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Movie Reviews

All Is Lost

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director:  J.C. Chandor

Stars: Robert Redford

Released: 26th December 2013 (UK)

In one of my scriptwriting classes in college we were asked to write an opening scene for a film that included zero dialogue. At first thought this may not seem like too large a task (just write a bombastic action sequence that hooks the audience, right?), but to set that up, to provide context would be something more difficult. It would have to be all about the visual clues, the details included that would be vital in pushing the story forward. That is why what director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) has done with All is Lost is both extremely difficult and at the same time extremely impressive. That the writer/director has accomplished this stylistic choice with such naturalism that the audience never feels as if it is forcing a “no dialogue” rule on itself is all the more reason to be surprised it succeeds as well as it does. With a running time of an hour and forty-six minutes the film can sometimes be a bit of an endurance test as to just how much more our unnamed protagonist can take and though it rises and falls from high-pressure situations to mild boredom in spots, we never want to leave our surrogate character until we at least know the conclusion of his journey. That is what this film is about after all, for it is not a movie we go to the theaters to buy popcorn and entertain ourselves with, but instead is nothing short of a captivating experience that places us right in the middle of the isolation with the silence forcing us to question how far we might go before we give up; before we decide that putting up a fight might not be worth it any longer. It isn’t your typical cinematic experience, but it is one that demands to be seen on the big screen and that in its own right makes this an experience worth having even as it tests everything that you find comfortable about your life.

There isn’t so much to be said in terms of story concerning All is Lost as the only character involved is Robert Redford’s unnamed protagonist that is simply referred to as “Our Man” on the IMDB page for the film. What can be expressed without giving too much away is that we meet Redford’s character deep into a solo voyage into the Indian Ocean, 1700 miles from the nearest land, on his 39-foot yacht which he has named Virginia Jean. As I stated previously, there is very little in the way of dialogue. An opening scenic shot of the ocean delivers the most talking we will get throughout the remainder of the film in which Redford reads a letter he has written to an unknown recipient only for the film to then immediately jump back eight days to show us the beginnings of our heroes journey. The Virginia Jean is taking on water after it has collided with a rogue shipping container left floating in the sea. Thoughts of the human condition and if one is privileged or greedy enough to put themselves into such a situation such as this meaning they should be intelligent enough to get themselves out begin to run through my mind. At least this rings true in the case of Redford’s character as he begins utilizing his navigation tools as well as patching the hull that was breached by the container. Still, his challenges are far from over once he repairs his boat as he is heading straight for a violent storm with his electronic equipment, including his radio, all but destroyed. He is forced to use his nautical knowledge to face the oncoming storm and find the best way to survive it using only the tools he has around him. To go into further detail would only lay out the remainder of the film for you and in fact spoil some of the surprise as to how they manage to tell a complete story and develop their singular character with almost no one talking throughout. The film does use several familiar archetypes as obstacles for Redford in that he comes up against not only the unrelenting storms, but circling sharks, dwindling supplies, and the consistent beating down of the sun yet it all feels genuine and in no way contrived because we slowly build an unspoken rapport with this man we know nothing about and it is in this investment in the character that we also become wrapped up and involved with the film itself.

This kind of manipulation by the filmmaker can only be accomplished so effectively if we truly begin to feel we know the people we are watching on screen and it is almost completely due to the performance by Redford here that All is Lost succeeds as well as it does. I don’t know much about sailing, personally, and so I was somewhat worried I would have no idea what Redford’s character might try to do or attempt in order to save his life, but the concern of not being familiar with what needs to be done in order to preserve a yacht as long as possible were washed away when it became clear the larger objective for the film was for it to connect with audience members not on a technical level, but on a basic human level without ever uttering a single word or using an overbearing amount of music to manipulate how we are supposed to feel. There is a score here, but it is very subtle and only used in sparing moments where it seems to represent more of how our character feels, how his words would sound if he had anyone to talk with rather than simply sounding like what a movie soundtrack is supposed to sound like and placing it in high-tension moments to up the excitement of a scene. It is only present to convey what might not be interpreted from Redford’s performance and to be honest, that isn’t much. The thing about Redford’s performance is that it doesn’t immediately hit you like it is something to be appreciated or anything grand that is worth any extra attention, but it is how simplistic in nature it is and the small subtleties of what he brings to a man on his own and who is forced to come face to face with the fact he may not see his life past the next few days or even moments that hit us in big ways. There is no other character or storytelling tool that gives us any indication of these themes other than the sole performance we watch unfold on screen. It is a character arc that seemingly doesn’t exist on the scale of where this man was at in life when we first meet him and how far he comes, but instead it is more on a scale of how he takes everything that has made him who he is up until this point in his life and puts a question mark on how much is enough when pushing to stay on this earth another day.

