Welcome back to PolicyMic's weekly movie guide, where we help you wade through the slew of releases to find something worth watching (or not). Outlaws, Afflecks, and white-knuckled terror make up our picks for the best movies to see, stream, and skip this week.
What movies are you looking forward to seeing? Got suggestions for next week’s roundup? Let me know in the comments and on Twitter.
What it’s about: Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is medical engineer on her first mission to space. Alongside her is the smooth-talking Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, charming even in the face of the abyss), a veteran astronaut on his last. The two are working outside the shuttle Explorer when they get word that the Russians have blown up a satellite hundreds of miles away, causing a deadly field of debris to hurtle towards them at hundreds of miles per hour. When it hits, their shuttle is destroyed, the other crew members are killed, and all communication is cut off—leaving Stone and Kowalski spinning through space with no food, no water, and no easy way to get back to Earth.
Why you should see it: When I first saw the trailer for Gravity, I was immediately reminded of a Ray Bradbury story called "Kaleidoscope." In the story, a group of astronauts are scattered into space after their ship is destroyed. The men reflect on their lives and impending deaths as they drift helplessly through the "dark sea," each towards his own "separate and irrevocable fate."
Sixty years after Bradbury's story was written, advances in exploration and understanding have done little to quell the feelings of of awe, fascination, and dread that space arouses. Beginning with the solemn declaration that "life in space is impossible," Gravity evokes the same chilling beauty of Bradbury's tale. The real terror here lies not in the film's action-packed sequences of destruction, riveting though they may be, but rather in the sense of crushing immensity that it inspires; there is nothing like the vast emptiness of space to remind you of your own mortality. Cast into its blackness, Stone and Kowalski are forced to look directly at death, at nothing—which are, of course, one and the same.
Let's get this out of the way: Gravity’s screenplay is not good. It's brimming with clichéd dialogue and unnecessarily heavy backstory, but none of this matters. In his first film since 2006's dazzling Children of Men, Cuarón has once again proven his aptitude for crafting tales of exhilarating beauty. The film is one of the most spectacular I’ve seen—and I do mean seen. The effects are out of this world (pun intended), and probably the closest most of us will ever get to experiencing space for ourselves (though I doubt you’ll want to get much closer after watching this). While I did find Bullock's frantic, helpless panting in the beginning of the film to be a little annoying, I was quickly rebuffed by my fellow movie-goer for not being sympathetic to the plight of a rookie astronaut staring death in the face. Fair point.
Gripping, terrifying, and magnificent to behold, Gravity is a rare film that's worth the headache and eye strain of 3D. Go to the biggest screen you can find, put on your silly glasses, and prepare for what may be the most intense ninety minutes you've ever had at the theater.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
In theaters now.
What it's about: In early 1970s Texas, outlaws and lovers Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) find themselves in a bloody shootout with the cops after a robbery goes awry. Ruth injures an officer, but Bob takes the rap for his pregnant girlfriend and is sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. He escapes after four, and sets out to reunite with his family. But when word reaches Ruth that Bob is coming back, she is forced to confront the reality of what his return may mean for their daughter.
Why you should see it: Fans of Badlands will recognize more than a hint of Terrence Malick in the darkly lyrical Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Lowery's story is conventional but poetic, its dreamy atmosphere punctuated by brief, brutal moments of violence. Mara and Affleck give arguably the best performances of their careers against a lovely, sepia-toned backdrop, and the slow-burn plot creates images of emotional intensity that linger long after the film ends.
Directed by David Lowery.
Starring Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, and Nate Parker.
Streaming on iTunes.
What it’s about: Richie (Justin Timberlake) is a Princeton grad student and online poker whiz who loses all his tuition savings during a big game. Suspecting that he’s been cheated, he heads to Costa Rica to confront the gambling website's sketchy kingpin, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck, faring less well than his brother this time around). Block woos Richie into becoming his right-hand man through promises of fabulous riches (get it?). Unsurprisingly, Block turns out to be a terrible boss and things get ugly.
Why you should skip it: Runner Runner has been panned for its lazy writing (the screenplay was lambasted as a joke), and for being intensely boring—surprising, perhaps, given that the film contains what ought to be a triumvirate of cinematic gold (kidnappings, prostitutes, crocodiles). Timberlake’s performance is getting ripped as well. One acerbic reviewer went so far as to say that “his face and voice suggest the college smart-ass you most wanted to smack.”
Poor JT. It seems everyone’s favorite former boy-bander is starting his inevitable fall from grace. First, the second part of his self-indulgent The 20/20 Experience premiered to less-than-stellar reviews, and now movie reviewers want to smack him. Here’s to happier days:
Directed by Brad Furman.
Starring Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, and Gemma Arterton.
In theaters now.