Adrift (2018)

Adrift. Released: June 1, 2018. Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, the Ocean. Runtime: 1h 36 min.

“Adrift” is a lost-at-sea survival drama based on a true story, a welcome change of pace of summer survival movies after survival against sharks the past two summers (“The Shallows” and “47 Meters Down” respectively).

Characters still fight for survival, but a shark isn’t an obstacle. Instead, Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley, also producing) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) deal with the aftermath of being caught in a Category 4 hurricane.

We’re put into the story right when Tami wakes up after the hurricane. The screenplay takes us between survival drama and romance as we’re told their story through flashbacks. The jumps back in time sometimes span multiple scenes, and as the film advances there are shorter scenes as the timeline catches up to the present, where Tami and Richard are “adrift” in the Pacific Ocean.

The transitions are creative. There’s a scene where Tami sails Richard’s sailboat, the Mayaluga, for the first time and she shouts in excitement. It’s a moment of euphoria that switches to distress as it slams forward in time as Tami shouts for Richard, unable to find him. The story structure helps for pacing. Though, it takes a while for the hurricane scene to actually happen –it’s great when it comes, especially because of the immersive sound design.

The constant switch between the two genres helps it feel diverse, as too many consecutive scenes of the survival portion and it starts to feel flat. The scenes of romance between the two adventurous characters is also nice because Woodley and Claflin have a nice chemistry. There a lot of sweet flashback scenes, and there are also pretty moments on the boat before all hell breaks loose.

We don’t get to know a lot about Tami before she sets sail other than she and Richard like sailing, she’s traveling the world and is a free spirit who doesn’t want to go home. Shailene Woodley’s consistently good and that’s no different here. She plays romantic very well and makes those scenes feel sincere. After the hurricane hits, we learn the character’s resourceful and it’s great watching Woodley get into the psyche of survival. She plays the moments of strength, as well as heartbreaking moments of vulnerability, really well.

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Sam Claflin and Shailene Woodley in Adrift. (IMDB)

Sam Claflin is good, too, but he has so much more to do during the romantic part of the film and doesn’t do much during the survival because of his injuries. His performance will frequently be an afterthought to Woodley.

There are a few surprises in the story, which is nice, and while it sometimes feels derivative of other survival movies, it’s very much fueled by the strong connection between the characters. It’s a faithfully adapted screenplay written by twin screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kendall (part of the writing team on Pixar’s “Moana”), who wrote it with Woodley in mind to star. Writer David Branson Smith (“Ingrid Goes West”) also joined as a writer later.

The film’s directed by Baltasar Kormákur, returning to the survival genre after 2015’s “Everest,” and it’s a good return to the genre. He gets great performances from his primary cast, and there aren’t many other principal cast members to direct. The only ones important to the story include an older couple, Peter (Jeffrey Thomas) and Christine (Elizabeth Hawthorne). They give Tami and Richard $10,000 to sail their yacht back to California, and are the reason why the couple cross paths with the hurricane.

Partly due to the lack of supporting cast, Kormákur easily makes the Ocean feel like the film’s third star. This is also assisted by the amazing cinematography by Oscar winner Robert Richardson (“Hugo,” “The Aviator”, “JFK”) who captures the scope of the direness of the characters’ situation. He makes every scene look beautiful, and that more than makes up for where the film lacks in non-stop tension.

Score: 75/100

Mr. 3000 (2004)

Released: September 17, 2004. Directed by: Charles Stone III. Starring: Bernie Mac, Angela Bassett, Michael Rispoli. Runtime: 1h 44 min.

I decided to review this because I’m about to reach 3,000 tweets on Twitter and I thought this would be a review of a movie with ‘3000’ in the name would mark the occasion. 

Bernie Mac stars as the very, very self-confident (fictional) Stan Ross in Mr. 3000. He got the name by reaching 3,000 hits playing for the Milwaukee Brewers. He thinks the name is synonymous with greatness and he talks about the name like it’s his big-headed alter ego or superhero name. Granted – Stan Ross would make a boring movie title.

