On Tuesday, 8 October 2013, I went to the Embassy Cinema in Waltham, Mass., to screen Gravity. The space-based drama is the best movie I’ve seen in theaters so far this year.
Gravity‘s plot is fairly straightforward — after a major accident, astronaut Ryan Stone is stranded in orbit and must find a safe way back to Earth’s surface. As a well-executed character study and survival thriller, Gravity stands out after a summer of sequels, reboots, apocalypses, and gratuitous urban destruction.
Co-writer and director Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men) keeps the pacing taut at a lean 90-minute runtime. He successfully balances the wonders of seeing Earth from space (worth a 3-D or IMAX ticket) with a focus on Stone’s emotions. The visual effects around the orbital disaster are excellent, with a convincing mix of live action and computer-generated imagery.
Star Sandra Bullock, who has been better known for physical comedy than for her range, conveys Stone’s reactions to her predicament, from joy to horror to sadness and determination. George Clooney is his usual affable self as Matt Kowalski, an astronaut who initially guides Stone. These actors have enough charisma to fill the screen as needed.
Despite some scientific liberties taken for the sake of storytelling, such as with orbital mechanics and physiological degradation from time spent in microgravity, Gravity feels realistic, if not as much as The Right Stuff or Apollo 13. I’d put this movie with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Moon as good speculative fiction. As an SF thriller, it’s also not far from Alien or Outland.
Overall, I’d give Gravity, which is rated PG-13 for violence and language, a 9 out of 10, four and a half out of five stars, or an A-. I recommend it for any fans of serious science fiction and the aforementioned actors.
Of the previews I saw, the remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Ben Stiller looked decent, and I’m of course looking forward to The Hobbit [2 of 3]: the Desolation of Smaug. I was also pleased to see a strong Godzilla trailer recently, but I’m less certain about literary adaptation Ender’s Game and superhero sequel Thor 2: the Dark World.
As I’ve already mentioned, Janice and I did what tourists are expected to do in Seattle — visit the Space Needle and Pike Place Market. We did get rained on, but less than expected. There was no shortage of things to see in the city, and we got glimpses through the mist of the green and mountainous Northwest beyond.
On Sunday, June 23, Janice and I went to historic Pioneer Square. We had a real character as our guide during the Underground Tour, and we also enjoyed browsing at the Magic Mouse toy store and the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. We also checked out the impressive modernist Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library, which was only a block from our hotel.
We walked up to Kobe Terrace Park, but we didn’t fully explore the International District, where many Asian-Americans live. After the harbor cruise the next day, we wandered among the tourist traps of various piers before heading to the Seattle Aquarium. It might be smaller than the New England Aquarium, but it was informative about how humans have both lived off the sea and (belatedly) tried to protect it.
We also saw some fun public sculpture and goats grazing beneath an underpass. As I noted in my blog post about Seattle food, Pike Place Market was great, while Pacific Place and other urban shopping malls cater to the locals and business people. I’ve been asked whether I was interested in visiting the headquarters of Microsoft (or Wizards of the Coast), but that would have been too much like work.
I’m glad that Janice and budgeted most of Tuesday, June 25, to see the Museum of Flight, which is next to Boeing’s sprawling campus. It featured lots of exhibits on the entire history of aircraft, from the Wright brothers through the World Wars and the International Space Station.
We’ve been to the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., as well as the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport, and this was as impressive as either of those. Among the aircraft we saw were the P-51 Mustang WWII fighter, the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, and one of the jets designated as Air Force One through several presidential administrations.
Wednesday, June 26, was the quietest day of our vacation, since we expected heavy rain (which never came). We went to the Seattle Art Museum, which had small but strong collections of ancient through modern art. I didn’t take many photos in the museums because most prohibited the use of a flash. Janice and I also visited some art galleries and shops of First Nations or Native American art such as Northwest Tribal Art.
On Friday, June 28, we walked to the Olympic Sculpture Park and Myrtle Edwards Park for a mostly clear view of the Olympic Mountains. We then walked to Seattle Center, spending our last afternoon in town in the same way we had spent our first one — near the iconic Space Needle.
At the Pacific Science Center, we saw the usual planetology and paleontology exhibits, as well as the Air Racers IMAX film, which was timely because of our visit to the Museum of Flight.
I did check e-mail periodically during the vacation, but it was nice to get away from the usual routine. I did follow the news, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on the Voting Rights Act, which I disagreed with, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which I’m glad was struck down, as were people who gathered at the courthouse near our hotel.
In future trips to the Pacific Northwest, Janice and I hope to see more of the great outdoors, First Nations and Asian culture, and maybe other cities, such as Portland and Vancouver. I’d be happy to return to Seattle anytime!
Since then, I’ve been busy catching with work (especially after the latest reorg), gaming, and genre TV. I look forward to seeing friends during the coming weekends.
The materials and stitching are good, especially for the gray yoke. I’ll have to be careful with the small zippers. I may eventually replace the red mock turtleneck with one of a heavier material and use my metal rank pips and comm badge pin rather than the plastic ones that were Velcroed or sewn on. The jacket’s sleeves are a bit short, and the cuffs are a bit wide, but that’s because of my personal proportions and can be altered by a tailor (paging Elim Garak).