By all accounts, the best film of the year opens this week.
I'm still waiting to see Gravity, a 93-minute thrill ride about two astronauts stranded in space. I don't doubt it's the best because Mexican writer/director Alfonso Cuarón always delivers. He's the genius behind Y tu Mama Tambien and 2006's Children of Men, one of the best films of the new millennium. Remember that epic single-shot action sequence?
Cuarón remembers it, too, and one-ups himself this time. Gravity starts with a 13-minute single shot that sets up the entire film perfectly. Sandra Bullock stars as some kind of brainy scientist on a mission to "use her science" on a spacewalk expedition to repair a space station or something. George Clooney is the wise-cracking spaceship jockey who's seen it all a million times. When disaster cuts Bullock free from the ship and sends her spinning endlessly into the vast emptiness of space, Clooney intervenes. But with a damaged spaceship and dwindling oxygen, the duo are suddenly very alone, and nothing gets easier.
Gravity is being heralded as a technical 3D masterpiece that utilizes the technology (and rounded dome shape of an IMAX screen) in revolutionary ways. Just as his camera plays so expertly with physics and negative space, Cuarón's script (co-written with his son) is said to be lean and riveting.
Not everyone will love a movie with only two characters but for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction — that's true in the vacuum of space or the complexities of human life on earth. From age-old dramatic techniques (soliloquy! silence!) to mind-bending visual innovation Gravity might be both the culmination and evolution of cinema as we know it. Find out for yourself this week at the Village 8.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Runner Runner stars Justin Timberlake (Alpha Dog, Yogi Bear) as the talented college pretty boy who sells his soul for a shot at money and power then runs around feeling sorry for himself after realizing, too late, that it all comes crashing down. This time around, it's set the world of online poker and the sun-soaked nouveau riche of Costa Rica and...uh-oh here comes the FBI.
Also starring multiple Oscar-winner Ben Affleck as the criminal kingpin, Runner Runner is set up as a slick thriller before going on to subvert everything that makes thrillers thrilling. The "covet bosses woman" plot has no consequence and what good is an "FBI rat" storyline when you tell the guy you are supposed to be ratting on? Nothing really ever clicks with this one and the result is the kind of drab flick to be watched with the volume on almost-silent so you can fall asleep on the couch. The saving grace, I guess, is Gemma Arterton (Pirate Radio) looking all kinds of awesome in various pieces of warm-weather fashion.
Arterton is much more than simple eye candy though and she proves it in Byzantium, a non-typical vampire movie that's also the Download of the Week. Gemma stars alongside Saoirse Ronan (Hanna, Atonement) as a mother-daughter vampire duo just trying to make it through eternity.
Told over hundreds of years, Byzantium is kind of like The Red Violin only with Gemma Arterton's cleavage instead of a violin. Directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview with a Vampire) it's also a cerebral take on the lonely pains of living forever, remembering everything and never being able to tell your story without killing the listener. This one is highbrow arthouse stuff, but patient horror fans will be pleased to discover the requisite shower scenes, blood sucking and waterfalls of blood cascading onto bosoms. Can't complain there.