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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

Skyscraper ★★★★

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Released: 12th July 2018

Directed By: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Be honest. Sooner or later, you knew The Rock was going to make Die Hard. It was inevitable. As he ascends higher and higher thought the upper echelons of the – increasingly spartan – Hollywood star system, this was always going to be coming. The only question really, was going to be whether or not it was going to be either any good, or even welcome in a world in which even a bonafide Die Hardsequel now typically ranks among the worst of whichever year it’s released in.

Alas, Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis, and that quality control barrier could not be any clearer as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno – with a dash of The Fugitive – for Skyscraper. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adrenaline-fuelled ride takes DJ to China as amputee and former FBI tactical agent Will Sawyer, an American tasked with signing off on the security of The Pearl – the tallest building in the world. When terrorists seize The Pearl, however, Sawyer finds himself the subject of a Chinese manhunt and forced to find a way back into the building in order to save his wife and children from not only the terrorists seeking to fulfil their own agenda, but also to the out-of-control blaze that threatens to consume them all.

Johnson’s played in the sort of arena on more than a few occasions now, with Skyscraper arguably skewing closest to San Andreas as regards the sort of tone and polished spectacle you’re in for. There are some offhand nods to more classical genre archetypes – hell, it makes more Die Hard references than Jake Peralta – and there’s the requisite degree of fistbumping and utilisation of the term “brother”, but those still unsure of what to expect can rest easy on the promise of what’s essentially an Irwin Allen movie with a Neal Moritz sensibility. It ain’t clever, it doesn’t want to be, it just wants you to sit on the edge of your seat and then cheer afterwards. Which you will. A lot.

Neve Campbell brings an impressive amount to what’s an already impressively sketched out female supporting character in Sawyer’s wife (take notes, Bedelia – that’s how you handle hostage takers), and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) continues to make for an engaging added value element. Roland Møller, meanwhile, makes for a decent enough villain, but lacks the charisma needed to really sell the ludicrously named Kores Botha as much of an evil mastermind. Sure, he was never going to rival Hans Gruber on the scale of action movie villains, but Botha’s so thinly devised as a villain that he’s not up to the grade of Tommy Lee Jones’ Under Siege villain either. And that’s a real detriment when your action hero lead is someone as genuinely charismatic as Dwayne Johnson. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Joe Manganiello took the wrong Rock movie, would be a decent takeaway.

In lieu of a captivating villain, Thurber nonetheless ensures value for money is had with a barrage of spectacle-fuelled set-pieces the likes of which will have you squirming in your seat biting your fist for dear life – IMAX could well inspire a sense of vertigo with this one. It’s a glossy-looking actioner – thanks to some smooth production design and slick visuals from cinematographer and Mission: Impossible alum Robert Elswit – and fight choreographer Allan Poppleton goes above and beyond to stage Johnson’s antics not as the all-powerful action commando, but a credible fighter dwarfed by the spectacle of what’s up against him.

It’s a good time for all. Sure, it’s in no way destined to become an enduring classic of the action genre – though, the spoilerific marketing campaign does well and truly show off what will become one of this summer’s more memorable movie moments – but it’s Die Hard on fire. With The Rock. In 2018. And if there’s an easier sell for a good time at the movies than that, it just means Dwayne Johnson has another movie out. In which case, still see Skyscraper first.

 

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Featured Review

Mission Impossible: Fallout ★★★★★

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Released: 25th July 2018

Directed By: Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Michelle Monaghan, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

‘What the hell is he doing!? I find it best not to look.’

Rebecca Ferguson. You’re certainly not alone in questioning the thought process of a man seemingly gunning to be ‘The Greatest Stuntman’. Another one Mr Cruise? I imagine his reply is Never Enough. Never. Never.

22 years and six instalments in. Facing stiff competition from Bond, Bourne and a plethora of comicbook darlings along the way. This particular Tom has continued to be a marvel, risking life and limb to give us the adrenaline-pumping thrills we crave, admirably relying on old-school practicality instead of the obligatory CGI bombast we modern cinemagoers have grown accustomed to.

Previous instalment ‘Rogue Nation’ boasted an elegant operatic set-piece in Vienna, with returning (a first for the series) director Christopher McQuarrie masterfully pulling the strings in the background. Well imagine ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’ as a grandiose death-defying symphony, that could easily leave you breathless in the front row, never mind the upper tiers of this cinematic arena.

Whilst consistent in its entertainment value. It could be argued these films haven’t dug deep enough into the psyche of IMF’s main man. McQuarrie is quick to remedy this right from the outset as a pulsating plutonium power struggle ensues, with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) still reeling from his encounters with Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the latter a mere pawn now in the eyes of a terrorist organisation called the Apostles.

