Space Race

One of the easiest identifiers of a well-made movie is a film that takes a subject I'm not very invested in, and manages to turn it into a story that I still find compelling. For instance, if you had told me years ago that one day I'd be singing the praises of a movie about a typeface font, I'd have thought you were crazy, but here I am, proudly stating that I really enjoyed Helvetica. Be it fiction or non-fiction, there are a multitude of ways to make a good movie out of a seemingly dull premise. Well, over the weekend, I saw two movies that dealt with subjects that don't ever top my wishlist of discussion topics: The dangers of space exploration, and a real-life rivalry between two Formula 1 racecar drivers. To my delight, one of them now holds a firm spot in my top five movies of the year. The other one depicts a real-life rivalry between two Formula 1 racecar drivers.

I doubt I have to preface Gravity much. Anyone who pays attention to movies has gotten an earful lately about how beautiful and thrilling Alfonso Cuarón's latest drama is, and I am not going to disagree. In a movie slate filled with remakes and sequels and re-imaginings, this original drama with only two onscreen speaking characters is cleaning up at the box office, and it's not difficult to see why. This movie is gorgeous from beginning to end. It stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts (he's a veteran, she's a newbie) who are doing routine maintenance on some equipment. Debris from an exploded satellite starts orbiting straight into their path, and the story becomes a desperate bid for survival in the cold emptiness of space. This is one of those movies that vastly benefits from a viewing on the largest screen possible. I saw it in IMAX 3D, and have been trying to decide if I would have liked it as much as I did if I had seen it in a less spectacular format. Maybe I wouldn't have been as swept up in the visual beauty, but no matter what screen it's on, this was still a tight, tense, hopeful movie with zero filler scenes. It's a really stunning film that everyone should make an effort to see.

On the flip side of the coin, I was invited over to a friend's house for barbecue and movie night, and when you get an invitation like that, you don't turn it down, no matter how disinterested you are in the movie. This one was Ron Howard's latest, Rush. It's a biopic, of sorts, detailing the Formula 1 championship in the late '70s. Why does a movie need to be made about this? Good question! It did have its good points. Chris Hemsworth seems to be getting better and better with each movie that he does, and he's effortlessly believable in this, playing the rakish bad boy James Hunt. Daniel Brühl plays rival Niki Lauda, and he capably handles a more difficult task, playing a condescending (but often correct) jerk with heaps of talent, but no ability to relate to other people.

There is one event that sets this apart from any "normal" sports movie when something life-changing befalls one of the racers. I won't spoil what that something is, but suffice it to say that it didn't bring enough to the table to make the movie appreciably more intriguing to me. The intense rivalry that makes enemies of Hunt and Lauda while simultaneously bonding them together is neat, but not enough to base a movie on. The women characters have nothing to do but be arm candy and stare worriedly off into the middle distance. There are some very pretty shots towards the end, but in the final analysis, there's not enough there to bring this real-life story to life in the entertainment sense. In a technical sense, it's a very proficient movie. In an entertainment sense, it's hollow. Throughout Rush, there are tons of news reports and article headlines screaming about what is going on in the world of Formula 1 racing. It's a disingenuous trick, because to my understanding, Americans don't really care much about the sport. And frankly, this American didn't care much about a movie based on it, either.

Gravity: A
Rush: C


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