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My 12 for ’13: Gravity & Good Old-Fashioned Simplicity

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 4…

One of the more interesting aspects of blockbuster cinema over the past decade or so has been the way that bigger movies tend to have become more complicated and ambitious in their storytelling. This isn’t a bad thing, by any measure. The Dark Knight is a plot-driven blockbuster with no shortage of plot complications, reversals and reveals. However, not every blockbuster is as deftly constructed.

There’s been a surge in overly complicated and excessively convoluted blockbusters over the past few years. It’s not enough to have good guys and bad guys and spectacle. There’s a sense that there needs to be more crammed on in there. Double-crosses and triple-crosses, betrayal and redemption, shock reveals and game-changing twists. Bad guys no longer plan to simply destroy the world or kill the good guy, everybody has competing agendas, and big epic blockbusters often struggle to smooth those into a cohesive narrative.

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From this year, for example, Star Trek Into Darkness – while still an exceptionally enjoyable film – suffered from an over-complicated plot and a surplus of villainous motivation. The Wolverine featured a fiercely convoluted middle act where it seemed like half-a-dozen bad guys were all trying to kill our hero for different reasons. G.I. Joe: Retaliation featured an evil plot that was not only brilliantly stupid, it was also unnecessarily convoluted.

Gravity serves to buck the trend, offering something of a sharp contrast to this convoluted storytelling. Gravity is a celebration of old-school visual spectacle, guided through a decidedly old-fashioned plot.

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Non-Review Review: Gravity

Gravity is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking, and one of the highlights of the year. It’s a bold and visually stunning survival movie, built around the most simple of premises with incredible craftsmanship. It’s a lean and well-constructed thriller that manages to effortlessly capture the impossible isolation experienced by those flying in the void. Never over-wrought or over-strained, Gravity is an absolutely beautiful accomplishment for all involved.

Floating in a most peculiar way...

Floating in a most peculiar way…

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Watch! New Gravity Trailer!

Gravity is easily one of my most anticipated movies of this last third of 2013. The talent involved is enough to attract attention, from two wonderful lead actors through to a visionary director telling a story which seem intriguing and ingenious at the same time. Early word on the film has been pretty strong. I’m particularly reassured by the revelation that the explosions and such were only effects added for the trailer – so much so that the introductory text here seems to have been added to sway other skeptics. (That said, this trailer still features its fair share of noise in space.)

Warners have released another trailer for the film, and it looks – as one might expect from Alfonso Cuaron – absolutely stunning. Check it out below.

Non-Review Review: The Heat

At one point in The Heat, Officer Mullins offers her new partner a sandwich. It’s been there all week, but it’s okay. “It’s cheese,” Mullins asserts. “It never goes off.” In a single line, Mullins accounts for the strange charm of The Heat, a film that isn’t consistently hilarious or shockingly innovative, but manages to pack a reasonable number of laughs into an admittedly overlong runtime. The Heat feels like a nostalgic trip back to the era of the buddy comedy.

The soundtrack is saturated with hits of the early nineties – at one point Mullins and Ashburn dance to Groove is in the Heart, while at another the duo bust a party boat (the “U.S.S. Tanked”) as it plays We Like to Party (The Vengabus). The Heat is pretty much the most stereotypical police buddy comedy you could imagine, with only the novelty of being headlined by two well-respect female comedians to distinguish it.

That’s not a bad thing. There are worse comedic combinations than Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. The problem is that The Heat never challenges the duo. There’s a sense the pair could have made the film in their sleep.

Never mind the Bullock...

Never mind the Bullock…

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Watch! Gravity Teaser Trailer!

Warner Brothers just released the teaser trailer for Gravity, from director Alfonso Cuarón.  Cuarón has developed his own unique sensibilities. He’s responsible for the most visually distinctive of the Harry potter films, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and produced and underrated and oft-overlooked science-fiction masterpiece with Children of Men. I am very eager to see Gravity, which looks to be a rather wonderful change of pace.

 

Non-Review Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Stephen Daldry’s latest film, and surprise Best Picture nominee, looks lovely. It opens with a credit sequence that see Tom Hanks falling through the air like an even more stylish version of the Mad Men opening credits. The blue background is just the right shade, the picture is crisp, the focus is tight. Of course, that beautifully illustrative opening sequence exposes the primary flaw with Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Some things just aren’t meant to look pretty, and some events can’t be wrapped up inside a feel-good blanket with a tidy ribbon on the outside.

Not quite picture perfect...

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Non-Review Review: Speed

Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?

– Howard tells you everything you need to know

Speed is the quintessential nineties action movie. If you want to look at a movie that typifies what a nineties action film looked like, but does so with an incredible amount of skill (and a reasonable portion of wit), it’s hard to recommend a more obvious choice. It’s a movie that falls apart if you think about it too hard, but director Jan de Bont does an absolutely amazing job making sure that we’re never really looking beyond the next ridiculous plot twist or tension action set piece. More than earning its name, Speed is a movie that runs on enough raw adrenaline that it becomes as easy to overlook the movie’s flaws as it is to it seems to be ride a bus across a fifty-foot gap in a half-constructed bridge. And de Bont manages to make that look really easy.

Can I phone a friend on this "pop quiz"?

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