Gravity

Thank you, movie gods, for Gravity.

But thank you even more, movie gods, for Alfonso Cuaron. Gravity is far and away the best movie of 2013. I don’t think we will ever see such an immersive, intense, technically challenging and effective movie for a long time. Cuaron has given the movie-going world an example of what a director can do when vision runs the show.

If you haven’t seen Gravity (the future Oscar winner of best movie for 2013), go see it. In 3D. This has been the only movie I’ve seen in 3D and it was extraordinary.

You will like Gravity. That said, you will love it if you enjoy/enjoyed the following:
Space and science
The Grey
Movies
Alien
Unstoppable
Life of Pi

Here’s a trailer (without 3D):

The deets:

Released October 4, 2013

Written by Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris, and Phaldut Sharma

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Gravity opens with one of the greatest establishing shots of all film. It is quiet. A total lack of sound ‘quiet’. We are in space. Everything is in three dimensions– front/back, side/side, up/down. But these are relative, because space is an alien thing and down means nothing when there is nothing to stop you from spinning out of control forever.

Then we meet the astronauts. Ryan Stone (Bullock– yes, her ‘strong’ female character has a typically male name and yes that’s deeply stupid) is not a professional astronaut. She is a research doctor/engineer and she is there to help install and implement an impressive new technology. That technology doesn’t matter. It’s not even a MacGuffin.

Guiding her through her work in space is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney). Kowalski is professional and chummy, and when catastrophe strikes, he takes charge.

And catastrophe strikes. A de-comissioned satellite’s debris field smashes into the shuttle and sends Kowalski and Stone in different directions. Now Stone has to get back to Kowalski.

But things just keep getting worse. With her air diminishing, her options very limited, and with very limited training, Stone has to find out just how deep she can dig to survive the seemingly un-survivable: being stranded in space.

Critique

Gravity is beautifully shot. This is because it is technically nearly perfect. The science might not be spot-on, but that is not important. This is a movie about a human being who doesn’t have a family or a life to return to, so she has to find out just exactly what she is living for. Her answers are inspiring.

It’s also a film about the man versus nature at her harshest and most alien. And at her most cruel– because she has no interest whatsoever in man, and can’t be bothered to notice man in his/her desperate state.

Everything that could go wrong, does. Every calamity that could realistically happen in the confines and vastness of space, does. The pacing is heart-stopping and the movie is intensity defined.

Since I can’t say enough about why this movie is so good, I’ll keep this brief. Here you have a smart, flawed character going on the most incredible of journeys. You can’t help but notice how magnificent is creation, even when she’s desperately holding onto a space station to not get swept away. Her journey is challenging, intense, and never lets up. She has to discover who she truly is, deep inside.

The acting is flawless. The story is flawless. The filming is astonishing.

This movie is as near perfect a movie as you will ever see.

Just go see it already.

Content warnings: Some salty language.

Writing: 5          Acting: 5           Overall: 5

Just go see the movie. For Pete’s sake.

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Riddick

Riddick gets a few things right, but where these films really ought to have been establishing and expanding a mystique for this character, instead they have essentially given Vin Diesel a trilogy of one great flick and two okay vanity flicks.

To have any real hope of enjoying Riddick, you will need to have liked:
The Chronicles of Riddick
The Dark Knight Rises
Lockout
Aliens
Alien 3

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released September 6, 2013

Written by David Twohy, based on characters created by Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat

Directed by David Twohy

Starring Katee Sackhoff, Vin Diesel, Bokeem Woodbine, and Karl Urban

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

When we last saw Riddick (Diesel), he was ruling essentially his own people after defeating the previous leader in combat. But his semi-ally in that fight, Vaako (Urban), betrayed him and left him for dead on a stark planet. This sequence is very cool, with smart bad guys who know when they’re outmatched. Only Riddick is stupid, because he turns his back on people he should always be watching out for.

But if the betrayal hadn’t succeeded, we wouldn’t have had this third installment, so off we go.

Riddick, gravely injured and struggling for life on a burning hot planet, has to escape some of the wildlife of the planet while finding a way to see to his wounds. What’s more, the planet seems bereft of life beyond the rather outstanding creatures that live on it. These are spectacularly imagined and wonderfully executed critters that play into all of the jittery fears of bugs and creepy-crawlies that humanity tends to have.

But he discovers an outpost on the planet and activates a beacon, which is able to identify him (implying that there exists somewhere a centrally curated database of all of the people in the galaxy in question?). Now bounty hunters show up to take him and get rich.

Riddick, ever the survivor, is ready for them, but one of these bounty hunter groups is different. It appears that their leader has a past with Riddick, and the second in command is a tough, intermittently smart, gorgeous woman named Dahl (Sackhoff).

But of course, the planet is more than it appears– and the movie returns, somewhat effectively, to what worked for the first film. The planet spawns nightmarish creatures (really great creatures– really great) and the creatures home in on the human flesh, clearly seeking some fresh grub. Riddick also knew this would happen and so he is ready to work with the bounty hunters to get off the planet in one piece.

So now we have humanity against the inhumanity of humans and the inhumanity of aliens.

Not bad. And of course there’s a lot of gravelly voiced one-liners and all kinds of sci-fi action and violence. There’s also some heroism towards the end.

Critique

Because Riddick returns somewhat to the formula that worked for the first excellent film, this one works well. We have a guy who can see in the dark, who is brutally effective at violence, and who appears to have no weakness. This is the weakness. We need to see Riddick’s fatal flaw and we need to know why he is this way. The movies never get into that enough, so the mystique and legend we want to feel like we’re watching never really satisfy.

