Stan & Ollie


A classic pairing.

(2018) Biographical Drama (Sony Classics) Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Rufus Jones, Danny Huston, Joseph Balderrama, John Henshaw, Tapiwa Mugweni, Keith MacPherson, Stewart Alexander, Kevin Millington, Toby Sedgwick, Rebecca Yeo, Stephanie Hyam, Kate Okello, Sanjeev Kohli, Richard Cant, Ashley Robinson, Susy Kane. Directed by Jon S. Baird

The comic duo of Laurel and Hardy have transcended their medium and become iconic. Most people know who they are, even if they’ve never seen them in action. Their bits, born in the traditions of the music hall and vaudeville, still are as enthralling today as they were 80 years ago.

However, this biopic depicts the legendary team in the twilight of their career. Stan Laurel (Coogan) and Oliver “Babe” Hardy (Reilly) have long since passed the zenith of their careers and have been rendered by television and teams like Abbott and Costello as artifacts of a bygone age. Needing cash and hoping to mount a comeback in a Robin Hood-like picture that Laurel is writing, the two mount a tour of England at the behest of promoter Bernard Delfont (Jones) in 1953.

At first, they are playing in dodgy venues to sparse crowds. There is a tension between the two, largely due to a feeling of betrayal that Stan has that Oliver worked with silent comedian Harry Langdon (Cant) on a picture called Zenobia which Laurel dismisses as “that elephant picture” following a contract dispute for Laurel while Hardy was still under contract to Hal Roach. Hardy who had ballooned to well over 300 pounds by that point, had health constraints that affected his ability to perform. Also, their wives Lucille Hardy (Henderson) and Ida Kitaeva Laurel (Ananda) didn’t get on particularly well.

Like most Hollywood biographies, the film does fudge a little bit on the facts but it does get the essence of the relationship between the two right, not to mention the personalities of the two men. Laurel was a thinker, a compulsive sort who did the lion’s share of the writing while Hardy was a more easygoing fellow, a bit of a hedonist and not one for thinking about the future. Even though for much of the film the relationship between the two was frosty, there was still a great deal of affection between them as you would find for any two people who were in close quarters for more than 30 years.

Coogan’s performance won him a BAFTA nomination, but for my money the performance to see here is Reilly’s, which the Hollywood Foreign Press apparently agreed with me on as he was the one who got the Golden Globe nomination. In all honesty, though, both performances are distinctive with Reilly’s being just a little bit more so.

Where the movie kind of fails is that we don’t see what really made them such a wonderful team; sure, we see a few bits here and there, and we get a sense of the chemistry between the two, but you would be hard pressed to explain why the two were so popular in their heyday by watching this film.

Still, that may not have been what Baird and writers Jeff Pope and AJ Marriott were after. This doesn’t give us the sweep of their careers, only a snapshot of a particular time in their career when they were admittedly past their prime. Still, it’s a sweet tribute to a pair of comedians who made an incalculable contribution to motion picture comedy.

REASONS TO SEE: Coogan and Reilly do a fine job of bringing the two beloved comedians to life.
REASONS TO AVOID: Doesn’t re ally explore the essence of their humor.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film got it’s nationwide American release on Oliver Hardy’s 117th birthday.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/22//20: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic:  75/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chaplin
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Trip to Greece

New Releases for the Week of March 6, 2020


ONWARD

(Disney/Pixar) Starring the voices of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Tracey Ullman, Wilmer Valderrama, Ali Wong. Directed by Dan Scanlon

In what Disney describes as a “suburban fantasy world,” two teenage elf brothers go on a quest to complete a spell that will allow them to reunite with their deceased father. The problem is that the spell will expire in 24 hours and they will lose the chance forever if they don’t complete it in time.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action/peril and some mild thematic elements)

Baaghi 3

(Fox Star) Tiger Shroff, Shraddha Kapoor, Ritesh Deshmukh, Jameel Khoury. A man whose brother has been brutally kidnapped by jihadists goes on a bloody rampage to get his brother home safely, even if it means he must single-handedly take on an entire nation.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

