Sunday 25 June 2017

Movie reviews: A Walk in the Woods - funny and easy viewing

A Walk in the Woods, Cert 15A

Trail tale: Robert Redford and Nick Nolte in A Walk in the Woods, based on a book by Bill Bryson
Trail tale: Robert Redford and Nick Nolte in A Walk in the Woods, based on a book by Bill Bryson
Fruit of conflict: Tangerines has a poignant message
Jack Black in The D Train

Aine O'Connor

Reviewed this week are A Walk in the Woods, Everest, Horse Money, Tangerines and the D Train.

By 1996 Bill Bryson had made a successful career travel writing without ever writing about his native US. He had married an English woman and settled in the UK and when he moved back to America he felt he needed to do something to reconnect with the country.  The something he chose to do was the Appalachian Trail, 2,200 miles across 14 eastern states of the US. His wife, dead set against the trip, agreed only if he found a companion. There weren't many takers for the months of hiking and camping, the one person who was willing was Katz, a long-lost and slightly estranged friend who had a history of alcohol abuse. It was this unlikely pair who set off.

When it was published in 1998 the book was a huge success and Robert Redford has long wanted to make the film version, apparently with his old friend Paul Newman. Almost two decades later Redford plays Bryson and Nick Nolte plays Katz. Emma Thompson is the reluctant wife, Cynthia.

The film, directed by Ken Kwapis from a screenplay by William Holderman, is based on the book, but two of its main incidents are rather embellished and the structure feels quite contrived, as in 'cue the funny bit'. And there are funny bits, some of which work well. The premise, after all, is fantastic but they don't always make the most of it.. Redford is a little subdued, leaving Nolte to steal the show as the unwittingly unprepared Katz. This semi-redemption story makes for pleasant, unchallenging, often funny and easy viewing.

AO'C

Now Showing

Everest

Cert 12A

Some films are made for the big screen and Everest is one of those. Based on several different accounts of the same true events, it relies most heavily on Beck Weathers' book Left For Dead: My Journey Home From Everest.  Weathers (played by Josh Brolin) was one of a group of climbers including a postman called Doug (John Hawkes) and experienced Japanese climber Yasuko (Naoko Mori) who had paid Australian company Adventure Consultants to take them to the top of the world's highest mountain in 1996.

Adventure Consultants, run by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), Helen (Emily Watson) and Guy (Sam Worthington) was the first company to run Everest trips and is trustworthy and safe. But by the mid nineties Everest is a big draw, base camp is crowded, everyone wants to summit on the same day, May 10, and there is no-one to regulate the numbers. Rob agrees to work with rival guides Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Anatoli (Ingvar Sigordsson) but no amount of co-operation can compete with the elements.

Directing a screenplay by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy (Gladiator and 127 Hours), director Baltasar Kormakur uses the first hour of the film to develop the many characters, including distant wives (Keira Knightley and Robin Wright) and to show the 40 day prep and acclimatisation time required. The second hour is devoted to the ascent. The cast is great, the characters feel real and it manages to stay largely unsentimental yet remain engaging. The effects are amazing, Everest looks fantastic, the adventure entirely untempting and it is worth seeing in IMAX if possible.

AO'C

Now Showing

Tangerines

No Cert

Perhaps I'm just a sucker for a narrative, any narrative, and whilst the Portuguese surrealism of Horse Money (see above right) wrecked my head, the Estonian anti-war film Tangerines proved a very pleasant surprise. In 1992 Abkhazia, a largely Muslim territory, was subject to an ownership claim by Georgia, war broke out and most of the Estonian population who lived there moved home.  Writer/director Zaza Urushadze's film, the first Estonian one to be nominated for an Oscar, revolves around two who chose to remain, elderly carpenter Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) and his neighbour Margus (Elmo Nuganen) who is waiting on the ripening of his lucrative crop of tangerines.

They're hoping for help from the local militia to harvest and sell the crop -they'll do favours in return. In the meantime, they face occasional demands for food from passing mercenaries and violence floats in the air, sometimes landing too close to home. A skirmish between Georgian troops and North Caucasian mercenaries leaves several dead, and Ivo takes the wounded survivors, Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze) and Nika (Mikhail Meskhi) into his home. But the men are on opposing sides and keen to kill to each other as soon as possible. Ivo will tolerate no messing, and peace of sorts descends. And all the while in the background there is the tangerine issue.

At just under an hour and a half long and in a limited setting, it feels like a play. Each act is defined and contained, the characters, especially Ivo and Margus, are clear, subtle and well-delivered. It looks spartan but lovely, it has some flashes of humour, in short it's simple but strong, the anti-war message rings clear and obvious. And poignant because 1992 might be gone but the troubles in the area have not.

