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Runner Runner

October 10, 2013

Gravity (*** ½)

I hear lots of talk in my day to day life regarding the sad state of the movie going experience these days. Numerous reasons are usually given as to why going to the movies has become so passé and, of course, I do my best to counter that argument when given the chance. Director Alfonso Cuaron has now given movie goers everywhere a reason to get their collective butts in movie theater seats once again with his sci-fi opus Gravity, a film that absolutely demands that its viewers see it on the largest screen possible. This is not the kind of film that will even come close to allowing viewers to experience its magic on something along the lines of a handheld device. IMAX and 3-D are absolute requirements in experiencing something put together on such a majestic scale. The film’s images envelop and leave you breathless in much the same way that the characters on screen find themselves experiencing their emotions. To articulate the experience effectively is a nearly impossible feat.

Gravity concerns itself with the tale of two astronauts stranded in space. It sounds like a simple enough premise, but the masterful way that director Cuaron orchestrates the film raises it to another level entirely. I’m sure that a lesser director could not have pulled this feat off to the degree that the film succeeds and, truth be told, there are probably only a handful of directors working today who could even come close. Comparisons are easily made to Kubrick’s 2001 but unlike that film, Cuaron doesn’t attempt to bathe this film in ideas. Instead, he’s interested in giving us a thrill ride, using the loneliness of outer space as a backdrop. He handily succeeds.

Explorer space shuttle team members, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), are introduced in the film’s introductory scenes doing patch-up work in space.

Bullock & Clooney in the stunning film Gravity

Stone, on her first mission, is a ball of nerves while the more experienced Kowalski takes things in joking stride. Debris from an exploded Russian satellite hurtles into their path, killing all of the remaining crew except Stone and Kowalski. Stone is sent flying through space with her oxygen supply quickly running out.

At this point, it’s all up to Kowalski to come up with a plan to get the two of them back to Earth before things get any worse than they already are. The problem is that the Explorer, after its collision with the Russian satellite debris, is non-functioning and the nearest space station is almost certainly too far for the two astronauts to reach, given the perilously low supply of oxygen that remains.

If there is a complaint here, it would be in the way that Cuaron doesn’t give us much background info on these characters, making it, to a certain degree, hard to connect with them on a personal level.  What we’re left with is the film’s amazing visual wizardry. For most I’m sure that will be plenty. 

Runner Runner (* ½)

In the decade since the debacle that was known to the world as Gigli it’s evident that Ben Affleck has worked real hard to reform his creative persona. Now, after stepping behind the camera and churning out three superior films (Gone Baby Gone, Argo, The Town), the actor-director seems to be getting more comfortable with the idea of going in front of the camera these days. This inevitably leads us to the subject of the latest film featuring the actor’s participation, Runner Runner. My advice to Affleck—not that anyone’s asking, mind you—would be that if you can’t pick a better project than Runner Runner to get involved in, it might be wise to stay behind the camera and do what it appears that you do best. I’m just saying.

If you’ve seen the trailers for Runner Runner, you’ll be well aware of all of the movie’s plot points well before they transpire. Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake, who’s also done much better work in days gone by), is a former Princeton student with an addiction to gambling. After apparently being cheated by one of the online gambling sites he frequents regularly, Richie decides to take matters into his own hands by heading down to Costa Rica in an effort to square off with the site’s proprietor, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). In another, more interesting movie, the Block character would have probably killed Richie without thinking twice about it and fed his body into a wood chipper or something along those lines. Richie, however, is portrayed by Justin Timberlake and since Timberlake is the co-star of the picture, that isn’t allowed to happen here.

What we’re left to suffer through is a half-baked final section where the two men try to outmaneuver each other in various ways seen too many times in films like this.  Richie eventually connects with an FBI man (Anthony Mackie), is kidnapped, and eventually comes up with a convoluted plan to bribe everyone in the country (if you care at this point). Never mind that Affleck’s character has more muscle than Richie and would be able to thwart his bribery plans. Logic just doesn’t seem to enter into the equation here.

Perhaps one can forgive Timberlake for this misfire, as it’s clear he’s doing the best he can. Acting just isn’t his forte and I don’t think anyone will mistake him for Laurence Olivier anytime soon.

Affleck, on the other hand, is capable of doing better work but seems to be slipping into his old habits without any thought as to what the consequences might be. If he’s okay with becoming nothing more than a punch line once again he’s certainly heading down the right path.

Both films are at area theaters & the Hickory Carmike.

Questions or comments? Email Adam at



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