The Banker

(Apple+) Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, Nicholas Hoult, Nia Long. The true story of two African-American entrepreneurs who buy a bank using a working-class white man as a front, to serve the African-American community and help them achieve the American dream. Their success brings the scrutiny of the federal government.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater
Rating: PG-13 (some strong language including a sexual reference and racial epithets, and smoking throughout)

Beneath Us

(Vital) Lynn Collins, James Tupper, Rigo Sanchez, Roberto “Sanz” Sanchez. A group of undocumented workers get a job working for a privileged white couple. The job turns into a nightmare when they are brutalized by the couple, but the men fight back.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for violence, language and some nudity)

Final Kill

(Cinedigm) Billy Zane, Randy Couture, Ed Morrone, Danny Trejo. A mercenary takes one last mission: to protect a family hiding out in Central America from a crime cartel. However, the job proves to be far more complicated than it seemed and it will take all of the merc’s skills and experience to get himself and his charges out alive.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater
Rating: NR

Greed

(Sony Classics) Steve Coogan, Isla Fisher, David Mitchell, Shirley Henderson. A retail billionaire, the very face of conspicuous consumption, decides to plan a spectacular 60th birthday party for himself on the Greek island of Mykonos.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Avenue 16 Melbourne, AMC Disney Springs, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal The Loop, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for pervasive language and drug use)

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band

(Magnolia) Robbie Robertson, Levi Helm, Martin Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen. The story of one of the most revered and influential bands of the Sixties, who backed up Dylan on some of his seminal albums and who made timeless hits of their own before falling apart.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Music Biography
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for some language and drug references)

Ordinary Love

(Bleecker Street) Liam Neeson, Lesley Manville, Amit Shah, David Wilmot. A fiercely loving couple entering their golden years face their greatest challenge together when the wife is diagnosed with breast cancer.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for brief sexuality/nudity)

The Way Back

(Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, Glynn Turman. A one-time high school basketball phenom who had a chance to attend a major college and eventually go pro instead walks away from the game, a decision he comes to regret. Years later, he gets a chance at redemption when he is hired to coach the basketball team at his alma mater.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Sports Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language throughout including some sexual references)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Foxtrot Six
Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal
Mayabazaar 2016

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

And Then We Danced
Balloon
Foxtrot Six
The Jesus Rolls
Mayabazaar 2016
Only
Trance

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal
Mayabazaar 2016

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Mayabazaar 2016
Where There is Darkness

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Greed
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band
Onward
Ordinary Love
The Way Back

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Jewish Film Festival, Boca Raton, FL
Miami Film Festival, Miami FL
Through Women’s Eyes International Film Festival, Sarasota FL

New Releases for the Week of January 25, 2019


THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING

(20th Century Fox) Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Rebecca Ferguson, Denise Gough, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris, Angus Imrie. Directed by Joe Cornish

A young British kid who has gotten beaten up for standing up to bullies discovers that he is the heir to Excalibur, King Arthur’s legendary sword. He must learn to believe in himself if he is to save Britain from a mystic menace.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language)

Cold War

(Amazon) Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza. In the 1950s during the height of Soviet occupation of Poland, a music director in Warsaw falls in love with a beautiful singer and tries to convince her to flee with him to Paris.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for some sexual content, nudity and language)

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi

(Zee) Kangana Ranaut, Jishu Sengupta, Suresh Oberoi, Danny Denzongpa. Rani Lakshmi Bai was the Queen of Jhansi and one of the greatest heroines in Indian history. As Queen, she refused to cede her country to the British Raj and became one of the leading figures of the Rebellion of 1857.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

Rating: NR

Qué León

(Spanglish) Raymond Pozo, Ozuna, Clarissa Molina, Miguel Céspedes. Nicole León and Miguel León may have the same last name but they are from completely different fantasies from opposite sides of the tracks. Still, that doesn’t prevent them from falling deeply in love – much to the consternation of both their families.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: NR

