Star Trek into Darkness (J.J. Abrams, 2013). I always feel the need to emphasize from the start that I don’t know much about the Star Trek franchise. It doesn’t matter much here … there are regular nods to long-time fans, but the movie stands on its own, at least enough that I never felt confused. I gave the first Abrams Trek movie 6/10, then watched it again and bumped it to a 7 for no apparent reason. While I was watching this one, I felt a 7 coming all along. Perhaps I’m just in a good mood. There is nothing special about the film, with the possible exception of Zachary Quinto as Spock. The action scenes are good in a functional way, they pop up just about the time you tire of the dialogue, and that dialogue isn’t as annoying as it could be. (There’s a bit too much C3PO/R2D2 to the conversations between various combinations of two characters, but not enough to drive me up the wall.) Philosophical questions arise, and it’s true, they are usually just the pretense of another action scene, but they add a bit of depth to the movie. I’m not the audience for this … I don’t have any emotional attachment to the characters, which means I’m probably missing something, But I liked it while I watched it, so 7/10.
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013). A film that succeeds on several levels. First, I saw it in 3D IMAX, which is unusual for me … I like IMAX, don’t care for 3D. But since Cuarón intended 3D from the start, and since he recommended seeing it in that format, I went for it, and was glad I did. There are a couple of the requisite show-off 3D scenes, but what was more important was the way the format was used to immerse the viewer into the actions on the screen. This is something that 3D is good at, but it seems to me that it is rarely used that way. Paradoxically, the razzle-dazzle of 3D results here in visuals that seem quite lifelike. You have Sandra Bullock floating in space, and you don’t think, “wow, great FX”, you think, “wow, space is magnificent and scary.” The 3D is not a distraction; it just adds to the movie. For all of the extravagant visuals, the film’s narrative is stripped down to basics. They spent $100 million to make it seem like Bullock and George Clooney really are floating in space, but what really matters is how the characters deal with their plight. This is the type of thing that often elicits bogus faux-characterizations … the stock stereotypes exist just to provide people around which the FX will happen, but no one really cares about those characters. In Gravity, you care very much about Bullock’s character. And it is this that raises Gravity far above the standard blockbuster. It needs to be mentioned that Bullock is up to the challenges presented to her in the film. Mick LaSalle pointed out, “If ever a movie demanded the casting of movie stars, it's ‘Gravity,’ because the audience requires vivid examples of humanity and - as the lead actors are covered up in spacesuits most of the time - we need to feel we know these people.” And Bullock and Clooney are certainly movie stars. But both of them also manage to go deeper than just their movie star status. Bullock has the showier role, but Clooney is also excellent in his supporting role. Alfonso Cuarón is one of my favorite contemporary directors. Y tu mamá también is a particular fave of mine, Children of Men is wonderful … heck, he directed the only Harry Potter film I liked. Add Gravity to the list of my Cuarón favorites. 9/10.