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The Longest Ride

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: George Tillman Jr.

Stars: Alan Alda, Britt Robertson, Jack Huston, Kate Forbes, Lolita Davidovich,Melissa Benoist, Oona Chaplin, Scott Eastwood, Tiago Riana, Tracey Bonner

Released: 19th June 2015 (UK)

I don’t know that I’ve ever reviewed a Nicholas Sparks film on this site before. There often seems no point due to the fact that if you’re seeing these movies you know exactly what you want and what you’re getting and while that is probably the case here as well, there was something unquestionably intriguing about the tone set by the trailers for The Longest Ride. The musical choices that included Banks “Waiting Game,” signaled something of a forbidden, almost haunting love story that might be worth tuning into due to the team behind translating the Sparks story to the screen felt uncommon. It’s not out of the question given love stories depend more on the way they’re told and the chemistry of the actors involved to be successful than that of the actual story and with director George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food, Notorious, Faster) there certainly seemed potential for something interesting. Love is such an intangible thing it’s always difficult to capture the essence of what makes it so special without resorting to cliches and typically that is what Sparks ends up doing. The Longest Ride fortunately doesn’t fall prey to the trap of some of the more recent Sparks adaptations in that it doesn’t go completely bonkers in the end and makes all kinds of convoluted twists with the only significance being to shock the audience. I haven’t seen Safe Haven, but heard it was quite a doozy while I actually caught The Best of Me a few weeks ago and despite the set-up hinting at nothing down the road it became fairly evident where things were heading the moment a couple instances took place one after another. With that in mind, what there is to appreciate about Ride is that it is little more than a basic human story about figuring out priorities and becoming satisfied with a routine that only has a few contrivances forced on it in order to create conflict, but none so outlandish it makes the viewer realize the ridiculousness of it all. It at least feels like an earnest attempt to portray love whereas the majority of the recent Sparks films feel more like cash-grabs capitalizing on manufactured emotions.

We are first introduced to Sophia (Britt Robertson), a senior at Wake Forest who is really into the arts and even has an internship lined up for the summer in New York that will have her working in galleries alongside top industry folks that will inevitably lead to a prosperous career, but before all goes too well for the pretty young upstart she will be forced to go to a rodeo with her sorority sisters. Appearing to be nothing more than a carefree night on the town, Sophia looks at it as something of a reward for not letting herself have any fun the first three years of her college experience. Of course, the night she does decide to go out she meets handsome professional bull rider Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood) and things will never be the same. The two have something of an instant connection (of course, in Sparks world introductions graduate to full blown affection over the course of a first date), but they soon realize they are on two very different paths and with only a month left before Sophia leaves for New York it would be best to go no further with their relationship. As Luke drives Sophia home from their first date though they see a car on fire on the side of the road. Inside is an elderly Ira Levinson (Alan Alda who is especially strong in most of his scenes) whom Luke rescues while Sophia grabs a wicker basket full of letters from his front seat. After dropping Ira off at the emergency room Luke leaves, but Sophia decides to hang back for a little while. In doing this she begins snooping through Ira’s letters which then opens up the film for a two for the price of one scenario as we see the parallel stories of Sophia and Luke and Ira and Ruth (Oona Chaplin) unfold while teaching us all a lesson or two about what it takes to truly make love work. Spanning generations these two intertwining love stories help The Longest Ride deliver all you could want from a film like this if you’re paying today’s ticket prices to see it, but maybe even a little more since the film runs at an unnecessary two hour and ten minutes.

There are, of course, many issues one could take with the film given the whole plot device of the letters that Sophia discovers and ends up reading to Ira as he can no longer read them for himself (even with his glasses) are all simply descriptions of events that both a young Ira and Ruth experienced together despite the letters supposedly being for Ruth. I mean, I’m sure it’s sweet to Ruth (who also happens to love the arts) that her husband makes an attempt to capture their love by recounting it through his writing, but it would have been easier had Sparks made this a diary or even if screenwriter Craig Bolotin would have changed this detail from the book. No matter the source of the flashbacks another problem the film runs into is that hearing Ira and Ruth’s story requires Sophia visit the elder Ira every time they want to return to the past and while it is somewhat necessary to establish a relationship between Ira and Sophia that is critical to the third act, it also draws out earlier portions of the film that could be tightened. Making the film feel all the more generic is the look of it. While the music and editing of the trailer made this out to be somewhat enchanting in a way most melodramatic love stories of the Sparks variety are not, the film still ends up with the same aesthetic as every other movie in the genre that makes it feel as broad as possible with no distinctive touch to separate it from the pack. I hoped with Tillman behind the camera and cinematographer David Tattersall (The Green Mile, the Star Wars prequel trilogy and a large collection of others, but no prior Sparks adaptations) that we might get something a little more in tune with the emotions at stake. Instead, it all feels more small scale while the multi-generational story covering decades of emotions should be met with something more intimate while being able to encapsulate the gravity of the cause and effect themes the story is playing with. There is a single war scene meant to signify the determination of young Ira (Jack Huston) to get back to Ruth, but it is shot in such a way it feels like the cheapest thing in the film and is unable to conjure up the necessary tension because the scale is so obvious.

On the plus side is the fact the performances are charming enough. While it will always be argued they are pulled down by the sappy, hokey and generally manipulative stories that Sparks spews at this point (he’s seventeen books in and still working with the same archetypes) all the main players here are at least trying and come off more credible than I thought possible. I knew Robertson was rather good as her stand-out performance in Dan in Real Life at the age of seventeen is the thing I will always relate to her, but whether or not Eastwood junior could carry a leading role was yet to be seen. In short, he does what is required of him here which is largely to be the southern gentleman and take his shirt off numerous times so as to justify that aforementioned ticket money the ladies seeing this spent on good faith this is what they’d be receiving. While Robertson and Eastwood are fine enough together their love story hardly merits a film as their “conflict” could easily be resolved were they two level-headed human beings (which Sophia is, for the most part). The more interesting story is so obviously that of Ira and Ruth it hurts that this is seen by the filmmakers as the secondary tale. Rather than just questioning whether or not they will end up together (which is the sole dramatic leg Sophia and Luke’s story stands on) we get some genuinely moving moments between Ira and Ruth as we clearly see how much they love one another despite the compromises they must make to be with one another. It is more the tests that life throws at them that make us question if their relationship will be able to remain strong. The chemistry between Huston and Chaplin is also all the more palpable as Oona is especially charming and exudes a charisma that is effortless and helps us understand why Ira found so much to adore about her. Had the film just been the story of Ira and Ruth it might have proved more honest, but in tying in a present story so as to display that most love requires sacrifice for the greater good makes it feel just the right amount of hackneyed so that Sparks can pack some kind of third act revelation into the narrative rather than delivering a simple yet relatable human tale.

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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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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