He’s so obsessed with the name that the moment he achieved 3000 hits, he quit the game and abandoned the Brewers in July in the middle of a pennant race (even for fiction that’s totally unacceptable). Now it’s nine years later in 2004 and he’s the owner of the Mr. 3000 Shopping Centre and desperately wants into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Fact checking uncovers that he’s only Mr. 2997 because of a clerical error. Since his name simply loses meaning, the 47-year-old goes back to the MLB to try to get his 3,000-hit crown back.

Interestingly, if Ross were real, he would be tied for 30th on the career hitting record list with Roberto Clemente, who finished with 3,000 hits over 18 seasons, ending with a .317 batting average. The film’s writers did some research since they say Ross finished with a .314 batting average and if we assume he started playing at 20 – he’d have played about 18 seasons.

I think his ego would have prevented him from retiring when he did since he would have had a couple of good years left. Since he wants to be the best – you’d think he would just keep climbing up the hitting leader boards instead of being content with 30th. I digress and accept that he quit so he can have the name, just since the premise is amusing.

The baseball realism was lacking since he was brought up with September call-ups into the big leagues without doing spring training or any sort-of rehab games. I know he’s one of the greatest (fictional) hitters of all-time, but the guy hasn’t played pro ball in nine years.

He basically has a month to just get three hits, and when he starts striking out left and right it’s hard to believe since he was one of the best hitters of his time. Even though it’s about bringing old school into new school and trying to show how much the game has changed, I’m not believing that he’s going to be hitting like Mario Mendoza (one of the worst hitters in history).

It’s only plausible he stays in the Majors because the Brewers are fifth out of six teams in their division and because his presence sells tickets. High stakes are removed for the Brewers because they’re in a terrible position and the only thing they can play for is a respectable finish. It just leaves Stan to root for, but that’s hard because he’s such a jerk – plus, since he has a month to get three lousy hits, the stakes aren’t that high.

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Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) demands his 3,000th hit ball back from a fan at the film’s beginning. (Source)

It’s an entertaining film and Bernie Mac is believable as the title character; he’s touching at times and keeps the Ross from always being unlikable. Still, the character and his arrogance is the film’s biggest hurdle. It doesn’t help that there’s another Brewers player – Rex “T-Rex” Pennebaker (Brian White) who’s just like Stan. Rex needs a slice of humble pie, but Stan needs the whole bakery.

If you can get past Stan’s arrogance, it’s fun because Mac is funny as the character when his ego’s in check. One of my favourite moments is when Stan is working out and he looks like a fool because he’s so out of shape. It’s delightful that he’s put in his place, and his silence is nice. Then he’s fit again and his cockiness returns. It’s not good character work if one of my favourite aspects is the main protagonist looking like an idiot.

Angela Bassett’s a highlight as ESPN reporter Mo Simmons. She’s one of Stan’s old flames, and brings a natural charm to Mr. 3000 and keeps the man himself grounded. He is way easier to tolerate when she’s around. Before she’s there, he’s an ass – even with the charming Bernie Mac playing him. Some of his worst moments are calling his new team little leaguers.

There are a few memorable laughs, especially a joke that Japanese pitcher Fukuda (Ian Anthony Dale) doesn’t know how to swear properly. The pay-off’s funny when teammates try to teach him. Some of the jokes about how old Stan is fall flat, but there are a few funny ones including one about Viagra.

It’s a mediocre feature but it becomes an entertaining sports movie at the literal halfway point. Before that it had a handful of chuckles but it never gets fun until Stan starts enjoying the game of baseball, too, and learning that it’s not all about him.

Score: 60/100

How to Be Single (2016)

 

Released: February 12, 2016. Directed by: Christian Ditter. Starring: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann. Runtime: 1hr 50 min.

Based on Liz Tuccilo’s book of the same name, How to Be Single is a totally mixed bag on tips of living the single life and an occasionally hilarious story.

It concerns Dakota Johnson’s Claire, who right out of college jumped into a relationship with Josh (Nicholas Braun) and being a woman of New York, she wants to try out the single life for a brief spin to know if she truly wants to be with Josh the rest of her life.

