"Gravity" is a stunning achievement by writer/director Alfonso Cuaron ("Children of Men") and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski, a film that must be seen on a theater-size screen and in 3-D (granted, 3-D is too often superfluous; but for this film it's essential).
What "Gravity" achieves is a visual-viceral experience that melds state-of-the-art filmmaking technology with a narrative that has at its center the struggle to survive in an environment so unforgiving, so tenuous, that the margin for error is reduced to mere millimeters.
But "Gravity" is far more than the standard space tale wherein a crew, travelling through the black void, is threatened by aliens both external and internal. This film is a marvel of economy, with little dialogue, but with stakes that are extremely high.
In the opening scenes, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a mission engineer, and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), veteran commander, are on a space walk to repair the Hubble telescope. Their base is the space shuttle Explorer. The silence is pervasive, the only sound is the banter between the two, each encased in bulky white suits, their visors reflecting a blue-white sphere some 400 miles below: Earth.
Suddenly, Mission Control tells them, urgently, that a Russian communication satellite has exploded and orbiting debris is headed directly toward them. They must return to the shuttle immediately. But before they can reach the hatch of the Explorer, shards of metal reach the Explorer and the Hubble, shredding everything and putting the astronauts in harm's way. This event frames the rest of the film and is an astonishing setup, a shot that lasts some 17 minutes, never breaking.
"Gravity" is a visual ballet and a triumph of filmmaking, taking some four years to plan, and a step well beyond anything we have seen in previous films, to include Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." Or James Cameron's "Avatar."
This is all to say that first, "Gravity" is an experience, though there is an embedded story focused on the tenacity and survival of Stone. This is Bullock's film with only a shred of backstory, a desperate adventure against all odds as she skips, like a stone across the surface of a dark pond, from space station to space station, Russian then Chinese, hoping to find a way back home.
But again, it is all but impossible to fully describe the gestalt of this film. To be fully appreciated, it must be seen. There are moments that are sublime and moments that are silently terrifying as a sense of dread begins to incrementally build, an emotion that is unrelenting. It's a movie not to be missed.
"Runner Runner" is a mildly interesting film, starring Ben Affleck as Ivan Block, the head of an empire that makes obscene amounts of money from other people's gambling addictions while remaining safely ensconced in Costa Rica, far from the the U.S. federales.
His operation, however, also cheats those who play. One of them is Richie Furst, portrayed by Justin Timberlake, a Princeton grad student and a math prodigy, earning his tuition by playing online poker.
Richie loses his tuition to Block's operation, and the next thing we see he is landing in Costa Rica, determined to confront Block and get his money back.
Predictably, Block makes Richie an offer he can't refuse, promising massive profits if he'll be his bagman.
Also in the mix is Block's partner, the stunning Rebecca Shafran, played by the stunning Gemma Arterton. She quickly becomes one more reason for Richie to skip Princeton and join Ivan's crew.
Of course things go from dazzling to dangerous, and Richie realizes that he is playing in a league that is way beyond his skill sets. Question is, how to extract himself without ending up as alligator chow. Really.
Is "Runner Runner" entertaining? Sure. If your expectations are not too high and you enjoy watching a film that takes place in a world from which most are insulated.
However, a far superior film from the same writers is "Rounders" (1998). Also a journey into the dark side of gambling, it is far more complex and with a cast that is astonishingly good.