spectacular in a visual way, and lots of fun. You’ll nerdgasm a few times throughout, at the battles and the great creature design, but mostly at the battles. I cannot help but wish that more battles occur during daylight. All of the mashes occur during the night, mostly in the middle of the ocean, and in the pouring rain. Granted, the monsters’ invasion might alter the climate to make it rain a lot, but it would be nice to see them fight without the rain. It would also be great to see a little less splashin’ on the screen, and some more monster mashin’. It’s as if they’re in a wave pool.

This feature also has to find a comfortable pace before it can really get to the heart of the story, so a shorter film would be welcome. Nobody wants to see the humans. We nerds are here for the robots. You’ll care about the humans, sure, but you’ll only truly care about the survival of a select few characters, and since these characters believe in the greater good of the humankind, we’re taken on an emotional roller coaster with them. These folks also make a great ensemble cast, made up of little to no bankable actors. This is visually stunning in its IMAX 3D glory, and you’ll be getting a front row seat to one of the most awesome speeches of the year.

This movie is awesome. It will remain one of the 2013’s best blockbusters. It’s also a great addition to a fantastic year of science fiction, a genre that is growing on me. I know I’ve thrown a lot of ‘Most memorable speech’ and ‘Best storytelling in a sci-fi extravaganza’ so far this year, but I remain undecided if this will be included in my Top 25 of the year, looking at what is coming in the second half of the year. It’s immensely enjoyable, but I’m not sure when I’ll feel the urge to revisit this. At the end of the year, if I think back to the pure awesomeness of a Jaegar picking up a giant boat and using it as a baseball bat to hit a Kaiju with repeatedly, this movie might find its way on my Top 25 list.

Score80/100