Although I now live just a few blocks away from the Alameda Theatre, its only 2D showtimes for Gravity this evening were at 4:15 and 9:00, not the ideal 7:00 slot my parents and I were looking for. (3D showings were more available, but I'm not a fan.) So I was happy to make a return trip to the Grand Lake, which I had not visited since seeing The Avengers for a third time back in September, 2012.
There has been one negative change in the intervening months: the concession stand no longer stocks those delicious (vegan) chocolate bars I've come to love. Other than that, the theater has lost none of its beauty, and has even added some in the form of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's headshot guarding the staircase.
(I will not be seeing Bad Grandpa.)
A better shot of the 'stained glass' window in the lobby than what I posted in a previous review.
Gravity 3D had engaged the big screen, relegating 2D to the Egyptian Auditorium, but I don't mind. I still haven't been able to get a good photo of this, but the stars sparkling overhead in a midnight sky complete the ambience, especially for a movie like Gravity.
The Wolf of Wall Street (Trailer 1)
Leonardo DiCaprio plays a stock market tycoon with an uncanny ability to make money, which he uses to throw lavish parties and to earn even more money. He soon runs afoul of the federal government. I dislike the rise-and-fall genre, with their depressing third act, and already-obvious morals. But as a two-minute Gatsby-esque party sequence, yeah, it’s entertaining. Jonah Hill costars, as does Matthew McConaughey, still looking thin from Dallas Buyers Club.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Trailer 2)
If you can avoid this trailer, do. It shows none of the restraint of the first trailer, instead laying the groundwork for the entire plot sequence, and showing so many gorgeous visuals that I’m skeptical the movie will still be able to make me awe. I see the franchise is following the model established by Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hobbit, dividing a single book into multiple money-making films.
Enders Game (Trailer 2)
I closed my eyes for this one. Having read the book, and already seen the first trailer numerous times, I don’t need anything else spoiled for me. I find the multiple-trailer model annoying, as it specifically targets people who have already seen the first trailer (otherwise they could just reuse that trailer), trying to ensure that we have as few surprises as possible going into our first viewing.
In college I read a sci-fi short story about a spaceship built for super-long-distance, super-fast travel (those are technical terms), shielded from all manner of radiation/particle, no matter how small. It was a feat of engineering: the impervious vessel. On its maiden voyage, however, the entire crew perished, because the shipmakers had failed to account for something more invasive than particles: gravity. That blew my mind: gravity is everywhere; you can't stop it! My best friend was unimpressed, noting that of the physical forces known to science, gravity is actually on the weaker end of the spectrum, almost immeasurably weaker than weak nuclear, electromagnetic, and strong nuclear forces. (Weak as it may be, it's also a bit absurd to think that the shipmakers would have forgotten about it.) But that doesn't mean gravity is to be trifled with.
Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are astronauts on a mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. Stone designed the circuitry, which accounts for her inclusion in the mission despite having trained for only six months (she doesn't yet have her space legs and is constantly trying to keep down her lunch). While she fiddles with the circuit board, Kowalski dances around the shuttle in his jet pack, attempting to break the spacewalking record set by Russian cosmonauts decades earlier (a record that actually fell just a few months prior to the release of this film).
Space, despite its vastness, can nevertheless seem small and interconnected. Events on a distant Russian satellite trigger a chain reaction that soon reaches our heroes, who must scramble to detach the telescope from their shuttle and get safely inside. Something goes wrong, as it must, and soon the two are adrift in space, cut off from their colleagues and without radio contact, trying to make it back to Earth alive.
Gravity is an experiment in isolation narrative. With its tiny cast, and set entirely in space (no flashbacks or cutaways to Houston), the film puts all the pieces into play, gives them a nudge, and then revels in the chaos. Kowalski as the experienced pilot is able to pause from their predicament to appreciate Earth's beauty from such a vantage point. Stone, more in line with the audience's perspective, is terrified. With this film's release I doubt NASA will see a single person apply to be an astronaut, ever again.
The film's title is a bit of a misnomer. It suggests Earth's gravitational field is the villain, constantly trying to pull our heroes to their deaths. The true nemesis is inertia. When Stone lets go of a bolt, it starts to float away, not because it is more affected by Earth's gravity than she is, but because she cannot rely on friction to slow the bolt's movement, accelerated by the simple act of opening her hand. When Kowalski activates his jets to push him in one direction, he's created another problem for himself: how to slow down. The two are constantly twisting in space, with one almost able to stabilize their own rotation, before being yanked back into a spin by the taut cable that tethers them.
Gravity suffers a bit from being too pure in its conceit. It is a high-adrenaline thriller, but one without peaks or valleys. The odds are so against our heroes, and there are so few unknowns or unexpected discoveries, that we watch not so much to see what will happen next, but just to spend with them what few last moments we can before their inevitable demise. It's exhausting.