Director: Phillipe Falardeau
Writer: Margaret Nagle
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Corey Stoll, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany
Release date: October 3rd, 2015
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Countries: USA, Kenya, India
Running time: 110 minutes
Release date: December 5th, 2014
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Running time: 115 minutes
Any movie placing the word ‘wild’ in its title – no matter how big, small, good, or bad – is taking a major risk before release. Tackling one of cinema’s most popular adjectives, this word is a cliche not worth tripping over. Though fulfilled heartily in The Wild Bunch and The Wild One, movies like Wild Hogs, Wild, Wild West, and The Wild highlight this trope’s overt simplicity. Oscar-hungry drama Wild, grappling wholeheartedly with the cliche, appears wholly obvious and generic.
Despite the title’s simplicity, there’s a saying everyone should cling onto before seeing Wild: you can’t judge a book by its cover. In fact, the movie’s poster is surprisingly simple. Presenting its lead character, the American wilderness, and neat stylistic choices, the poster promises everything audiences expect nowadays from small-budget performance pieces. Fortunately, despite its many flaws, this walkabout is worth taking. Just make sure to see it with an open mind and a box of tissues. Wild delivers a story drenched in heart, heartache, and heartbreak. Our poster-hogging character is thirty/forty-something traveller Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon). After a string of poor choices, disappointing outcomes, and failed reboots, Strayed decides to venture down a well-known, well-worn path. Walking the United States’ notorious, over-1000-mile Pacific Crest Trail, from the US-Mexico border in California to the US-Canada border in Washington State, Strayed fashions her three-month trip as the ultimate jumpstart. Having divorced nice-guy husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski), Strayed reflects upon her adulterous indiscretions and addiction problems. Along the way, we see – via flashback – Strayed interacting with optimistic mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) and snarky brother Leif (Keene McRae).
On her tumultuous trip through America’s unrelenting mid-section, Strayed meets several bright and enthusiastic characters serving as significant bursts of energy. In recent cinema history, survival-thrillers/road-trip flicks have relied on roller-coaster-like pacing, visceral gore, blockbuster storytelling tropes, and CGI-driven worlds. Dodging Life of Pi‘s visual stimulus, Tracks‘ sweeping scope, and Cast Away‘s volleyball/Angry Tom Hanks sequences, Wild carries is tried-and-true formula across the windy, dangerous path less taken. Shifting gracefully between major plot-points and interactions, director Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club) bolsters this ombre tale with a real-world approach. Similarly to The Way, the movie’s grounded narrative analyses one of history’s most sumptuous activities. Despite Hollywood and the general public’s lack of interest in the PCT, this drama – based on Strayed’s real-life memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail – makes a compelling argument for travelling, spiritual guidance, and self-worth. Across the vast stretch of land, the movie falls for Strayed’s gripping adventure. learning whilst doing, our hero seeks human interaction, core strength, and re-birth. Finally, another well-intentioned female character! Proving the journey is more valuable than the destination, the story, revolving around her intensifying character arc, is worthwhile. Despite this, the heavy-handed symbolism – outlined by Strayed’s run-ins with a poorly-rendered creature – adds little to the story or message.
“I’m lonelier in my real life than I am out here.” (Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), Wild).
Infatuated with the Western world’s untouched landscapes, the European filmmaker fuses its gut-wrenching story with a thought-provoking agenda and sterling comedic jaunts. Like with his preceding effort, his style draws life from generic plot-points and characters. Trudging the arduous dirt path, as the movie switches from lively road-trip flick to dour relationship-drama/character study, Vallee, Witherspoon, and screenwriter Nick Hornby hold our interest throughout the 115-minute run-time. In the first scene, we get an uncompromising glimpse into Strayed’s cruel world. Strayed, stranded on top of a rocky hillside in an undisclosed location, pulls off her sock, rips off an infected toenail, before watching one of her boots tumble down a steep hillside. From there, Vallee and Witherspoon’s project pins us down and never lets go. Obviously, credit belongs to Witherspoon for shredding her starry persona. Grappling with a reprehensible character, the A-lister attacks each scene with award-worthy bravado. Despite its overwhelming positives, its story-telling and technical flourishes distort the narrative. Giving its supporting players little screen-time, the movie’s cold, lifeless flashbacks paint broad strokes. In addition, its pro-feminism message renders many the male characters mute and/or abrasive. However, it difficult to avoid the movie’s crisp, unrelenting locations. Yves Belanger’s wondrous cinematography – along with the immense scenic vistas – develop a momentous sensory assault.
