Gravity: Lost in space with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

by Mark Burger

Gravity: Lost in Space with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron’s first feature in seven years, stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski, for whom just another day on the job unexpectedly becomes a fight for survival, after debris from a nearby collision pelts their position and renders their shuttle useless.

This simple but hugely effective exercise in sustained suspense, written by Cuaron and his son Jonas, need not be deep or profound to work its proverbial magic, unless to perhaps reiterate the point that man is forever the mercy of his surroundings, where luck and fate play a large hand in staying alive.

Although set in an indeterminate but not-too-distant future, the technology on display is not that far removed or advanced from current NASA technology, thereby maintaining credibility throughout. There are some truly hair-raising, head-spinning moments — best experienced on a big screen (and 3-D might be worth it, too) — but what transpires in the film is well within the boundaries of possibility, which further enhances the tension.

In what is essentially a two-hander, Bullock and Clooney play to their strengths as the “everyman” astronauts: She’s resourceful and resilient; he’s stalwart and sympathetic. The audience is on their side from’  the beginning.

Cuaron makes exceptional use of special effects (both visual and aural), but never at the expense of the story or its characters. The sound of a pounding heartbeat has been around since the dawn of sound in movies, yet it’s no less effective in this century.

Blue Caprice drives inexorably on a road of violence and murder

Intense performances by Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond (born in Burlington) are at the forefront of Blue Caprice, a true-crime drama from first-time feature director Alexandre Moors.

The story is based on the Beltway shooting attacks that took place in the Washington, DC area in 2002, but the script by RFI Porto (also a feature debut) delves not into the victims’ lives or the police investigation, but into the mindset of the two men who committed the attacks and, perhaps, the circumstances that drove them to this senseless slaughter.

Lee (Richmond) is an aimless, withdrawn teenager who falls under the “fatherly” influence of John (Washington, also an executive producer), who is older and wiser but clearly unstable.

“There are some evil people in this world,” John gravely tells Lee, and the scary thing is not only that John’s firmly convinced of that assessment, but that he further believes he can make a “difference.”

Blue Caprice, named for the tricked-out automobile from which John and Lee committed their crimes, is predictably chilling at times, but it’s also on the chilly side, despite ostensibly being a personal story.

As good as Washington and Richmond are — to say nothing of Tim Blake Nelson and Joey Lauren Adams as a couple who shelters them for a time — the film maintains an imperturbable distance throughout, with Moors sometimes opting for arty visuals over visceral emotion. Nevertheless, there’s enough here to anticipate with some interest what Moors and Porto will do next.

Bad Milo! a horror comedy of “gastronomical” proportions

Cult status seems assured for Bad Milo!, a broad, sometimes bloody and frequently funny send-up of monster movies (and more) from director Jacob Vaughan, who also co-wrote the script with Benjamin Hayes.

Our hero is Duncan (Ken Marino), a likable loser whose pent-up aggression and stress result in his giving birth — in a (tasteful) manner of speaking — to the title character, a monstrous mutant with murderous tendencies. When Milo goes on a rampage, it’s usually left up to Duncan to clean the mess.

In addition to spoofing horror movies in the best lowbrow tradition of Troma Films (The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High, et al), Bad Milo! also works in some successful satire of holistic healing, corporate chicanery and even the family dynamic. Fright fans can expect such familiar touches as torch-wielding townspeople and — surprise, surprise — the sort of “twist” ending that’s been so prevalent these last 30 years.

The cast performs with requisite gusto, including Gillian Jacobs (playing it straight) as Duncan’s wife, Patrick Warburton perfectly cast to type as Duncan’s smarmy boss, Mary Kay Place, Stephen Root and Peter Stormare, whose distinctive brand of comic energy is put to ideal use here as a New Age doctor who’s understandably terrified by Milo but also intrigued by the “scientific possibilities” of such a unique discovery…’  as long as it doesn’t tear him to shreds, of course.

Bad Milo! is scheduled to open Friday in Greensboro