Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Movie Reviews: Sullly, In Your Eyes, Wild, Palto Alto, Genius

See all of my movie reviews.

Sully: This is a short movie, coming in at only an hour and a half. There's not much to it. It's a short review of the take off and crash landing into the Hudson river of a US Airways flight in 2009, where everyone survived and pilot became known as a hero. The review includes a few very brief character stories of some people on the flight (I don't know if these are fictionalized) and very, very brief cameos from unnamed air traffic controllers, policemen on boats, and captain Sullivan's girlfriend (or maybe wife). It's also a very short review of the insurance investigation into the decision to crash the plane instead of try to make it to a nearby airport. This is split into two parts, with the evidence against the pilot presented at the beginning of the movie, the flight in the middle, and the resolution of the investigation wrapping up the movie.

It's not unenjoyable, but there's not much there. Tom Hanks acts well, but he only has two emotions to act: worried and tired. More and more of his recent roles have been stressing those emotions; what happened to all of the other ones, like crazy, fanatic, enthusiastic, challenged, etc etc? Almost no personality comes through in his portrayal. Aaron Eckhart as the co-pilot delivers a more lively character to the screen, but it's all so short; as short as it is, a whole lot of Sully brooding could have been removed, and then it would make a decent hour-long made-for-TV movie. Or they could have given it more characters and more life and made into a real movie.

In Your Eyes: This is my third movie starring Zoe Kazan (see my reviews for Ruby Sparks and What If?). Ruby Sparks earned a strong meh on my review scale - lightweight but good supporting characters - while What If earned a very weak meh - unexceptional but at least not annoying. This movie is a pretty middle meh.

The idea is intriguing: two people have never met, but they have been able, sometimes, to feel some of the things that the other feels and one day begin speaking telepathically. Rebecca (Zoe) is a housewife in New Hampshire married to a belittling ass of a doctor husband. Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) is a an ex-con trying to go straight and hold down a menial job, hounded by his parole officer and two of his con-friends who - no surprise - want him to do just one more job. Assorted irrelevant others abound; possibly the only other one worth mentioning is Rebecca's idiot busybody "friend" who after seeing Rebecca talking out loud to no one (she has to speak out loud to talk telepathically to Dylan) tells Rebecca's husband that Rebecca is having an affair. Honestly, I didn't see that one coming, and it didn't make any sense.

Rebecca is not happy with her husband but feels she owes him for having been there for her in trying times. She feels she is cheating on him by talking - intimately - with Dylan. Meanwhile, Dylan is basically trying to woo Rebecca and letting her ruin his life: his talking out loud to her gets him kicked off his job and distracted at times that he should be focusing.

The science is not explained, which is fine, since the whole thing is allegorical. However, after having been spoiled by the likes of The Time Traveler's Wife and The Age of Adeline, I was hoping for a lot more.

For example, the first scene of "discovery", where they begin to speak to each other, was handled all wrong - it wasn't handled very badly, but it wasn't handled the way it should have been. Instead of great, it was meh. They spent a few moments thinking they're crazy, and then they accept that the voice in their head is someone real and they start having a conversation. No no no no no. Why couldn't one of them really break down? Think that the other one is a figment of their imagination? Wonder why this is happening to them? Go to a psychologist? Anything other than this weak Nicholas Sparks placid acceptance.

And why, for the love of God, did they spend the entire movie communicating and not once pick up a telephone to actually talk to the other person? Or look up anything about the other person online? Or go see the other one (well, Rebecca could have, at least; Dylan wasn't allowed to leave the state)? She had plenty of time and resources to do it.

The fact that the two leads can interest the viewer throughout the movie without ever being in the same room is fine, but it could have been so much better. They each can see out through the others' eyes; the movie shows us this  and then fails to use it to any good effect. Instead of real drama, cinema, and intrigue, we get a meet cute and then a standard boilerplate romance story where the characters have to kick out their various unsuitables and eventually meet. Meh. And the ending was pretty stupid.

Wild: This is an adaptation of a book about a woman who responded to personal tragedy by wrecking her life - sleeping around outside of her marriage and shooting heroine. When she finally hit a bottom, which included a divorce, she changed her name to Cheryl Strayed and decided to hike a west coast trail for 1000 miles, not necessarily to undo her damage or find redemption, but just to center and accept herself and be able to start again. As a single white female with no previous hiking experience, she encounters situations and people that are colorful, strenuous, helpful, and frightening.

The movie is mostly Reese Witherspoon, and she does a fantastic job. Like Sandra Bullock, she has done a lot of movies where she played basically the same character. And, like Sandra Bullock, she is now showing the world that she can do much more. All of the supporting actors and actresses are great, and so is the cinematography. The movie is built around a series of flashbacks that pop up for a second at a time, intentionally jumbled, in order to simulate the jumbled reminiscences of the main character. I didn't read the book, but I suspect that the device works better in the book than in the movie; it's adequately done, but somewhat distracting.

The movie makes few judgments. The character is not necessary a good girl gone bad, and she is not necessarily any better by the end. So the movie is more like a series of connected scenes hung around a theme. I liked it a lot, but the lack of anything real to hang onto somehow left me a little disconnected (Boyhood did essentially the same thing, but there were some definite character arcs in it). Worth watching at least once.

Palo Alto: A film directed by Gia Coppola, adapted from some of the stories in a book of stores by James Franco. This is a movie of disconnected scenes and disconnected youth, some of whom are unlikable, and some of whom are unbelievable. Apparently every girl in high school has sex, to the point that the one girl who doesn't is teased by everyone else. And one girl will go down on essentially anyone.

It is all very atmospheric, shot with hazy lenses (or it just felt that way). Even the daytime shots feel like night. No one is sympathetic, which left me cold. Style-wise it feels like her aunt Sophia Coppola's first film, The Virgin Suicides, but without a plot or any sympathy. I wasn't a big fan of Suicides; I thought it was okay. This film is shot well, the director captures a mood of some kind, and gets decent performances from her young cast, but it is a tale of sound an fury, signifying nothing.

Genius: The story of Tom Wolfe, the grandfather of the beatniks (predating them by 30 years) who wrote with both genius and logorrhea, and his editor Maxwell Perkins, who brought to the world Tom's first two books. Maxwell was also the man who brought Hemingway and Fitzgerald to print. Editing the vast output of Tom's writing into sensible and digestible form was a difficult task. Apparently he did a better job than the screenwriter of this film. Like Tom's original writings, the film goes on senselessly repeating itself until you want to chuck the whole thing in the garbage.

Which is a shame. At 100 minutes, Jude Law's Tom's bloviating is tiresome. At around 60 minutes, this would have been a fascinating and captivating picture. Alternately, the extra 40 minutes could have contained more Hemingway, more Fitzgerald, or especially more of Nicole Kidman's incredible portrayal of Aline Bernstein, Tom's lover, supporter, and patron, who was also a writer and who was married to someone else at the time. Her story, other than her relation to Tom, is entirely absent from the movie.

Great directing, acting, cinematography, costumes, and so on. Some of the screenplay is fine; but, like its subject, a better editor was needed.
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