All is Lost

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In the early 20th century, a literary movement known as Naturalism caught on as war suddenly began to grip America once again.  Influenced by the work of Charles Darwin, Naturalistic writers wanted to emphasize the dark, harshness of life as well as man’s lack of control of the natural forces that truly guide his fate.  All is Lost is as close to cinematic Naturalism as I’ve ever seen. 

Robert Redford plays a character whose name is never revealed, a typical trait of Naturalism as these forms of expression look to stress nature’s indifference to man. This indifference is further exemplified with the film’s opening scene where the man (Redford) awakens from a nap below deck on his sailboat to find that a stray floating cargo container had somehow drifted into the side of his boat, puncturing it and resulting in the boat quickly taking on water.  No explanation is given for this circumstance or than that it presumably fell off of a cargo ship and, as fate would have it, collided with the boat.  The man is a pensive man; he does not react wildly or make rash decisions, rather he weighs his options and relies on his experience and skills.  Redford’s is the only character in the entire film, and he is also a man of few words; accordingly, the script for All is Lost is only 32 pages long.  Thus, writer/director J.C. Chandor’s film looks to explore modern Naturalism at sea as deliberately as possible. 

All is Lost is a riveting achievement.  As we watch this man struggle through a series of events set into motion by that seemingly innocuous cargo container, we are forced to mull over our own mortality and our own suitability to circumstance.  Last year, Ang Lee’s adaptation of Life of Pi beautifully captured some of what All is Lost attempted to capture, but that film was far more Romantic in its aspirations.  All is Lost instead puts plot aside and seeks to pit man against nature in a rigorous, albeit somewhat predictable series of events.  The result is a compelling yet extraordinarily minimalistic effort that does feel redundant at times. 

Earlier this year, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity also pitted man against incredible odds in a far more successful way.  While both films depict man’s struggle with expertise, Cuarón, like Ang Lee before him, understood the need to make the film a visual spectacle as well.  Thus, those films certainly utilize the media of film far more than All is Lost, while All is Lost relies more on Redford.  Fortunately, Redford delivers.  The sharp, witty con-man from The Sting is no more, but he has been replaced by a weathered and beaten sailor who may have the grit to do what Johnny Hooker never could – win an Oscar.  B+

All is Lost is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes.  It is a nailbiter and a triumph for Redford.  The score by indi-rock name Alex Ebert is also characteristically right on. 

 

 

Life of Pi

ImageFirst of all, if you like to enjoy a film in its purest and unanticipated sense, just know Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is a spectacular cinematic experience. Now stop reading and go see it. For the rest of you, prepare yourself for The People’s Critic to convince you that you should find a two-hour break in your day to go see this movie.

Ang Lee has been one of those directors who can shatter cultural bias and stereotype and make films that cut to the bone of virtually any genre, culture, or philosophy. A Taiwanese filmmaker, Lee disappears into his material like no other filmmaker. His personal stamp on a film is simply that he gets it right. The Ice Storm revealed his ability to poetically peel the layers off of the American suburban lifestyle and reveal some of the chaos that lies beneath the calm, picturesque surface. His adaptation of Jane Austen’s Victorian Romance Sense and Sensibility was pitch perfect. Additionally he has shown a steady hand at vividly visual genre films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain. These films bare little resemblance to each other, except that they “get it right.” Furthermore, no better example for Lee’s “getting it right” can be given than his adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.

Life of Pi is a narrative framed by Pi as an adult(Ifran Kahn) telling his story to a writer. This frame story can be summed up by paraphrasing a quote by the writer who says he’s a Canadian who went to French-India looking for a story only to find there’s an Indian in French-Canada with a story to tell. The film then transports us back to French-India in the late 1970s where Pi(now played by Suraj Sharma) begins an epic tale of self-discovery.

Now, clearly most viewers will be eagerly awaiting the story of the guy on a boat with a tiger, but this film is much more than this. It is a religious film, but it does not preach. Instead, it takes into consideration all of the ideas, beliefs, doubts, and misconceptions that exist and simply tells a story. Do not overlook or underestimate the film’s opening act; the setup is as rewarding as the visual magnificence that is to follow. Needless to say, it is the visual effects and cinematic beauty that will doubtless be the conversation surrounding Life of Pi and deservedly so. From the moment the map of the Mariana Trench appears on the screen, hold on to your seats! No film, including Avatar, has achieved this level of visual grandeur with 3D technology. What is more, Life of Pi exists right here on our own planet. Lee’s careful precision as a director, takes full advantage of every opportunity to amaze the audience with wonder.

Inevitably, Pi does find himself in the unique situation of living on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. However, this is all that is unique about it. Many films have explored the survivor element of what the limits of human endurance are. What allows Pi to rise above those is the spiritual depth that is created from the film’s opening act and the awe-inspiring visual effects that are second to none.

Life of Pi is a low-key masterpiece. It sneaks up on you and while not complicated, welcomes multiple viewings. The opening credits depicting animals happily living in captivity holds new meaning after experiencing the film for the first time. Lee presents a very enjoyable and thought-provoking version of Martel’s widely admired source material. It was said that Life of Pi was one of those unfilmable stories- that it can exist in the mind of the reader and nowhere else. Lee has proven those skeptics incorrect; however, this film is more than a companion or adaptation of the novel. It has surpassed that into something much more special and distinctive. A