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The Seagull

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Seagull

Let’s get to the tough news first – and then to the good. Anton Chekhov’s novel The Seagull has been made into a movie with a big cast that lasts just one hour and thirty-eight minutes. That is far too short a time for us to absorb, much less to understand all the characters. Result? We struggle to follow them but are foiled by Director Michael Mayer’s determination to shift scenes with the speed of shotgun pellets.

This story of a large house party unfolding in the Russian countryside may be perfectly suited to book or theater form but reduced to an hour and a half, we have a tough task trying to follow the unfolding emotions of the characters. That said, the fine cast delivers Chekhov beautifully. Just enjoy Annette Benning as ageing actress Irina Arkadina, Elizabeth Moss as Masha, and Saoirse Ronan as Nina. And they have grand support.

Irina (Annette Benning) is visiting her brother Sorin (Brian Dennehy) at his country estate. Her son Konstantin (Billy Howle) lives with brother Sorin because how would a famous actress have time to raise him? Irina is accompanied by Boris Trigorin, a celebrity novelist she turns to repeatedly for acknowledgement of her own beauty and talent.

Nina (Saoirse Ronan), an innocent, falls for Trigorin who consumes her without regard for her vulnerability and conveniently rejects Irina for a while. Irina has rejected her son in a similar way and we in the audience are finding it a bit difficult to root for anyone. The sophisticates – and they are obvious – move along their own selfish paths. Does any one of them think supportively of anyone else?

At this point we begin to wish that all Chekov’s characters had a director capable of digging more deeply, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, Michael Mayer handles the camera as if no subject or conversation could last long enough for us to understand what we are seeing. Confrontations are broken by the shifting camera. The story is fractured and we never learn why.

The characters in Chekhov’s story have a whole weekend to tell their story of a gathering of the famous and their attendees. Perhaps this is a tale that should only be a play or a novel. If director Mayer thought he could deliver all of it in fast cuts, he was wrong. We get quick glances at lives of vanity, misery, fame, art, and money – with a few short looks at love and happiness.

If we cut to the core, it is Annette Benning who soars as she spends her days convincing herself and everyone around her that she is still young, that growing old is not robbing her of either her beauty or her talent. Her son? Her lover? Other guests? They are all her audience. The bulk of the credit goes to Chekhov, of course. Look for some fine acting here and there and just wish the director had concentrated more on that.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : The Seagull
Word Count : 501
Running Time : 1:38
Rating : PG-13
Date : June 9, 2018

This review was posted on June 9, 2018, in Drama.

Adrift

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Adrift

Early warning: I loved and admired Adrift without any reservation and am thoroughly pleased to be able to write about it. Director Baltasar Kormakur delivers the emotions of a young couple as they fall in love and then as they endure the massive hurricane of 1983 at sea.

Because the Icelandic director triggers audience emotion skillfully and without sentimentality, I urge you to leave your critical eye at home and sink into it. If you’re a sailor, don’t crush the mood by picking a fault here or there. Just get into this one with pleasure.

Tami (Shailene Woodley) is wandering the world supporting herself by doing physical work on docks. She is rootless, strong, and independent. Richard (Sam Claflin) is living his life at sea on the boat he has built with his own hands. Neither has a life plan other than to follow their instincts for water and boats. Both are, at the moment, happily rootless and unable to explain what brought each to this longing for the sea.

During a relaxed courtship that unfolds on the water off Tahiti, Richard is offered $10,000 by a couple who need someone to take their boat from there to San Diego. As the couple sails into the rising winds of the hurricane, director Kormakur begins a series of scene shifts between love and hurricane that add up to an extraordinarily moving portrait of these two young people. Nothing about their personalities, their abilities, or their depth of character is a cliché.

The depth and drive that actor Shailene Woodley calls on to create Tami holds us throughout. She is an individual who can be nearly broken by circumstance, but instead, rebounds. She and Sam Claflin create a couple facing death by weather with the same stoicism we saw in the two young people who met as they were building separate lives around the sea. Two lesser actors could easily have turned this couple into a cliché. Instead, the writers have created two young people who fled early family troubles to be near the sea. Each did that alone.

The filming of the storm itself and its effects on these two after 41 days adrift silences the theater. The filmmakers have created a hurricane that reveals nothing of pretend. We feel we are there in both the good and bad times, and that is rarely true in love stories or disaster movies. They have brought all of us right into the middle of the storm that threatens two people we care about quite genuinely. How many times a year do you feel yourself disappear from your theater seat into the story on that great big screen?

When we learn in the final credits that this movie is based on a true story I was surprised to find myself disappointed because I couldn’t quite believe the real players could possibly have been as quietly strong as those created by Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin. Please, just go.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Adrift
Word Count : 501
Running Time : 1:38
Rating : PG-13
Date : June 3, 2018