Wilson (2017)


A dysfunctional family portrait.

(2017) Dramedy (Fox Searchlight) Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Isabella Amara, Judy Greer, Cheryl Hines, Margo Martindale, Brett Gelman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, James Saito, Bill McCallum, Alec George, Nate Mooney, Paul Cram, Tom Proctor, Katie Rose Law, Roxy Wood, Bruce Bohne, Greta Oglesby, Rachel Weber, Toussaint Morrison, Tonita Castro. Directed by Craig Johnson

 

We all know someone like him; a person with the social skills of a charging bull. Someone who generates awkward silences like our president generates Tweets. You know, that person who stops every conversation dead in their tracks with pronouncements that defy reason or rudeness that defies civility.

Wilson (Harrelson) is that guy. He lives in the Twin Cities of Minnesota with his dog that he adores but who pisses him off regularly. His only friend is moving about as far away as he can get and taking his shrewish wife with him. Wilson’s dad passes away from cancer soon afterward. With all this going on, Wilson decides he needs to reconnect with the world.

Doing that, he decides, means reconnecting with his ex-wife Pippi (Dern). She’s no saint either, owning what could charitably be charitably described as a checkered past including prostitution and drug abuse. When Wilson finds her, she’s trying to get her life back together working as a waitress. But that’s not all.

When Pippi originally left, she’d told Wilson that she’d gotten an abortion – but psych! It turns out that she’d put the baby up for adoption instead. Claire (Amara) has been raised by wealthy parents but has plenty of issues. Wilson is determined to reach out to the child he never knew he had and establish a connection, dragging a reluctant Pippi along in the process. It could be a good thing but as Wilson is wont to do, he messes things up instead.

This is based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes (who also wrote the screenplay) and it plays in a lot of ways like a Clowes book; simply drawn and not terribly sketched out. However, I have to admit I went in with low expectations based on a trailer that felt like something I’d seen plenty of times before. In all honesty I was pleasantly surprised; I thought this was going to be one of those social experiments to find out how unlikable they can make the main character and still get some critical acclaim.

Frankly, the critical response has been surprisingly low on this one; the general consensus seems to be that the film is predictable and in some ways it is – Wilson’s journey is pretty much by-the-numbers and yet I left the theater feeling a bit of catharsis. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination.

It is definitely a movie that builds. Early on my low expectations were essentially being me and I remember leaning over and whispering to Da Queen “Oh, now I remember why Woody Harrelson is mostly playing support roles these days.” Well, more fool me – as the film progressed, Harrelson took over and while he was still playing a pretty much unlikable no-filter kind of guy, I felt myself beginning to root for Wilson. Hey, a guy that much into dogs can’t be all bad, right? In any case, I was reminded why Woody Harrelson has a filmography that a whole lot of actors in this town would envy. Okay, in Hollywood. EVERY actor in Orlando would envy Woody Harrelson’s filmography.

Yeah, there are places that the film gets a bit sentimental and yes, when Wilson hits rock bottom it’s hard not to get emotional. One thing though that differentiates this from other films of this ilk is that it has a superior cast. Laura Dern, Judy Greer, Margo Martindale (who’s essentially only in one scene) and Cheryl Hines are top actresses who take a back seat to nobody in terms of consistent performances. They add depth to the film and give Harrelson plenty of places to play off of – Dern in particular makes an excellent foil for Harrison. The young Isabella Amara does some fine work here as well; her character is certainly complicated and troubled but is basically a decent girl who hasn’t gotten a ton of love in her life.

The ending is a little schmaltzy but all in all, I did end up liking Wilson more than I expected to. I’m not a big Clowes fan by any stretch of the imagination so that’s a bit of an accomplishment but I’m now very interested in picking up a couple of the man’s graphic novels and giving them another chance. Sometimes, changing your perspective is a right place at the right time kind of thing.

REASONS TO GO: This is the kind of film that grows on you. Wilson does in fact grow throughout the film which is a bit of a shocker.
REASONS TO STAY: Way too many neuroses on display for some.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots and lots of profanity and a smidgeon of sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The jail scenes were filmed at the Ramsey County Correctional Facility in St. Paul, Minnesota which is a working prison.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/28/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Super
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Barry

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My Love, Don’t Cross That River


Love transcends everything.

