Gravity (2013)

Gravity (2013)

Recently, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what I’d want my super power to be. You see, I want something that I could keep on the down-low; something that I could hide from the public. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t want to be hunted down by vigilantes or the government. This rules out being elemental / made of fire. Conversely, I’d also want a power that would allow me to have fun AND protect myself when those same government forced find out about me / my arch villain rises up to confront me. So… what was the power I’ve decided on? Gravity manipulation. This would allow me to fly (cool), flip cars easily, and also crush those cars into a pulp by generating a gravity field. As well as generate some cool gravitational force fields… See, my powers would be pretty cool, right? It’s quite funny then that the next film I headed out to review was Gravity… Pure coincidence!

Gravity (2013)

Gravity is a brave film. Why is it so brave? No, it doesn’t detail my ascent to superhero status; it features only two actors. Well, sure, there are other voices, but no real “acting” comes from them. Instead, we are treated to 90 minutes of Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) in space. It’s not spoiling anything to say that Gravity deals with the aftermath of a devastating destruction of a US shuttle whilst carrying out routine maintenance on the Hubble telescope. This leaves Stone and Kowalski fighting for their lives in space as they determine the best way to get back down to Earth.

What unfolds is a hybrid blend of Alien, Buried and something akin to films like Open Water, which plagued cinemas some years back – you know, those ones where we essentially follow people in mortal peril in some “realistic” situation, such as falling off a boat and being unable to climb back on. Essentially, we’re looking at a tension filled space opera with a focus on solely two characters. And it works. It works REALLY well. Gravity is easily one of the tensest films I’ve seen in some time. As we only saw Captain Phillips a couple of weeks ago, that’s saying something. It’s beautiful to look at, has spectacular set pieces and the musical score is mesmerising. But that’s not to say the film is without its faults.

Gravity (2013)

The biggest fault is the feeling that the events that unfold are such “flukes”. Without spoiling anything, the film ricochets from one set piece to another and you’re left feeling “how is that possible?” / “how fortuitous is that?!”. Sure, most films call for the “suspension of disbelief”, because after all – this is a film. But Gravity pushes it to the n-th degree. It pushes the suspension so far that you have to disbelieve it again. You’re basically forced to. This continues right up until the credits roll at the end – it’s not a one off.

That being said, you can’t fault the quality of the film; it’s sheer entertainment. The suspense I mentioned? It’s there in buckets. For as empty and vacuous as space is, it’s a place of extremely high tension and drama. Especially when you’re low on oxygen and propulsion fuel. This suspense is kept up by two fantastic performances from Clooney and Bullock, especially the latter. Bullock is, for all intents and purposes, the “lead” actor here. She really does capture the emotions of terror and fear, even if she is extremely… fortunate at times. In fact, for a rookie astronaut she’s remarkably calm and balanced too. I guess NASA train you well!

Gravity (2013)

What really brought the film to life was the direction, visuals and the music. Hell, even the 3D worked for the first time in forever. It actually ADDED to a film. I know, a shocking revelation. Alfonso Cuarón does a great job capturing the enormity of space and does much to throw in occasional symbolisms for those that seek them. Sure, the majority of the film is green screen, but it’s realised so beautifully. As many Phagelings will know, we’re big audiophiles at Film Phage, so the music certainly needs merit. We all know that sound doesn’t travel in space (no-one can hear you scream etc.), but the soundscapes generated? Very impactful. If you’re a fan of large sounding post-rock and twee instrumentals ala the more atmospheric Sigur Ros tracks, or anything by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, then you should get a kick out of the musical accompaniments. Not many will fully appreciate this, but I reckon you kids will. Like me.

Gravity is a beautifully realised film, even if it does stretch the disbelief that I was willing to suspend to breaking point. It’s a very brave move to base a film solely around two actors and some voices, but it works incredibly well. Would this have worked with lesser equipped actors than Clooney and Bullock? That’s debatable. But regardless, Gravity delivered 2013’s finest foray into space and didn’t fail to keep me feeling tense and uppity long after I left the screening.

I still think they should make a film about my rise to superhero status as Gravaphage. But what type of superpowered person would I be? Would I dedicate myself to the good fight? Would I keep my identity a secret? Or would I just “do an Iron Man” and show the world what I can do? CRUSHING those in my path (with my gravity, of course)… Hell, these are all considerations for another day. You’ve also got to consider what would be my Kryptonite… Hmm… Answers on a postcard please!

