A feeling of weightlessness, enhanced by my 3-D glasses, set in with George and Sandra’s first roll in space and remained the identifyingly unique feature of this otherwise generally weightless survival story. Actually, the less said about the story itself, the better. Somehow, Sandra Bullock’s character changes from a somewhat incompetent space traveler who crashed the simulator in training every time and needs George Clooney’s calm voice to tell her which way is up (granted, a bit tricky in space), to a one-woman marvel who, on an upset stomach, calmly navigates Russian and Chinese space stations and singlehandedly manages a descent to Earth (I assume it is Earth, based on the movie’s title, not the landscape) without any help from Houston or prior experience. I was ready for, and would have preferred, a more ambiguous ending: let Sandra find her resolve, with the Clooney apparition’s help, and push the button in the re-entry capsule. Let the viewer decide whether she makes it, or not. “Ground control to Major Tom…”
A movie director’s first obligation to his audience is to provide appealing, or at least interesting, characters. Not far down the list, however, is providing dialogue that the audience can understand. I don’t want to sit there thinking, what did he say? – even if, as in this movie, it probably doesn’t matter. (If I want to strain my auditory faculties, I can go to the theater.) The combination of Texas accents, taciturn roles and muddled sound-mixing left us wondering what Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara were saying, although Mara’s wonderfully expressive face made up for a lot. Terence Malick’s Badlands is the obvious precursor, and there were not a lot of surprises along the way, but the mood and hardscrabble atmosphere enveloped and washed over us. We knew Casey Affleck’s character would not come to a good end, but when that end came, it felt real and honest.
Wow! – a movie about real people and real relationships; no fancy sets or photography, not even gorgeous movie stars. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the personification of needy, but in her usual winsome way, and the teenagers are convincing teenagers (I loved Chloe). The movie’s anchor, though, is the late, great James Gandolfini. When he says, “You broke my heart,” I practically cried. I’m not sure how long their relationship will last – as I mentioned, she’s needy – but watching it build was a charming experience.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is not my favorite actor (viz., Lincoln, Premium Rush), but his intelligence illuminates this fun story of a porn addict who has to learn that giving yourself in love is better than meaningless sex. The supporting actors are all sensational, in the style of Silver Linings Playbook, and the surprisingly non-erotic use of graphic t-and-a adroitly supports the film’s wishful theme.
A formulaic movie about Formula 1: every cliche of the sports movie is rolled out, with only the world of auto racing offering any novelty. The close-ups of the drivers and their cars are riveting, and Chris Hemsworth and the two leading ladies are easy on the eyes; but in the end we are left with a Ron Howard mass-audience vehicle, no subtlety and no surprises.
It’s hard to know how “realistic” a movie set in 2154 is, but the scenes of LA were reminiscent, in a good way, of Johannesburg in director Neil Blomkomp’s prior, better movie, District 9. Matt Damon on Earth was more convincing than Jodie Foster up in Elysium, but what is consistent in all these adventure movies (see World War Z) is how much the fate of civilization hinges on a single individual’s personal affection – a parent for his child, a man for his wife, or a man for himself.
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