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TIFF 2013: Gravity (2013)

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Visually striking, unfathomably straining, and performed to near perfection. In space, no one may be able to hear you scream, but the Oscar buzz surrounding Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” travels infinitely and is completely deafening. It’s consistently destructive, awe-inspiring, and unbearably tense. The flick’s climactic nature makes for a non-stop thrill-ride that will leave you craving the solidarity and silence of the void, when or if you are able to survive. Undoubtedly, this will be the most physically and mentally draining 90 minutes you’ll ever spend in a cinema. If you’ve never felt the insignificance of your own life, you’ll surely feel microscopic against the staggering backdrop that is our universe. Cuaron’s visual effects and relentless action are tremendously enthralling, but are a mere bonus to “Gravity’s” true brilliance… Which is the inevitable, disconcerting truth that no matter how far we stretch from the bounds of Earth, we will never truly leave the atmosphere.

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PLOT:

Engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is on her first space shuttle mission. Accompanying her is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) who is on his final expedition. During a routine spacewalk to issue some repairs to the Hubble telescope, debris from a satellite collides with the space shuttle Explorer. The impact delivers catastrophic damage to the ship, kills the other astronauts on board the ship, and leaves Stone spinning alone in space. Now, with no means of communication to Earth, Kowalsky must retrieve Stone and the two must figure out a way to return to Earth.

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Listen, I’m a sucker when it comes to specific sub-genres, and none more so than sci-fi driven by actual science, space, and drama. Granted, there isn’t exactly a name for this particular tangent, but we all know the films that fall into the category. They are astonishing feats of cinema that reach out and connect with our humanity, leave us in awe of the universe and marvelling at our technological advances. Films such as Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine,” Duncan Jones’ “Moon,” and more recently Sebastian Cordero’s “Europa Report.” These films capture the very essence of science-fiction while never forgetting our benevolence, flaws, and irrelevance. The visuals are unprecedented and leave the audience winded. It’s nearly impossible to find a cinematic experience that rivals this strand’s immaculacy and for good reason. I can tell you with pure confidence that “Gravity” is the newest and possible best member of my favourite genre.

Now, you might think that my passion for this very precise sub-genre hampers my ability to distinguish the truly brilliant from the utterly lacking. When in actuality, it’s quite the contrary. If anything, my fascination has made me even more skeptical and critical of new entries. I respect the art too much to compromise it with childish crushes. So when I tell you that Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” is resplendent, heart-stopping, and impassioned…you better believe I am telling you the truth. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed on the big screen. Which is why I can deem it the best film I saw at TIFF 2013 without hesitation. And the argument could be made that I attended a majority of the screenings for Oscar favourites at the festival, such as “12 Years a Slave,” “The Fifth Estate,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “August: Osage County,” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” So it’s not like I’m comparing it to mediocrity. There’s no doubt in my mind that you will not see a better film than “Gravity” released so far this year. As for November and December releases, only time will tell, but I can’t see it being trumped.

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The film itself literally has no weaknesses. From the soundtrack, the story, its graphics and performances. “Gravity” is as completely and structurally sound as they come. Even more astonishing is the scientific, visual, and technological authenticity. And of course with astronaut Chris Hadfield on hand to verify the film’s successes at the screening, I rendered it pointless to argue. The story is not overly complex, but it is real and believable. Which is why I feel it is so effective and relatable. With “Gravity,” Cuaron definitely understands that less is more. Once you’ve settled in for the ride, there is no escaping. You might as well strap yourself into a spacesuit, buckle up, and prepare for the physically and mentally draining journey that is “Gravity.”

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From the get go, two things hit you, the music and the imagery. And there’s this beautiful dissonance between the two that you have to experience to believe. The original score shifts, swiftly I might add from a sweet, atmospheric hum to a terrifying, exploding, tense onslaught that wreaks havoc on your nerves. It’s similar to an ascending, ear-piercing rumble that, at a point becomes impossible to withstand. It is undeniably one of the most definitive, creative soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Alongside the score in this intoxicating concoction is Cuaron’s stunning, panoramic imagery that’ll leave you breathless and in disbelief. All I can say is that it’s sure to resonate with you long after the closing credits. Above all however, is the genuine interpretation of the space just outside our planet. All the beauty that the universe has to offer present in “Gravity” is no substitute for the authenticity on display here.

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As revolutionary, engaging, and stunning as Cuaron’s sci-fi thriller is, the fact of the matter is that “Gravity” would be totally lost without its two phenomenal stars. Leads George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are thoroughly outstanding and remind us all of their deep talent and why they are so revered in the first place. The truth is that it’s been a while since either have tastefully and fully wowed cinephiles, but no longer. Even more remarkable is what makes their performances so compelling and down-right impressive. It’s not merely the conventional dramatic element, although they do provide that abundantly. The duo’s physical maneuvers and delicate mannerisms in the vacuum is what really stupefies. It is immensely strenuous and difficult to make it look like your floating and working in space. Yet Clooney and Bullock pull it off with sheer immaculacy and make it look so easy. Their performances are just another facet  in “Gravity’s” long line of sublime accomplishments.

