Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies playing in area theaters:
In the dark depths of outer space, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a payload specialist on her first mission, is determined to repair a glitch in the Hubble telescope, trying to ignore the genial bantering of veteran NASA astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), who's testing a new jet pack.
"Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission," he says, while orbiting hundreds of miles above Earth. Sure enough, within moments, their shuttle Explorer is suddenly destroyed by discarded debris from an obsolete satellite and its crew incinerated.
As the sole survivors, Stone and Kowalsky are stranded and spinning out of control, unable to communicate with Mission Control. Tethered to one another, their only hope is reaching an abandoned Russian space station that might have a workable re-entry vehicle -- and, beyond that, there's more peril.
While Clooney contributes wryly ingratiating humor, this is Bullock's tour-de-force. In a rare moment of respite, as she's floating, curled into a fetal position, her fear and dread of being alone in the universe is palpable. Yet she's brave, resourceful and fiercely determined to overcome immeasurable obstacles in order to survive. Like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," Ryan Stone, at first, yearns to escape from Earth; eventually, all she desires is the force that will enable her to go home.
Collaborating with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and special effects wizard Tim Webber, who seamlessly interweaves the latest technological innovations with post-production 3D, Mexican director/editor/producer Alfonso Cuaron ("Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Children of Men"), co-writing the screenplay with his son Jonas, has created an immersive, cosmic 3D experience.
Using long, intricate tracking shots, coupled with astounding visual effects and sound complexity, Cuaron creates a luminescent virtual reality that enhances the story's profound emotional core, despite its sometimes far-fetched authenticity.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Gravity" is a wondrously innovative 9, an awesome spectacle not to be missed.
"CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2"
After a brief recap of the 2009 original, this computer-animated sequel begins after accident-prone inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) has supposedly destroyed his Diatomic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator to save the planet from a disastrous, if delicious, spaghetti and meatball storm.
His island of Chewandswallow Falls has been quarantined and evacuated for cleanup. So its citizens have moved to the big city of San Franjose, where frustrated Flint is invited by his childhood idol, eccentric mogul/scientist Chester V (Will Forte), to join The LivE Corp Company, where the world's top innovators create technologies for "the betterment of mankind." Chester's new assistant, Barb (Kristen Schaal), turns out to be a bossy orangutan with a deviously manipulative human brain.
Problem is: Chester's aim is world domination, and Flint's infamous food-replicating machine is still operating, churning out a new ecosystem of edible food-animal hybrids called "foodimals."
So Flint, his fisherman father (James Caan) and friends (Anna Farris, Andy Stamberg, Neil Patrick Harris) must cope with a menagerie of weird jungle mutants like hungry tacodiles, playful watermelephants, hippotatoes, shrimpanzees, susheep, apple piethons, mosquitoasts, flamangos, fruitcocateils and double-bacon cheesespiders with French fry legs who have formed a delectable, self-sustaining gourmet utopia. Yummy!
Inspired by the beloved 1978 children's book written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett, it's weakly scripted by pun-punishing Erica Rivinoja, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein but superbly visually conceived by co-directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, who worked on the original "Cloudy."
The result is energetic, entertaining and inventive, if overly noisy, evoking a funky riff on "Jurassic Park." That manic Chester V evokes memories of Apple entrepreneur Steve Jobs is hardly coincidental, although the similarity may be lost on the small fry audience.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" is an imaginative, silly 7, a tasty second helping that's filled with family-friendly fun.
No one is quite sure how J.D. Salinger, the reclusive writer of the young adult novel "The Catcher in the Rye," became such a mythical, mysterious figure in contemporary American literature. Writer/director Shane Salerno interviewed 150 people, including Salinger's family and friends, few of whom shed much light on that subject.
It seems that after lovelorn young Jerry Salinger lost Eugene O'Neill's beautiful daughter Oona to much older Charlie Chaplin, he was forever obsessed with young, innocent girls. Jean Miller, who inspired his story "For Esme -- With Love and Squalor," was one of them. Back in the 1940s, Salinger met her on a beach in Florida when she was just 14 years old and told her mother that he planned to marry her. Five years later, their sexual union was finally consummated, causing Salinger to immediately lose all interest in her. Salinger started courting Joyce Maynard when she was an 18-year-old Yale student; they lived together in the 1970s and she later wrote a book about their relationship.
There's also a repetitive archival footage that chronicles Salinger's Army career during World War II, his obsession with being published in The New Yorker and his determination never to have his stories made into motion pictures. This self-indulgent, overly long documentary is designed to accompany the recently published oral history, also titled "Salinger," by Shane Salerno and David Shields which, in turn, owes a great deal to Paul Alexander's biography.
Celebrity after celebrity -- including Paul Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, Gore Vidal, Tom Wolfe, E.L. Doctorow, A.E. Hotchner, John Guare and others -- comment on the profound influence of Salinger's Holden Caulfield. It's obvious that J.D. Salinger, who wrote in solitude in Cornish, N.H., was determined to have his famous novel and 35 other short stories speak for themselves. He died in 2010 at age 91, after directing that his unpublished manuscripts be issued posthumously between 2015 and 2020.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Salinger" is an infuriating, fatuous 5, a shallow, superficial examination of a multi-layered, enigmatic author.