When she’s done with her flings with a bartender named Tom (Anders Holm, The Intern), she tries to go back to Josh but he’s found someone else. So now she has to navigate through life with her trusty party hardy sidekick Robin, portrayed by Rebel Wilson, on an adventure in learning that she doesn’t need a man to define who she is as an independent woman.

By no means a terrible film, How to be Single simply suffers from a plaguing lack of comedic momentum, or gaining any, for that matter.

The seriously big laughs only come on occasion without succession, but the sentiment of the picture is still in the right place.

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Rebel Wilson and Dakota Johnson in How to Be Single (Source)

Dakota Johnson is an awkward delight as Alice, where she often charms and rarely bores. Rebel Wilson is a good addition, as well – even though a late storyline feels random. The screenwriters also leave her character out for long periods of time when I was just begging for her comic relief.

A big problem of the film is just how many characters the film thinks it needs to tell its story.

Throughout the film Alice is sexually involved with three men, and we don’t really need that many characters to make her realize she doesn’t need someone to make her happy.

At certain points, when a story-line gets introduced and then continued later, it ends more abruptly than feels at all natural. It just wraps a tiny bow on it and then boom, we’re done with that character.

Alice’s sister, Meg (Leslie Mann) represents the single woman who wants a relationship but is terrified of it. Because… Reasons. She’s a bit frantic and nutty, and forgettable. She seems to be shocked that a young buck, Jake Lacy’s Ken, is attracted to her and she assumes it’s a joke or he just likes the novelty of being with an older woman.

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Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann and Dakota Johnson in How to Be Single. (Source)

She’s frankly more annoying than anything. Her significant other, in turn, is rendered annoying and expendable by association – but admirable for putting up with her insanity.

Alison Brie also makes a frequent appearance, representing the online dating addict. She doesn’t fit into the narrative quite as smoothly as the others, not sharing any dialogue with the three other primary actresses, but she’s fine for her role.

The plot is muddled because of how many characters there are. The cast is attractive and fine as the characters, but the scope of it makes a simplistic premise into something that is needlessly complex. Because of this, it squanders a lot of potential.

It definitely has the laughs intact because of the original novel’s clever humour, but it should retain the simplicity of something like 2014’s That Awkward Moment, but that one forgot the laughs. At least that film knew not to have a huge character list like Valentine’s Day, and kept it simple, stupid.

Instead, we are left with an occasionally funny, run of the mill comedy that says it’s okay to be single.

It can be the best times of your life. The laughs are all there, but it trips over itself too much in an overlong anti-romantic comedy.

2.5 out of 4

The Choice (2016)

 

Released: February 5, 2016. Directed by: Ross Katz. Starring: Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Alexandra Daddario. Runtime: 1hr, 51 min.

Life will give you many choices. It will give you the choice to see this film. Don’t.

The Choice opens with Benjamin Walker’s Travis talking about how life is full of choices – and he “has to make a big one,” while he’s on his speed boat on the lake in his North Carolina coastal town. He then goes to the hospital with a bouquet of flowers, wondering how Gabby (Teresa Palmer) is doing. Then, it says seven years later.

To me, this is a spoiler in itself. I thought this took me out of the movie experience – because when there was enough time for seven years to pass, I was expecting in the back of the mind for Gabby to go into the hospital.

I don’t mind when a film starts with a scene from the middle of the narrative. It works effectively for complex films like Memento.  But it most certainly doesn’t work for a film that is as simplistic and predictable as a sappy Nicholas Sparks feature.

I’m not sure if the screenwriter, Bryan Sipe, decided to open the film this way because it’s the way the novel opens – or if the editor just plopped it there – but it’s definitely my main complaint of the film.

The story itself is about Travis, a veterinarian, who doesn’t like anything that doesn’t come easy. He’s the type of guy who only has one chair looking onto the water, even though he’s been on and off with Monica (Alexandra Daddario) since high school.

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Teresa Palmer and Tom Wilkinson in The Choice. (Source)

He then meets Gabby, a new neighbour who immediately bothers him. It’s a recurring line in the film – which is about how crappy the dialogue gets. Even though Gabby is seeing Ryan (Tom Welling), they start a relationship, which is challenged by life’s biggest tests.