Serenity

(Aviron) Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke, Diane Lane. Baker is a fishing charter captain who has moved into a quiet life after years that he’d rather forget. When his ex-wife comes back into his life, begging him to save her and her son from her violent, abusive new husband by taking hubbie on a fishing trip and then throwing him to the sharks, he is caught in a moral dilemma but not everything is what it appears to be.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content, and some bloody images)

Shoplifters

(Magnolia) Lily Franky, Sakura Andō, Mayu Matsuoka, Kirin Kiki. A Japanese family that survives through petty crime find a little girl freezing in the snow. At first reluctant to take her in, the matriarch is at last convinced. However, the family bonds and those with the newest member are tested when unforeseen circumstances arrive. This is a finalist for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Academy Awards.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some sexual content and nudity)

Stan & Ollie

(Sony Classics) Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston. In 1953, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had fallen on hard times. Once one of the greatest comedy duos in the world, they are largely forgotten. They decide to embark on a tour of England where they got their start. However, ghosts from their pasts and failing health threaten to split the pair apart forever.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Daytona Cinematique, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for some language and for smoking)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

An Acceptable Loss
The Girl in the Orange Dress
In Like Flynn
King of Thieves
Mr. Majnu
Pledge
Rust Creek

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear
Mr. Majnu
Sicilian Ghost Story
Thackeray

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Antiquities
The Challenger Disaster
Heartlock
Mikhael
Mr. Majnu
Thackeray

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Mikhael
Mr. Majnu

.SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

An Acceptable Loss
Cold War
Pledge
Rust Creek
Serenity

Okja


A girl and her genetically modified giant pig; such a sweet picture!

(2017) Fantasy (Netflix) Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seohyun An, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jungeun Lee, Byun Heebong, Yoon Je Moon, Shirley Henderson, Steven Yeun, Daniel Henshaw, Lily Collins, Devon Bostick, José Carias, Colm Hill, Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Nancy Bell, Jaein Kim, Bongryun Lee, Woo Shik Choi, Moon Choi. Directed by Joon-ho Bong

 

Asian culture can be incomprehensible at times for the Western mind. There is an almost cultish worship of things that are ridiculously cute and a sense of humor that is wacky and broad, yet their comic books and animated features can be crazy violent and chock full of deviant sexual behavior. Some things are best left un-analyzed.

In the near future, food shortages have led the multinational Morando Corporation to develop a genetically enhanced pig. The CEO (Swinton), seeking to undo the damage to the corporate image her amoral sister (also Swinton) did, proclaims the pig to be a miracle; it eats and poops less, provides more meat on the hoof (it resembles a hippopotamus with dog eyes) and tastes delicious. She initiates a contest in which piglets are sent to a variety of farms around the world to see which one is most successful at raising one.

The South Korean entry is sent to the farm of Hee Bong (Heebong) whose granddaughter Mija (An) has developed a bond with her pig whom she has named Okja. When television personality Johnny Wilcox (Gyllenhaal) – a sort of Steve Irwin-like character if Steve Irwin had been a corporate shill – visits the remote mountain farm and proclaims Okja the winner. What nobody has told Mija however is that Okja is to be taken away from the farm, sent to New York for a promotional appearance and then butchered for snacks. When she finds this out, she is not at all pleased.

But she gets a break; the quirky Animal Liberation Front, led by the quirky Jay (Dano) – has kidnapped Okja (maybe pig-napped would be a better term) and hopes to use the creature for his own agenda. However operatives for Morando find Okja and bring her back to New York. Can Okja be saved? And even if she is, will she ever be able to live on the farm again once she’s seen New York?

