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The best movie this weekend is literally out of this world.
"Gravity" is a visually mind-blowing and emotionally wrenching drama of survival in outer space, with two astronauts (played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) trying to figure out a way back to earth when debris destroys their space shuttle. Director Alfonso Cuarón ("Children of Men") combines photo-realistic views of space with a heartfelt performance by Bullock to create something wondrous.
The other major studio film is "Runner Runner," a con-game thriller that's not as smart or as exciting as it hopes it is. Justin Timberlake stars as a grad student who goes to work for an online-gambling tycoon (Ben Affleck) who keeps his shady dealings safely outside of U.S. jurisdiction in a corrupt Costa Rica. The movie's all surface and no wit.
"Parkland," opening at a few theaters, is a montage of stories of people in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 the day John Kennedy was killed. The stories range from the emergency-room staff to Oswald's brother (James Badge Dale), but the stories never add up to anything revelatory. The cast includes Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Marcia Gay Harden, Ron Livingston and Billy Bob Thornton.
On the art-house side, we have "Wadjda," an eye-opening drama that bills itself as the first feature film to come from Saudi Arabia. It centers on a rebellious 12-year-old girl who enters a Koran recitation contest so she can win the prize money and buy a bicycle something Saudi girls are told they shouldn't have. Writer-director Haifaa Al Mansour constructs a winning story that's also an eye-opener about the restrictions placed on women in Saudi society.
Two fun French comedies debut this week at the Broadway: "Populaire," a tale of a klutzy secretary (Deborah Francois) with a gift for speed-typing, is a sweet throwback to '60s style (though with a hard-R sex scene plopped into the middle); and "Haute Cuisine," an engaging fact-based tale of a regional cook (Danielle Frot) who fights bureaucracy and sexism when she's appointed personal chef to the French president.
A few titles are trickling into a few theaters, but weren't screened for critics: "Grace Unplugged," a drama about a teen Christian singer (AJ Michalka) contemplating a crossover career in pop music; "Pulling Strings," a cross-cultural comedy about a Mexican mariachi singer (Jaime Camil) and an American embassy employee (Laura Fraser); and "Snake & Mongoose," about the rivalry between drag-racing legends Don "The Snake" Prudhomme (Jesse Williams) and Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen (Richard Blake).