All is Lost
One (old) man on a boat.
A small boat.
And he doesn’t talk.
And [Spoiler] he loses the boat.
For one hour and forty minutes.
And he’s probably gonna die…
At least that’s what I thought, but I was wrong. All is Lost was a wonderful surprise: exciting, compelling and as deep as the ocean. Not Mariana Trench deep admittedly – but deep enough. The film begins with Our Man (Robert Redford) waking up to find that his boat has hit a shipping container and is taking on water fast. By the time he has a grip on things much of his equipment is waterlogged. He is phlegmatic, practical and assured as he goes about repairing the boat and considering his options. Then thing get really bad! On one level it’s a paean to seafarers and, possibly, a type of rugged, unemotional American as it delves into the psychology of a survivor trying calmly, and desperately, to survive. But it transcends that basic narrative too, firstly because it’s such an exciting, beautiful film and also because it becomes a celebration of human beings’ indomitable will to grasp and struggle for life.
Redford has never been the greatest actor but he’s been a great and beautiful movie star. I wanted to be him more than anyone else growing up – or the characters he played - because of that run of movies starting in the 60s: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Way We Were (1972 – not so great admittedly, but I fell for it anyway), The Sting (1973), Three Days of the Condor (1975), All the President’s Men, (1976) and Out of Africa (1985). There are days, alas, when I wish I’d grown up watching Tarkovsky but it was the great American films of the 70s that made me and I know it. In All is Lost Redford is 77 and not quite so beautiful any more but all the gestures and movements are the same and he gives a fantastic performance. Throughout the film though I couldn’t help but think of that serious, glamorous, younger man who helped millions of men and women to yearn, dream and idealise. It’s not just that you are forced to think about the passing of time and age – your own and Redford’s - but you can’t help but think of all those complex interconnections between stardom, fame, cinema, fantasy and meaning.
If you’re anything like me you’ll be trying to remember how much of the world’s surface is ocean too. I’ll save you looking it up – it’s 71%. That’s A LOT.
Some of my fondest film memories are of comedies – probably, I think, because good comedies are so rare. I remember laughing out loud at Crimes and Misdemeanours and Rushmore (when hardly anyone else in the cinema was), at The Other Guys (when most were) and at 21 Jump Street, Youth in Revolt or (long, long ago) Some Like It Hot, Manhattan and The Pink Panther alone at home. Best of all I can remember watching Young Frankenstein, Airplane, and all the old Steve Martin films with Helen and giggling uncontrollably. To that list I happily now add David O Russell’s American Hustle. Not that it’s perfect – it’s long, big and baggy. Sometimes you long for a little more showing and a little less telling too – not that it EVER feels lifeless, but you suspect that the whole project was a little rushed: the themes get laid out a little too much in the dialogue rather than living and breathing through the structure of the film. On one level that’s probably a little unfair – the script in Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter was a huge part of the magic and it crackles in Hustle too, but it definitely lacks cohesion. What you get though is a bravura display of acting magic and directorial fireworks and more than anything Hustle makes you understand the power and attraction of stars. We already know about Jennifer Lawrence – the whole world has been wowed and she is utterly brilliant again – if she hadn’t won the Oscar for Best Actress last year she be nailed on for Supporting Actress this time. But who would have thought Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper could be THIS funny. Amy Adams, literally at the centre of the film and Jeremy Renner get less chance for laughs but are, nonetheless, astonishingly good. If structure and subtlety are somewhat lacking, Russell’s camerawork and the editing enable you to inhabit the world and see things from the viewpoints of the (largely) unsympathetic characters. The soundtrack of 70s tracks is electric too and used beautifully to reinforce the comedy and the irony. LOVED it!
Upstream Colour (and a little rant and slight spoilers)
I read the Guardian every day but sometimes it really does wind me up. I refer you to this moronic bit of filler. If Cloud Atlas, Elysium, Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness are four of the best sci-fi and comic book movies of 2013 then I need a brain and personality transplant ASAP. Ben Child starts the article by worrying about the opportunities for Arthouse projects but argues that if there is a “silver lining, it is that studios are getting better at making these preposterously expensive, spectacle-heavy movies”. Really? REALLY! I realise that my geek pretensions are crumbling but three of these films (Cloud Atlas tried – I’ll give it that) wasted interesting ideas and turned everything in to brainless drivel. Incidentally, Blomkamp also managed to inspire THE MOST DIRE performance from Jodie Foster (and Sharlto Copley wasn’t much better).
Luckily, 2013 will be measured as a landmark year because we got Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and Shane Carruth’s Upstream Colour. Carruth’s film might not be considered sci-fi (definitions are so difficult) but think about the first twenty minutes. A man has discovered that maggots living on a particular plant have various mind-altering properties. He tests it first by straining the maggots through fluids and giving the drink to local youths. Next thing we see, he abducts a young woman and forces her to swallow one of the maggots: she becomes little more than a childlike automaton and what follows is one part Alien, one part Philip K Dick, one part 2001 and one part David Cronenberg. Admittedly that last line is there just to tempt all you geeks to watch this amazing film because Carruth’s vision is unique, obtuse and not a little difficult. Anyone that saw his only other film, Primer, will know what I mean. Critical opinion is mixed –some love Upstream Colour (it came sixth on the Sight and Sound best of 2013 poll), some think it monstrously pretentious and some think it derivative of late Malick. I’d watch it first without knowing too much about it but if you need convincing I’ll refer you to these two thoughtful reviews. I loved it on first viewing but second time round it blew me away. It’s about how we invent and reinvent ourselves; how we invest our lives with meaning (or fail to); about coming to terms with the meaningless of existence and much more – all with parasitic worms! Better than that, it’s made with degrees of vitality, creativity and oomph missing in most American film. In short it’s fucking brilliant and I’m gonna have to rejig my ‘Best of 2013’ to somehow get it in my top 5.