AO'C

Now Showing IFI

Horse Money

No Cert

Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa's Horse Money has an approval rating of 92pc on Rotten Tomatoes, which is the sort of thing that makes me think I am in the wrong job. Or else all the other hacks are. It might be dreamlike and surreal and beautiful, but it was, to my apparently philistine mind, not only self-indulgent and unfathomable but really boring. 

Ventura, who plays himself, as he did in Costa's Colossal Youth, is an elderly man from Cabo Verde who has lived in the now defunct Fontainhas slum of Lisbon.

Largely populated by immigrants from Cabo Verde, Fontainhas has featured in much of Costa's work. Ventura's health is deteriorating, in part because of the environment in which he was obliged to live and work. He begins descending into a dungeon, emerges in a hospital where he is greeted by figures from his past. Amongst them is Vitalina who whispers the story of having come to Portugal for the funeral of her husband.

This all makes it sound way more coherent than it feels, and perhaps it is my lack that I struggle with such abstraction. There is a palpable sense of loss and anger and resentment, but also of self-pity. Visually, it is stylised and stylish, but I found it impossible to engage with and impossible to care about over 110 minutes. Different critics have found great, different, meanings in the film. If you like profoundly art-house fare you might too. I just didn't.

AO'C

Now Showing IFI

Tangerines

No Cert

Perhaps I'm just a sucker for a narrative, any narrative, and whilst the Portuguese surrealism of Horse Money  wrecked my head, the Estonian anti-war film Tangerines proved a very pleasant surprise. In 1992 Abkhazia, a largely Muslim territory, was subject to an ownership claim by Georgia, war broke out and most of the Estonian population who lived there moved home.  Writer/director Zaza Urushadze's film, the first Estonian one to be nominated for an Oscar, revolves around two who chose to remain, elderly carpenter Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) and his neighbour Margus (Elmo Nuganen) who is waiting on the ripening of his lucrative crop of tangerines.

They're hoping for help from the local militia to harvest and sell the crop -they'll do favours in return. In the meantime, they face occasional demands for food from passing mercenaries and violence floats in the air, sometimes landing too close to home. A skirmish between Georgian troops and North Caucasian mercenaries leaves several dead, and Ivo takes the wounded survivors, Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze) and Nika (Mikhail Meskhi) into his home. But the men are on opposing sides and keen to kill to each other as soon as possible. Ivo will tolerate no messing, and peace of sorts descends. And all the while in the background there is the tangerine issue.

At just under an hour and a half long and in a limited setting, it feels like a play. Each act is defined and contained, the characters, especially Ivo and Margus, are clear, subtle and well-delivered. It looks spartan but lovely, it has some flashes of humour, in short it's simple but strong, the anti-war message rings clear and obvious. And poignant because 1992 might be gone but the troubles in the area have not.

AO'C

Now Showing IFI

The D Train

Cert 15A

I confess to not having the highest hopes for this Jack Black vehicle so it was a pleasant surprise to see what is, in ways,  one of the better films about midlife crises. A subject about which I know an unfortunate amount about.

The film begins predictably enough. Dan Landsman (Black) is, and has always been pathologically uncool, and worse, he knows it. He is the pernickety self-styled head of the high school alumni association, he guards the alumni Facebook page password closely, he projects his own social failure onto his teenage son (Russell Posner). The association is having difficulty encouraging former classmates to come to their 20-year reunion and never ask Dan along to their sorrow drowning post-meeting drinks. Dan's wife Stacey, (Kathryn Hahn), who was also in school with them, is painfully aware of his social failings and of his slightly tragic attempts to overcome them.

When Dan sees an old school friend, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), on a TV commercial he comes up with a plan - if they could get a star like Oliver to attend all the others would follow and the reunion would be a success. No-one believes he can do it so Dan hatches a plan, tricking his freakishly technophobic boss (Jeffrey Tambor) into financing a trip to LA ostensibly for a business meeting, but really so Dan can get Oliver on board. They bond as fakes, but the audience knows their truths.

Naturally the scheme does not go according to plan, but some of the hitches it faces are unusual and take the film into much less predictable territory. Writers and directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul (Yes Man) add certain angles that it make the film a little darker and a lot more interesting than the premise suggests. Black does a good job delivering on that too and Marsden is well cast.

As well as the classic mid- -life issues around how we end up and how we view ourselves vs how others view us, there are shards of self-help theories, like 'ask and it is given' and 'fake it to make it'. There are plenty of funny moments, lots of them sex-based, the ending is predictable enough but there's lots to like here.

AO'C

Now Showing

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