ALL IS LOST
Continuing to earn cool points following their November booking of Enough Said - a marvelous movie that finally landed in our area several months after its initial national release - schedulers for Moline's Nova 6 Cinemas have done it again with the booking of All Is Lost, another critically acclaimed title that managed to bypass the Quad Cities' first-run cineplexes. And given the overall strength of writer/director J.C. Chandor's achievement, I couldn't be happier about its arrival, late though it may be. (Not too late, however, for those of us wanting to catch as many Oscar-nominated films as possible prior to the March 2 ceremony. Chandor's follow-up to 2011's exquisite Margin Call - which also made its local debut at Nova 6 - is nominated for Best Sound Editing.) You may have heard about the film: It's the one in which a lone sailor played by Robert Redford has to contend with a slowly sinking ship while adrift in the Indian Ocean, and with the exception of roughly 50 words, it's as lacking in dialogue as The Artist. It's also, for the majority of its 100 minutes, both wrenching and exhilarating.
A cinematic master class in the art of showing rather than telling, All Is Lost is painstaking in its detail. Redford (whose character is listed in the credits simply as "Our Man") finds himself at the mercy of a sizable hole in his ship's hull, vicious night storms that turn his craft upside-down, a power outage, a massive head wound, a lack of food and fresh water, a school of sharks, a fire, and more. Yet the means by which, through instinct and careful procedure, he attacks every new challenge are so lucidly presented and executed that the film could be its own survival manual for unfortunate souls lost at sea (albeit those with functional Blu-ray players). And the wizardly editing, photography, and sound effects add immeasurably to the vérité of the endeavor; on all levels, the movie is a technical wonder. I just wish - and this may be a heretical opinion - it were more of a performance wonder.
Of course, Redford is an effortlessly engaging movie star, as he's been for close to a half-century now, and the situation Our Man finds himself certainly supplies more than its share of built-in empathy. But the problem with his casting, for me, is that Redford is all movie star, and what this role really needed was a dyed-in-the-wool actor - a Robert Duvall, or a Tommy Lee Jones, or someone else who could similarly suggest the true emotional toll of this traumatic event. Redford doesn't do anything wrong, per se, but he's such a steadfastly untouchable icon of Old Hollywood that you never really feel close to him here, and his natural reticence as a performer means that we have to spend too much time decoding his subtlety, which consequently makes us view All Is Lost's tale less as a story than a cryptic analogy. (Granted, Chandor's decision to name Redford's character "Our Man" suggests that that's exactly what he had in mind.) We continually search Redford's eyes, and his very occasional readings, for some hint about what this horrific struggle means to him, but don't get much beyond a bit of wide-eyed panic and the completely understandable screaming of "Fuck!"; Our Man remains unknowable to the end, and as a result, his crisis doesn't carry the weight it could have. All Is Lost is a spectacular visual and aural achievement, and you may easily agree with the New York Times rave that Redford gives "the performance of his life," and the New Yorker appraisal that "Redford does more acting in this movie than he has done in all his earlier movies combined." I agreed, too. I just wished those sentiments meant more than they actually do.
THAT AWKWARD MOMENT
Writer/director Tom Gormican's That Awkward Moment is like an extended, particularly crass episode of Sex & the City for straight guys in their early 20s. How oh how did this thing ever tank at the box office?! Listening to the overly practiced, grimly unfunny banter between Zac Efron, Miles Teller, and Michael B. Jordan - two of whom are usually terrifically talented - as they tried to negotiate the tricky divide between casual flings and actually caring for someone, I routinely wanted to bash my head against the nearest hard surface, aching for even one moment between the loquacious gents that didn't feel like an exchange too generically smutty for Two & a Half Men. But while I was groaning at the dialogue and marveling at the astonishingly inane plotting, with Efron's misunderstanding of his girlfriend's "dress-up party" too ludicrous to be believed, two female co-stars, at least, made the sit less unendurable. As Teller's opposite-gender wing man harboring a not-so-secret crush for her pal (and he for her), Mackenzie Davis displays a lovely naturalism and lends the movie shrewd comic timing, and her playful repartee with Teller provides the rare opportunities for Gormican's comedy-in-name-only to actually breathe. And as the hook-up who's originally mistaken for a hooker, Imogen Poots is really quite sensational. Delivering sensible zingers in a wholly believable American accent, the British ingénue has never before appeared this relaxed and confident and offhandedly sexy on film, and she even pulls off the rather remarkable feat of making her laughter at screen beau Efron's bad and badly timed jokes sound believable. That's not worthy of praise. That's worthy of a freakin' Oscar.
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