WILD REVIEW

WILD_movie_poster

Did Reese Witherspoon’s performance drive me wild with praise or RAGE?

The director of Dallas Buyers Club returns with another Oscar contender but can lightning strike twice?

Right, enough questions.

Not bad at all.

I had mixed feelings about Reese Witherspoon. I mean, Legally Blonde? No, no, no.

That was until her Oscar winning turn in Walk The Line. A complete transformation. And she delivers yet again with another solid performance.

So what’s it all about? Wild is basically a chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike (Short and sweet. Hey, no spoilers here).

Jean-Marc Vallee takes on another biopic but this time it just doesn’t quite feel as polished off as Dallas Buyers Club.

Understandably, they are completely different films BUT I found DBC had a lot more story and depth. This is a certainly an engaging if slow burning journey of one woman trying to find herself BUT it just doesn’t quite reach the heights that you expect.

Yves Belanger returns to deliver a visual masterpiece. The cinematography really made use of the locations.  A beautiful backdrop full of life and colour in one shot, desolate and dreary the next.

Witherspoon has more than enough screen presence to keep the film going. Crucial when she’s the main character that we are following for the next two hours!

The film flicks back and forth through Cheryl Strayed’s past as she embarks on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Vallee and Hornby cleverly juxtapose the flashbacks with the past and present well. Revealing Strayed’s demons and darker moments as the journey becomes more strenuous. The challenge continuing to test her by the day.

The inner monologues from Strayed were a nice touch. Some of her one liners were quite funny; “Morning. Cold mush. Afternoon. Cold mush. Evening. Cold mush. I love cold mush.”

Her initial struggle was quite humourous for any amateur hiker (*Cough* Me* Cough*). Wrestling with her monster backpack, failing to set up her tent, buying the wrong gas canister for her cooker.

The pace worked for the majority of the film as Strayed dealt with the ever-changing temperatures; searing heat in the desert to the sub-zero temperatures of the snowfall that was never supposed to hit.

There were some interesting revelations. Some that did surprise me. Others you could suss. As Cheryl delved further into the wild, you couldn’t help but feel an air of unease and suspense. The wildlife creeping in the dark.

The paranoia of the unknown made for a funny incident involving a caterpillar and a sleeping bag. BUT it also made for a tense one. A pair of hunters make an unpleasant and unwelcome appearance.

I loved some of the metaphorical imagery. The fact Cheryl is literally standing in the middle of a crossroads as she debates hitching a ride all the way back home was hardly subtle but nicely done.

The CGI fox was a little irritating. I mean, it was a nice moment when it first appeared but when it kept popping up, it was irritating and the CGI seemed to get worse.

Strayed certainly meets a strange bunch of characters. The only problem is that they aren’t quite as memorable as you hope them to be.

I actually had to do a quick recap by looking at the cast list. A shame.

Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom) was very good as Paul (Cheryl’s estranged partner). I thought Sadoksi and Witherspoon had great chemistry. It would have been nice to see more of their relationship. I mean the flashbacks zip through the life cycle of the relationship quite well but a little too quickly for my liking.

Laura Dern did a good performance as Strayed’s mum, Bobbi but Oscar worthy? I’m not so sure.

She certainly played the part well and I felt for her character in the small flashbacks she appeared in BUT then again let’s not forget that Dame Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love and she was only in that for 8 minutes!

However, there was one scene in which Bobbi just breaks down after hiding behind her scatty, smiley mask for so long and Dern was outstanding. But I wanted more. There just wasn’t enough of that in the film for me.

The more I thought about the story line and the characters Strayed came across, it reminded me a little too much of Sean Penn’s brilliant travel biopic (coincidentally titled) Into the Wild. The beautiful landscapes, the flashbacks, a likeable lead (in Emile Hirsch).

I mean, even the whole “meeting different people who share their stories” spiel bared a striking resemblance (but with more memorable characters). If you were unlucky not to see this; first go see it and second, Wild may fare a bit better for you than it did for me.

BUT to those who have seen the Penn pic, you may find it hard not to make comparisons which Wild falls just a little bit short.

My main qualm about the film was that despite dipping in pace, it just ended so abruptly.

A quick quote and a summary of what happened next. That’s it?! We didn’t even get to see Strayed finish the trail properly.

I just felt after all that time, it would have been nice to have a few more minutes flashing through Strayed’s life after this spiritual journey to let it come full circle.

I won’t spoil anything but as Strayed explains her life in the closing speech, I couldn’t help but notice a massive continuity error with the time frame in which the events leading up and after her trail were supposed to have happened. It just didn’t add up.