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As totally immersive of an experience that you’ll likely ever be apart of in a cinema. Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” is performed flawlessly, visually impeccable, and as a whole, matchless.

Gravity: 10 out of 10.

Europa Report (2013)

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Purposely and decidedly more science than fiction. “Europa Report” blends documentary style filmmaking with dramatic flare to spawn a tense, beautiful, and intelligent thriller that is truly beyond this world. Easily one of the most smart, accurate, and awe-inspiring films of the genre. “Europa Report” matches recent sci-fi hits like Danny Boyle’s”Sunshine” and Duncan Jones “Moon” stride for stride. While it may not be as charismatic or cinematic, it more than makes up for it with authenticity, astounding visuals, and futuristic probability. Directed by Sebastian Cordero, who does an amazing job capturing the stillness and immensity of space with a minimal budget. “Europa Report” may not be the taut character study or twisty adventure many expected. Nonetheless, it is a veritable gaze into the act of discovery, the soul of humanity, and the unpredictability of our infinite universe, its past, present and future.

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Six astronauts embark on a privately funded mission to one of Jupiter’s moons called Europa in search of extraterrestrial life. Europa is an ice covered moon who’s surface constantly shifts. It is believed that under it’s surface, Europa is home to vast and deep ocean. After experiencing a terrible technical failure en route and barely making it to Europa in one piece, the crew begins their research. What they discover and what it results in, no one, not even our bests scientists could have predicted.

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Without question, the most impressive aspect of “Europa Report” is its genuine portrayal of space and physics. In addition, the branches of cosmology and astronomy throughout “Europa Report” are equally as fascinating and valid. The film deals more specifically with the plausibility of and search for extraterrestrial life. It doesn’t trifle with the over-the-top, violent way big-budget blockbusters falsely abuse and portray alien life forms.  Whether it is the simplicity of weightlessness, the intricacy of surface textures, the colours of cosmic bodies, and everything in between. “Europa Report’s” material is legitimate and its imagery, credible to say the least.

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Magnify the subtle movements of Europa 1’s crew, or at times, the lack there of, and it becomes apparent that the attention to detail and an honest portrayal  is of great value to the film and its makers. Floating in the blackness of the vacuum or the lack of resistance inside the ship, everything down to the tiniest detail is honed to perfection. Not to mention the attention paid to the consistency, appearance, and forms of Jupiter, Europa, and other celestial bodies. Every facet of our galaxy and its material is showcased with the utmost care and precision. Even more compelling and realistic is the detail in the ship, its travels, and the forces working against it. Its interior, exterior, and experiences are conveyed masterfully.

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Granted, the story of Europa 1, its adventures, and its six astronauts is somewhat simple. Yet, its mission, objectives, and the earnestness of its crew are as enthralling and endearing as they come. The cast does a remarkable job capturing and exuding the wonder of witnessing space and the yearning for its exploration. Admittedly, it would prove difficult for any filmmaker to showcase emotion with cinematic strength while trying to remain authentic, let alone doing so only being able to utilize found-footage tactics. Yes, “Europa Report” is a found-footage film, but trust me, it isn’t what you think, but I digress… Sebastian Cordero’s ability to take this simple story and its characters and make it so stellar and entrancing is outstanding. His work behind the camera is phenomenal. Everything terrific about this film has so much to do with Cordero. This man has a bright future ahead of him.

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Many feel the need to discredit and discontinue found-footage from cinema, and rightfully so. Between the over-saturation and hackneyed attempts slapped together in short amounts of time, who can blame them? Yet, there is still hope. Who’d have thunk that in 2013 a grisly sequel and an indie sci-fi thriller would come along to rescue and revive the sub-genre. Horror anthology “V/H/S 2” and docu-drama “Europa Report” are existing proof that found-footage films are still relevant and utterly effective, when done right. “Europa Report” gives its own unique twist to the sub-genre and takes full advantage of the premise. This is found-footage done right.

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Although thus far I’ve given a lot of the credit to Cordero and crew, and with good reason. “Europa Report’s” cast has just as much to do with the films success and effectiveness. Featuring Sharlto Copley (District 9), Michael Nyqvist (Millennium Series), Karolina Wydra (Crazy, Stupid, Love), Christian Camargo (The Hurt Locker), Anamaria Marinca, and Daniel Wu. “Europa Report’s” characters are ably portrayed by thoroughly competent actors. Each individual bursts with a heartfelt and honest desire to bring the mission to fruition. While it may be for their own cosmological reasons and aspirations. They still perform and sacrifice everything they’ve got for one another. Their eyes gleam with innocence and awe, it is truly bewildering.

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Scientifically accurate, visually resplendent, and utterly inspirational. “Europa Report” is brilliantly put together and performed with on the grandest of scales with great attention, care, and drive by everyone involved.

Europa Report: 8.5 out of 10.