GRAVITY ***** (91 minutes) M
A mishap in orbit sends astronauts involved in a routine space shuttle mission spinning wildly off course, setting in train an utterly compelling, brilliantly mounted, teeth-clenching adventure of survival against increasingly dire odds.
Breathlessly paced with a procession of nerve-racking cliffhanger moment, Gravity is not just one of the best films about humans in space, it's one of the most tense tales about the power of the survival instinct.
Director Alfonso Cuaron demonstrated his love of long shots in Children of Men (2006) and here he and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki generate jaw-dropping degrees of tension by refusing to cut away or around the action as the astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) try staying alive in an environment designed to be lifeless. In one quiet masterpiece of a moment, the camera drifts into, then out, of a space helmet.
Gravity is a great film, both as sheer action entertainment and as a contemplation about humanity's place in the Cosmos, with a second viewing of the film revealing a strong, very subtle spiritual subtext underlying all the science and technology.
Technically, the film adheres very closely to the cold realities of space as a soundless, frictionless, unforgiving vacuum. Visually, frightening sequences of screen-filling spectacle as space stations disintegrate are countered by unexpectedly lyrical moments of stillness and beauty. The film is going to be the one to beat come Oscar time for its visuals and cinematography.
More impressive, though, is Gravity's evocative sound design, something you don't usually notice during a film. With so many space movies featuring sound in space, here the very absence of sound is used to amplify the impact of what you're seeing.
Given how poorly 3D has been deployed by scores of films since 2009's Avatar, Gravity also stands out as that rarest of all things - a film that actually should be seen in 3D, if for no other reason than to witness the golden moment where the entire life of a stranded astronaut is embodied in the floating blob of a teardrop.
RUSH **** (122 minutes) MA
It's the battle of the Formula One alpha males as the real-life rivalry between hard-nosed Austrian Niki Lauda and British playboy James Hunt is given full, glorious vent in Ron Howard's exciting car-race movie.
Aussie Chris Hemsworth is very convincing as the flaky, womanising Brit who puts fun in first place, but it is German actor Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds) who takes the flag in the acting stakes.
Serious to a fault, his Lauda is a study in straight talk, calculated risk taking and common sense, qualities that often put him at odds with everybody else. And though it might sound like a collection of German stereotypes, Bruhl gives his character soul with the occasional smile and showing of vulnerability.
As well as brandishing his usual mastery for pacing gutsy dramas, Howard's command over his division of digital artists results in some great sequences once the action moves to the track.
Yet as terrific as these moments are - the recreation of Lauda's famous crash is stunning - the film's real thrill is in watching the relationship develop between two bitter adversaries who can't help admiring each other.
The oft-used term "bromance" has fallen out of fashion of late, but it certainly applies here, though in a way as warped as the tracks these guys raced each other on.
PANDORA'S PROMISE ***1/2 (87 minutes) G
In an A-grade exercise in myth-busting, gun American documentary maker Robert Stone (who made the terrific 2008 JFK doc Oswald's Ghost) faces down the alleged evils of nuclear power and posits how it might actually be the clean energy source the earth needs.
At the centre of his extensive assemblage of archival footage are illuminating interviews with key people whose opinions on nuclear power changed once they blew away the mists surrounding the accidents at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima and examined the facts.
Unsurprisingly, the controversial film, which was a hit at Sundance, has been subject to polarised reviews and has roused a lot of heated objections, including a comprehensive slamming from Friends of the Earth Australia (http://www.foe.org.au/pandora).
Consciously counter-intuitive, Pandora's Promise is a challenging, sober film that provides much food for thought as it dares to de-demonise nuclear power.
Stone is touring the film across the capitals in a series of one-off Q&A screenings: they are: Melbourne, Tuesday 8 October, Classic Cinema, Elsternwick; Adelaide, Wednesday 9 October, Mercury Cinema, Morphett Street; Perth, Thursday 10 October, Luna Palace, Nedlands; Hobart, 10 October, State Cinema, Elizabeth Street (Stone obviously won't be at this one); Canberra, Friday 11 October, The Arc, McCoy Circuit; Sydney, Saturday 12 October & Sunday 13 October, Hoyts, Moore Park; Brisbane, Tuesday 14 October, Bemac Cinema, Kangaroo Point.
For tix visit: http://tinyurl.com/khno9n4
THANKS FOR SHARING *** (122 minutes) MA
A likeable, well-meaning muddle of a movie, Thanks For Sharing takes the light road through the serious sex addiction of three New Yorkers (Tim Robbins; Josh Gad; Mark Ruffalo) as they try getting their lives back to some semblance of normality.
First-time director Stuart Blumberg (he wrote Keeping the Faith, The Girl Next Door & The Kids Are All Right) off-sets some wince-worthy moments of awkwardness with a heartfelt, if rambling, look at the issue of trying not to scratch a powerful itch.
Of the three, Gad (so good as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in Jobs) has the biggest, most interesting character arc as a doctor who derails his career because of an uncontrollable fetish.
ACT OF KILLING ***** (159 minutes) MA
Usually when we see documentaries about a holocaust there's regret, reflection and remorse. Well, not here, at least not until the filmmakers literally force such feelings into the frame.
For the most part Anwar Congo and his pals merrily joke and jibe about the murder, torture and rape they proudly inflicted upon captured communists in Indonesia following the 1965 military coup.
For the cameras they coldly recreate some of their atrocities in extended sequences that are often difficult to endure. Lauded as pop heroes on TV for their killings - including a bizarre, surreal, sickening sequence guaranteed to stun you speechless - it's only in the film's final stretch that something resembling a conscience comes into play.
A truly haunting documentary masterpiece.