Friday, September 18, 2015

"A Walk in the Woods" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "A Walk in the Woods" and DVDs "Get Hard" and "Three Hearts." The Book of the Week is "Life on the Ramona Coaster."  I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with the British classic "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp"]

A Walk in the Woods

Writer Bill Bryson walks the Appalachian Trail with an old friend in this "buddy movie" for the geriatric set. 

Bill Bryson is a best-selling author and humorist who has written mostly about travel.  He lived in England for several years and his fame came from his funny observations about acclimating to life in England which he wrote about in "Notes from a Small Island" in 1995.  He has accumulated many honors including an OBE for his contribution to literature and an appointment as Chancellor of Durham University.

This film begins after Bryson has returned to the U.S. after 20 years in England. He attends a funeral of a friend which starts him thinking about his mortality and what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

So what do you do when you feel Father Time creeping up on you?  Why, you decide to walk The Appalachian Trail. 

Bryson, played by Robert Redford, gets a call from an old friend, Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), whom he hadn't seen in years.  Probably for a reason.  They couldn't be more different.  Bryson is pretty much of a straight arrow, an accomplished writer accruing many awards over his lifetime.  Katz is a bit of a ne'er do well, an ex-womanizing alcoholic and not in very good shape. Bryson has his misgivings about this pairing, but Bryson's wife won't let him go on this trip alone, and Katz wants to go, so together they take off on their adventure. That's where this movie begins and as it progresses, there are lots of old folks and aging jokes that you may or may not find funny, eccentric characters they meet along the way and some harrowing encounters with bears and the side of a mountain.

Directed by Ken Kwapis and based on Bryson's 1998 book, the topic of this film is a good fit for Redford as he has always been an active environmentalist.  Early in his career he bought an entire ski area north of Provo, Utah he named Sundance and which has now become a famous resort and Film Festival venue.  

However this film is not such a good fit for Redford acting wise.  They say comedic acting is the most difficult because of the timing needed to deliver a line and make it funny, do a double-take and generally be funny.  There is no doubt that Redford is a great dramatic actor but his comedic abilities are in question here.  When you compare him to Emma Thompson (she plays his wife), who does have the gift, it is very apparent.  Even Nolte can do it better.

Speaking of Nolte. Remember when Nick Nolte was People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive?"  That was only 23 years ago but you would never know it.  He is overweight and grizzled and now plies his trade as curmudgeons and elderly ne'er do wells which he does here to great effect.  I felt MY heart pounding as he staggered up hills on the Appalachian Trail.  Redford plays straight man to Nolte's character, something that is surprising since Bryson is supposed to be the humorist. The film just didn't capture Bryson's wit.

Kristen Schaal as Mary Ellen, a know-it-all hiker Bill and Katz run into on the trail steals the show, but she isn't on screen very long.

And speaking of small parts. Mary Steenburgen was also in the cast in a strange little part that the film could have done without, though I'm happy to see aging actresses getting work.  Likewise aging actors.

Can't help but compare this film to "Wild" as both treks were all about dealing with what life hands you:  Strayed to get over the loss of her mother; Bryson to prove to himself he wasn't getting old. But that's where the comparion ends. This film is more like the geriatric road trip-buddy film "Land Ho," where two old guys tour Iceland.  I reviewed that one positively and liked it better.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are a big Bill Bryson fan, you might be disappointed with this as it does not capture his snarky and often hilarious observations and takes liberties with the book, but the scenery is lovely and there are a couple of funny bits, so it's a pleasant enough "walk in the woods."

You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)

Get Hard (2015)

When rich guy James King (Will Ferrell) gets arrested for fraud and faces jail time, he turns to Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), who washes his car and is the only black guy he knows, to help him train to survive in jail.

King is living large in Bel Air in a beautiful mansion with a beautiful fiancé.  He wears bespoke suits, takes martial arts classes and is building a bigger better mansion. He is one of those "one-percenters" we keep hearing about (and I don't mean the motorcycle club).

King is arrested for securities fraud and embezzlement at his engagement party and is facing 10 years in a maximum security prision.  He is terrified of becoming "someone's bitch" in prison. He has 30 days to report to prison so he asks Darnell, who washes his car and is the only black person he knows to teach him how to be "hard" for prison. 

Of course the joke here is that just because Darnell is black, King assumes he has been in prison when in fact Darnell is the owner of the car wash and is living the middle class life, trying to buy a home. He has never been in jail a day in his life.  He is in fact a middle class straight arrow.  But he sees a way to get that down payment for the house he wants, so he pretends to be "hard."

