Monday, February 16, 2015
STARS: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski
DIRECTOR: Jean-Marc Vallee
Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to sit through the first couple minutes of Wild with your eyes closed and listen to the noises wayfaring Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) emits. You may think you've wandered into a porno by mistake. Then open your peepers to discover that the caterwaulings of a young woman losing a toenail out in the wilderness because her hiking boots are too small can have a remarkably similar ring to that of someone in the throes of ecstasy. A darkly comic moment in a film about some serious business. The business of life and its winding trails.and travails.
Strayed is on an eleven hundred mile odyssey from the Mojave desert to the Oregon-Washington border--hiking alone, for the most part, along the Pacific Crest Trail. She's got a backpack that's as big as she is, and nearly as heavy. She struggles to raise herself off the floor and stand upright with it on. (Another richly comic moment.) On day one, she's already telling herself it's okay to quit. But she's got something to prove. To herself. The cumbersome pack is symbolic of the baggage she's carrying. She's just lost her mother (Laura Dern) to a devastating illness, and her husband (Thomas Sadoski) to divorce. She's been recklessly engaging in drug use and promiscuous sex. So her journey is one of getting in touch with the real person inside. The person her mother thought she was, or could be. The movie sticks pretty close to Cheryl Strayed's best-selling memoir, which adds to its jaw-dropping effect when you consider that this stuff really happened.
Along the way, Strayed encounters men in various shapes and sizes who may, to varying degrees, pose potential threats to her security. Even in nature, it's human nature that always seems to come into play. And we learn a lot about that in Wild. As in what the human spirit is capable of when pushed to its limits. Witherspoon probably didn't hike any further than necessary to complete her scenes, but she did push herself beyond her normal boundaries in terms of amount of skin bared and hot sexy scenes--in the alley no less!
I always admire someone who is willing to lay it all on the line for the sake of their art.
Grade: B +
Thursday, February 5, 2015
Rated : R
STARS: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, David Oyelowo, Elyes Gabel
DIRECTOR: J.C. Chandor
The first thing to remember about A Most Violent Year is that it ain't that violent. Not like the title might suggest, at least. It's a character study, and a very good one, about a man trying to do the right things when all about him are bad influences (like when mom told you to stay away from that nasty neighbor boy). Not the least of which may be his wife.
The setting is New York City in 1981--statistically one of the most crime-ridden years in the city's history. Immigrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is living the American Dream. He operates a heating oil distribution business. He wants to do everything above-board and by the book. But what appear to be rival operators are beating up his drivers and hijacking his trucks full of fuel that they can peddle on the black market. Then there is this subtly shady D.A. (David Oyelowo) who's investigating his operation for evidence of improprieties.
The wild card in all of this is his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), the daughter of a Brooklyn crime boss. Morales bought the business from her father (bad influence number one). Despite seemingly good intentions, she can't completely escape the influence of her upbringing. So as the pressure on Morales mounts, she wants to arm the drivers so they can fight back. Then she issues some veiled personal threats toward the D.A. That's when we recognize an intriguing marital role reversal--where she's the tough guy, and he is someone who only wants to do "the most right thing." That phrase is at the crux of the movie's theme, in my opinion, as the most right thing--that line in the sand--is sometimes blurred and ill-defined (as we all know in our own lives, eh?).
Title notwithstanding, A Most Violent Year is a surprisingly introspective film. A character study that doesn't rely on the usual Hollywood gimmicks to build the suspense. And there is no lack of that. With riveting performances by Isaac and Chastain. And the ever quirky Albert Brooks, who is a character study all on his own.