Trust in Ethan’s methods diminishing with the addition of CIA superior Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) who compares him to a scalpel, she introduces a ‘hammer’ to the situation in the form of August Walker (Henry Cavill), who is tasked with assisting Hunt and his usual suspects Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) in preventing further global atrocities. Interrogation? Not for this Man Of Steel.

Intertwining plot threads left dangling by its predecessors to layer its absorbing narrative, with Michelle Monaghan’s love interest Julia a notable inclusion. McQuarrie truly allows the audience to become emotionally attached to these characters this time around beyond the wisecracks and gadgetry, which only serves to fuel the tension and raise the stakes of its balletic action choreography. Playing a lead protagonist who can easily be perceived to be indestructible up to now. The moral angst that engulfs Cruise’s Hunt is refreshing, as his unwavering loyalty to his fellow field agents is deemed a weakness in achieving their intended objective.

Only for this aspect to be amplified by the compelling complexity of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust who returns with her own agenda, remaining appreciative of Hunt’s relentless nature to complete a mission by any means necessary, with one particular Paris stand-off utterly engrossing. Whilst Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane continues to favour chilling prose, it’s a joy to finally see Henry Cavill utilised in a blockbuster effectively as August Walker, a bruising no-nonsense adversary whose reloading arms prove a worthy match for Hunt.

Yet for all its superior characterisation. Mission Impossible would amount to little without its enthralling stunts, with the film gleefully  looking to out-do the previous set-piece throughout its running time, only to succeed in jaw-dropping style. From heart-stopping halo jumps at 25,000 feet to a heady helicopter chase that made me audibly gasp at its sheer audacity, McQuarrie’s dizzying camerawork and respectful capture of its sleek locations as we witness Cruise’s crazy antics close-up, is as pure as popcorn cinema gets.

‘Fallout? With this franchise? I suspect that thought will self-destruct in five seconds once you clap eyes on this outing. An astonishing genre offering in its own right, in a series that continues to evolve in exhilarating fashion.

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Movie Reviews

First Reformed ★★★★★

Consider the bar raised…

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Director: Paul Schrader

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer

Released: 13th July 2018 (UK)

First Reformed has been dubbed as Paul Schrader’s triumphant return to cinema. Widely praised by critics and audiences, it finally hits UK cinemas. What is First Reformed all about you ask? Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a solitary parish priest at a small church in upstate New York. Now more of a tourist attraction catering to a dwindling congregation, it has long been eclipsed by its nearby parent church. When a pregnant parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) asks Reverend Toller to counsel her husband, Toller is plunged into his own tormented past and finds himself questioning his own future and where redemption might lie. With the pressure on him beginning to grow, he must do everything he can to stop events spiralling out of control.

Alienation, social decay makes First Reformed one of the most powerful self portraits in cinema. First Reformed tackles current event topics like the environment, organised religion, politics, and alcoholism as a backdrop for Reverend Toller’s  journey through despair. Hawke’s Toller establishes the key theme early in the film: we’re told that we must hold onto both despair and hope simultaneously. Toller’s efforts to live this self-contradicting life, leads him down a path of madness.We discover that existential crises and sincere Christianity make quite the self destructive couple. Toller finds he must reject the shiny glossy presentation of modern contemporary Christianity, and discover his own self belief and re-build his faith within himself. The careful logic of it draws us in; it’s difficult to see where Toller and society goes wrong.

Paul Scharder’s visuals are utterly striking, each shot is rich with balance, depth and artful symmetry; despite the fact that the film is presented in an unusual aspect ratio of 1.37: 1, it pulls its viewers in with nonstop beautiful photography, mostly high-contrast shots with a muted colour palette.The story is spiritual as you would expect but it’s surprisingly political. The pace of the film is steady and switches seamlessly between snapshots and long takes. The scoring slowly builds its ominous tone, every element of First Reformed is built with intention that serves its sobering themes.

Ethan Hawke has delivered the performance of his career as Toller. This performance is truly next-level from him, and I cannot describe enough to you about how captivating it is to watch Hawke. He is spectacular in this, and an early front runner for award season. First Reformed is quietly intense, disturbingly real with a memorable ending. Paul Schrader carefully tackles controversial topics, especially with handling the concept of Christianity. The movie is neither preachy or anti-Christian in its delivery, but rather shows religion for what it is: a reasonable release for sadness and guilt, but also a burden. First Reformed is without a doubt one of 2018’s finest films.

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