Director Joon-ho Bong, who gave us the wonderful The Host and the not as wonderful but still interesting Snowpiercer, delivers a great-looking film which is infused with a good deal of unexpected satire on the nature of corporate politics, mass media, obsession, animal cruelty and a little bit of American imperialism (at least one line spoke in Korean is deliberately mistranslated in the subtitles, which is about as subversive as you’d think Netflix would ever get). The satire can be a bit broad but it at least has its heart in the right place.

Just as broad is the humor which can take some getting used to by Western and particularly American audiences. There’s an awful lot of jokes about pig shit and if you find that dopey or distasteful, well, you’re not alone. Fortunately nothing is overtly mean or tremendously gross, so most youngsters will be delighted by the mainly CGI Okja who looks startlingly realistic.

This isn’t bad at all, although again there is a bit of a curve of how much you’ll enjoy it depending on how open to different cultures you might be. While much of this is fairly universal, I found some of it to be bewildering. Still, the cinematography is incredible (particularly in the Korean scenes) and even if the usually reliable Gyllenhaal and Swinton overact shamelessly (Esposito as a debonair corporate flunky is an exception) the movie is a solid choice for a night at home with Netflix.

REASONS TO GO: It’s bizarre and weird but in a good way. There is a surprising amount of social satire in the mix.
REASONS TO STAY: The humor is a little broad for my Western tastes and the movie a bit too long for what it is.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, some violence and plenty of rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Animal Liberation Front is an actual organization that is dedicated to freeing animals in captivity and causing economic chaos for corporations profiting from their captivity.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/1/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Babe: A Giant Pig in the City
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie

New Releases for the Week of March 31, 2017


GHOST IN THE SHELL

(DreamWorks/Paramount) Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Ashbæk, Juliette Binoche, Michael Carmen Pitt, Chin Han, Takeshi Kitano, Danusia Samal. Directed by Rupert Sanders

Based on the legendary manga of the same name, the movie follows the exploits of the Major, a unique cyborg/human hybrid who leads an elite task force that takes on the world’s most dangerous criminals and terrorists. Faced with an enemy that is out to wipe out a large corporation whose advancements in robotics and bio-technology made the Major possible, she begins to uncover disturbing information that calls into question everything she believes.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images)

The Boss Baby

(DreamWorks Animation/Fox) Starring the voices of Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow. There’s nothing quite like the arrival of a new baby into the family – unless that baby wears a suit and tie and carries a briefcase. The seven-year-old apple of his parent’s eye is none too thrilled to get a baby brother slash competition for his parents’ attention. He is less thrilled when he discovers that his new kid brother is actually part of a sinister agenda to get rid of all the world’s puppies.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor)

T2: Trainspotting

(TriStar) Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Shirley Henderson. The sequel to Danny Boyle’s seminal film which made Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” a smash hit and changed English cinema for the better. Mark Renton returns to Scotland after two decades abroad and finds his old mates much the same – and completely changed.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for drug use, language throughout, strong sexual content, graphic nudity and some violence)

The Zookeeper’s Wife

(Focus) Jessica Chastain, Daniel Brühl, Johan Heldenbergh, Efrat Dor. This is the story of a husband and wife who run a zoo in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. Horrified at what’s happening to their country and particularly to the Jews, they arrange to hide hundreds of Jews while reporting to the Nazi’s chief zoologist. Putting themselves and their family at tremendous risk, they turn from ordinary people to national heroes.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, disturbing images, violence, brief sexuality, nudity and smoking)

Anna Karenina (2012)


Alone in a crowd,

Alone in a crowd,

(2012) Drama (Focus) Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson, David Wilmot, Shirley Henderson, Holiday Grainger, Pip Torrens, Susanne Lothar, Alexandra Roach, Luke Newberry, Aruthan Galieva, Tannishtha Chatterjee. Directed by Joe Wright

Our Film Library

Everyone knows the old saw that love is blind. We mostly come to think that it means that looks and faults don’t matter when you’re in love, but I don’t think that’s really the case. What I think that the statement means is that we are blind to the consequences of falling in love, so emotionally inundated we are by love.

