Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney - Dir: Alphonse Cuarón
Gravity is a true wonder of filmmaking. Occasionally films come along which seem to push the visual boundaries of the medium – Life of Pi did that a couple of years back with its CGI tiger, Gravity achieves a place in cinema history with its depiction of space in 3D.
The slight problem that arises, however, is that the yawning chasm that was space on the giant cinema screen is somewhat diminished on yer regular telly, big and flat though it may be. The first half-hour is still thrilling; the disaster that reduces the crew to the very good-looking astronaut pairing of George Clooney and Sandra Bullock is an awesome set-piece, an astonishing bit of work on every level.
And both Clooney and Bullock do great work, his deliberately non-flashy turn grounding the film. She is solidly and dependably in girl-next-door mode, acting in very challenging conditions while never losing her essential likeability.
On the downside, the small screen does show up the trite lashing of mainstream sentimentality that engulfs the film as it heads towards the naffly predictable happy conclusion. It seems churlish to complain, but it’s not just me being grumpy: even at the cinema the group of us came out and everyone was shaking their heads in disappointment at the way the film went downhill into clichéd conventionality.
The Act of Killing is a simply astonishing film that might win the Best Documentary Oscar on Monday. Unless it’s too weird. Filmed in Indonesia, it centres on various 1960s death squad leaders who are now living as happy heroes: their genocide has never been confronted or punished. Since they love cinema the filmmakers give them cameras and allowed them to recreate their murderous acts in the styles of the films they so admire. Yep, it’s as unusual as it sounds but, somewhere in the surreal strangeness, some form of catharsis, or at least recognition, is reached. Bold, brilliant, beautiful and bewildering.
It seems inevitable that someone would pair eighties action icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Escape Plan is a perfectly serviceable prison drama in the mould of Lock Out and other flicks that posit ultra-high security prisons in impossibly unlikely locations. Sly’s job - well past retirement age though he looks - involves being locked up to secretly test “security”. He’s been double-crossed. Arnie’s a fellow inmate who helps him escape; Jim Caviezel is the sadistic governor. The story gets increasingly absurd but the film is at least well shot and made with confidence. Trash, obviously, but not embarrassing trash.
Runner Runner is a glossy good-looking film that falls short mainly thanks to its underwhelming leads. Whoever thought it was a good idea pairing Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck deserves the blame here. Timberlake is a great support actor but, as In Time showed, doesn’t have the chops to carry a film. Affleck’s underplaying seems wilfully wooden. It’s all set in Puerto Rico where Ben runs an online poker empire. Justin is his somewhat naïve new employee, a monetary wiz high on the sudden influx of wealth. It all ends in predictable tears, breaking little new ground along the way.
Freaky Deaky is based on a story by the late great Elmore Leonard and, like Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and the odd other story that have successfully been made into films, it’s a complicated ensemble piece, brimming with eccentric characters and plot twists. Such flicks are a tricky juggling act and director Charles Matthau fails to find a consistent tone or corral his actors into one particular style. It’s set mid-seventies and involves an ex-bomb squad officer, rape, revenge and explosives, but Christian Slater and (more unfortunately) Crispin Glover are wasted and the whole thing’s a bit of a jumbled mess.