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

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Elysium (2013)

Elysium (2013)

South Africa and I go way back. I’ve travelled out there numerous times, I’ve been good friends with people from the country and I listen to music emanating out of that country… you could say we’re good buddies. Or “brews”, if you want to pronounce “bros” in the local tongue. You see, I’ve always had a bit of a thing for that Afrikaaner accent… I can’t escape it. It’s a bizarre hybrid of Dutch and Australian to my ears, and I love it. But South Africans in movies? Well… they’re not common place are they? Ok, aside from Charlize Theron, but her accent disappeared long ago. No, the movie that really drew attention to South Africa in modern years that wasn’t about Nelson Mandela or diamonds was the sci-fi romp called District 9. The Phage actually watched this movie at the cinema whilst in Johannesburg… now that’s dedication to the silver screen, right? What’s more, we bloody loved it too. It introduced us to the winning combination of director Neil Blomkamp and actor Sharlto Copley. So when we heard that a new movie was due, featuring these two… well, we got all excited. That movie is Elysium.

Elysium (2013)

Lamentably, Elysium isn’t a sequel to District 9, which ended on the most spectacularly melancholy of cliffhangers. Whether we’ll ever see another District movie, I’m unsure. Especially as Blomkamp now has his new movie, Chappie, greenlit by the studios. That film, by the way, is also due to star Sharlto Copley, alongside Dev Patel and two members of “zef” rap group Die Antwoord. It’s also set back in South Africa, so at least it’ll scratch my itch for South African accents once again…

Elysium (2013)

But back on track, Elysium does not focus on South Africa, although several characters are from there! No, Elysium focuses on the slummed out Los Angeles of 2154. Earth’s an overcrowded, underfunded, disease-ridden wreck. All of the wealthy folks have fled the planet to live on an orbiting space station known as Elysium. A place where no-one gets sick, and apparently no-one dies! But getting there? Pretty hard! Either you have a lot of money or you hop on an illegal shuttle and hope that Jodie Foster‘s Secretary Delacourt doesn’t have you shot down. But when Max (Matt Damon) has a terminal accident on Earth, he tries to get up to Elysium to be healed by undertaking a kidnap job that lands him in a plot that’s far greater than he initially imagined… bringing about the hungry wrath of sleeper agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) in the process.

Elysium is not District 9. To some this will be a relief, to others a shame. For me, it’s a shame. But that being said, Elysium is in itself not a bad film… in fact, it’s quite good! It’s just hard to love it when District 9 did so much right and was so insightful and clever in its subject matter. What Elysium does right is its beautiful cinematography, stunning visual effects and highly capable acting from Damon and Copley… what it doesn’t do right is… well, Jodie Foster

Elysium (2013)

You see, the problem is that her character felt forced and fake. Delacourt is a power hungry woman with a detestation for all of Earth’s humankind. But why? What’s the cause of this malice? Why is she power hungry? None of this is answered. She’s just a cookie-cutter “bad guy” with no back story. A good villain always has a back story… this one lacked it and also lacked much in the way of character overall. Thankfully, the “bad guy” mantle is ably picked up by Sharlto Copley as Kruger – brandishing that fabulous broad South African accent to boot. I’m a big supporter of Copley (even in The A-Team) and this again reaffirms my belief he should be cast more often. Maybe even by people other than Neil Blomkamp! Mention of course also has to go to Matt Damon – an actor that’s always reliable nowadays. Elysium is no different in that respect. Sure, it won’t win him any plaudits, but it’s a solid performance from Damon.

So what of my old friend, the plot? It worked. It has its twists and turns to add depth and intrigue, but nothing out-and-out shocking. That’s not necessarily a huge slur against the movie in itself, but it would have been nice to be caught off-guard a little more often. I think the film was helped along somewhat by the stunning visual effects – Blomkamp really shines with the way he shows his vision to the audience. Much like District 9, Elysium is gritty, grimey and shot in a way that really eschews the huge bombastic Hollywood-esque shots. Indeed, Elysium is easily the biggest and best “armageddon” style film of the summer – surpassing Oblivion and After Earth effortlessly.

Elysium again demonstrates why Neil Blomkamp should be seen as one of the true great sci-fi writers and directors of the 21st Century. In The Phage‘s eyes, he’s yet to make a misstep. It will come, we’ve no doubts about that, but for now we’re really stoked on seeing Chappie when it lands in a year or two’s time at the cinemas. Elysium is a gripping slice of sci-fi action, with solid performances from Damon and Copley. It’s just a shame it’s let down quite hard by lacklustre characterisation of Foster‘s Delacourt. But this can be overlooked… and should be, as it definitely merits a viewing.

So bru, mar love for all things Sath Ifrican is still pretty much intact, eh? Yassas, mar boy Sharlto really brings it with that lekker accent and die plot is bagkat. Essentially… Elysium is pretty damn good and deserves to be seen, whether you’ve a hankering for some SA accents or not… But if you do… well, you best start revising your Afrikaans nursery rhymes whilst you’re at it… You’re going to need it bru…

Phage Factor:

4 Star