All is Lost (4.25/5):
Writer/director J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost is in many ways an experimental film. Possessing no more than a sentence of dialog, only one setting, and a single actor for us to track, All is Lost is a singular experience with universal ambition. In its quiet, meditative structure it speaks a language we all inherently understand as we follow one man’s efforts to stave off death’s claim to his body while lost at sea. The man (Robert Redford) in this scenario is unnamed. As a matter of fact, the only name tethered to his existence is Virginia Jean, the name of his doomed vessel. He has a redacted past , outside a vague letter read in the film’s opening frame. Alone and looking worn, all that we can assume about our unnamed protagonist is that he’s far more comfortable living on top of the waves than he is at shore. But land becomes a luxury for him when his vessel hits a stray shipping container. Acting quickly, he patches up the damage with minimal but destructive amounts of water seeping in. The man circumvents crisis until a storm comes along hours later, causing his boat to capsize. Clutching to what seems like his last gasps for air, he trades his prized possession in for an inflatable raft. In one instance, the past submerges deep into the abyss and the hope for a future flames out. All that’s left in the present is nature’s oppressive strikes.
On the surface, All is Lost is a film about survival and the human spirit, with the former being a major function of the latter. Yet, as we dig deeper, it becomes an overarching metaphor for finding the strength to not only continue in the face of adversity, but to let go of the chains that bind us. Because of this, as well as hinging its existence on a single actor, All is Lost strikes a similar chord to Alfonso Cuaron’s fantastic Gravity, albeit less thrilling. Granted, All is Lost has some tremendous scenes of destruction, none of which top the mesmerizing capsizing of the Virginia Jean. Where Cuaron’s film enthralls the viewer from start to finish, Chandor’s film is at times cumbersome. Realistically, there’s only so many scenarios you can place our unnamed protagonist in at open sea without being repetitious, so the film’s structure inherently limits it from eliminating lulls. Emanating from tragic scenes is a seismic performance from Robert Redford, as his thoughtful presence alone lends credibility to his character’s ingenuity at sea. In what is a silent performance, sans a gratifying yelling of an expletive later in the film, Redford masterfully transmits the anguish, the joy, and the desperation within his deteriorating being with simple gestures and exhausting physical labor. Without Redford anchoring it, All is Lost just might have become exactly what its title entails.
Frances Ha (4.5/5):
I’ll be pretty upfront. For those of you who hate the meandering plots of French New Wave films, Frances Ha is likely a film you’ll detest. Where many mainstream films own narrative structures that act like a river, moving in one direction and ending at a discernible point, the ebb and flow of a French New Wave film is that of an ocean, replacing rigidity with fluidity. Frances Ha doesn’t pretend to be anything but a New Wave film, even going as far as borrowing bits of music from the genre’s defining films. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, Frances Ha is the tale of a woman, obviously named Frances (Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote), who is blissfully stuck in a state of arrested development. Well, probably not blissfully since her job provides a menial income, her best friend is moving away from her ,and everyone appears to be moving on in life except her. Frances certainly has aspirations humming about in her head, but she doesn’t quite know how to apply herself. Instead, she seems resigned to a life of scraping by on pennies, play fighting in the park, and lying about a life in the present she should’ve acquired years ago. Time is escaping Frances, and she is slow to grasp it.
But even as Frances fails in crafting the life she says she wants, she makes an impact on those she encounters and infects people with her effervescent enthusiasm. Frances’ experiences play out in short vignettes that are deftly comical, drunkenly romantic, and surprisingly dramatic and invasive. Credit is due to Baumbach and Gerwig on the script front. Both have written scenes that are at once hopeless and hopeful, extracting France’s bitterness without sacrificing her unwavering sweetness. For as good as the writing is, Greta Gerwig’s performance is the film’s crown jewel. Even with on point writing, the character of Frances is a little bit detestable. Let’s face it, most characters who fail to hold themselves accountable are inherently grating , but Gerwig’s performance absolves Frances of her egregious tantrums and selfish tendencies. The sheer energy of Gerwig, whether she’s playfully dancing across streets in New York or having a discussion about love at an awkward dinner party, is magnetic. It’s through her infectious performance that we understand why people still hang around this mess of a woman. Gerwig makes Frances Ha one of the year’s most lovable films, capturing our hearts in every scene. Because of Gerwig, Frances Ha promises to take us somewhere new, even if its titular character has no idea where she’s going.