The film has some funny moments and great cinematography (kudos, Alar Kivilo), but the screenplay is only sporadically entertaining. It is at least more charming than bland. At least it isn’t as totally bonkers as the ending from Safe Haven or as unrealistic as the opening of The Lucky One where Zac Efron found a pretty girl just from a picture almost immediately.

Ross Katz isn’t able to direct strong performances from a usually good Teresa Palmer, and Benjamin Walker is nothing memorable. Alexandra Daddario, Maggie Grace and Tom Wilkinson have good supporting performances. Tom Welling (Smallville) is there for a time, but Superman doesn’t seem to put the utmost effort into his performance.

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Teresa Palmer and Benjamin Walker in The Choice. (Source)

I did find myself enjoying the film for the first hour. But I never found myself caring deeply for the characters. They were developed weakly with nothing more than a few qualities.

And the main “choice” of the film wasn’t introduced until around the 85-minute mark. It’s a whole new development that’s brought on by something that is truly ridiculous.

There’s a good emotional moment in the film’s last third, but the third act feels like it is much longer than it actually is. With these characters, I would have been fine with a 90-minute movie. It felt like it could have ended at a certain point – and I felt like I was nearly scot free with a short film.

But then the story line held me for what felt like an hour longer (probably about 30 minutes in real time). By that point, I was exhausted – no matter how lovely the film looked.

2 outta 5

 

 

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

 

Released: February 5, 2016. Directed by: Burr Steers. Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston. Runtime: 1hr, 48 min.

When pride met prejudice in the 1813 Jane Austen novel, there were most certainly no zombies. Fast forward to the zombie craze in cinema over 200 years later, and the storyline is full of ‘em. Hey, at least PPZ sounds cool.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies concerns the two primary characters Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam D’Arcy, who are essentially the same as the original novel, but they both have a penchant for killing zombies.

In the film, Bennett likes the look of D’Arcy, smiling at him and D’Arcy observes that she is muscular but “not so much to look unfeminine.”

What ensues is a hell of a lot of hate between the two that somehow boils into romance. And there’s a hell of a lot of zombies that seemed to come after the Black Plague and they threaten to take over England in the early 1800s.

This version is based on the novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (co-written by Jane Austen, who I guess came back from the dead to help write it), and it’s as mediocre as you might expect.

It aspires to be harmless entertainment in the likes of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but it really isn’t much fun.

The narratives are kind-of bland. Elizabeth still doesn’t like the idea of being pushed into a marriage without affection – but another reason is because she doesn’t want to trade a sword for a ring.

Women also can’t be well-trained and well-educated, it’s one or the other. Elizabeth also learned zombie attack training in China, instead of Japan where the higher social class studied their fighting skills.

The character sisters in this film, while they have a good chemistry, talk about their love lives over choreographed sword fights instead of just around a table – so that amps up the dialogue ever-so-slightly. The director, Burr Steers (who also penned the adapted screenplay) ensures to show a lot of skin and heaving bosoms of the lovely sisters.

It’s relatively new territory for Steers, but he does well with the fight scenes, but there still isn’t a lot of excitement in the big action set pieces. Still: It’s decent for a guy whose previous credits are directing Zac Efron in teen comedy 17 Again and the moody drama Charlie St. Cloud.

The dialogue is decidedly pretentious, trading something like, “Dude, the undead are rising,” to “the undead reach out from beneath the wet Earth.” Or something like that.

The costume, set and production designs are attractive, but usually come with the territory for period pieces.

Lena Headey has a turn as a sadistic Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who is a famed zombie slayer who sports an eye patch.

Her introduction is a brief, random 10-second thing of her screaming in victory on top of a pile of zombies with her eye newly missing. That is one way to assert that she is a dominant woman not to be crossed.

The exchanges between characters are forgettable and so is the chemistry between leads Lily James (Cinderella) and Sam Riley (Maleficent), even though they do fine separately.

The PG-13 zombie violence is a high point of the film – which isn’t saying much because it’s tame.

