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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!

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Colette

Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Released: London Film Festival 2018

Born in 19th century France, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote more than 80 volumes depicting her childhood, her life, her pains and pleasures. Her writings were sensual, vivid and all published under her husband name, “Willy”.

No stranger to female-centric stories, Wash Westmoreland follows up on “Still Alice” and “Echo Park, L.A.” with this dazzling period biopic starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West.

The film starts, the young country girl, Colette (Knightley), marries writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”) who introduces her to Parisian salons. Willy soon finds himself in debts and is desperate enough to seek his wife’s help. She will write. Colette writes what she knows and her first novella, “Claudine à l’école” (Claudine at school) is a success. Willy forces her to write the next ones, locked in a golden cage, to ensure his fame and success.

The settings are sumptuous and we gladly follow the camera through the stunning but confined Parisian apartments where the outside light only comes through when she feels inspired. Costumes evolve, as Colette, from heavy and restricted dresses to wild and daring clothing as if Mademoiselle Chanel had designed them herself.

Colette finally loosens from her husband and experiments with woman, society and dancing, feeding her inspiration. Forced and uncredited, Colette cannot enjoy writing and runs off to perform in the music-hall in her own name. In like most biopics, we go from one key event to another, regrettably quickly and often without knowing how we got there. Willy’s sudden appointment of his wife is left as unexplained as the abrupt ending that could have potentially seen Colette, a happy writer.

In the second part of the film Westmoreland seems more interested in looking at the awakening of a young woman rather than at the birth of an author whereas Keira Knightley shines in the lead role. Often known for playing the innocent and rebellious youth, Knightley still pulls off the young Colette in the first part of the film but is at her best when she evolves into a mature woman, aware of own desires. The best scenes of the film come when Colette is free and herself, usually in the company of other woman, particularly the terribly charming Missy (Denise Gough). Westmoreland multiplies two shots and close ups and creates impactful intimate scenes but regrettably gives up on them too fast.

It is a change to see a character such as “Willy” that is both ridiculous and loving. This duality creates, perhaps, a more truthful relationship between the two. No one is born an artist and behind every writer there is an intuitive editor (and in 20th century France, who else could it be than a man?). For Westmoreland if there is no Claudine without Colette, there would have been no Colette without Willy.

With its lavish setting and jumping plot, Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – If Beale Street Could Talk

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Beale Street Movie Marker

Released: 8th February 2019

Directed By: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

In his entrancing and eventual Best Picture Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’, it was the longing to be authentic. To be accepted in an often volatile environment that powered its narrative.

Clearly in this pitch-perfect adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, director Barry Jenkins is consumed with longing of a different kind that is just as potent. Justice. An eradication of the infuriating systemic abuse of law and power against black people in America, that sees this luminous love story in 1970’s Harlem, strike modern-day parallels with our own divided, morally skewed society.

An incandescent portrayal of young romance. The tenderness, respect and sheer revolve that underpins the relationship between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) will leave you spellbound from the outset, as their lives are soon mired in despair. The rapturous joy of new life as Tish falls pregnant, backed up by the triple threat of mom Sharon (Regina King), dad Joseph (Colman Domingo) and sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris). Quickly cancelled out by the malice of Fonny’s staunchly religious family and a false yet potentially devastating rape allegation made against him, as they scramble to prove his innocence.

Punctuated by Kiki Layne’s wholesome narration and an overwhelmingly beautiful Nicholas Brittell score that i would be content listening to for days on end. Jenkins exchanges the melancholic blues of his previous effort for a broader but no less lush visual palette, with its exquisite interiors and classy costume design almost serving as a rainbow for the tears that have streamed down their faces through such hardship, but their spirit and love continues to illuminate their gritty surroundings. Whether it be lingering close-ups of sweet embrace or deep sorrow. Its director doesn’t flinch for a second in conveying the simmering emotions on display and in doing so, leaves you completely transfixed by his tactful approach to the source material.

There is a raw resilient energy that permeates throughout its central romance. Kiki Layne’s Tish serves as the remarkably understated, calming influence to Stephan James’ broken-hearted prisoner, a slave to a corrupt system with a searing monologue by Fonny’s dear friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) reinforcing the pain inflicted. Through it all, their hopeful adoring looks and stifling intimacy simply captivate. In Regina King’s marvellous mother figure, she peppers the film with considerable candour, armed with dialogue that pierces your soul. Whilst Jenkins leaves enough room for inspired cameos that are best left a secret, which gorgeously represent a sense of community and a progression in attitude, that defies the period.

A steady panning shot as Fonny smokes may seem throwaway. In this case, it is awfully fitting to articulate the finesse of its director. Lose yourself in the mesmeric haze of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’.

A lyrical experience that reminds you of the poetic power cinema can truly possess. His love for the art form brought him here. On this form. Trust Barry Jenkins to go all the way.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Stan & Ollie

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Stan and Ollie Rating Movie Marker

Released: 11th January 2019

Directed By: Jon S Baird

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C.Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Products of classic Hollywood whose superior slapstick routines triggered endless laughter from their legion of fans, propelling them to legendary status. The sheer physicality and comedic prowess displayed by the English/American duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, still puts many modern-day efforts to shame.

But like so many comedians, there is a tragic element to their careers that contradicts their profession. Through this solid biopic by Filth director Jon S. Baird, it looks to give us a poignant insight into the duo’s grueling twilight years.

Their popularity slowly dwindling. Their bones creaking. Whether on the big screen or the stage, Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C.Reilly) are suddenly not the hottest ticket in town in the early 1950’s. Lumbered with Rufus Jones’ Bernard Delfont, a wisecracking promoter who seems more invested in the likes of Norman Wisdom, they look to reignite interest with a lengthy theatre tour and a long-gestating film project. Yet with audiences middling, contract negotiations stalling and the workload far beyond what was expected, it puts a significant strain on the health and friendship of these two towering talents.

Inevitably with its story, you would expect ‘Stan & Ollie’ to be assured in its abilities to make you laugh. However much of the first half feels surprisingly stilted as Coogan and C.Reilly throw themselves into the pair’s much-beloved routines, with regular cutbacks to their adoring audiences. For the uninitiated, it may initially make you wonder what the fuss was about. Thankfully as the film’s supporting players are introduced to spar with our central characters, it finds a more consistent comedic rhythm, neatly intertwining with the film’s simmering emotion.

Whilst it’s undoubtedly a few visual flourishes away from being a formulaic BBC Christmas special. The admiration of S.Baird for Laurel & Hardy certainly shines through in its refined production, beginning with an exquisite tracking shot on a studio lot as he works his way through the duo’s masterful mischief with fondness.

The rapport between John C.Reilly and Steve Coogan anchors proceedings wonderfully, skilfully capturing the mannerisms and effectively articulating how dependent they are of each other, despite their ongoing disputes. In C.Reilly’s Ollie, his fully-fleshed turn pierces through the fat suit he wears, whose willingness to perform despite failing health is soul-stirring. Whilst the relentless nature of Coogan’s Stan, as he looks to churn out the material strong enough to breathe new life into their double act, makes for compelling viewing. The real danger posed however, is that the film’s main attraction are nearly upstaged by their witty wives, with Shirley Henderson’s Lucille and Nina Arianda’s Ida threatening to steal every scene they grace.

Entertaining enough to gently applaud. Yet perhaps not an act that quite raises the roof. ‘Stan and Ollie’ coasts by on its endearing nostalgic charm and committed performances.

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