Gravity marks Alfonso Cuarón’s first film since 2006’s magnificent Children of Men, a work that’s only grown in my estimation over the years. (Seriously, it’s astounding how much story and master class filmmaking he fits into those quick yet haunting 100 minutes.) Reports of the writer/director taking his time with the story of two astronauts (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) struggling to survive after a space station accident hinted at another masterpiece, as did a supposedly revolutionary take on 3D. Early trailers were promising yet lukewarm (after July’s AFS screening of 2001, Kubrick’s 45-year-old special effects looked cleaner and more realistic than Cuarón’s), but the more images that came out, the more exciting it appeared. Reviews thus far suggest the final product is as great, if not more so, than the cinematic community hoped and, naturally, I’m stoked as well.
Also getting its fair share of praise is Short Term 12, inspired by writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton’s time working in a group home. His 20-minute, 2009 short film of the same name won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and the script for his feature-length expansion was one of five in 2010 to be awarded the $35,000 Nicholl Fellowship from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In the resulting 96-minute film, Brie Larson (The Spectacular Now; Don Jon) stars as Grace, a supervisor at the titular foster care facility who copes with the job and her relationship with boyfriend/co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr. of TV’s The Newsroom). Beginning at SXSW, the film has been gathering momentum on the festival circuit and if it lives up to the hype, Larson will have been in three of the year’s finest offerings.
Peter Landesman makes his directorial debut with Parkland, which takes its name from the Dallas hospital where JFK died. Set on that fateful November day nearly 50 years ago, the film looks at the various medical, political, and average citizen doings during those crucial hours surrounding the President’s assassination. The cast is pretty stunning, including Billy Bob Thornton, Mark Duplass, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Jackie Earle Haley, and Ron Livingston, plus James Badge Dale (The Lone Ranger) as Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother and Paul Giamatti as Abraham Zapruder, he of the famous motorcade footage. Produced by Tom Hanks and the typically selective folks at Playtone, signs point to an insightful look at a landmark event.
From director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) and the screenwriting team of Brian Koppelman and David Levian (Rounders; Ocean’s Thirteen) comes Runner Runner. In this based-on-a-true-story, Princeton grad student Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) teams up with gambling mogul Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) down in Costa Rica on an online poker business deal, then realizes he’s being set up. With the Feds (led by Anthony Mackie) breathing down his neck and Block threatening the safety of his father (Home Alone‘s Peter McCallister himself, John Heard), Richie finds himself in his most dangerous situation yet. Factor in Gemma Arterton’s love interest and the film sounds like even more Firm-like than the recent Paranoia, but with a cast like this and respectable enough folks behind the scenes, it should make for quality entertainment.
Out of nowhere, the Weinstein Company decided to throw out a French comedy double feature bo-go of Populaire and Haute Cuisine. The first is a 1958-set tale of a speed typing competition (starring The Artist‘s Bérénice Bejo) while the second covers the life of Hortense Laborie, who went on to be the French President’s personal chef. Times at the Carolina are staggered so that viewers may see both at one regular ticket price with a reasonable break in between. (Seeing just one is OK, too.) If this pairing sounds like your thing, act quickly because I doubt it will be around longer than a week.
Lastly, there’s Grace Unplugged, the first faith-based film to head our way in some time. Brad J. Silverman’s film stars AJ Michalka (Super 8; The Lovely Bones) as the titular 18-year-old woman who sings each Sunday in the praise band of her Alabama church alongside her saved former rock star father Johnny (Desperate Housewives’ James Denton). Her sights set on a music career, she heads off to L.A. under the guidance of Johnny’s former manager, the shady Frank “Mossy” Mostin (Kevin Pollock). Immersed in her dream industry with temptations all around, she’ll have to choose between compromising her values or staying true to her Christian upbringing.
Fleeing the Scene
This Is the End, still the year’s best comedy, is the clear top choice this week…for adults. Kids are all cleared to gravitate toward The Croods for some so-so caveman yuks, though not for Papa Crood Nicolas Cage’s other offering, the direct-to-DVD thriller The Frozen Ground, also starring John Cusack and Vanessa Hudgens.
On Netflix Instant
With the fall TV season fully underway, those of us a year behind may at last catch up with the final seasons of 30 Rock (*raises hand*) and The Office, as well as the previous season of Parks and Recreation, Parenthood (winner winner!), and The Walking Dead.
And with it being October 1, here’s another promising batch of streaming choices:
…all of which are based on the novel Push by Sapphire.
Not October first but this Friday October Fourth Computer Chess starts streaming.