While watching All is Lost I began to contemplate what I might say in this review and how I might go about assessing what I was taking in as it wasn’t anything I necessarily found to be entertaining, but was instinctively inclined to believe I was seeing something of a certain pedigree that, if nothing else, was to be respected. I won’t lie and say I was wrapped up in every second of this mans journey and that I was compelled to go out and appreciate every moment of every day because I did have moments where I was bored, where I wondered what they could possibly do next that might keep me interested in whether or not this guy was going to live or die. Somehow they managed to pull it out though and when I looked at my watch for the first time I was surprised to find an hour had already passed and that there were only forty-five minutes or so to go. So, is it entertaining? No, not necessarily, at least not all of the time, but where it draws its power from is stringing us along and better acquainting us with this man so that when he does finally come to the end of his journey it really hits home. I of course won’t say which way it goes, but to say that it is powerful is an understatement. It is one of those cases where you sit, taking in the experience of the film as it goes by wondering if it is ever going to amount to anything more than what you’ve seen so far (and as I was seeing this rather late in its run, I’d heard nothing but overwhelmingly positive reviews for it) and would come out the other end really leaving you with a sense of wonder. It is in certain moments though that you realize this is developing slowly into something you don’t see all the time. It is a slow burn, but not in the traditional sense as it has its own hills and valleys throughout yet it is the final scene in which we realize the power it has risen to and in that moment what it possessed over each individual in the theater. This is a film both full of experimentation and well-tested formulas as Redford delivers what we have come to expect from an actor of his status and range while translating more than many of his peers might be able to do with no dialogue and no one to play off. While that very premise not only strikes an interesting chord but one of fear in an audience that might be wondering what they’re in for when promised two hours of a silent survival story, yet the result is worth a look and a proper one on the big screen at that.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

The Little Stranger ★★★★

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.

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Released: 21st September 2018

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill

Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.

Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.

From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.

The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.

The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain.  This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.

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Movie Reviews

Dogman ★★★

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Released: 19th October 2018

Directed By: Matteo Garrone

Starring: Marcello Fonte

Reviewed By: Rhys Handley

Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.

But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.

When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.

Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.

To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.

In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.

Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.

Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.

An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.

Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.

No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.

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Movie Reviews

Superfly ★★

Director X’s flashy remake of the Blaxploitation classic is a thunderingly dull experience

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Director: Director X
Stars:  Trevor Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Michael K. Williams
Released: 14th September 2018 (UK)

Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, BlackKklansman – it’s proving an impressive year for top-tier studio-driven black cinema. The perfect year, as it happens, to release a remake of seventies Blaxploitation classic Super Fly. Or, at least, it would be, if the determining creative mantra behind this update weren’t presumably anything more than to make an episode of Power with all the stylistic glimmer of a P. Diddy video.

Superfly (neatly bringing the title right up to autocorrect standard by repositioning itself as a single word) sees Grown-ish star Trevor Jackson take on the iconic role of the hustling dealer trying to earn his way out of the game – albeit in a newly millennial take that supplants the character’s own drug use for what appear to be Sherlock-level powers of information gathering on anyone he might need to manipulate, charm, or blindside. He also sports the most incredible head of hair this side of Josh Brolin.

Alex Tse’s screenplay sees no gain in revisiting any of the subversive terrain that made Super Fly the enduring classic it became, his ambitions outright stopping at the point his writing could passably sell a made-for-cable urban crime series (such as – to pick a name out of a hat – Power?). Beyond that it falls to director Director X (of the Toronto Xs) and star Jackson to bring the proverbial funk, and – though X really knows how to sell a music video with all the tonal swagger of John Singleton’s Shaft remake (though, noticeably, none of its darkness or consideration) – Jackson simply isn’t a strong enough presence to sell the supposed gravitas of his lead. It’s a weakness no amount of style or gunfire can distract from, and it sinks Superfly dead.

There’s a top-shelf supporting cast in there, with the likes of Jason Mitchell, Michael K. Williams, and Rick Ross turning up for their two cents and subsequently failing in tandem to elevate this dross to become anything close to worthy of standing in its own brand’s shadow. Expectedly enough, it sports a kickass hip-hop soundtrack – with rapper (and the film’s producer) Future offering up a bevy of atmospherically charging beats to ensure you’re at least bored to music, though there is something faintly amusing (outside of context) about hearing an entire cast prattle on about wanting to wipe out “the Snow Patrol”, like they’re working for the NME in 2005.

Twenty years from now, film historians will likely regard Superfly in the same manner as we currently regard Gus van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho or Stallone’s 2000 remake of Get Carter – that it’s a pointless creation that completely missed the cultural point of its own iconic original – and they’ll be right to do so. Provided they remember that Superfly even existed in the first place – which they, and you, would be decidedly better off not.

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