All is Lost: what to make of a film with just one actor?

After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face. (courtesy of IMDB)
After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face. (IMDB)

Can you make a movie with just one actor? Will your audience care enough to follow him or her journey for a whole two hours or so? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but it worked for me. I’m actually a bit too young to have swooned over Robert Redford in his ‘heartthrob’ days, so that’s most certainly not why I remained invested in his character’s struggles for the entire film. This is the first film I’ve seen that focuses solely on a person’s will to ‘never give up’—another film that comes to mind is 127 hours, though that was based on a true story—and I found that I do buy into and take something from these stories, even when they’re riddled errors that viewers like to pick up. Watching this one man rely on his wealth of knowledge and experience to try to salvage his yacht, and having failed there, struggle to survive on a little dinghy in the middle of the Indian Ocean, I was reminded of just how ignorant and inexperienced I am, about how my ‘booksmarts’ simply aren’t enough. It’s a sobering thought.


Would you blame me if I fell in love with 'her'?
Would you blame me if I fell in love with ‘her’?

Set in the Los Angeles of the slight future, the story follows Theodore Twombly, a complex, soulful man who makes his living writing touching, personal letters for other people. Heartbroken after the end of a long relationship, he becomes intrigued with a new, advanced operating system, which promises to be an intuitive entity in its own right, individual to each user. Upon initiating it, he is delighted to meet “Samantha,” a bright, female voice, who is insightful, sensitive and surprisingly funny. As her needs and desires grow, in tandem with his own, their friendship deepens into an eventual love for each other.

(Courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes)

her is one of those works where all the little details are so finely thought out that it just absorbs you in that world, where things are so strangely in place that you hardly notice until you actually stop to think about it. There is a timelessness about it — the exact time in the future is not set, but it is an era of interactive video games and men’s clothing that has cycled back to the high-waisted styles of the 1950s. The fact that these aren’t explained helps envelope viewers into the world that we are witnessing: it’s not our world as it is now, but it is a world that ours may possibly become.

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Everything is Awesome!! ♪

Surely I don’t have to note where that’s from, right?

I'm the Special? Yes, yes I am...maybe... Well, actually...
I’m the Special? Yes, yes I am…maybe… Well, actually…

I don’t really have much to say about this one, I’m afraid. I am a bit ambivalent about the message that “You can do anything as long as you believe you can,” because there are some things for which this simply isn’t true, not to mention that it really isn’t as easy as having an unexplained eureka! moment. As one of the brightest minds the world has ever seen was known to say:

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.

However, as a film, it was just a whole heap of fun, especially all the intertextual references to the classics of pop culture that I grew up with. If there’s anything I would complain about, it’s that it was a bit too crowded, zooming from one piece on to the next. I’m sure I missed a few references and jokes, so that warrants at least one more viewing, but I also think that some of the jokes needed a little more time to breathe: the comic timing just wasn’t always there. Nevertheless, if I were to consider The Lego Movie as a piece of entertainment, then it definitely hit the mark.

The Great Gatsby and the vision of Baz Luhrman

The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby

I have a confession to make: I’ve never really understood what F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece was trying to say, beyond the fact that it is something of a cautionary tale. It shouldn’t be a surprise, really, as I first encountered Gatsby in my second year of high school, back when I knew almost nothing about the American Dream, much less the Roaring Twenties in which this tale is set. And watching the film drove it home for me again — the decadence, the crime, the obsession with a girl who no longer existed are all quite alien to me, facets of a people far removed from me in space, time and culture. In fact, if you asked me today, I probably still cannot give you a reasonable definition of ‘the American Dream’. And so, what I’ll focus on instead today is the director who brought this latest iteration of Gatsby to the screen: Baz Luhrmann.

Baz Luhrmann has a pretty distinctive style, which can be characterised by one word: spectacle. Take one of my favourite films of all time, Moulin Rouge — whilst I’m sure that Paris at the turn of the 20th century would have witnessed some of the insanity that was shown on the film, by the accounts of artists who depicted some of the everyday scenes, or even by looking at the lives of some people like Toulouse-Lautrec, I was always left with the sense that the film may have been more ‘over-the-top’ than the reality of the time. However, that’s probably the effect that Luhrmann goes for in his films. The Parisian undercurrent that Christian encounters and the unique style that Scott wants to bring to the ballroom are both meant to be confrontational to the sensibilities of each era, and spectacle is Luhrmann’s way of bringing that experience to us. What matters to him isn’t the realistic representation of what went on, but rather how that experience would have felt: that experience is what he wants us, his audience, to live.

