REVIEW: A Walk in the Woods

5 02 2016

In this media-saturated age, most of us go out of our way to avoid watching commercials. So it says something that during “A Walk in the Woods,” I found myself wishing I was watching a commercial. Specifically the Nick Offerman REI one slyly embedded into the film as “plot” but is merely product placement.

Otherwise, the film is as rough and unpleasant a slog as I imagine walking the Appalachian Trail would be. “A Walk in the Woods” repurposes “Wild” for the AARP crowd, giving the aging Baby Boomers played by Robert Redford and Nick Nolte a chance to hit the trails for one big mettle-proving hurrah. Redford’s Bill Bryson is a travel writer yet to explore his home country, while Nolte’s Stephen Katz is the one acquaintance he could snag to tag along.

Neither the estranged quasi-friends nor the difficulty of nature angle prove exciting in the film. In fact, their toughest battle with nature is so blatantly shot against a green-screen that it throws the authenticity of the entire film into question. It’s all predictable banter, predictable challenges and predictable outcomes. If people criticize actors like Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino for taking bad comedy roles to pay the bills in their twilight years, “A Walk in the Woods” demonstrates that they ought to include Redford and Nolte when casting stones. C2stars

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REVIEW: Hateship Loveship

13 08 2014

Hateship LoveshipCraig Johnson, director of the upcoming Kristen Wiig vehicle “The Skeleton Twins,” remarked that even in her funniest moments, there’s a certain sadness to the characters Wiig portrayed.  I had never really thought of the comedienne in such a way, so I scoured YouTube to examine her work through such a lens.  Sure enough, the undercurrent is there in everything from her bit part in “Knocked Up” to her infamous Penelope sketches from “Saturday Night Live.”

In “Hateship Loveship,” we can see what’s left when you drain all the humor out of Wiig – and, as it turns out, it’s quite a morose sight.  She plays her character, Johanna Perry, with all the quietude of a church mouse.  Such restraint turns out to be devastatingly effective in creating a believable woman who is so passive that she practically lacks a personality altogether.

Sadly, the film veers off into such unbelievable directions – particularly in its second half – that it undermines the potential for Wiig’s performance to be a major breakthrough.  The premise of “Hateship Loveship” starts off with promise: Johanna moves into the home of an aging man (Nick Nolte) to be his caretaker and gets catfished by his granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld) in a rather mean-spirited prank.  Yet right when the film seems ready to veer into the realm of the tragic, it takes an unexpected turn.

After this rather shocking development, “Hateship Loveship” seems rather detached from reality.  Characters’ motivations seem hardly plausible, casting a shadow of doubt over the entire film.  The tone gets rather wonky, too.  It’s a pity that director Liza Johnson didn’t model her helming on the restraint and good judgment that Wiig brought to her character.  C2stars





REVIEW: The Company You Keep

27 04 2013

There are all sorts of cinematic experiences you can have these days when going to the movies.  Sometimes, as was the case with Robert Redford’s “The Company You Keep,” I felt like I was mostly just following the events unfold as opposed to actively watching the film.  Sure, I was taking it in, but it reminds me of the experience of reading SparkNotes or a Wikipedia summary – not exactly engaging or satisfying, in other words.

Redford appears to be angling to win the SAG ensemble award on paper with this cast of Oscar winners, nominees, and Shia LaBeouf.  Though with this A(ARP)vengers of ’70s and ’80s greats assembled, you’d think the drama would not be so turgid and lifeless.  It’s stiff and uninteresting as both a journalistic crusade as well as a fugitive thriller.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized this had all the potential to be “All The President’s Men” meets “The Fugitive.”  Both those movies had tension, though, and Redford can’t even manufacture it synthetically with a Cliff Martinez (“Drive,” “Contagion“) score.  The characters also lacked depth, both in terms of emotional development as well as decent dialogue for them to say.  Everyone speaks in self-righteous platitudes in “The Company You Keep,” making for some rather excruciating confrontations.

With all that’s going on these days, an old home-grown terrorist and a young maverick journalist in the era of print media’s growing obsolescence should be a no-brainer for fascinating conflict and thought-provoking meditations on the world we live in.  But it just goes to show the even with the company Redford keeps – Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Brit Marling, Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, and Susan Sarandon – you can’t just throw acclaimed actors and actresses in a pot and expect it to boil.  C+2stars





REVIEW: Gangster Squad

7 01 2013

Gangster SquadThere were two clear paths to success for “Gangster Squad.”  The first would be to follow the “L.A. Confidential” pattern and take a hardboiled approach to period criminality.  Writer Will Beale crafts his screenplay with various neo-noir elements: the post-war moodiness and shadiness, a little bit of moral ambiguity, and of course, the femme fatale (Emma Stone’s red-haired dynamo Grace Faraday).

The second, and perhaps more reasonable, template would have been Brian DePalma’s 1987 “The Untouchables,” a movie that shares quite a few similarities with Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad.”  There’s the borderline insane crime lord of a major city who just happens to be played by a two-time Oscar winner (Sean Penn now, Robert DeNiro then).  Because of that de facto tyrant’s chokehold on that city, a team of top law enforcement officials is tasked with bringing him to his knees.

The only difference is Eliot Ness and the Untouchables stayed within the boundaries of the law.  Josh Brolin’s John O’Mara, Ryan Gosling’s Jerry Wooters, and the rest of the titular merry band of extralegal avengers have no such regard for the rules.  They go outside the law to stop a man who is above the law.  But in such a drastically different detail, little new conclusions are ultimately reached.

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REVIEW: Warrior

2 10 2011

I had the benefit of seeing “Warrior” in August well before critics had really begun to weigh in on the movie, thus alleviating me of the responsibility of sorting out exacerbated expectations.  But after I watched it, rave reviews started rolling in by the dozen.  My response was a lot of head scratching.  What exactly did they see in the movie?

If we are really so desperate for an underdog story in these hard times that “Warrior” is exalted as a great film, then the recession has run a lot deeper than I thought.  Gavin O’Connor’s film is an over two hour snooze, hitting cliché after cliché with no imagination and even less personality.  It has no emotion, no character, no fire in its belly – something especially disappointing that O’Connor is the man who helmed the fantastic “Miracle,” one of the last truly great sports movies.

“Warrior” gives you no reason to care for anyone, not Tom Hardy’s washed-up soldier who wants to deny his heroism, not Joel Edgerton’s struggling teacher who boxes on the side for extra cash, nor their recovering alcoholic father who has estranged these two brothers played by Nick Nolte in a shameless “life imitating art” ploy.  They slowly – and I’m talking molasses slow – train towards the MMA Sparta tournament, Hardy’s Tommy with his father Paddy and Edgerton’s Brendan with an old buddy.  It’s about as moving as watching me type this review.

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