King turns his house into a pseudo-prison so he can live the life ahead of time.  Darnell tries to teach him to have a "badass face" and how to fight.  King's martial arts routines just don't cut it.  What is funny here is the visual - little "hardass" Kevin Hart and big, tall but wimpy Will Farrell.  Also Darnell makes King pick a fight with random guys in the park and that got a chuckle out of me. But just not enough funny scenes to carry this film.

Later, Darnell figures out that King actually didn't do the crime and is encouraged by his wife to find out who did, thus making us feel some sympathy for King.

Directed by Eton Cohen (not to be confused with one of the Cohen brothers), the film has some funny moments but too many racial and gay stereotypes and rape jokes.  There was an opportunity here to say something about the one-percenters and racial stereotypes but those opportunities were lost in the sympathy we felt for King, our one-percenter, and the racial stereotypes. 

Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart are two very funny guys.  This could have been a comic movie made in heaven.  Unfortunately, two funny guys does not a funny movie make.

Rosy the Reviewer says...another comedy that really wasn't one.

Three Hearts (2014)

A man gets involved with two sisters ("Three Hearts," get it?).

Marc (Benoit Poelvoorde), a tax inspector misses his train back to Paris and sees Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) walking around alone.  He asks for a light in an irritating bit with a lighter that doesn't quite ring true but it comes back to haunt everyone later in the film.  He puts the moves on Sylvie in a very French, suave way. Marc is a bit of a letch.  "He likes women."  I think it's a French thing. They walk around all night together and decide to meet on Friday at 5pm in Paris at the Tuileries.

Sylvie has a boyfriend but this meeting with Marc serves as a catalyst for her to leave him.  She moves home with her mother (the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve, who has decided to save her face instead of her butt - and those who are regulars on this blog will understand the reference).

When the time comes to meet, Marc is in a meeting that is running long because the Chinese businessmen he is meeting with don't speak French or English.  In his hurry to make his meeting with Sylvie he thinks he is having a heart attack. He faints and misses the train.  Turns out it was just a panic attack.  Marc is kind of an anxious guy.

Ominous music plays throughout.

Sylvie is there on time and waits but when she thinks he is not coming, she leaves, and naturally just misses him in one of those excruciating "just missing the person" scenes.   Sylvie returns to her failed relationship and when her boyfriend, Christophe, is offered a job in Minneapolis, they both move to the U.S.

When Marc finally gets to the meeting place, Sylvie has already gone.  Marc returns to the town where they first met hoping to find her again but she has already gone. 

Marc is a tax inspector and runs into Sylvie's sister, Sophie, at the tax office because she is having some problems with her taxes for her business. 
Sylvie and her sister, Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni), run an antique business together. He sees her crying in the hallway and comes to her aid.  We already know that Marc "likes women" so he naturally puts the moves on her not realizing it's Sylvie's sister.  They bond over her missing her sister and her tax issues. 

Her issue is the same as Sylvie's.  When she meets Marc she also is living with a boyfriend she doesn't really love.  She falls in love with Marc and they move in together all the while with Marc not realizing that Sophie is Sylvie's sister.  However, Sophie Skypes with her sister and after a few scenes where Marc almost sees Sylvie during a Skype session, notices some gestures Sophie makes that are the same as Sylvie's and finding a lighter just like Sylvie's (I told you the lighter would turn up again), Marc gets the picture.

When he discovers the truth, Marc starts to brood over Sylvie, who it seems he has never gotten over despite spending only one night with her walking around.

But Marc and Sophie get married and have a son.  Sylvie finally returns and Sylvie and Marc are both finally able to explain why they didn't meet that fateful day, but the film ends as it only can, especially since we have been listening to all of that ominous music throughout the film and having some magical thinking about what might have happened had they not missed each other on that fateful day. 

Charlotte Gainsbourg (the daughter of French Singer Serge Gainsbourg and the model Jane Birkin, for whom the purse none of can afford is named) is always good in a moody, hardly ever smiling way, but I have not really forgiven her for "Nymphomanic 1 & 2," which made my worst of 2014 list

Poelvoorde does a convincing job as the point of the triangle, but his obsession with Sylvie is a bit difficult to understand since it was just one night and we didn't feel much passion between them. Mastroianni is lovely and convincing as Sophie and there seems to be much more going on between her and Marc.