The Leo Tolstoy classic has been made into big screen extravaganzas several times, most notably with the legendary Greta Garbo in the title role (twice). Here we get Keira Knightley who has shown that she has plenty of talent although perhaps not quite a match to her luminous beauty which is considerable; the girl might just be the prettiest face in all the world.

A brief plot synopsis for those not familiar with the Tolstoy work; Anna is the wife of Karenin (Law), a well-respected Russian government official in Tsarist Russia but one can scarcely characterize the marriage as a happy one. Karenin is emotionally distant, occasionally affectionate but generally not present. Many women over the years have identified with Anna, alone in a marriage to a man who barely realizes she’s there at all.

When she takes the train to Moscow on behalf of her brother, Count Oblonsky (Macfadyen) who has cheated on his wife and who has sent him to plead with said wife Dolly (Macdonald) to take him back, she meets Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson), a dashing young soldier who is the object of unrequited love for Kitty (Vikander) who is anxious to marry the young man. Kitty, in the meantime, is the object of affection for Levin (Gleeson) who is thinking of freeing his serfs and is being urged by Oblonsky to take one of them for his wife. However, everything is thrown in disarray by Anna who falls in love with Vronsky. Hard.

The two begin seeing each other and are none too discreet about their feelings. This is a big no-no in St. Petersburg society at the time which tolerated affairs but only as long as they were kept in the shadows where they belong. It was a kind of hypocrisy that in a large way still informs our somewhat hypocritical  views towards the sexes. Even if you’re not a Russian literature enthusiast or familiar with the novel, it doesn’t take much of a genius to figure out that this all leads to tragedy – and it does.

Wright has taken the conceit of staging the movie as if it were a play in a dilapidated theater (and in fact, they filmed in one just outside of London which was essentially the main filming location). There are backdrops that are very theatrical and occasionally we see audience members in box seats observing the drama. Players in the play sometimes step onto the front of the stage and address the audience directly. It’s certainly a bold move, the kind of thing someone like Baz Luhrmann might do.

But I have to admit it all feels kind of gimmicky and there’s no doubt that the stage-centric production design sometimes gets distracting. The costumes are lush enough (costume designer Jacqueline Durran won an Oscar for it) and the movie looks amazing, thanks in large part to cinematographer Seamus McGarvey.

The acting though is kind of spotty, surprisingly. Law fares the best, making Karenin who often comes off as uncaring and downright mean in other filmed versions of the novel almost sympathetic here. Macfadyen, as the lusty Oblonsky, also performs well as a character that is a bit of a cad. Knightley, however, is oddly subdued here. There are almost no sparks between her and Taylor-Johnson which is critical – you have to be able to see why Anna would risk so much and get the depth of the emotion she feels for Vronsky. It is not helped by Taylor-Johnson who makes Vronsky something of a caricature. The miscasting for the role is obvious – and crucial.

The British film industry has always been reliable about producing costume epics as well as anyone, particularly those based on classics and Wright, with Sense and Sensibility and Atonement both to his credit, is as adept as anyone working now at the genre. However, the overwrought concept soon overwhelms the story and becomes more the focus than Tolstoy’s classic tale does. My recommendation is either read the novel or if you prefer seeing it onscreen is to find the 1935 version with Garbo which really is a classic. This is more of a noble failure.

WHY RENT THIS: Sumptuous production design and costumes. Decent performances by Law and Macfadyen.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overwrought. Conceit of giving the film the look of a theatrical performance becomes distracting.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some sexuality and violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot had to leave the film during pre-production due to painful sciatica which eventually required back surgery. He was replaced by Wright’s regular collaborator Seamus McGarvey.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a nifty time lapse photograph of the main set’s construction as well as interviews with the cast members.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $68.9M on a $51.6M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: In Secret

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Meek’s Cutoff


How Wong Kar Wai would shoot a Western.

How Wong Kar Wai would shoot a Western.

