Three Very Different Movies Examine What It Takes to Get the Job Done: Guts

By BILL GEIGER | Jun 20, 2018

Summer officially arrives this week, the solstice occurring on Thursday at 6:07 a.m., the longest day of the year. This means, at about 39 degrees north latitude, LBI’s latitude, daylight on June 21 lasts about 12 hours and 8 or 9 minutes. More time for movie watching!

Guts – in the forms of tenacity, resilience and courage – is the theme uniting the three disparate films we have on our plate this week.

In the documentary “Pope Francis: A Man of his Word,” we have the pontiff calling out the wealthy countries of the world as the prime suspects in the devastation of the environment and the ruination of Earth’s climate, all to the detriment of the world’s poor, who seem to be the primary recipients of all the negative effects of climate change. Francis is relentless in his urging the leaders of the world to consider their home, Earth, when they make decisions that might adversely affect the environment.

In the solo titled “Adrift,” Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) must draw upon her unknown reserve of intestinal fortitude to care for her injured lover and plot a course with limited food across the Pacific when their sailboat is capsized and nearly destroyed by the force of the winds and waves of a monster hurricane. Tami’s experience shows how resilient a person can be when catastrophe strikes and how the survival drive kicks in when almost everything is taken away.

And finally, in our big show this week, “Ocean’s 8,” we learn both in dialogue and visually that Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has spent the previous five years in the slammer, having been set up by former lover and art dealer Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) and left to take the rap for an art deal gone bad. While she’s in jail, Debbie’s brother Danny dies (George Clooney played him in “Ocean’s 11,” “12” and “13”), and Debbie uses her time to brood over, think about, then concoct the perfect plan to get even with Claude while also robbing the Metropolitan Museum of Art out of a $150 million necklace. She knows in her heart Danny would be proud.

Now, does that plan take intestinal fortitude? You betcha! Is it the same kind of courage displayed in the other two films? Not really, but all eight of the “Ocean’s” characters need to have a certain amount of courage to pull off the theft of a lifetime. They need courage and timing, the two things necessary to make their plan succeed.

In “Pope Francis: A Man of his Word,” the Argentinian-born pontiff is followed around by the cameras of director Wim Wenders, a German auteur in the tradition of the New Wave film movement. Wenders has been nominated for an Oscar three times, and is known for his films “Paris, Texas” (1984), “Wings of Desire” (1987) and “Until the End of the World” (1994), among many others. Lately he has been edging his artistic talent toward the documentary, where he can explore people and places in a non-fictional approach.

Francis, surely one of the most popular pontiffs in recent memory, has solidified his place in history by sticking to the tenets of the saint whose name he chose as his own, St. Francis of Assisi. In fact, the film devotes time between the modern Francis, head of the Holy See, and his namesake, showing the life of Francis of Assisi, a humble man born in the mountains of Perugia. These segments are in black and white, and stand as a testimony to the life and beliefs of the saint, his work with the poor and the marginalized, and why the modern Francis chose that particular name as his papal name.

“Pope Francis” points the camera at the pontiff, and allows him to speak on the topics of his choosing, most of which show his inclinations toward helping the poor, those in prison and those sick or fighting grave diseases. The film shows him traveling the world over, seeking out the less fortunate. He says in the film that everyone needs what he calls the three “T’s,” el trabajo (work), la tierra (the Earth) and el techo, (literally “roof,” but in his idea, a “home”). As long as people have these three things, they will certainly have more-complete lives.

The problem is most people in the world don’t have them, especially the immigrants, so those are the people Francis wants to help. He visits them, goes where they are staying, and ministers to them. So many people want to touch him, or have him touch them, that wherever he goes he is mobbed by people who just want him to touch their sick child, or give them a good word. It is here Francis best emulates his namesake, working with the incarcerated in a Philadelphia prison, as he did on his last visit to the city. He seeks out the marginalized, finds them and tries to help them.

The film is excellent in its intent, and Wenders does a marvelous job intercutting the pontiff speaking to the camera, the shots of him following up with actions what he said in his narrative – note the film’s subtitle, “A Man of his Word” – and the brief segments about St. Francis. It all adds up to a wonderful film about a very special man and what he considers his all-important mission.

While I know you won’t see this film on the marquee of the Regal Manahawkin, try to see it at another theater that might show these “smaller” indie-type films. It’s worth the price, whether you’re a Catholic or not.

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Putting aside all inclinations to make a joke about the title, “Adrift” to my mind is anything but a subject for flippancy. It’s a harrowing account of a young woman’s attempts at surviving on a crippled sailboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about as far away from land as she could possibly be.

