‘Gravity’ ranks as a visual and technical tour de force

Gravity posterGravity/2013/Warner Bros./91 min.

“Gravity,” the much-hyped 3-D thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, deserves the high praise it’s been garnering. Words like mind-blowing, amazing and magnificent seem apt for this visual and technical tour de force co-written, co-produced, co-edited and directed by Alfonso Cuarón (“Y Tu Mamá También,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Children of Men”).

Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a somber workaholic who has left Earth for the first time and thinks she could get used to the complete silence of space. She is on a Space Shuttle mission with breezy and jocular Matt Kowalski, a veteran astronaut (Clooney). As he floats, he chats with mission control (Ed Harris’ voice) about partying on Bourbon Street.

But suddenly the mission is aborted and the two are left to fend for themselves. With oxygen running out, they must find their way back home. Seeing “Gravity” in 3-D IMAX sucks you into the stunningly suspenseful story of their quest – you experience on a visceral level Ryan’s struggle to stay calm as she attempts to operate an abandoned Russian spacecraft, Matt’s finesse as he plucks out the bottle of vodka hidden near the control panel.

You might also puzzle, as I did, as to how this movie can look so astonishingly, so frighteningly, realistic and how Earth can look breathtakingly grand and tenderly beautiful. A slight letdown on the narrative front is the unspooling of Ryan’s clichéd personal story (we learn why she’s a workaholic). Also, it’s a little hard to buy Matt staying blasé, almost bored, throughout.

Ultimately, though, it’s almost impossible not to connect on some level with Cuarón’s contemplation of adversity, transience and spirituality.

‘Gravity’ opens today nationwide.

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Taviani Brothers to be honored at Cinema Italian Style 2012

Cinema Italian Style 2012, showcasing classic Italian films and contemporary productions, starts Tuesday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

Playing Tuesday night is “Two Women” (1960, Vittorio De Sica) starring Sophia Loren. The legendary Italian actress won a Best Actress Oscar for her work – the first awarded for a non-English performance. The screening is dedicated to Loren’s husband, producer Carlo Ponti (1912-2007).

On Wednesday, I look forward to seeing Italy’s official entry for the 2012 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar: “Caesar Must Die,” a drama about inmates in an Italian prison who are staging Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

Also that night, the directors of “Caesar Must Die,” Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, will receive this year’s Cinema Italian Style Award. I’ll be attending with my documentary filmmaker friend Michael Reano, who is visiting from Minneapolis, and it should be a great time. “Caesar Must Die” has been generating much buzz; the film won the Golden Bear at 2012 Berlin International Film Festival.

The style prize is awarded to a person who has promoted exchange between the Italian and international film industry. Previous recipients include George Clooney, Penelope Cruz, Terry Gilliam, Vittorio Storaro, Milena Canonero, John Turturro and Douglas Kirkland.

In addition to the Taviani brothers, several Italian filmmakers and stars will attend screenings at this year’s festival: Ivan Cotroneo, Michele Riondino, Carolina Crescentini, Claudia Potenza and Andrea Bosca.

Cinema Italian Style runs Nov. 13-18 at the Egyptian and Aero Theatres. There is also a special documentary night at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles. (All films in Italian with English subtitles.)

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