(2010) Western (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Michelle Williams, Shirley Henderson, Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, Will Patton, Neal Huff, Tommy Nelson, Rod Rondeaux. Directed by Kelly Reichardt

Travelling from East to West in the mid-19th Century wasn’t something undertaken lightly. Prior to the establishment of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, the only ways to get from the east to the west was by ship around Cape Horn in South America all the way back up to San Francisco; it was a perilous journey in which ships frequently were wrecked on the treacherous passageway.

There was also the overland route on the Oregon Trail which was just as arduous and nearly as lethal. Settlers would pack up what provisions and goods as they could carry in their wagons (not all of which were Conestogas), hitched up their oxen and set off hoping their guide knew where he was going, which wasn’t always the case.

Guide Stephen Meek (Greenwood) sure talked a good game – to hear him tell it, no man alive knew the Oregon Trail as well – but this two week journey has stretched into five with still no end in sight. Supplies are getting dangerously low and there has been no water in the drought-stricken west. There are only three families on this wagon train; Emily (Williams) and Soloman Tetherow (Patton), Millie (Kazan) and Thomas Gately (Dano) and Glory (Henderson), Jimmy (Nelson) and William White (Huff). The women are skeptical of their guide’s ability to lead them to safety. The men are dithering and unwilling to stand up to the overbearing lout.

When the men capture a Cayuse Indian (Rondeaux) who has been shadowing them, they are eager to kill the native. However the women urge that he be spared and convinced to lead them to water. For once they get their way. Still, there is a good deal of mistrust; is the man leading them to water or into a trap? And will they find their way to their destination or will they all die out there in the wilderness?

Reichardt, best known for her edgy modern drama Wendy and Lucy (which also starred Williams) tackles one of the American cinema’s most iconic genres and adds to it a uniquely feminine viewpoint (even though the script was written by her frequent collaborator Jonathan Raymond, a man). Clearly the strongest and staunchest of the settlers is Emily, although mores and custom of the day required her to take a back seat to her husband.

Williams, whose next role would net her an Oscar nomination, is wonderful here. She gives Emily a marvelous inner strength which the pioneer women certainly must have – and did – have. Williams is careful not to turn Emily into a 21st century woman in a 19th century milieu which is what some actresses might have been tempted to do; Emily is very much a product of her time. However that doesn’t mean she didn’t have a strong personality or a will to match.

The entire cast is actually quite strong and all of them seem to be authentic to their roles. There are no jarring out-of-place anachronisms, and even better, this doesn’t feel like a bunch of modern people playing at cowboys and Indians – this feels like real settlers, unsure of what to do, completely out of their element and terrified that they’re going to die.

The vast vistas that are both barren and beautiful add to that feeling of a bunch of small people in a very large wilderness – kudos to cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt for capturing it onscreen. The result is a very intimate film on an epic scale, which is a hard feat to pull off.

However be warned that the pace is slow, maybe too slow. A lot of time is spent showing the settlers doing their day-to-day activities – grinding coffee, gathering wood, repairing wheels and so on, to the extent that you might feel like you’re sitting in a classroom. In fact, high school history teachers looking to give their students an idea of life on the Oregon Trail (and others like it) might want to arrange a screening of the movie for their classroom – it’s that informative.

The story progresses organically but slowly and much is left to interpretation. Audiences used to being led from point A to point Z with all the answers pointed out to them as they go along might find this frustrating. Still, it is one of the better Westerns to come along in the 21st century and those who love the genre will find much here to love – but traditionalists might find little here to love as well.

WHY RENT THIS: A very different Western. Strong performances throughout the cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Moves at a very contemplative pace. Framework is very bare-bones which may ask too much from audiences used to being spoonfed.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some violence and a little bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Meek Cutoff follows Bear Creek to the Deschutes River near Bend, Oregon.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $977,772 on a $2M production budget; it certainly didn’t make money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: September Dawn

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Perfect Storm