Wild – a review


Did I leave my hair-straighteners on?


To carry an entire movie on your shoulders is a heavy burden for any actor but one that Reese Witherspoon ably picks up with the same determination as the ‘monster’ backpack she carries with her throughout Jean-Marc Vallée‘s Wild. The backpack serves as a very solid and obvious metaphor for her journey; a weight she systematically lightens as she progresses along her 1,000 mile trek, realising she’s been carrying far too much baggage, she discards what she no longer needs. Be this the dozen condoms she’s packed for a trip walking alone across the desert or the painful emotions and repressed memories which she’s simultaneously trying to escape and exorcise

The cinematographic personality is somewhat schizophrenic, on the one hand adopting quite an intimate documentary style, on the other a pretty sweeping and accomplished piece of narrative filmmaking. Never quite digging as deep into those intensely personal moments as it could but in so doing allowing the time and space for the story to breathe. All the while Ms Witherspoon gallantly leads the way with a quite lovely mix of natural comedic timing and experienced pathos. She’s surprisingly pleasant to watch and perhaps needed this solo vehicle to propel herself into the next stage of her career.

Some of the nudity smacks of the gratuitous and actually outside the tone of the film, not exactly jeopardising anything but certainly feeling unnecessary. The flaws of Witherspoon’s Cheryl need to be exposed and her grief and guilt made stark, she must bare all, but after the fourth or fifth time you see her breasts, the point has already been well made.

Laura Dern, as the ethereal mother figure, floating in and out of flashback and montage sequences, manages to carve out a little corner of the film all for herself. Her relationship with Witherspoon being the central anchor to this story, their chemistry becomes essential to its success. Luckily they find a gentle alchemy resting somewhere between realism and romanticism, in fact mirroring the sentiment of the whole piece.

But it’s Witherspoon’s film and she is captivating, blurring the lines between damsel in distress and unforgivable bitch. In fact it’s these flaws that make the character, and as a result the film, convincing. You can connect because you can relate. Her determination can’t be faulted however and, as with the real Cheryl Strayed, to walk 1,000 miles alone across a desert to escape your life and find a better one on the other side deserves some respect. As does this film.


The Theory of Everything – a review

Have you farted?

I knew I should’ve worn the blue dress…

Stephen Hawking is one of those indelible figures of the 20th Century (and indeed the 21st), a person so renowned that even if you don’t know what he stands for or what he’s achieved then you know that he exists, like a Ghandi or Mother Teresa. However, behind the populous image is a real man, a real man and his wife, and that’s where this biopic focuses its attention; on the life that Professor Hawking, played with quite remarkable commitment by Eddie Redmayne, lived with his first wife Jane (Felicity Jones).

The Theory of Everything charts the struggle from just before Hawking was first diagnosed with motor neuron disease, through the lows resulting from the deterioration of his physical condition into the astronomical highs of the success and fame his work as a physicist brought him.

Behind every great man, the saying goes, is a great woman. And never was the case more so than with Hawking and Jane. Director James Marsh draws on his impressive documentarian background, weaving intelligently the facets of their life together as a couple and the more well known aspects of Hawking’s career; the incredible courageousness of Jane that allowed Stephen to work towards his best-selling book ‘A Brief History of Time’.

No relationship that stands the test of time is without its troubles and here they are obviously multiplied by Hawking’s physical condition and the inevitable strain that put on their family. Redmayne manages to not only embody Hawking physically, there are times when it really could be the Professor himself, so good is his performance, but also to humanise a man about whom not much is known beyond his academic achievements.

Although the story is heavily skewed towards Jane’s version of events – the screenplay being based on her book ‘Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen’ – then she is still painted, by the diminutive Jones, with a spectrum of colour and emotion; flawed but undeniably powerful and heroic in her determination to stick with Stephen no matter what the doctors or, indeed, he himself said. One particularly powerful scene sees Jane fighting to get Hawking to accept the necessity that he start using a wheel chair, a defining moment in his life from which he would never go back.

The Theory of Everything gives us a real, if slightly glossed, love story. No fairytale princesses or Hollywood happy endings here but real life; with all its complications, temptations, hardship and ultimately delivering a powerful documentation of what it is to be with someone else: sacrifice and compromise. Jane Hawking embodies a shining example of that sacrifice and gives us an inspirational true story of the human power of enduring love.

With awards season looming, the film is already gathering momentum with several Golden Globe nominations, quite rightly including Redmayne as best actor, no doubt giving an indication that he could, and arguably should, be in line come Oscars time. It’s worth reiterating that the physical commitment to his performance is quite simply staggering.

If you could put the BBC up on the silver screen then this is what you’d get: compelling, very well done and intrinsically British, The Theory of Everything doesn’t disappoint.

first published on filmjuice.com


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


Hasn’t he done well

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies sees Bilbo and his cohorts return to finish off the epic saga of Middle Earth; taking on a giant charismatic dragon, an all seeing and malevolently powerful fiery eye and an extremely ugly and multitudinous Ork horde, not to mention themselves, in the process. Phew, quite a task.

Luckily we have some very familiar faces to help us on our quest. Sir Ian McKellen reprises the role of Gandalf one more time, Martin Freeman lends his impishly quirky and considerable charms to dear old Bilbo Baggins again – somewhere between a beautifully crafted homage to Ian Holm’s performances in the earlier Lord of the Rings films and an indelible stamp on the character all of his own – and Luke Evans’ human hero Bard teams up with the Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace) to take on Richard Armitage’s gold drunk Thorin.

The climax of the previous film, The Desolation of Smaug, ended on an ultimate cliffhanger, which the final installment is glad to pick up immediately. After the opening ten minutes we settle down into what turns out to be a very human/elf/ork/dwarf/wizard story. Although the usual spectacle of gargantuan beasts fighting one another – man going up against ork, elf against dwarf – is still present, this chapter hits just as an impressive, if expectantly sentimental, balance between emotional story line and epic action as any of its preceding relations.

At the core are themes of greed, friendship, impossible love (here Romeo and Juliet are dwarf and elf) and ultimately Thorin’s internal struggle. A struggle to overcome his desire for power and shirk the shadow of his ancestors to fulfill his destiny as the hero and savior of his people (dwarves). The action spectacle is, as ever, just that: spectacular. Possibly more so than the previous films, with some excellent fight choreography, but all still in keeping with the universe that Peter Jackson created some 14 years ago.

That being said, you can’t help but feel like something is missing, in terms of spark or originality. Maybe, after so long in the saddle, it’s just time that this story came to a close. And it does so with a fitting conclusion to the first two films, wrapping everything up nicely for the LOTR films to begin.

Where’s that box set then…