Bullock gives her best in ‘the best space film ever’

Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Quick! Be the first to see the new Sandra Bullock movie when it opens in theaters on Oct. 3! This collaboration between the Oscar-winning superstar and celebrated Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men and A Little Princess) has been getting some of the best reviews of any movie this year.

James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director of the two biggest films in history (Titanic and Avatar), gushed about the movie after it premiered at the Venice Film Festival last month telling Variety Magazine that he was “stunned” and “absolutely floored!”

“I think it’s the best space photography ever done!”

“I think it’s the best space film ever done!”

“It’s the movie I’ve been hungry to see for an awful long time!”

The quotes above are all from Mr. Cameron.

Richard Corliss, the venerable TIME magazine critic, hailed the movie as a major cinematic milestone: “If the film past is dead, Gravity shows us the glory of cinema’s future,” he wrote. “It thrills on so many levels. And because Cuarón is a movie visionary of the highest order, you truly can’t beat the view.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy was also effusive in his review, citing it as “the most realistic and beautifully choreographed film ever set in space. Gravity is a thrillingly realized survival story spiked with interludes of breath-catching tension and startling surprise.”

I have seen the movie and I absolutely loved it. I tend to be expressive when I watch a movie. I recently walked out during a screening of one of James Franco’s current films and my friends were laughing at me for it. Accordingly, when I love a movie, I tend to be very loud in showing my appreciation. At the recent screening of Gravity, I had no idea what possessed me but my hands felt numb after I gave the movie vigorous applause for more than a minute. It was that good. No, it was that great!

Cinema is a visual art and Gravity is the best example of what great artistry in film is. Everything about the movie is exemplary. From the metaphor-laden screenplay to the meticulous production design, from the excellent cinematography and visual effects to the hypnotic and stirring original score, everything worked!

But the movie’s biggest strengths, to this writer, at least, were Alfonso’s exquisite direction and, of course, Sandra’s tour de force performance. In Gravity, Sandra is virtually all by herself. George Clooney, her co-star, appears in a brief but pivotal role in the beginning of the movie and it was Sandra’s show for the next 70 or so minutes until the movie’s final fade. And, oh, what a glorious performance it was!

Most actors say the best form of acting is just reacting, but, in the movie, Sandra didn’t have anybody to act with! She had only machines as virtual markers but the result is so astounding that many critics are calling it the best performance of her career. What Sandra achieved was a solid, delicate performance that galvanized the strength and spirit of the movie.

At the junket for the movie in Los Angeles, this writer had an opportunity to meet with Sandra and Alfonso and I was able to congratulate them for what they have accomplished in Gravity.

Gravity tells the story of Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra’s character) on her first shuttle mission. The movie begins with a seemingly routine space walk to repair some malfunctioning parts of the space station when an unlikely disaster strikes destroying the shuttle. Dr. Ryan Stone and her partner, Dr. Matt Kowalski (Clooney), find themselves adrift in space with their supply of air running out and their contact with earth completely lost. I could tell you the entire movie but then I would rob you the opportunity to experience the majesty of this movie inside the cinema. Watch it in IMAX 3D, if you have the chance.

“It’s a roller-coaster ride,” Alfonso said when asked to describe how he envisioned his movie. “It’s a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat from the beginning. Very suspenseful — tension all the way through.”

“It’s a projection of a deep emotional journey. In between those emotions and the ride, there would be other things expressed mostly through visual metaphors and the whole intent was to do something that was very cathartic in which the audiences could connect and express their own emotional experience into the journey — and space was like a great setting for it,” he added.

At the core of this vision is the terrifying story of the astronaut trapped alone in the vast vacuum of space and her journey of self-discovery and rebirth.

It should be noted that Sandy was not the first actress considered for the part but she was ultimately the perfect fit for the role given her own personal challenges in recent years.

“The conversation that we had had nothing to do with the film but the emotional core of what he felt this film was about,” she related recalling her first meeting with Alfonso. “I was immediately able to relate what I felt I wanted it to be about.”

She added that working on the film allowed her to re-evaluate why she chose acting as a profession. “I’ve been granted many times to have different experiences. There’s the work then there’s the career. I can’t control the career aspect because it’s all about timing. For me, it was a rebirth in my excitement of filmmaking and my part in it.”

And her part became the showpiece of the movie.

“In the script, it was very precise and it was already composed through harmonies. It was a harmonic script and there were very complex harmonies that were interweaving with each other. And Sandra came and gave the melody,” Alfonso said acknowledging Sandy’s important contribution. “She gave the lyrical factor to it including arias at certain point and it was pure Sandy and she was pushing for that and it was so refreshing… it was so beautiful.”

But Sandy, ever humble, downplayed the compliment and offered a different take on what she has achieved. “I don’t know,” was her immediate reaction. “Composing means you have a beginning, middle and end and a fluidity to what you are doing and this was done in tiny little sections sometimes and then you have these long stretches that you had to wait for the camera to get you. The easiest way for me to rhythmically figure out how to give them what they needed mathematically and have some sort of linear story was musically through sound.”

“Alfonso had a bag of music and songs and pieces and essences so I went through the entire catalog and I started pulling songs for each scene that made me feel something. I knew I would be isolated and I needed something to get me or wake me up in some way. So it was always the rhythm of some kind of music or a song.”

“After we shot enough, I was able to say, ‘Can you play back what we just shot so I could hear the breath or see the level of hyperventilation or fear?’ I could get worked up to that point and then they could roll camera and it was almost like the more you shot the more you had to go back as a reference on in order to piece them together but I never felt like I had any composure anyway to compose something…”

By January, Sandy’s composition will surely be rewarded with an Oscar nomination (and a win, perhaps.)

Gravity is released by Warner Bros. Pictures.

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