Tuesday, April 15, 2014

#DoubleFeature - All Is Lost/Gravity

Since you guys and gals seemed to like my review of Wrecked (pageviews-wise), here's a couple of similar films, and some of its biggest and best recent attempts out there.

Here's another DoubleFeature!

For this occasion let's check out a couple of recent "survival films". 

What I like to call these sort of intense thrillers following the survival of a limited cast of characters.

Usually one single protagonist, unnamed, trapped for the course of the entire movie in a single setting. In these sort of films the tale is often told in "real time".

These movies ten to be pretty intense thematically rather than heavy in dialogues. 

When it all comes down to it, it's generally the tale of a (wo)man being striped from all of our technology, versus the raw intensity of nature. Think Tom Hanks' character in Cast Away, one of the better examples of the genre, the big budget blockbuster that brought this genre to the front scene (not the first one though). It all comes down to the original survivalist tale of Robinson Crusoe.

 This is as far as possible from all these big Hollywood disaster films (aka "disaster porn"), which despite actually touching some similar themes such as coming down to our mortality face to nature, those always go way overboard, all over the place, with way too many action sequences taking over any real connection to the main character(s), huge ensemble casts, etc. (I'm not saying one is better than the other, just saying how different from each other those two genres are)

A survival movie is usually much more grounded in reality and therefore as realistic as possible. Characters will suffer through damage (both physically and emotionally through the film). The backstory or any sort of explanation is really secondary, with our protagonist stripped to its more basic characterization. 

Trying to simply defy nature and survive nature...

These were two big hits from 2013, no doubt some of the best release we got that year.

They were pretty similar when you come down to it, they even were released almost back to back, in October.

Let's start with the first one...

Movie: All Is Lost 
Directed by J. C. Chandor 
Release date 2013
Genre Thriller/Survival film
Country USA

Directed by a great aspiring new director, J. C. Chandor, All Is Lost is his second feature film and a tale for the ages.

Based on the classic tales of men lost at sea, All Is Lost follows the journey of a protagonist played by the talented Robert Redford lost in the middle of a dangerous storm aboard his yacht. 

M. Redford plays here the single unique actor on screen in this entire film.

The film features barely any dialogue (compared to Adrien Brody's Wrecked, heavy in lines and numerous "F*ck!").

It's the tale of an unnamed man having to get resourceful in the face of his very own mortality.

Casting Robert Redford, who was 77 years old at the time of this film, was a fantastic idea. Not only does it limit our protagonist's physical abilities but it also goes out of the norms imposed by the classic Hollywood formulas.

All Is Lost was filmed on a 30-page long script, shot partially in the same Mexican studios where Titanic was made, as well as some clever use of actual locations. 

Our tale begins with our character narrating over his 8th day since the incident, at sea somewhere off the Indian Ocean. The only time he really does any sort of narration the whole film. 

He's sorry he wasn't strong enough...

Cue to a few days earlier.

Our man wakes up to a strange sound. His yacht had a collision with some kind of (shoe) container. His boat is now taking water. Apparently he also deviated from his original path in his sleep ("1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits"). He has to patch it up if he want to survive, a storm is coming.

A first tempest hit him really bad that night. The boat gets in worst shape than he imagined. Now to survive he will have to use the survival kits aboard the ship. He tries to learn how to use the sextant and the nautical maps to chart his wereabouts (from memory apparently, he does seem to be familiar the equipment to a point). But another storm is coming later. And sharks start to circle his lifeboat.

All Is Lost is about mortality. Our mortality.

Robert Redford's characters goes unnamed in the credits. And he didn't need to have a name. M. Redford manages to portray an impressive role in this film, all the things he goes through, the fact he isn't playing opposite to anyone else..

Overall: It's a pretty impressive film. Stunning. Well crafted and really intelligent.

Our man's not a real sailor here, just a "man" with some general knowledge. Of course you can nitpick here and there and point at some inaccuracies (no GPS on board? really). But the age of our protagonist mostly makes up for most of those details. He is unexperimented and probably got in over his head.

The Ocean currents carry him aboard his boat the Virginia Jean, from one shipping lane to another.. A container boat completely ignores him (mostly manned by modern technology, compared to our character's one-man-boat yacht).

Some people like to think our man dies at the end, like some deus ex machina-hand of God reaching for him. Probably to give a more spiritual meaning to the film. But I think that's missing the point of the film.


Giving in... is more like giving up.

The film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival to much success. And for good reason. All Is Lost was
nominated to several awards (including best score, which it won), but lost most times to the second film I'm reviewing below.