It was a bum note on a well acted and highly watchable drama.

Witherspoon certainly does enough to warrant that Oscar nod but Best Actress? I don’t know.

But if you want a well acted spiritual journey flick to break up the hum drum heading our way, then invest.

3/5

Advertisements

LONE SURVIVOR REVIEW

lone_survivor_xlrg

Marky Mark bosses it with the Fuzzy Bunch in this mixed bag of a military drama.

Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah in late June 2005. However, they are soon left to fight for their lives in one of the most valiant efforts of modern warfare.

I was a little hesitant when Peter Berg’s name flashed across the screen. At his best; the highly entertaining TV series Friday Night Lights. At his worst, Battleship. Yikes.

However, the film opened with an intense training montage (featuring real archive footage) of SEALS enduring all sorts of intense situations and physical conditions. My attention instantly grabbed.

We were thrown straight into the mix with a bloodied Wahlberg being operated on. His voiceover throwing us back to the build up before the cursed operation. Unfortunately with such a poor choice in film title, you have a gist of what’s going to happen, it’s just the how.

The pace took a hit as we had 30 minutes of cliched exchanges and muscle bound machismo as the team bonded and “hazed the new guy”. Berg had a great cast at his disposal and the leading SEALS played their parts well. The camp shenanigans should have added extra depth to the characters BUT if anything, it made them quite stocky and one dimensional.

The running contest between Hirsch and Kitsch was corny as hell. We even had a wonderful Powerpoint presentation explaining the . . . plot. It was great to see Eric Bana BUT his passive role was a waste of the actor’s talents.

Once the SEALS reached the checkpoint surrounding the Taliban compound; things finally livened up. The tension mounted as Hirsch’s Dietz struggled to maintain signal as the team got closer to their target.

“That’s not a knife, that’s a f*cking duck!”. Where Berg excelled in suspense and action, he struggled in keeping the tone of the film. The aforementioned line was a perfect example. Berg implored humour in all the wrong places in an attempt to lighten the severity of the situation BUT it just came off hammy. I was laughing for all the wrong reasons.

The accidental ambush by Taliban farmers was nail bitingly tense with the SEALs apprehending them to maintain their cover. Berg tackled the moral and ethical dilemma that soldiers face in such dangerous situations. The brewing argument between Axelson (Ben Foster) and Luttrell spoke volumes as they discussed killing or releasing the civilian farmers.

I was happy to see Foster given a bigger role. I’ve been impressed with his acting since the (incredibly underrated) TV movie, Bang Bang You’re Dead.

The film got better with the action coming thick and fast. The POV sniper shots and slow motion were executed brilliantly. The Taliban, for most of the film, were portrayed as ruthless menaces relentless in their attacks, never giving the SEALS a moment to recover.

However, although exhilarating, it soon dragged on with one sequence, involving the team rolling down a cliff to evade capture, coming off unintentionally comical. I lost count of how many times the SEALS were shot, crushed and battered. And the death toll on the Taliban was bordering Rambo 3 territory. Oh and the roll, my goodness, it was like Homer’s cliff falling scene in The Simpsons. There were actually a few titters in the audience.

Thankfully an unexpected explosive moment brought a passive Wahlberg to the forefront. The first 90 minutes was the story of the unit. The final 30 minutes was Luttrell’s story as he evaded capture and hid with some Afghan farmers who were just as anti-Taliban as the SEALS.

Shah and Tarik, the lead terrorists, were incredibly passive and weak. They really were one dimensional, if not for a discouraging decapitation scene. The real depth was provided by Ali Suliman as Gulab, the sympathetic farmer who did everything to save Marcus at the risk of his and his son’s (Nicholas Patel) lives.

As the film came to its explosive finale, the closing minutes packed a sobering punch with a fitting tribute to the men that lost their lives in that unfortunate operation. Berg highlighted the bureaucracy of the US military and the poor organisation in which the unit were left stranded for so long with poor technical equipment.

Luttrell’s heartfelt gratitude to Gulab really hit home. Unfortunately, Berg had too many faces flying about, that I had to remember who was who, when they showed real footage of the people they had portrayed. It was great to see Marcus and Gulab’s reunion.

All in all, a mixed bag. The tone of the film, like the ambush, was all over the place but what can be commended was what these men went through.

An engaging affair that could have been cut by a good half hour and been better for it. Great acting and good action set pieces save a muddled biopic riddled with unintentional jokes and mixed messages.

3/5