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Adrift ★★★

A naturally sweeping love story with ravishing cinematography, ‘Adrift’ does what it’s meant to do as effectively as it can.

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Baltasar Kormákur

Stars: Elizabeth Hawthorne, Grace Palmer, Jeffrey Thomas, Sam Claflin, Shailene Woodley

Released: June 29th, 2018

To properly assess Adrift, the latest lost in the wild adventure, it would seem the most logical thing to do is compare it to that of the wave of recent films with similar premises and or ideas with the main objective being to determine whether or not it does anything different or at least attempts to bring new ideas or layers to the experience. While Adrift doesn’t necessarily add anything new to the genre or say anything that hasn’t been said before it does stand to reason that no matter how similar the circumstances included in these stories of desperation and survival tend to be one is typically as harrowing as the next and, if executed in an effective enough fashion, will still hit all the necessary marks and retain enough suspense to be both entertaining as well as eye-opening. If Adrift is anything it is effective in its execution; this likely has to do with director Baltasar Kormákur’s (2 Guns, Everest) experience in bringing these true to life, but often times gruesomely heartbreaking events to life in an honest, but completely cinematic fashion. Kormákur takes this based on actual events story (as most of these are) and intertwines the survival narrative with that of a blossoming love affair between two young/beautiful people that are unaware how much their wills and fresh love are about to be tested. As corny as that may sound or as cheap as that storytelling trick may seem, Kormákur somehow manages to pull it off with a certain level of credibility that lends the familiar beats a sense of urgency which is good as, if one is clued in at all, they will be able to see the plot devices at work. This potentially undercuts what Kormákur and screenwriting team the Kandell brothers (Jordan and Aaron) are counting on as the emotional anchor (pun totally intended) they pull out from under the audience at the beginning of the third act. Fortunately, Adrift still works no matter your disposition thus leaving the overall impression the film leaves to once again rely on how effectively what we as an audience have been trained to know is coming is conveyed. In the tradition of films where people are stranded and left to contemplate the meaning of their now-seeming small existence in relation to the expanded world around them Adrift ranks somewhere a bit below Life of Pi and a fair amount above that of last year’s The Mountain Between Us.

It is 1983 and twenty-four year old Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) has just arrived in Tahiti where her last gig as a cook on a schooner brought her. Tami has no particular plans and seemingly little ambition other than to stay as far away from San Diego, California, otherwise known as home, as long as she possibly can. It seems as if Tami has been following this pattern for quite some time-picking up odd jobs wherever her sailing gigs happen to take her. It is in Tahiti though, that things take a turn for the interesting when Richard (The Hunger Games franchise’s Sam Claflin), a former naval academy student who has built his own boat and sailed half way around the world on his own, shows up and sweeps Tami off her feet, for lack of a better expression. The thing about Adrift though, is that we don’t learn all of these details in chronological order, but rather Jordan and Aaron Kandell, along with David Branson Smith (Ingrid Goes West), have taken Oldham’s 1998 debut novel, “Red Sky in Mourning: The True Story of a Woman’s Courage and Survival at Sea”, and very precisely plotted it out so as to make the survival sections of the film merge with the flashbacks that reveal how Tami and Richard met and fell in love in a very specific way that, even if you’ve read the source material or are familiar with the real life story, there are a certain amount of stakes you’re able to get caught up in. The script layers in the details of Tami and Richard’s relationship so as to make the moments in which we see the couple in deep desperation as they are stranded in the middle of the ocean that much more meaningful. Whether this be that Tami is a vegetarian, that she’s only picked up a few lessons on how to sail from her previous jobs, or that she is generally a free spirit who is, “fearless like a bloke,” as Richard says, it is these details we see exemplified in individual flashbacks that directly contribute to the inevitable scenario that Tami has to deal with on her broken and stranded boat while battling mental exhaustion and physical debilitation. This technique that was formerly referred to as being something of a storytelling trick actually comes to be something of its saving grace given how much it would have felt the movie were spinning its wheels were it to simply stay with Tami and Richard throughout the forty-one days the characters are stranded on the boat. This alternate approach makes the storytelling both an interesting way to provide variety and increase investment while at the same time exercising a practical way in which to convey the story that, while at first feels rote, comes to be a technique that crescendos with the intended emotional significance and essentially solidifies Adrift‘s place as both a well-executed and moving entry in the genre.