Honouring its succinct title, Wild tells a haunting and visceral tale of man, nature, and existence. Valle, following up his 2013 Oscar contender, moulds an impactful and wondrous drama out of this profound true story. Aided by Witherspoon’s heart-breaking performance, the movie’s comedic moments and emotional resonance overshadow the minor flaws. Like our lead’s topsy-turvy career, the movie surges fourth despite the odds.
Release date: May 9th, 2014
Distributor: Image Entertainment
Running time: 114 minutes
Today, our news-media system delivers more threatening news stories than ingenious ideas. Instead of travelling in the appropriate direction, commercialised new reports unnervingly pump stories into the airwaves. One momentous story shook the world back in 1993, but has taken a couple of decades to come into prominence. The West Memphis Three saga hit Middle America harder than any political dilemma, Fox News controversy, or racial conundrum could ever hope to. This story, thanks to the good ol’ money-hungry Hollywood forces, is now the subject of a star-studded yet bloated docudrama.
Mishandling the invigorating material, Devil’s Knot, based on Mara Leveritt’s 2002 book of the same name, becomes yet another ambitious yet underwhelming biographical account. Given a dodgy release date by the Hollywood cash machine, this crime-thriller has seemingly been forgotten by everyone associated with it. With its starry cast and intriguing director/writer team, this docudrama could, and should, have honoured this devastating true story. Following on from such influential documentaries as the Paradise Lost series and Peter Jackson’s 2011 hit West of Memphis, Devil’s Knot doesn’t even leave a fingerprint on those features. Examining this potent subject matter with ambiguity and verve, the aforementioned documentaries gave us conclusive insights into this topic. Embarrassingly, Canadian stage and screen icon Atom Egoyan (Exotica) tries to push those expository efforts out of the way. Arrogantly, this acclaimed director, thanks to his blinding gaze, delivers a one-sided account of touchy events. His feature starts off with the true story’s horrific facts. The narrative begins with modest married couple Pamela and Terry Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon and Alessandro Nivola) stressing over the whereabouts of Pamela’s son, Stevie Branch, and his friends, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore. Contacting the authorities, the couple watches on in horror as a missing persons report is filed. Finding their bodies several days later, the police, along with private investigator Ron Lax (Colin Firth), further examine this life-altering tragedy.
As we know, a month later, gothic teenagers Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were arrested and charged in connection with this appalling crime. From the opening scene, it becomes painfully clear that Egoyan and screenwriters Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson are afraid of the material they’ve taken on. The saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Sadly, by developing a fictionalised/dramatic account of this event, Egoyan and co. step too far outside their comfort zones. Bringing his unique style to this heartbreaking true story, Egoyan’s effort delivers more stylistic flourishes and brash opinions than groundbreaking touches and invigorating sequences. This TV-movie-like interpretation, by painting in broad strokes, doesn’t tell us anything new about the case. Avoiding neutral touches and invigorating concepts, Devil’s Knot awkwardly jumps from one depthless plot-point to the next. Unsurprisingly, the opening sequences reflect those of Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River. Introducing potent themes and dangerous characters, this crime-thriller delivers an exhaustive amount of red herrings and societal boundaries. Throughout the first third, the camera lingers on a broken town hindered by this destructive event. as rednecks clash with authoritative figures, Egoyan’s account immediately begins pointing fingers and naming names. Forcing one-or-two people’s viewpoints into each frame, this crime-thriller’s narrative rubs critics and filmgoers the wrong way. Looking down upon the deep south’s cultural practices and disturbed communities, caricature-like performances and heavy-handed symbolism ruin this otherwise well-intentioned docudrama.
“The state is gonna kill three men, and I can’t stand by and watch that happen.” (Ron Lax (Colin Firth), Devil’s Knot).
The narrative, moving beyond the monotonous detective-drama plot, sluggishly transitions into a cliche-ridden and laughable courtroom drama. Amicably, this section analyses the police department’s disgusting miscarriages of justice throughout the investigation. However, attempting to turn into a concoction of To Kill and Mocking Bird and Primal Fear, the movie’s ever-pressing conflict tries and fails to develop clear-cut heroes and villains. Bookmarking certain clues and scenes, some factions are depicted as stereotypes and apathetic hindrances. Egoyan and co. may as well have written “Bad Guy” on certain characters’ foreheads. In addition, Egoyan’s unsubtle visual style draws bizarre conclusions throughout the intricate narrative. Telling and showing us certain actions and reactions, the characters’ testimonies become irritating, narration-driven interludes. Sucking the tension out of this discomforting crime-drama, his experimental visuals – adding specific filters, grains, and editing tricks to dreary scenes – drown this feature in inappropriate flourishes, kooky moments, and trite storytelling beats. Further harming Egoyan’s vision, our eclectic performers are mistreated within significant roles. Firth, despite tackling a different type of role, is woefully miscast as the straight-laced investigator and bitter divorcee. Sharing valuable scenes with Mireille Enos, Amy Ryan, and Elias Koteas, Firth struggles to maintain his raspy, hick-drenched accent. Witherspoon, putting on weight for this project, is stranded in a one-note role. Her character, despite being the emotional core, is left to sob heartily throughout a needless subplot. In her defence, she fares better than Dane DeHaan, Kevin Durand, Bruce Greenwood, and Steven Moyer.
