Great outer space “Gravity” and other film pleasures

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Sometimes one needs to step away from serious political fare and enjoy some films that appear to simply entertain. There were many of those to choose from at the Toronto International Film Festival. Although these were not on my "A" list of 50 "must-see" films, they provided stunning filmic experiences.

I must start with the most stunning, a 3D film that had me jumping and falling out of my seat throughout the entire exasperating journey. Gravity by the great Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men), stars only two actors, the venerable debonair George Clooney, and down-to-earth Sandra Bullock in perhaps her finest role. But they command the stage, or rather space, since they are floating around miles from earth outside  their space shuttle which was destroyed by a meteor shower. Clever witty dialog with a wink often associated with Clooney is cleverly paired with Bullock's convincing bravura of a performance as a neophyte astronaut discovering the shocking reality of endless space, as they both float hopelessly, running out of oxygen. As a veteran astronaut close to retirement, Clooney's task is to keep Bullock positive, thinking they're really not in that much danger. Directed with technical wizardry and special effects, with an amazing humanist angle, Cuaron has possibly crafted the greatest social-realist outer space film made to date.

From a big movie to probably one of the smallest,  Little Feet touches the heart in another way. Famed indie director Alexandre Rockwell (In The Soup) filmed his two little children in such a fresh imaginative manner that you feel he invented a new way to make movies. Totally unorthodox in its approach to acting, filming and directing, Little Feet will charm the most jaded filmgoer with another humanist statement about the human condition, as these two little children take a magic journey to the river.

Did you know that Jimi Hendrix got his start in England? Apparently he was discovered by Keith Richards' girlfriend in a dingy bar in New York, where Jimmie James and his band were being ignored by the inattentive audience. She scooped him up, got him a new manager, Chas Chandler former drummer from The Animals, and they enticed him to London to record in the growing rock music scene there. He began to develop a following, and the rest is history. All Is By My Side is so well acted - André Benjamin sings, plays and looks so much like Hendrix he really is Hendrix - that the movie seems like an actual documentary in its realism. Issues of race, drugs and spousal abuse add weight to the story of one of the world's greatest, most gifted guitarists. Director John Ridley (Three Kings) had the blessings of part of the Hendrix family, now living in Canada, but had to creatively make up for the lack of rights to the music.

And finally, a film added so late to the festival that it wasn't even listed in the catalog, Salinger, appeared like a golden bonus. It offered a treat to fans of the late author J.D. Salinger and anyone who has read his masterpiece, Catcher in the Rye - now over 65 million copies sold! In the Q&A with director Shane Salerno, he offered a suggestion to budding filmmakers, "Don't spend 10 years making a film." Of course, he hadn't planned it that way, but new elements kept popping up in his search for the truth behind the elusive, but not a hermit, writer, as is made quite clear in this unprecedented look into the secrets of Salinger. This is a loving tribute to an iconic author seldom seen in public and rarely photographed.

The movie moves well considering the lack of material available. Many little known facts are revealed about Salinger and his personal life, none more profound than his wartime experiences as a soldier on the war front from D-Day to V-Day in Europe, 300 constant days of battle. It deeply affected the rest of his life and all his writings. The most amazing revelation is that his estate has organized a timed release of all his unpublished writings, which include the full story of his Franny and Zooey Glass family, two more books on Catcher in the Rye central character Holden Caulfield, an autobiography of his life in the military, and much more. He wasn't wasting all those years while trying to avoid the media. He literally lived in a "bunker" behind his house in New Hampshire for weeks on end constantly typing, while his family was deprived of his presence. But the world will soon be treated to new writings from one of America's finest authors.

Photo: Gravity official site

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