Went to see “Gravity” last weekend, and then yesterday I took the Cosmic Wife to see “Captain Phillips” after she spent most of the day at the doctor and having some tests run (they all came out negative).

I found the movies to be conceptually similar. Surprisingly so, in fact. Both deal with a single individual thrown into a situation that spirals rapidly out of control and which puts them in the position of near-total helplessness.

The difference between the two, of course, is that Captain Phillips eventually is able to rely on the US Navy to save him, while Dr. Stone has to figure out how to save herself against almost impossible odds.

First, Gravity:


Any time Hollywood deals with science the odds are that they will screw it up. So any time there is a movie that even halfway gets the science right, or even gets scientists right, I have to give them a pat on the back. And in this case the movie does a stellar job of portraying both the look and feel of working in space, and the sort of people who tend to become astronauts and scientists. The dialogue in this movie is absolutely stellar. George Clooney’s turn as the mission commander on his last trip is remarkably well done, and he should easily get a best supporting actor nomination for the work.

But the movie’s success rests squarely on the shoulders of Sandra Bullock to carry the audience on a nerve-wracking hour long ride through the solitude of space. The role is eerily reminiscent of Tom Hank’s “Castaway” role in many ways. Sandra has to convince us that she’s in space, in danger and at her physical, mental and emotional limits throughout the entire ordeal.

Now, full disclosure here, I like Sandra Bullock. I don’t tend to be a “fan” of any star or public figure, but if I were to be the sort of person who became a fan, Sandra Bullock would be the sort of actress I would become a fan of. I have always liked her. I think she has been a severely underrated actress for years and is only now, very begrudgingly, getting her due as an actress.

So, how did she do?

I think she did terrific. I found her portrayal of Dr. Stone to be a study in contrast, originally aloof and focused and then transforming into vulnerable and desperate. I think she will likely be hard to beat for another Oscar.

The only issue I have with the movie is, as usual, some of the technical aspects that are overplayed or downright wrong. But those are so minor compared to a Hollywood effort that I am more than willing to give them a pass. I thought it was a wonderful, moving and effective movie. I give it 4.5 exploding satellites out of five.

One note. The Cosmic Wife, who sometimes has issues with motion sickness, found the 3D effects to be somewhat nauseating. So be warned.

Now, Captain Phillips:


This movie is slightly different in that while it relies heavily on Tom Hanks to carry the movie as the endangered protagonist, he is surrounded by essentially nameless pirates throughout most of the movie. While his acting chops are well demonstrated once again in this movie, I am afraid that I was not terribly impressed by the supporting cast of pirates. There were some good moments, but there was no compelling reason for me to believe that the “lead” pirate would have been able to keep control over his pirate band. The constant conflict between him and the near-mutinous pirate thug was like watching a mouse face down a lion. It might work once or twice, but eventually one has to ask what the heck is wrong with the story.

I will say that I liked the portrayal of the US military and I was glad to see that the movie makers were careful to avoid any politicizing of the event for any political gain, which was something of a surprise I’ll admit. But in the end while Hanks did a masterful job, the rest of the cast simply didn’t measure up and it felt almost like watching two different movies when Hanks was onscreen compared to when he was not. It left me wondering how much of Tom’s effort was self-directed and beyond the control of the movie’s director.

In the end it was worth watching, not as good as Gravity, but a decent way to spend a few hourse. I give it 3.5 wildly gyrating firehoses out of 5.