gravity-bullockposter-fullGravity is the thrilling adventure to beat this year, and by my forecast, I think the skies are clear for this thriller from Alfonso Cuaron.  Known for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men, Cuaron has spent the last few years piecing Gravity together, a film that features only two actors and a whole lot of outer space.

Sandra Bullock, in what will likely turn out to be the performance of the year and possibly her career, tackles the challenge of portraying astronaut Ryan Stone who attempts to make adjustments to a satellite alongside fellow spaceman, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney).   Soon enough a whirlwind storm of debris dices through their ship and sends Stone spinning wildly out of control into space.  Her only communication with NASA will soon dissipate once she floats too far out and her oxygen tank levels are already low.

This is about where the theatrical trailer for the movie leaves you hanging. The synopsis and trailer both left me wondering, what story could be left to tell?  Where can the movie possibly go after that point?

Cuaron is no dummy and he quickly turns Gravity into an eye-popping 3D adventure that not only fails to overstay its welcome at a quick 90 minutes, but gives us a taste of what space may actually be like.  How will Stone survive her impossible situation?  That is the question.  The movie takes us through her journey which essentially amounts to a one woman show that Bullock handles unflinchingly.

But let’s not forget Clooney who actually pours a great deal of humor into an extremely tense film and gives the weightlessness some grounding when it can really use it.  Make no mistake, this is Bullock’s ‘Cast Away’ and she nails it.  So does Cuaron who keeps the events, which had the potential to come off as repetitive, in check and moving at all times.  This is a theatrical experience if ever there was one, and the amount of time and effort that had to go into a visual movie like this is staggering.  It’s so technically precise from top to bottom.  The 3D is especially utilized well and enhances the film.

But at the core of this odyssey, and beyond all of the production values and whiz-bang “I’ve never quite seen this before” marveling, is a story of survival and a very strong actress that carries the entire movie.  Look for all this year’s award accolades to fall to Gravity, and watch Miss Bullock accept her second Oscar in a few months time.  Gravity is a movie to experience (in the theater, in 3D).

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

azkabanHarry Potter has a chance to simultaneously lighten up and get serious in ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban,’ widely considered (to my disagreement) the best installment of the franchise thus far. A new director and a fresh tone do liven things up a little bit as our lead hero enters his teenage years with rebellion and frustration intact.

The story sends the young magic trio back to school under the alarming news that Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), a savage murderer– also an accomplice in the death of Harry’s parents–has escaped from Azkaban prison. Dementors (wraith like spirits with soul-sucking power) are dispatched to seek the prisoner out, that is if Potter doesn’t find him first and have his revenge, or possibly fall victim to the dementors himself.azkaban 2

Right out of the gate, I think ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ trumps its predecessors as far as all the technical aspects go. The action and special effects are first-rate. There are some great sequences to thrill to, especially a few CGI additons: a horse-bird hybrid called Buckbeak and a few menacing werewolves.  The plot is serviceable enough–I particularly enjoyed developments toward the film’s climax.  The story also introduces us to a new ‘Harry Potter,’ a blood-thirsty teenager not just sad about the loss of his parents and not so easily cornered by his tormenting aunt and uncle. This Harry fights back with disregard, and all three youngsters mature in that light.  Credit the lighter feel of the film to its new director, Alfonso Cuaron, who trims the running time by approximately twenty minutes, allows more humor to find its way into the material, and somehow manages to make this darker premise not so heavy.  I will say this is the most inventive film of the series, but I felt the plot contained less suspense than ‘The Chamber of Secrets’ and lost some of that ‘dreary and haunted’ vibe. And to Cauron’s credit, that’s because ‘Azkaban’ seems aimed at being more fun. I did enjoy it, but it wasn’t my favorite.

-MJV & the Movies.

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