I would say that the same applies for his latest film, The Great Gatsby. One of the criticisms that stuck in my head was that the over-the-top depiction of the parties that Gatsby threw, with attendees who went nuts dancing, jumping into the pool, throwing crystal and silverware everywhere for the servants to clean up the next day. I felt like I was enveloped in a world that really shouldn’t have existed… But that is precisely the effect that I think Luhrmann wanted to achieve, for the lavish parties that Gatsby threw were supposedly the wildest and most extravagant of the time. And rather than just catching a glimpse of New York in the Roaring Twenties, it felt like I was really there, experiencing the insanity. The style of Baz Luhrmann is not for everybody, or for every story, but in terms of representing what confronts the sensibilities of any time, I think he’s pretty hard to beat.

p.s. But please don’t ask me what I thought about the actors…

Snapshots: Prisoners and Inside Llewyn Davis

Prisoners Inside-Llewyn-Davis
Another two shows that…well, I won’t be seeing again…

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A tale of two conmen: American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street


Now that I’ve joined my university’s film group, the Oscar season is once again the worst time of the year for me. Over the last four weeks, I’ve already seen seven films, and there are many more that I’ve marked on that program. However, even though many of them were Oscar contenders…that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were all enjoyable. As it happens, one of the two films I’m looking at today didn’t really float my boat. It’s not particularly difficult to guess which one, right?

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Blue Jasmine: the art of destructive self-deception


When her husband commits suicide after having been sent to jail for fraud, a wealthy New York socialite moves in with her sister in San Francisco, and attempts to pull her fraying life back together.

It is perhaps somewhat embarrassing that this is the first film I’ve seen from Woody Allen’s long oeuvre. He’s one of those directors that everyone knows the name of, though not necessarily for his work. But if Blue Jasmine is a taste of the kind of social reflectiveness that Allen tends to weave into the stories he tells, then I am most definitely interested in seeing a few more.

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Les Misérables: returning to the very first obsession I ever had

An obsession from years, years ago

An obsession from years, years ago

When I heard that my favourite musical was being brought to the big screen as a musical, my initial reaction was probably one of trepidation. At that point, I had little idea what they’d planned to do, but from experience, very few actors can actually sing, and not many singers or musical performers can act all that well on the big screen…the exaggeration that is often used on stage can become overkill in close-ups.

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Zero Dark Thirty: the dangers of blurring the lines between truth and fiction

Ten years compressed into 150 minutes...

aka, the Hunt for Usama Bin Laden, compressed into 150 minutes…

Most Americans probably recognise Zero Dark Thirty as a highly acclaimed film that was nominated for a bevy of awards, including Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. It also averages a score of 93% at Rotten Tomatoes, which is a good indication of what the film critics think. Admittedly, it is a good film; beautifully shot and capped with tense actions scenes. The raw frustration of Maya, the main character representing all the analysts who must remain nameless to us, was palpable and added well to the drama. But what stays in one’s mind the most are the torture scenes – which lasted for about thirty minutes – and what the film seems to say about them.

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Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

This one seemed just about right for a satire...

There’s something about Kubrick…

One of the first reviews that pops up on google search claims that “Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant Cold War satire remains as funny and razor-sharp today as it was in 1964.” To be frank, it wasn’t hilarious or razor-sharp to me…largely because I’m not the biggest fan of over-the-top slapstick as represented by at least two characters. That said, I quite liked Mandrake and his no-nonsense British stuffiness even in the face of the ridiculous but deadly adversity he found himself in.

The thing is, the true impact of Dr. Strangelove can only ever be felt by viewers who actually lived through the Cold War. Released in 1964, two years after the Cuban missile crisis, this satirical take on the events of the day, taking the worst case scenario and running with it, probably raised a few eyebrows amongst the real people that it was taking the mickey at.

Sadly, the message didn’t actually take root. During the 1970s, many US strategic thinkers really believed that the US could triumph if it carried out a limited nuclear war. It was only in after President Jimmy Carter invited Australian National University scholar (now Professor) Desmond Ball to critique those plans that US planners were finally convinced that such a plan would fail, for “reasoned strategic theory was likely to go out the window once the missiles started flying.” And even then, there was another close call in the early 1980s.

And look what’s happening on the Korean Peninsula now? Scary, huh…