And while both the Kandell’s screenplay and Kormákur’s measured direction lend the film more of a subtle weight than expected there is much credit to be given to the actors on screen as well, primarily Woodley, who has to do the majority of the heavy lifting given Claflin’s Richard is injured and bound to a single position for much of the runtime. From the onset of the film it is easy to see why Woodley was attracted to both the character and the material as Tami is very much a free spirit a la very much in line with Woodley’s seeming own character, but more than this it seems something about Oldham’s story genuinely connected with the actress as not only does Woodley star in the film, but she produced the project as well. To this effect, Woodley throws herself into the role completely and while it is easy to forget the Divergent star is a very raw performer (see The Descendants or The Spectacular Now) rather than just another flavor of the month hot, young actress who stumbled upon her own YA franchise, Woodley really shows up here to give this character her all. As a good portion of the film sees Woodley acting alone with no one else to feed off of or even utilize in convincing the audience of her authenticity, the actress is able to harness this presence she possesses and utilize it to the point we want to stick out this journey with her even if we ourselves can’t wait to get away from the circumstances. Claflin, in a less showier role than Woodley, still maintains his own sense of self (he did something similar a few summer’s back in Me Before You) as the actor looks appropriately early-eighties in much of Richard’s garb while more so he impresses by turning little moments into ones that will completely devastate you in the most rewarding of ways. There is a scene about mid-way through the film where Claflin’s character discusses the death of his mother at a young age and how he has come to somewhat internalize this idea of who he believed her to be and how he uses this internalization as a point of guidance. It’s a nice, pure, insightful moment that might easily be dismissed or forgotten in the grand scheme of the story, but it is a scene that not only furthers said story, but also doubles as a way to deepen the relationship between Tami and Richard as well as highlight why Tami falls so quickly and so deeply for this man she’s only known a few months. This type of believable bond that is revealed after such a short time (which is even more truncated in the film, obviously) is also a testament to Woodley and Claflin’s chemistry and the well-constructed screenplay. Tami and Richard rarely allow themselves to become overly irritated with one another despite their circumstances and instead consistently remind themselves of this inherent connection they have that seems to be greater than any problem they come in contact with. Again, everyone seems aware of how corny this all sounds and could come off as, but somehow Adrift and Kormákur make it work at a level that is not only credible, but largely impactful.

To be adrift is defined as floating without being either moored or steered. In this film, Tami has to deal with a broken vessel while feeling like one herself and to be determined enough to find direction and steer one’s self out of the headspace and the scenario itself is something the film does surprisingly well. It would be no surprise to state that, going into Adrift, there wasn’t much in the way of expectation and while this may ultimately give the film an edge this is a film that knows what it is and takes the tropes and clichés of these kinds of films and uses them to its advantage by not only chronicling these moments in ways that continue to deepen our sympathy for the characters, but also quietly speaking to some of the larger themes at play. That being said, Adriftisn’t venturing to say much beyond the obvious, but what it does tackle it tackles well. For example, in one of the first discussions between Tami and Richard, Richard talks about his love/hate relationship with sailing and how there really isn’t much good about it in terms of the work versus reward, but he does pause a moment when reflecting on those times-days into a voyage-when the infinite horizon before him becomes an incomparable intensity that swells within him. Now, this is quickly dismissed as being corny by Richard himself, but Tami gets it and is very much in tune with recognizing the role we as humans play in our environment and how she admires Richard for having found his when she still feels so lost and so far away from her destiny. Is Adrift necessarily trying to say anything specific about a person’s sense of self in a world that is much bigger and more expansive than the individual can even imagine? Probably not, but there are suggestions there if you care to look for them. The same with that of a scene in which Richard proposes to make Tami his girlfriend by telling her that in a certain culture placing a flower behind one ear over another is a sign of being off the market; a flower that moves faster through its life cycle than anything else on earth-blooming and wilting in the same day. Is this foreshadowing? Naturally. Is it some slight symbolism for how the movie makes itself as much about the connection between Richard and Tami as it does the two of them surviving one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history? Of course. They survive only because of the strength once receives from the other as in one of these stories can’t happen without the other and the fact the movie realizes that is what makes it so commendable and so…effective. Sure, it has things it stumbles over-it reiterates things we understand in sometimes blatant fashion-but it is also surprisingly restrained for such a naturally sweeping love story. The cinematography by Robert Richardson (a frequent Tarantino and Scorsese collaborator) is ravishing while Volker Bertelmann’s score is there, but never swells to egregious levels. In essence, Adrift does what it is meant to do as effectively as it could which, if you’ve read the entirety of this review, you know is what matters most.

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!

Featured Review

Climax ★★★★★

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Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)

Directed By: Gaspar Noé

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer

Reviewed By: Dion Wyn

Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.

Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.

Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?

Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.

Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and untameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.

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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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