Finally, the deep powerful score was composed by Alex Ebert. Despite being sort of limited, only used scarcely, it works great. Powerful, dream-like.

I give it:
3 / 3 Films!

Movie: Gravity 
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón 
Release date 2013
Genre Science-fiction thriller/drama/Survival film
Country UK/USA

Co-wrote/produced/and edited by Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity is a British-American survival film.

The film is sent in space and is more of a scifi thriller/drama film.

Yet, it is still based around shipwrecked films structure and follows the fear of isolation and alienation that comes when one loses all familiar marks over everything and the situation seems to be spiraling dangerously out of control.

Gravity can be seen as a pretty expensive independent film, in the sense that it's not your common generic usual Hollywood blockbuster, but more of a cherished pet project from its author. An attempt to make something akin to a huis clos with a limited cast. Only set in the vast emptiness of space.

The film is also a critic of how the human species not only pollute Earth every day, but how we already started spreading our garbage outside our planet. Space debris is a real problem. And while each of us are still dreaming of going to space and exploring it, several derelict satellites, scattered debris and abandoned old exhausted equipments are starting to accumulate all over our world..

Gravity shows us a space we, as the human specie, want to explore. But make no mistake, it's an inhospitable environment, a place we were never meant to venture...

Gravity opens right away up in space. The story is set during a fictive mission.

Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer. 

Along veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), she has been sent to help repairs on a space shuttle.

When suddenly, several debris hit the station, killing one of the crew and sending our characters spinning through the emptiness of space... They didn't anticipate their window of time enough...

While the basis of the "plot" is pure science-fiction, what happens next is very much grounded in reality. All in all, it makes up for a very real story of survival. Only, set in space.

Let it be said, Gravity is a gorgeous film.

In between the most spectacular scenes we do get some nice quiet moments. These empty moments are probably my favorite. They're simply the best in terms of atmosphere.

Our heroes try to make a "run" for the closest nearby foreign station. Along the way... stuff happen. Will they get to the escape pods in one piece?...

It's a film showing us space for what it is. Huge. Near silent. Dangerous. Not the usual romantized blockbuster space setting.

The film has some absolutely stunning sharp visual effects.

It's strange to "define" this film, I found it to encompass so many genres (which just shows how arbitrary and inadequate labeling genres really is). Gravity sets himself apart from plain dramatic films and thrillers, and finds its in-between proper survival films and disaster movies.

The film pulls its audience right alongside the always-lovely Sandra Bullock (as stunning as ever, she doesn't look her age, at all!).

The best aspect of the entire movie is probably the sound. The score was composed by Steven Price. From the intelligent use of modern touches to the creepy intense score. Sound might not travel in space, but once inside our protagonist's head, they found a clever way to translate vibrations brought though life through chilling musical cues. 

Overall: Gravity is  about space anxiety. And while they doesn't seem to concern average Joes like you and I, the fear of being stranded alone is very real. And very common.

The film makes a smart use of technical details and some cinematic exaggerations. Sure, there are several inaccuracies regarding the science in the film, but to be honest you can really put those aside considering how many great details the film gets right. Specially since the main concern here isn't that of a documentary but of a more "survival film" take on such events. 

There's several first person shots to better put the emphasis on space. The whole claustrophobic aspect of the spacesuit.

The return to Earth at the end is quite simple and modest, elegant and simply filmed. Which is great because it follows a spectacular final climatic scene. Fun fact, the landing scene was actually filmed on the same location as the original Planet of the Apes'. 

Gravity went on to win 7 Academy Awards (no less!) as well as many more other awards. 

Many people call it right away the film of the year, and for a good reason in my eyes. 

More than just plain spectacle. It's a breathtaking experience.

I give it:
3 / 3 Films!

While both All Is Lost and Gravity appear to be completely different films, the end result are pretty similar films in tone.

A comparison can be easy to make. When it all comes down to it, they're both generally simple realistic tale of human against nature, our will to defy and go to places than no men have gone before.

All is Lost is works on a more basic level. It's a work in minimalism, where Gravity goes out in a spectacular bang to better impress its audience (on IMAX!). Gravity also goes through lengthy backgrounds and explanations, like giving our heroine a background, a family. All is Lost only leaves us with "the man".

Was it necessary? I like to believe that no. Less is more.

But in the end both approaches are pretty effective, for opposite reasons. It's as effective

Gravity closer to science-fiction, impressive, huge, loud. A visual treat.

All is Lost much more intimate and confined. Insular.

It makes for two very interesting almost complentary films. Great for a double feature!

That's all for this time's DoubleFeature!

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