Placing its director’s vision and sycophantic viewpoints above the material, Devil’s Knot carries a wavering pace, dour tone, and tiresome genre conventions toward its shallow finale. Preceding cinematic endeavours, analysing the issue and developing vital interpretations, drastically overshadow this insufferable effort. Predictably, this unnecessary and obvious docudrama says nothing new about the West Memphis Three saga. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it just to gain attention.
Release date: February 17th, 2012
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 97 minutes
This Means War had all the ingredients to be a perfect date movie. Good looking people and romance for the girls and intense action for the guys. But while the film may be a sweet representation of the battlefield of love, at points it bites off more than it can chew.
It’s a very simple premise that we have here. Renegade federal agents FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are all around smooth operators and at the top of their game on (almost) every mission. Their strong friendship is tested with the introduction of the sexy and intelligent Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon). With fate bringing FDR and Tuck to her in different situations, their dating lives intertwine into a potentially dangerous love triangle. They must now use any means necessary to steal the girl away from one another with only death and a vengeful Agency target standing in their way. For a story that almost falls apart at the seams, both the stylish direction and stellar cast keep This Means War together. Pine and Hardy prove why they are two of the most popular actors working today. Their dynamic, and at points touching, chemistry in every scene together elevates their conventional roles. With Pine’s character as the smooth talking womaniser with a heart of steel and Hardy’s character being an honest guy struggling with the single life, opposites attract as the snappy dialogue, based on their differing personalities, illustrates their engaging friendship.
Unfortunately, Hardy, proving himself a very talented dramatic performer in films such as Inception and Warrior, seems uncomfortable with the genre as many of his comedic lines and slapstick moments fall flat, giving him the immediate appearance of being miscast. Reese Witherspoon is a stand out as the girl stuck in the middle. As the honest yet ignorant female lead, her energy and bubbly personality creates an enjoyable interpretation of what is normally a bland central character, in the vein of Cameron Diaz in Knight and Day. Despite the strong relationships and charisma between the three leads, the characters themselves never feel realistic. With McG (The Charlie’s Angels films, Terminator Salvation) it comes as no surprise as his films have a distinct lack of humanity due to his heavy focus on stylised action and slick special effects. Pine tries hard with the material but can’t shake off the character’s insanely low brow attitude toward women and patronising attitude toward his best friend. Witherspoon on the o other hand is forced to epitomise the ‘ultimate’ female character. With her fun job, good looks, beautiful apartment and with two good looking guys after her at the same time, the glorification of her situation and actions make her a shallow representation of women. Her character’s situation is also worsened with the constant commentary from her obnoxious best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler).
“Don’t choose the better man, choose the man who makes you a better woman.” (Trish (Chelsea Handler), This Means War).
Many comedic moments in This Means War are hit and miss, particularly in the first half. The gross out jokes and overt sexual references seem at odds with the film’s tone and become instantly forgettable. However as the rivalry between Tuck and FDR picks up, so does the level of set up gags, which actually come off as hysterical in many scenes. There are many over the top pranks, particularly when Tuck shoots down a drone watching his every move, that are wildly entertaining and develop a consistent pace. McG’s slick direction, the quick cut style of the hand to hand combat and the direct sound editing of the explosions and gun fights, deliver one fast paced and exciting action scene after another. McG also knows how to use his settings and cinematography to create the enviable life and skills of a spy. Scenes including Tuck and FDR ducking and diving around Lauren’s apartment unbenounced to her or each other, the action packed mission on top of a skyscraper in Hong Kong and a rather brutal game of Paintball are choreographed and filmed with the technical complexity that makes McG one of Hollywood’s most skilled action directors. This Means War sadly lacks a sense of urgency. The over reliance of its basic premise becomes tedious, as the forced villain plot quickly feels useless and only creates a largely predictable conflict for the three main characters. Til Schweiger (Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz from Inglorious Basterds) tries but has little to do in his one note role as the slimy European antagonist.
Here’s the big, inexcusable problem with This Means War – there are too many cooks spoiling the broth. Thanks to McG’s incompetent direction and the noticeable studio interference, this spy-comedy never get the chance to gather intelligence and execute its mission.
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