Drinking Buddies ****
For Those in Peril ****
In space, no one can hear you mourn. Gravity (12A) stars Sandra Bullock as Dr Ryan Stone, a medical engineer taking part in a routine spacewalk alongside veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). Disaster strikes when a cloud of space debris rips through their shuttle at hundreds of miles an hour, leaving Stone and Kowalski adrift in pitilessly empty space. With all contact to Earth severed, and with their oxygen levels depleted, the pair face a desperate struggle to survive. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity opens in a deceptively elegant and hauntingly beautiful fashion, the slow-motion movements of the spacewalking astronauts back-dropped by an immense Earth. The placid set-up only enhances the brutality of the debris-strike, however, which sends Dr Stone somersaulting out into the vast blackness of space. Fabulous camerawork means that the audience is just as disorientated as Dr Stone as she tumbles further and further into the void, the absence of gravity ensuring that there is no natural braking mechanism in the vacuum of space. The absence of gravity also works as a metaphor in the film: Dr Stone, we discover, is still mourning the loss of her young daughter, who died as a result of a random, easily-prevented accident. Drifting through life, unwilling or unable to let go of her pain, Dr Stone has volunteered to go into space in order to get away from her unbearable existential burden. Thus Gravity works on two levels, as Dr Stone battles the physical threat of being extinguished by limitless space, all the while fighting off the urge to simply give up and die. The result is a powerful film that is as heartbreaking as it is thrilling. The special effects are very special indeed, as is the Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography, but — unusually for a big budget thriller — the effects are never allowed to overwhelm the emotional thrust of the story. Much of the credit for that goes to Alfonso Cuarón’s faith in Sandra Bullock, and she responds with a compelling performance, transmuting her standard, likeable everywoman persona into a genuine Oscar contender. All told, Gravity is one of the unmissable movie events of 2013.
Written and directed by Joe Swanberg, Drinking Buddies (15A) is set in a Chicago brewing company, where Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are good friends who enjoy one another’s company as much as they appreciate a fine beer. Which is to say, there’s no lust simmering under the surface of their relationship: Kate is dating Chris (Ron Livingston), while Luke is planning to get engaged to Jill (Anna Kendrick). Cracks appear in both relationships when the quartet head off on a double-date trip to a lakeside cabin, but where a conventional Hollywood romance flick might take the opportunity to thrust Kate and Luke together, Swanberg’s story is a much more realistic, asymmetrical and ultimately satisfying affair. Drinking Buddies does exactly what it says on the tin: this is a story about friends who like one another well enough to bond over a few beers, but not as any preamble to leaping into bed or reinventing themselves as unnaturally perfect partners. Wilde and Johnson are hugely enjoyable in the lead roles, naturalistic in their banter (much of which appears to be successfully ad-libbed) and their irreverent attitude towards life. It may be more beer than champagne, but the unpredictable Drinking Buddies enervates the places that the artificial fizz of most Hollywood romances can’t reach.
Set in a remote Scottish fishing village, For Those in Peril (15A) explores the notion of survivor’s guilt through the character of Aaron (George MacKay), the only man to return from a fishing trip that claimed the lives of five men, including that of his brother, Michael (Jordan Young). Shunned by the villagers, who blame Aaron for the tragedy, he refuses to believe his brother is dead, and sets out to discover the truth. The first feature from writer-director Paul Wright, For Those in Peril is beautifully shot tale that trades on the power of memory, and the often misplaced faith we have in the honesty our own memories, to create an intriguing narrative that constantly forces the audience to reassess what it thinks it knows.
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