Phage Factor:

4 Star

The Heat (2013)

The Heat (2013)

Buddy comedies… they’re nothing new. The formula is tried and tested. Normally, you take a tight ass and a slob / someone that doesn’t play by the rules and pair them together. The hilarity should therefore ensue. It’s quite honestly one of the most established forms of comedy you’ll get. I was going to list some examples here, but you’re all well aware of the films, right? Come on… I don’t need to list them. Good? Good. Glad we’re on the same page. That being said, if you’re going to attempt to pull it off in 2013, you best be packing some high calibre comedy ammo in that script, or have some lead actors in place that can pull it off with aplomb. This brings us to The Heat, which is conforming to every buddy film stereotype under the sun. Hell, it’s even a cop-based buddy movie… but with two solid female leads and the guy that wrote Bridesmaids behind it… is it hot, tepid or frankly cold and damp?

The Heat focuses on the team up of Agent Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) – the uptight FBI Special Agent that doesn’t really get along with many people, but is amazing at her job, and Detective Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) – the down-and-gritty Boston beat cop that has her own “unique” approach to police work. Between them they need to locate and take down a drug kingpin… and that’s it. That’s the plot, but it’s a comedy, so I’m not sure what you were expecting from it really. That’s not to short change the film though, as it does have its narrative twists and turns, but overall it’s a pretty straight-up, down-the-line, by-the-numbers, lots-of-hyphens type of film. Does it suffer from that? Well… a little.

The Heat (2013)

The strength of this film MUST rest with its lead actors, and thankfully both Bullock and McCarthy are on form here. Bullock always does a good job of playing the naive one in a “buddy” film, with Demolition Man springing to the forefront of my mind… damn, now that’s a good movie. Anyway, back on track, she’s solid and reliable, as always. McCarthy, similarly is establishing herself as a comedic force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. The fact that so much of the scripting in this is ad-libbed is also gratifying to know, as I think it keeps things fresh and lets the emotions run wild with the actors. All that being said… I just didn’t find the film overly funny. It had its scenes that made me smile, but nothing really made me guffaw.

Maybe this all comes back to the hard and cold fact that I’m a hard taskmaster to please. In my screening, a good chunk of the audience were whooping and laughing at absolutely anything. If I’m honest, I think they’d also have got equally excited at watching water hit the windscreen on a car. They just seemed quite simple. I’m not joking… there’s a scene where Melissa McCarthy drinks a pint. Nothing funny: just drinking. That’s apparently funny. I clearly don’t “get it”. Maybe McCarthy is a lot like Zach Galiafianakis – you either find every one of his motions hysterical, or you really don’t understand what all the fuss is about. This isn’t to say I don’t find McCarthy funny, as I do, but I don’t hang off of her every motion.

Oh they so don't get along... I wonder if that'll change?

Oh they so don’t get along… I wonder if that’ll change?

The real issue with the film is inherent to the genre… it’s all too predictable. The characters are flawed, and you immediately know what the outcome will be. There are no elaborate tricks or techniques to shake up the formula; it all plays out exactly as you’d expect. The film therefore needs to fall back on its humour, which for the most part seems to please general audiences, although I did find myself lacking as I’ve just babbled on about. Speaking of babbling, I’m also finding myself running out of words to describe this film. Perhaps that’s the true issue with the film… I just struggled to really care about it. I felt like I could have walked out 1/3 of the way in and predicted everything that’d happen. Even the jokes, thanks to the trailers giving away the big laughs. With that said… let’s take this review off the heat and let it cool shall we?

The Heat has its moments, and thanks to two strong leads will keep fans of raucous comedies entertained. However, for the rest of us seeking something a bit more cerebral or interesting it falls short of the mark. The plotting is too predictable and the jokes sometimes just feel too cheap to really enthral The Phage. Maybe that’s due our Britishness in not finding a Boston accent *the* most hilarious thing you’ve ever heard (it’s not)… that forms a good 5 minutes of joke space in this film, for instance. So whilst not a failure, The Heat certainly only delivers a luke-warm slice of cinematic comedy.

I almost wonder if there’s a book in Hollywood containing the “A-Z of Buddy Cop Clichés”. Whilst The Heat didn’t conform to every single stereotype, it hardly reinvented the wheel either. Hell, even adding a third lead character would make for a slightly different “buddy” film. Or maybe Me, Myself and Irene already pseudo did that with Jim Carrey‘s split personalities? Who knows! Regardless, I’ve already made my “heat” based puns in the previous paragraph… so let’s just end this shall we? See… even I can repeat lines, just like The Heat, really…

Phage Factor:

2.5 Stars