Tami Oldham is, by definition, a “free spirit.” Born and raised in San Diego, she hit the road right after high school, and relied on her resourcefulness and her chutzpah to take herself around the world, hitching rides on steamers and sailboats to make the longer trans-Pacific excursions.

Disembarking from a large sailboat in Tahiti, Tami has visions of staying awhile in the South Seas, then moving on to her next adventure. When Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) sails into her life, she is largely unaware of even wanting to fall in love and move into that next phase of her life, but he wins her over, and things begin to look promising for them.

When Richard runs into a pair of friends who would like him to sail their 44-foot yacht Hazana to San Diego from Tahiti, Tami is ambivalent. On the one hand, she would welcome the adventure, especially with Richard, but on the other, she realizes that she’d be going back to San Diego, her home, and is not yet ready to do that.

She finally agrees, and they embark upon what they hope will be a 4,000-mile adventure on a north-northeast path toward mainland USA. Turns out it’s an adventure all right, as right in the middle of their projected course sits Hurricane Raymond, by that time a Category 4 storm which Richard hopes they can get around by sailing north. Not quite.

After what is an upsetting 15- to 20-minute segment, Tami goes below, gets knocked around by the boat capsizing, and wakes up to find their boat crippled, Richard badly hurt, and whatever forward progress they had stopped, the boat basically dead in the water. Richard has broken ribs and a bad break of his leg, a compound fracture, which Tami does her best to clean and bandage.

Summoning up a reserve of bravery she didn’t know she had, Tami rigs up a small sail from what is left over from Raymond, finds their latitude and longitude, useless since their radio is not working but useful in that she can now see where she is and plot a course. She decides it would be better to sail to Hawaii, since it’s closer than going to mainland USA.

With Richard failing more and more every day, Tami does allow herself some bouts of depression, even full-fledged negative hysteria, but she pulls it all together even though she is herself falling in and out of consciousness. Needless to say, her surprise and elation at seeing the outline of Hawaii off the bow of the crippled sailing yacht brings her new life, and the realization that she has made it is euphoric.

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur was well-chosen since he helmed some real action-adventure films such as “The Deep,” “Contraband,” “Everest” and “2 Guns,” the last with Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington. He kept the action going, especially the hurricane scenes, but also allowed for some tender moments between Richard and Tami, and gave the characters the room they needed to fall in love. I thought their love story was realistic and believable, and actually central to the whole film.

Since many of us on LBI go out in boats all the time and venture into the ocean, “Adrift” can be a cautionary tale about the power of the ocean, especially during storms. Let us not forget that.

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The big feature this week is “Ocean’s 8,” the all-female recast of the testosterone-fueled caper flicks “Ocean’s 11,” etc. In truth, “Ocean’s 8” is also a caper flick, and whatever gauge you would need to measure the narrative arc of this film, director Gary Ross kept it firmly grounded in the primacy of the caper.

And of course, the all-star cast is helpful, too.

I already related Debbie Ocean’s backstory, but it is her tenacity, plus her vision for the caper, that keeps the story on point. To make it work, she needs a crack team, and with the help of her longtime friend Lou (Cate Blanchett), she manages to gather a team that she feels could pull it off. To be sure, Debbie has to take the word of a few others (mostly Lou) about how good the person in question is, but when the plan starts working, all the pistons start firing.

The eight are, in no particular order, beside Debbie and Lou, Amita (Mindy Kaling), the jeweler; Tammy (Sarah Paulson), the fence; Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), the pampered, spoiled actress who will wear the necklace; Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), the designer; Nine Ball (Rhianna), the computer hacker; and Constance (Awkwafina), the pickpocket/hustler. After the caper begins to roll, you can easily tell what role each of these women will be playing.

And everyone has a specific role, except – and with apologies to Robert Service – the lady who’s known as Lou (from his poem called “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”). She’s a chef, a getaway driver, even a waiter, kind of like the job foreman, making sure the machine is running to perfection. There might have been signs that it would not, that Debbie might go rogue, looking to settle a score with Claude Becker, but Debbie assures Lou they’re only going to steal the necklace. Yeah, right. You know the direction these films take.

For this film and the caper behind it to work, hair-trigger timing is necessary. As in the other “Ocean” movies, the ladies pull it off, and Ross’ camerawork shows the action working to perfection. I don’t want to spoil anything about how they pull it off, because that’s three-quarters of the fun of the film. That they pull it off at all is a testament to the planning, the timing and the professionalism of the eight women. That’s the rest of the fun part of the film.

“Ocean’s 8” has the pattern of one of these caper films down pat. That’s the one thing that I feel keeps the film from shooting into the stratosphere. Even though the caper is new and they’re stealing the necklace from the Met Gala, one of the most closed and narrow venues possible for this type of theft, it seems we’ve seen all this before. The all-female cast was more of a gimmick than anything.

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