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“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

“Mere” anarchy? Had William Butler Yeats seen “Gravity,” he would have amended his famous poem “The Second Coming” to say: “… and the heavens too.”

The new 3D sci-fi thriller opens with the grave warning that life is impossible in the crushing void of space. But nothing looks more full of life. While the ravishing earth spins slowly below, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) floats outside an American space station, fussing with a science project. Her colleague, the veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), jets around like a kid on a new bike, schmoozing and joshing. “Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission,” he jokes to Mission Control. Of course, that kind of hubris can mean only one thing: disaster. Sure enough, within moments the astronauts learn that a Russian space station has exploded and lethal shrapnel is loosed upon their world.

It would be downright churlish to reveal more story line. The movie is about so much more than plot – the acting is terrific, especially Ms. Bullock; the special effects are magnificent; the long scenes immersive and dazzling; and the screenplay, written by the director Alfonso Cuaron and his son, Jonas, is highly effective. But first and foremost it is about a thrilling story of survival and courage, and any reviewer who reveals plot spoilers deserves to be lashed to a high-speed centrifuge.

Thankfully the filmmakers have done their cinematic homework. Homage is paid to Stanley Kubrick’s great epic “2001: A Space Odyssey” and James Cameron’s “Avatar.” Mr. Cameron has returned the favor, calling “Gravity” the best space film ever made.

Maybe. But there are some flaws, including moments that stretch credulity beyond the breaking point, and a score that achieves new heights of bombast. Too bad the director did not use the Arvo Part music released with the trailer.

Quibbles aside, “Gravity” does what great action movies are supposed to do: provide a wondrous, imaginative and exhilarating joy ride.

At the other end of the film spectrum is “Enough Said,” a warm and down-to-earth comedy about a middle-aged couple – played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini – falling in love and sorting out their romance. He is a TV museum director, she is a masseuse. In the middle is his ex-wife, played by Catherine Keener, who belittles him at every opportunity and inadvertently sours their relationship.

What makes the movie work is the affection the audience develops for the characters. Ms. Louis-Dreyfus is unexpectedly moving as the sweet but emotionally clumsy Eva. But the truly amazing performance is Mr. Gandolfini’s, who, with the simplest of gestures creates a character viewers quickly grow to admire and like.
It calls to mind that other classic portrayal of an everyday guy in love, Ernest Borgnine in “Marty.”

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently three consecutive Northern...