Thursday, October 15, 2015

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

JOY RIDE (2001)
Alright movie about a pair of brothers (Paul Walker and Steve Zahn) driving cross-country to pick up the neighborhood girl that one of them likes (Leelee Sobieski). The male characters are pretty recognizable, but, par for the course for a JJ Abrams-written movie, the girl is written like the fantasy of a man who's never met a girl before. The guys get a CB radio and play a prank on a trucker (voiced by Ted Levine), and are made to pay for it over and over again. Some effective stuff, but it ultimately doesn't add up to much more than some ephemeral fun that won't stay with you. Directed, weirdly, by John Dahl, who made one of my favorite movies, The Last Seduction. **1/2

FOCUS (2015)
Margot Robbie as someone new to running confidence games who is taken under the wing of a smooth con artist (Will Smith). They fall in love, but he leaves her behind because she'll complicate his set-up, and then runs into her when he's running a different, more dangerous con years later. The problem with movies about cons is that they are fun, but there's never a lot of depth to them because you can't trust the emotions being presented; they often turn out to be necessary misdirection in order for the con to surprise you. Focus is slick and stylish and fun, but it's shallow, and the screenplay doesn't seem to understand that. There are too many times where it wants to play the movie as a flick about a cynic who learns to care about someone, and it just sort of derails the film's second act, so not everything clicks into place. There are some good twists in the third act that mostly save it, and like I said, it's a stylish movie. I like that it feels a kinship to older con movies like The Thomas Crown Affair (a movie which, in my opinion, had similar problems). It has a surprising soundtrack that mixes eras; I was very gratified to hear It's a Beautiful Day's "White Bird" in the movie. And, honestly, the chemistry between Will Smith and Margot Robbie really makes up for a lot, because he usually comes across pretty cold to me. I've never seen him have what I would consider good chemistry with anyone. (Tommy Lee Jones works with him because he bounces lines off of straight man Jones.) Robbie is kind of wonderful and lovable, though, so she seems to have good chemistry with anyone. It's not a great movie, and it's not quite the sophisticated surprise it wants to be, but it's fun, the leads are great together, and I enjoyed myself. ***

WILD (2014)
I'm willing to concede that I'm not necessarily the audience here. Honestly, this one left me a bit cold. Reese Witherspoon stars in a true story about a woman who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail after her mother (Laura Dern, only an 8 year-age difference) died of cancer. I just couldn't really find a hold here. I really liked how it was directed, almost like an impressionistic, female-led take on the kind of movie they made in the early seventies were people dropped out of society in order to find themselves. (Also, it didn't piss me off like Into the Wild did, which is a plus.) But the way it's structured doesn't establish a time and place for her to drop out of, and so the wilderness didn't have as much of an impact. It didn't seem like she was shutting herself off from society in order to purge herself or try to re-establish her links on her own terms; it just seemed lost and meandering and a little too formless. I don't mind formless, but I didn't feel this movie's point. I think I'd be more interested in reading the book, honestly. **1/2

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