Love transcends everything.

(2014) Documentary (Film Movement) Byeong-man Jo, Gye-Yeol Kang, Doh-yeong Jo, Kaum-yeo Hyun, Daeh-yeong Jo, Bong-nam Kim, Keum-ja Jo, Sang-hyeong Jo, Ho-soon Cheon, Myeong-ja Jo, Myung-kyu Eom, Soo-yeong Jo, Yeong-whan Song, Seong-baek Jo, Seong-do Jo, Myeong-wha Jo, Seong-eun Jo, Soo-ah Kim. Directed by Mo-Young Jin

 

Seneca once wrote that “life, if well lived, is long enough.”  The truth is that a life well lived need not be an extraordinary one. It need not be world-changing. Sometimes, a simple life is the most well lived life of all.

Byeong-man Jo and Gye-Yeol Kang have been married for 75 years, give or take when this documentary was filmed. He was pushing the century mark, she was turning 90. The two “100-year-old lovebirds” as they are described, live in a rural village in the Gangwon Province of South Korea in a small but cozy home. They gather firewood for heat during the fall to prepare for the winter; they rake leaves from their doorstep. They care for their dogs and they cook rice in an electric rice cooker. They go on picnics with their local senior center. He sings songs for her and the two do traditional Korean dances.

They wear clothes in matching colors and they are almost always touching. He can’t sleep if he isn’t touching her. They cuddle and their love for each other is palpable, so true and quiet that it you can’t help but smile. As you watch them assist each other with their chores, it’s not just like seeing your own grandparents but much-beloved ones. You can’t help but love them both.

Filmmaker Mo-young Jin followed the couple for 15 months starting in 2012 through 2013, watching the changing of the seasons through their eyes. Both of them are aware that their time on this Earth is winding down but it becomes much more real when one of them develops health problems. This leads to anguish in the other, knowing that they will have to carry on without someone who has been right by their side for three quarters of a century.

This is a beautiful movie in every sense of the spectrum. The emotional core of the movie is the love between Kang and Jo, and that emotion is so obvious that you get caught up in it. Those who have someone special in their lives will be reminded of them; those that don’t will long for someone like that. I jotted down in my notes as I watched my screener that “this is what growing old together is supposed to be” and that’s exactly the case. It’s what all of us dream of when we find someone we want to spend the rest of our lives with. This is what it looks like.

All the senses are excited, from the achingly beautiful score by Min-woo Jeong to the often breathtaking cinematography of Jin. There are some sad moments, like an argument that breaks out between two of their six surviving children (six others were lost to the measles in childhood) on Kang’s birthday, causing her to break into tears until a grandchild comforts her. There are some cute moments, as when one of their dogs has a litter of some of the cutest puppies you’ll ever see. They have two dogs – Kiddo, who has the puppies, and Freebie who they paid nothing for. Jo further endeared himself to me by being a dog person, and clearly he has a deep connection with our canine friends.

This is a movie that reminds us that the things in life that are most important are those we love. It is a movie that stands as a testament to the endurance of that love. There is nothing loud or cantankerous about this movie; it washes over you like a gentle wave, guiding you to a shore where loved ones await. You will cry a lot during this film – often tears of joy, but certainly tears of catharsis. This movie will make you feel.

Some people don’t like that. I read in a couple of reviews accusations that the movie was staged, that the couple were too perfect to be real. I don’t know – there’s no concrete evidence other than a reviewer’s suspicions. Me, if I were going to accuse a documentarian of staging scenes for the camera, I’d want to have a little more evidence before throwing opinions around as if they are facts. I personally think that some reviewers don’t like to feel deep emotions during a movie, so they find ways to dis a film that makes them feel. Of course, I have no evidence that it’s true in these specific cases, but I have my suspicions.