Add to that some at-times lame one-liners, some truly stupid behavior from these bounty hunters, some too easy attempts at manipulating the audience into feeling a certain way about characters, and the movie lacks somewhat.

That said, you’ve got Vin Diesel and Katee Sackhoff, both of whom are convincing in action roles AND who have the great ability to add depth and complexity to their characters. You’ve got a nice sub-plot involving the ‘good’ bounty hunter and his motivation. You have really cool visuals and fight scenes, along with– have I mentioned?– truly awesome creatures.

So Riddick ultimately provides a good, entertaining time at the movies, but doesn’t deliver a satisfying book-end to a story and character a lot of us fell in love with in Pitch Black. It’s important to note that every movie in this trilogy has been directed by David Twohy. Maybe if he gets one more chance, he can finally satisfy with the mythos surrounding Riddick.

Content warnings: Plenty of sci-fic and sometimes gruesome violence. A brief scene of scant nudity. 

Writing: 3.5         Acting: 3.5          Overall: 3.5

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R.I.P.D.

R.I.P.D. is basically Men in Black crossed with True Grit, crossed with Power Rangers. Sadly, despite some fun dialogue and some clever ideas and great visuals, it’s not all that good. Mainly that’s because the writers forgot to put in interesting characters.

To have any hope of liking R.I.P.D., you ought to have enjoyed:
any Men in Black movie
Blade 3
The Other Guys
The Three Stooges

What with the great effects and the good actors, it’s a shame that R.I.P.D. isn’t any more enjoyable than a bland sandwich without mayo.

Here’s a trailer:

Doesn’t that look fun?

The deets:

Released July 19, 2013

Written by Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, and David Dobkin. Based on the comic by Peter M. Lenkov

Directed by Robert Schwentke

Starring Mary Louise Parker, Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Stephanie Szostak, Kevin Bacon, Robert Knepper, Marissa Miller, and James Hong

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Nick (Reynolds) is a cop who perishes in a firefight at the beginning of R.I.P.D. He is immediately taken to some purgatory-like place whose mission is to keep the bad lingering spirits of the dead from taking over the world of the living. They do this with some interesting technology and with some interesting constraints and rules.

First off, they’re dead. Apparently this means that being beat up and getting hit by a bus hurt, but just don’t kill you. Second, they use weapons, but without any interesting explanation as to what these weapons are and why they do what they do. Third, the bad spirits can physically transform into big, ugly creatures that can do actual damage to the real world. Fourth-

I’ll stop there. It gets more and more absurd as you go along thinking. This isn’t a thinking movie.

Nick is assigned a new partner named Roy (Bridges). They answer to Proctor (Parker). She is dry of humor and is actually pretty humorless.

Roy is basically Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn, but with more humor. Sadly, the humor just seems too carefully written– it doesn’t seem natural. Instead, it is simply delivered because it’s on the page.

Then you have Hayes (Bacon), who is a truly bad guy. Nick and Roy have to stop Hayes before Hayes unleashes a terrible evil which will destroy the world. At the same time, Nick has to deal with his beloved slowly making her way into danger as she is taken advantage of in her grief.

Critique

Critiquing R.I.P.D. is pretty simple. It’s far too much like Men in Black without refreshing the tropes and cleverness and humor. The characters have nothing interesting at all about them, which is a shame, because Reynolds, Parker, and Bridges are all good actors. The dialogue is intermittently funny, but is usually groan-worthy because we know exactly what’s going to be said when it comes to zingers.

This isn’t a bad movie, but it’s certainly hard to understand why such an obvious retread of Men in Black was found to be necessary.

For a movie about dead but not really dead cops who mete out vigilante justice, R.I.P.D. is strangely lifeless.

Content warnings: Comic/fantastic violence throughout, some mild swearing.

Writing: 2          Acting: 3.5          Overall: 2.5

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2 Guns

You’ll be happy to know that 2 Guns is as fun as it looks. If you haven’t seen it and are looking for a good, harmless action flick, this is what you’re looking for.

You’re going to like 2 Guns if you enjoyed:
Lethal Weapon
Beverly Hills Cop
White House Down
21 Jump Street

This flick is pretty violent. You’ll like it, though, if you are a fan of solid and not overly serious action movies. The plot is intricate enough to keep the interest and the acting is, of course from these two, charming.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released August 2, 2013

Written by Blake Masters, based on the graphic novels by Steven Grant

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur

Starring Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos, James Marsters, and Fred Ward

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Bobby (Washington) and Stig (Wahlberg) are working together to get a lot of money into their grubby hands. What neither of them knows is that the other is an agent of the government. Bobby’s a DEA agent and Stig’s Special Forces. They join up to rob a bank, but when they end up with way more money than they expected, it becomes clear that they’ve bitten off more than either one can chew.

When Stig’s boss, Quince (Marsters), suddenly turns on Stig, Stig has to try to stay alive while going on the run. Then Bobby’s people turn on him and Stig and Bobby are forced to team up to try to keep away from what seems like four groups of baddies coming after them.

Critique

The dialogue of 2 Guns has been very well crafted to provide Washington and Wahlberg ample opportunity to play off each other and keep things entertaining. We want our buddy cop movies to provide lots of opportunities for the two people in question to be pushed apart by their dislike of each other but be forced to work together. This dynamic is very well crafted, making this movie all kinds of fun.

Added to the excellent dialogue and performances is a solid plot, weaving corrupt government agents, drug bosses, and our heroes into all kinds of plots and conflicts that keep the action moving along at a steady clip. The set pieces don’t try to outdo other action movies in their spectacularness, but instead they are clever and fun.

2 Guns is fine entertainment that action movie lovers will enjoy.

Content warnings: Plenty of explosive violence, salty language, and a scene of female nudity.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4.5

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