Many are coming for the zombies, but it’s very much a boring romance. It could be called a rom-zom, with the zom in zombies the only redeemer.

2 outta 5

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

Hundred-Foot JourneyReleased: August 8, 2014. Directed by: Lasse Hallströme. Starring: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal. Runtime: 122 min.

Lasse Hallströme helms another adaptation (his follow-up to the awfully silly “Safe Haven”), this time written by Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises”) and adapted from The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais; a novel about cooking, not walking.

It follows the Kadam family, who move to France from India to both start anew (especially after the main character’s mother dies) and escape local political violence. Hassan (Manish Dayal) is the main protagonist who has a passion for food. He and his family open up a traditional Indian restaurant next door to Madame Mallory’s (Helen Mirren) French cuisine restaurant that has received one out of a three possible Michelin stars from the annual Michelin Guidebook.

The one star is to say that “it is a very good restaurant in its category.” The film basically depicts the uptight Mallory wanting another Michelin star (which says the restaurant has “excellent cooking and is worth a detour”). She can’t get her hopes up too high for a third star, because as one character describes it – that is for “the Gods.”

Officially, the guidebook says that it has “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” This leads me to believe the film’s title has a dual meaning – saying that Mallory’s restaurant is worth the journey to eat at; and the main meaning is that the Kadam family opens their restaurant one-hundred feet away from hers. As if the struggles of opening an Indian restaurant in France were not difficult enough.

Mirren is good as Mallory, and it’s interesting to see her relax throughout the film. Also good is Om Puri as Hassan’s grandfather, whose stubborn nature brings humour to the lightly entertaining film – especially matched against Mallory’s stubborn nature. The stand-out is the young Manish Dayal who plays the passionate cook who doesn’t believe recipes necessarily have to stay the same.

This adds diversity when the film starts to merge Indian cuisine with traditional French cuisine. It also breaks barriers between the cultures, enabling lovely multiculturalism, always a welcome theme in Disney films. Also notable is the memorable Charlotte Le Bon as Hassan’s friend, and employee of Madame Mallory, Marguerite. When the two friends get too competitive, it interrupts the easy-going flow with troubling and frustrating conflict. There’s enough conflict without it, with the constant, but amusing, ways both restaurant owners attract customers. This sub-plot just isn’t enjoyable. At least it’s better than Meryl Streep’s Julia Child voice in “Julie & Julia.”

Score80/100

Drinking Buddies (2013)

Drinking BuddiesReleased: July 25, 2013. Directed by: Joe Swanberg. Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick. Runtime: 90 min. 

Drinking Buddies is an experimental romantic drama/light comedy directed by Joe Swanberg that follows best buddy brewery workers Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) who also like each other, but they both have other romantic interests. This is a film bathed in the idea that beer taints the ability to make good decisions, and you can’t always tell if what you’re doing is right or wrong. It’s like you’re looking at the situation through a glass of beer. This is what helps this film differentiate from other generic romantic drama/comedies, even though this still isn’t good. 

The material at hand just isn’t strong. I learn that the film is entirely improvised, and there wasn’t a script written, only a vague outline of plot and order in which events might take place. This is something that does allow the acting become more believable, but it’s a film that just largely fails. There are just so many other performers who are a lot better at getting laughs from their audience. The actors in this film only get an occasional chuckle. But the cast, also including Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston, is quite charming. 

The banter between them all is sometimes pretty good. They all have a great chemistry, which saves the film a bit. even when it’s a bit awkward at times. But heck, Kendrick could have good chemistry with a wall. The chemistry between everyone is very sweet. It’s a realistic look at relationships and how picking the person you’ll spend your life with is a hard decision. It’s a look at the confusing times of relationships, too. 

Everything’s a bit frustrating because the viewer probably just wants the two couples to swap partners. The film is sometimes frustrating (this is mostly the third act) and sporadically funny. This finds a strange balance between mildly charming (because of the cast) and mildly boring. The characters are okay, just simplistic. This is just all pretty boring and often frustrating, and it’s just intensely forgettable – and it all feels pretty empty by the end of it all.

Score: 50/100