That bad juju aside, I have to confess that I didn’t just cry watching this movie; I bawled. I was a blubbering, puddle of goo in front of my laptop, leaving a puddle of salty tears on my keyboard. I’m quite frankly surprised I didn’t short out my laptop. But thinking about this film makes me misty again. It reminds me of the good things that I have in my life and the good things to look forward to. It reminds me that it is the little things, the simple things that are important. It also reminds me that if you have somebody who loves you, even if you have no money at all you’re still wealthier than Donald Trump will ever be. This is the movie to beat for the best film of 2016 as far as I’m concerned.

REASONS TO GO: Renews your hope for humanity. The beautiful score enhances the entire film. Revels in the simplicity of life. Gorgeous cinematography.
REASONS TO STAY: Some may find it too emotional and low-key for their tastes.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for family viewing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This film is the most successful independently released feature in South Korea to date.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/17/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Message From Hiroshima
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT: The Lobster

Due Date


Due Date

Apparently these guys got no further than "speak no evil."

(2010) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx, Juliet Lewis, RZA, Danny McBride, Matt Walsh, Brody Stevens, Marco Rodriguez, Paul Renteria, Mimi Kennedy, Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryer. Directed by Todd Phillips

The best part of any trip is coming home. There comes a point when the weary traveler just wants to get back to their own bed, by any means necessary. Sometimes fate intervenes in this worthy endeavor however.

Peter Highman (Downey) has more reason than most to want to get back. His wife Sarah (Monaghan) is due to give birth and a date has been set to give her a Caesarian. He is leaving Atlanta in plenty of time…until he meets Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis).

Actually he pretty much literally runs into him, Ethan does and in the confusion, Ethan and Peter pick up each other’s similar-looking bags. It turns out that Ethan is sitting behind Peter in first class. It turns out Ethan gets Peter shot by an Air Marshal. Both men are tossed off the plane, with Peter leaving his wallet on board. Worse, he’s on a no-fly list now because of the incident.

Without a wallet, Peter has no way of renting a car but Ethan does and reluctantly Peter agrees to accompany Ethan on his way to Los Angeles; Ethan is an aspiring actor, bringing along with him on his journey his dog and his father’s ashes in a coffee can. Does that man know how to travel or what?

Of course, the eccentric Ethan gets the uptight Peter into all sorts of trouble, from getting them into an accident when he falls asleep at the wheel to abandoning Peter to get arrested for possession of marijuana at a border crossing. With the clock ticking and Sarah’s due date nearing, can Peter and Ethan manage to make it across the country in time or will Peter miss the birth of his first child?

If you thought “Wasn’t there a movie a lot like that?” you’d probably agree with the critics who dissed this movie for being too similar to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the 1987 John Hughes film with Steve Martin and John Candy in a more or less similar plot. They aren’t exactly alike and there are no trains in this movie but the spirit is pretty much the same.

Peter is ramrod straight here and that’s supposed to be the joke, but that becomes a double edged sword because the movie then isn’t able to make use of Downey’s comic skills which are considerable. He becomes a glorified straight man to Galifianakis’ antics and quite frankly, the movie would have been better served to allow Peter to be not quite so uptight.

Galifianakis is one of the most popular comic actors today but this seems to be more or less a parody of his role in the two Hangover movies. He was far better in those, as well as his more serious role in It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Here, he is eccentric for its own sake. The real trick to making a role of this sort funny is that it kind of has to be believable. There’s nothing believable about Ethan. He does things no rational human being would ever do. And as for Peter, there’s no way anybody sticks around Ethan after he causes Peter multiple injuries.

There are some good gags here and a enough laughs that I can at least promise a certain amount of entertainment if you choose to rent this. However, while it did good box office, it isn’t really the kind of movie you’re going to remember with a great deal of fondness, nor is it one you’re going to want to watch over and over again. It’s just diversion enough to make you smile and maybe laugh a little bit for an hour and a half, which is a pretty noble result in and of itself.

WHY RENT THIS: There are enough funny moments to make this worth your while.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: There are not enough funny moments to make this a classic.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of foul language, a teensy bit of drug use and some comic violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Alan Arkin filmed some scenes as Peter’s father but these were left on the cutting room floor.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and the full scene shown at the end of the movie of “Two and a Half Men.”

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $211.8M on a $65M production budget; the movie was a genuine hit.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Martha Marcy May Marlene