But it's a romantic, though excruciating story.  All very French.

Rosy the Reviewer says...If you liked "An Affair to Remember," you will like this film.
(In French with English subtitles)


***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

292 to go!

The 40-year career of a British soldier, from the Boer War to World War II.

The film is an extended flash-back on the military career of Major-General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey) beginning in 1902 with his just returning from the Boer WarHe receives a letter from Berlin from a Miss Edith Hunter (a very young Deborah Kerr) where she complains about a man named Kaunitz who is spreading anti-British propaganda in Berlin.  She demands that the British Embassy do something.  Candy brings this to their attention but they do nothing, so Candy decides to travel to Berlin where he meets with Edith.  When he confronts Kaunitz, he is challenged to a duel.  Theo (Anton Walbrook), a German soldier, is chosen by lot to fight Candy in the name of the Imperial German Army.  They wound each other, but fortunately no one died and, ironically, they inadvertently become friends while recuperating in the hospital.  Edith visits both of them and ends up marrying Theo, though it is clear she has feelings for Candy and he for her.

The film tracks Candy through WW I, where he becomes a Brigadier General and up to WW II where Candy is brought back to the active list as part of the Home Guard.  He and Theo have reunited.  Their wives have died (both played by Kerr), and Candy confesses to Theo that he had loved Edith and never gotten over her, though he also loved his wife.

A young Deborah Kerr (she was only 20 and this was only her 7th feature film in what was to be a long career) adds romance to this film as she plays three different parts (she also plays Candy's driver at the end of the film). Director Powell was in love with her and it shows with the juicy close-ups he affords her.  

Why it's a Must See: "[Director] Michael Powell and [producer] Emeric Pressburger made [this film] at the height of World War II, when London was being bombed nightly by the Germans. A comedy of manners may not appear the best way to address current events, but the Powell-Pressburger team...[reveals] the horrible truth of modern warfare with grace and humor...It all adds up to one of the most ambitious and impressive all of British cinema."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Powell and Pressburger were a successful duo who had already produced "The Red Shoes" and "I Know Where I'm Going, which also starred Livesey , but this film was a daring film for the times.  Made in 1942 in the midst of WW II where most films were blatantly patriotic, this film was ambivalent about war, questioning the idea of winning at any cost.  It even had a major sympathetic character who was German.  It has been compared with Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons" and "Citizen Kane."

Colonel Blimp was a British cartoon character portraying a pompous, irasicible military British stereotype. There is no mention of that character here except in the title and how Candy looks as an old man, but he is a metaphor perhaps for the loss of traditional British values.  Clive Candy is an honorable soldier and his only relationship to Blimp is the fact that as he aged, his views did not change with the time, especially about winning wars. He didn't believe in doing whatever necessary to win. So there is a mourning here for the loss of traditional British values, but more importantly, this film highlights how little we value the wisdom of the old as time marches on.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Despite the valuable theme, the gorgeous cinematography and the accolades, I found this film overdone, melodramatic and too long. 

***Book of the Week***

Life on the Ramona Coaster  by Ramona Singer (2015)
Ramona Singer, one of the stars of the reality show "The Real Housewives of New York City,"  shares her reality.
If you are not a fan of "The Housewives of NYC," you can stop reading now.  I won't be mad.  I know it's an addic...I mean, acquired taste.  But if you have a loved one watching and you are interested in what has happened up until now, believe it or not, Ramona does a good and rather balanced job of bringing you up to date.
Ramona is one of the original NYC Housewives and Andy Cohen just gave her a "Lifetime Achievement Award" on his "All Things Bravo" show "Watch What Happens Live."  She is one of those characters you love to hate, because she can be a bit of a nutter, and doesn't appear to have a filter, but surprisingly, this book is calm, honest and answers all of your questions about her relationships with the other "Housewives" and her recent surprising breakup with her husband of 20 years, Mario. After reading this, I liked her.
Rosy the Reviewer says...a fast can get it done in a couple of hours so you won't feel guilty afterwards.

Thanks for Reading!

That's it for this week.

See you Tuesday for

"What's in My Purse?"

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  1. I LOVE French movies...putting it on my list. Who doesn't love "An Affair To Remember". I think I have cried thru that movie a million times.

    I recommend "Afternoons With Margueritte" when you are in the mood for another French movie.


    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Sazzy. I will look for it.