All Is Lost

October 28, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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When does a great actor bow out of films?  What does he want his last film to be?  Some, like Raul Julia (whose last film was “Street Fighter”), don’t get a choice.  After a stunning career, spanning over a half century, Robert Redford could do worse than to have this be his swan song.  At 76 years old, Redford is nothing short of remarkable in this physically demanding role as a man stranded alone in the Indian Ocean on a damaged sailboat.  He’s forced to scurry, jump, swim and battle elements that looked exhausting for a man half his age.  With scarcely a word said throughout the film, we watch Redford’s unnamed protagonist try desperately to save his boat and then his life and his situation gets more and more dire over the course of 8 days adrift.  Without needing to fallback on the sort of fantastical elements that propelled “Life of Pi,” writer and director JC Chandor is able to create a story that remains both completely believable and absolutely gripping for its entire 106 minutes.  Without a word said and without another person on screen, some scenes managed to be breathtakingly tense.  Redford carries every scene with tense resolve, anxiety, resignation and frustration playing out in his face.  With the exception of one dreadful moment involving a choral crescendo that sounded like an angelic visitation, the musical score was generally understated.  The scenes of the ocean were beautiful and incredibly real looking; in fact, I have no idea how they shot some of those scenes without being out on the open water.  In many ways, this film felt like the grown-ups version of “Life of Pi.”  Not to say that I didn’t love that film (which largely existed in the world of allegory), just that this one was much more understated and real and, therefore, more powerful.  This was a great example of sparse, taut, minimalist film making.  Here’s a vague spoiler, so go no further if you don’t want to read it: I would have much preferred it if the film had ended thirty seconds earlier and would have given it a half lozenge more.  That quibble aside, I strongly recommend “All Is Lost.”

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Gravity

October 6, 2013 at 10:22 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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I was astonished at the level of drama, tension and pathos that could be created in a film with only two actors. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are the only people we see and almost the only people we hear for 90 minutes and yet the audience is never bored and, in fact, we were often on the edge of our seats.  Director Alfonso Cuarón (“Y Tu Mama También,” “Children of Men”) has already proven himself to be a master of mood and here proves he is also a master of suspense.   Apparently Cuarón came up with a new way of filming weightlessness as both actors are entirely weightless in every scene.  The effect is stunning as are all the visuals.  Cuarón manages to make space look both expansive and claustrophobic, serene and dangerous at the same time.  While Clooney and Bullock are both reliable actors and portray their roles admirably, the magic of this movie is all Cuarón.  I really cannot overstate how visually arresting this film is.  The tension starts almost from the first moments and sustains without a break until the very end.  My one complaint was with the soundtrack, which was very run-of-the-mill and often too heavy-handed.  The film would have been better served with silence, utilizing that emptiness (that absence) in the same way Cuarón used emptiness in his visuals to portray danger and tension.

Don Jon

October 6, 2013 at 9:49 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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I find it fascinating that the first film Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Looper,” “50/50,” “(500) Days of Summer”) chose to write the screenplay for and then direct would be this one.  He has certainly proven his willingness to take risky, atypical roles (think “Mysterious Skin” or “Brick”) and this one is no different.  He plays the titular Jon, a man addicted to porn. In fact, he loves his porn-induced orgasms far more than sex, though he gets plenty of that with lots of hot women. Along comes Scarlett Johansson (“The Avengers,” “Lost in Translation”), who succeeds in throwing everything off. Both Gordon-Levitt and Johansson are fine actors and both do a fine job here.  However, the real stars of the show for me are Tony Danza (“Taxi,” “Who’s The Boss”) and Glenne Headly (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Bastard Out of Carolina”) as Jon’s parents.  It is through them that we have any insight into Jon’s character.  In fact, it is through them that I got most of my laughs, as well.  The film is pretty funny throughout but Danza and Johansson steal the show (especially when they are together).  Where the film struggles for me is in trying too hard to have a moral message.  In the end, Gordon-Levitt appears to have a message for us about sex, love and intimacy.  At times, it just felt like he was trying to hard to get that message across.  That said, he’s immensely talented and it shows throughout this film. Some of the dialogue is brilliant, the directing is clever and at times insightful and his straight-out-of-Jersey-Shore Jon is a delight to watch.  He does also manage to make clever commentary along the way about the commodification of women’s bodies and the way that mainstream romantic films are just as distorted about love as pornography is about sex.  This is clever stuff.

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