Monday, March 23, 2015

The Case for Going Wild

I have to admit, I was rather blown away by Wild.

Reese Witherspoon wandering around in the bush at first did not hold that appeal.  I have seen Into the Wild and remembered that film depressed me quite a bit. 

Still, the Oscar buzz around this film and a dearth of other material got to me, and as I hadn’t visited the Paramount for a while, I thought it was a good opportunity to go.

And, aforementioned, I was not disappointed.

Witherspoon draws on the real life tale of Cheryl Strayed, a woman plagued by demons and deciding to exorcise them by a multi-month hike up the western United States.  Starting in desert, she goes up mountains, along rivers, through bush and trudges through snow.  The country side throughout is spectacular, and seeing this alone was enough to make me want to do the trek myself – not that I could handle one evening out there without toilet or shower facilities.

Strayed’s tale is told in flashbacks, showing us glimpses of life with her mother (played by the always luminous Laura Dern) and her husband and friends, and then cutting back to the hard trudge of the tramping life, the monotony of camp food and the solitude of the trail.  It’s a tale of ups and downs and, as always, Witherspoon playing a quiet, determined woman is more than capable of holding the whole film together through her solid, strong performance.

More surprising is the way the film also messes with expectations.  A young woman alone on the trail would seem to be a target for all sorts of unwanted male attention, and so almost every male that encounters her appears at first to be a predator waiting to pounce  It is refreshing and reassuring then that most are honest, decent folks whose perception as potential criminals is purely what the audience puts on them.

And the trip itself is extraordinary: over 3 months of hiking, sometimes lacking for food, water and warmth, the occasional warm meal and “camping ground” for those on the trail, an hilarious encounter with a well meaning journalist who just doesn’t listen, a stop over in hippie heaven in the city of Portland and onwards and ever upwards.

The one off note is an incredibly fake fox that finds our feisty female in the middle of the snow covered mountains, but I later assumed it could have been some kind of hallucination so absolutely awful the sequence, so I am going to stick with that interpretation.

Overall though, the film is gritty and hard but ultimately beautiful and, in its own way, enlightening.  Wild doesn’t really seem to refer to the landscape really.  The country side just is.  Wild seems to refer more to Strayed than anything else, and the wilderness seems to tame her.

Verdict: Witherspoon is amazing in a touching, beautiful tale that takes its time telling Strayed’s story, walking with a slow and steady pace.  And the trip through Wild and the destination make it worth the while.  8 Wild Things out of 10.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Case for Ascension

Another Eddie Redmayne film and once again he is the outstanding performance in this one, though in Jupiter Ascending it is for all the wrong reasons.

He plays the bad guy this time, and is channelling some kind of hoarse, unstable alien in a way that none of his fellow “aliens”, including his family, seem to be able to replicate.  If the brief for the role was “go over the top”, then he succeeds in spades, his almost camp performance eliciting outbursts of laughter from the audience in my session whenever he started his deranged shriek.

Though a deranged shriek kind of describes the film itself.  Its bonkers, with amazing visuals and incredible special effects that seem loosely tied to a fairly thin plot.  Mila Kunis as Jupiter continues to shed her Meg Griffin image by being an intergalactic beauty that, through cosmic genetic coincidence, happens to be the exact doppelganger of an expired Queen and so stands to inherit the Earth, unless the remainders of her family stop her.

Jupiter is therefore kidnapped and traded and, worst of all, forced to wear some truly insane outfits, including a large black bondage gown for dinner, all of which she does meekly and mildly.  About the only time she shows any gumption (or sense of character) is in her interactions with her rescuer, Caine, a man-dog in the buff form of Channing Tatum.  The pace slows at these “romantic” moments and the dialogue is allowed to be something other than exposition (sometimes), so there is the chance for Kunis to try and make her character at least likeable, if not someone to actually support.

Personally, I felt more attached to the crew of the starship Aegeis, the military crew assigned to help keep Jupiter safe from the predators out to kidnap and either marry or kill her.  While the elephant-like pilot was a bit odd, the crew of humans, part-humans and robots was pretty awesome, even if their efforts were not always effectual.

The final showdown on Jupiter itself was utterly bonkers.  I have no idea what was happening half the time, and thought I saw some of the set from the Atmosphere Processer from Aliens in amongst the explosions and pyrotechnics from… well, heaps of action movies.

And so, in the end, it is all pretty generic action and adventure, but done with a huge sense of fun and excitement and good pacing.  I have no idea what was happening half the time, but at least I was interested in a way the trailers for Divergent 2 and Seventh Son that preceded the film utterly failed to provoke.

Verdict: Jupiter Ascended may not be in the house of great Sci Fi or action films, but it is on the cusp of being something entertaining and the special effects are as gorgeous as Venus tinged with the destructive power of Mars.  And as for Sean Bean…. Well, does he die in this film too?  7 star signs out of 10.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Case for Being Still

Still Alice is/was an Oscar nom this year, so of course I had to go for it.

In this amazing film, the luminous Julianne Moore shows off her amazing acting mettle, her mega wattage fading as her character, Alice, is diagnosed and then succumbs to early onset Alzheimers disease.  Its an incredible performance, with the film showing us her point of view as her world narrows and her faculties fail and she rather rapidly becomes a shadow of the person she formerly was.

It’s a bit of a shame then that her family is so remarkably perfect.  Perfect husband (played distractingly by Alec Baldwin, who I half expected to pull a Jack Donneghy whenever he started talking) and her perfect older daughter (a successful married lawyer, played a seemingly plastic Kate Bosworth) and her perfect son (doctor in training and womanising yet attentive) and her more rebellious but still gorgeous and intelligent and loving daughter, played by the beautiful but constantly eye-rolling and misunderstood Kristen Stewart).  When Alice is on screen, it is amazing; when her family get more than a few lines, it is close to irritating.

Overall though, I really liked the film.  The central performance is absolutely outstanding and raises the film above the Hallmark quality of the rest of it, even if it has a fairly A-list-ish cast. 

All power to Moore then – she deserves all the accolades.

Verdict: Still Alice is a touching film showing Julianne Moore at her most sympathetic.  It made me wonder about people who aren’t as financially and familially comfortable who find themselves with the same condition, but its hard not to be moved by Moore’s portrayal.  7 letters out of 10.