Redford's retreat, the madness of war, and a very strange romance
* A Walk in the Woods (15A, 104mins), 3 stars
* The D Train
(15A, 101mins), 3 stars
* Tangerines (No Cert, IFI, 87mins), 3 stars
* Horse Money(No Cert, IFI, 103mins), 3 stars
Captive (David Oyelowo, Kate Mara); Miss You Already (Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette); Life (Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan); Older Than Ireland.
Ken Swapis' Walk in the Woods is based on a playful travelogue Bill Bryson wrote in the late 1990s. Robert Redford has been attached to the project for at least a decade: he always planned to play Bryson, and at one point came close to persuading Paul Newman to co-star as Bryson's dissolute companion, Stephen Katz.
Sadly, that tantalising reunion never came to pass, and by the time the project was eventually green-lit in late 2013, Newman was long dead and Nick Nolte had been cast as Katz. Bill Bryson (Redford) is living comfortably in Maine when he becomes concerned that life is slipping away from him, and hatches a plan to walk the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. His wife (Emma Thompson) won't let him do it on his own, so in desperation Bryson turns to Katz, the colourful but wildly unpredictable travelling companion of his youth. That more or less guarantees the trip will end in disaster, but at least it won't be boring.
Sadly, however, this film is. It's mostly the fault of the writing, which is dull and dreary and manages to iron out most traces of Bryson's trademark wit. Though Redford and Nolte attack their respective roles with gusto, their potentially charming double act is constantly let down by plodding direction, bad writing and a storyline that goes precisely nowhere.
The directorial début of screenwriters Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, The D Train is a strange little film, a comedy that starts benignly before taking dark and unexpected turns. It's a bit uneven but very likeable, and nicely acted by its ensemble cast. Jack Black is Dan Landsman, the pompous, self-proclaimed chairman of his old high school's alumni committee. He's married to Stacey (the wonderful Kathryn Hahn) and has two children, but seems discontented with his lot.
Determined to improve his standing, Dan decides to track down the most popular guy in his high school year, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), and persuade him to come to a forthcoming reunion. Lawless moved to Los Angeles to become an actor, so Dan flies west to persuade him, hatching a plan that will cause all sorts of collateral damage.
The D Train seems safe and even staid at first, before an unforeseen twist allows it to really come into its own. Black and Marsden work very well off each other, and Jeffrey Tambor is terrific as Dan's long-suffering, saintly boss. There are loose ends here and there, but overall it's a bit of a treat.
Among the nominees for last year's foreign language film Oscar, Zaza Urushadze's Tangerines is a modest but very effective small scale drama that has the focus and precision of a short story. It's set in 1992 in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, when a nasty war had broken out between nationalist Georgians and Russian-backed Abkhazian separatists. Lembit Ulfsak plays Ivo, an ethnic Estonian carpenter who has stayed stubbornly in his home while most of his friends and family have fled the violence.
Ivo has been helping his friend and neighbour Margus prepare for the impending tangerine harvest, but their efforts are distracted by a violent skirmish between Georgians and Chechens that leaves five dead and two badly injured. Ivo and Margus take them in, but they turn out to be mortal enemies, and as the two men slowly recover, Ivo must use all his charisma and authority to keep the peace. It's a lovely film, wise and wistful.
Lauded by many critics, Pedro Costa's Horse Money explores the injustices endured by the people of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony off the coast of West Africa. At least that's what I think it's about, because it mainly involves a long man wandering dark corridors in his pyjamas pondering his miserable past. It's dour and formless, but I would advise you to like it if you want to be taken seriously by the arty types.
A Walk in the Woods
The D Train
(No Cert, IFI, 87mins)
(No Cert, IFI, 103mins)