Tag Archives: movie reviews

A Walk in the Woods: a (terribly written) review

On a whim, Dixie and I decided to go and see A Walk in the Woods in the theatre yesterday. It’s based on Bill Bryson’s book about his hike through (much of) the Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States. I am huge fan of the book, which was what got me hooked on Bryson, who is one of my favourite authors (new book coming out in October, YAAAAY!). I knew from the trailer that significant elements of the book were changed for the purposes of the movie, so my hopes weren’t high.

Below are some brief thoughts on the film. But before I do that, I feel that I should mention that Dixie, who has not read the book, as I have (several times), enjoyed the film.

– The book is a travelogue, a sort of section by section account of Bryson’s journey through a large portion of the Appalachian Trail. The film is more of a memoir/”spiritual journey” story, which isn’t really in keeping with the spirit of the book, but then I’m not sure any adaption of the book could have been true to its spirit. But in order to make it what it is, the characters were made more advanced in age than Bryson was when he hikes the trail. Bryson was, I think, in his early forties when he did the hike, the character in the film of (at least) retirement age; Bryson was approaching the peak of his fame and powers as an author when he wrote A Walk in the Woods; in the film his character is at the end of his career.

– The biggest disappointment for me was that the film felt empty. That is, nearly every page in A Walk in the Woods has fascinating anecdotes and tidbits of information, sarcastic quips, and hilarious incidents (and often a combination of all of those things at once). The film was light in all those areas. The difficulty for any adaptation of an author whose primary appeal is his way with words is that what works in print often doesn’t work in film. Humour written for the page is not the same as humour written for the screen. (It’s the same with P.G. Wodehouse. As good as Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were as Jeeves and Wooster, the TV adaptations couldn’t touch Wodehouse’s written page. And in my mind Bryson, particularly in his earlier work, is a sort of modern-day nonfiction Wodehouse.)

– The film was too light (which is probably related to its emptiness). I wasn’t drawn in. It showed potential at the very beginning, and even greater potential with the arrival of Kristen Schaal’s naively overconfident character. True to the book, they ditch her after a day or so, but if memory serves me right, in the book she shows up again. She doesn’t reappear in the film and she was gone far too quickly. Even if she didn’t reappear in the book, they would have done well by having her reappear in the film (since they were mucking about with the story anyway).

– The character of Stephen Katz was true to the book.

I realize that this has turned into a “the-film-wasn’t-like-the-book-so-it-sucked” sort of review, and for that I apologize. A film should be judged on its own merits, not on how well it represents the book on which it’s based (though if that really is true, I wish they’d stop putting “based upon…” in film advertising). Unfortunately, I can’t separate the two, so perhaps you should just go with Dixie’s judgement on this one. I do think the film was “light”: a story that doesn’t really go anywhere or land.

Lucy

Dixie and I watched Luc Besson’s new film Lucy a couple of days ago.

The philosophical question behind it is interesting: what would humans be like if we used more of our brains? This question is based on the suggestion (which my oldest daughter tells me is false) that humans only use about 10% of their brain capacity.

Lucy addresses this question with the story of Lucy, who unwittingly and against her will finds herself involved with a Chinese drug ring, who surgically implants a bag of a powerful new drug in her stomach. The bag is unintentionally punctured and the high concentration of the drug entering her blood stream begins to “awaken” her brain to its full capacity.

Besson’s answer to this question is, unfortunately, the standard fare. In film, more of our brains for some reason always means what we (in our current state of minimal brain usage) would consider superpowers—telekinesis, telepathy, etc. I’ve never understood why such an assumption is made. I suppose it makes for a more “exciting” film, but what possible connection could there be between neural synapses and moving inanimate objects from a distance?

Even more curious, in Besson’s vision a human with increased brain usage becomes increasingly robotic. This gift—if it can be called that—is ultimately about gaining knowledge, even to the point of omniscience and a godlike status. At the same time, this “super”-human is almost completely without compassion. This new god-creature is only interested in passing on its vast newly-gained knowledge, even as people are dying violently around it.

Beyond the superpower clichés, the film lacks direction. It’s never clear exactly what Lucy is doing or why: is she saving the world? is she seeking vengeance for this unwanted gift of brains? or is it really unwanted? Who knows. There are interesting hints at a new stage of evolution/new creation, which have potential, but they are never explained or explored.

I found it to be quite a bleak vision. Perhaps that was the point. Or perhaps Besson simply needed an interesting plot-line to fuel some CGI fun. I’m not sure. I’d like to see a film in which increased brain power results in more compassion and a human simply becoming more human.

To Rome with Love (Review in a Nutshell)

Dixie and I saw Woody Allen’s new film, To Rome with Love, tonight. The film spans a day or two in the lives of four couples who live in or are visiting Rome. It’s not getting great reviews: its metascore is 55 and Rotten Tomatoes has declared it rotten with a 45% rating. I can see why. It was funny throughout, and the story lines are clever at several points, but the film lacks the energy and edginess of Allen’s best work. To Rome seems somewhat meandering and slapped-together.

But I’m with Roger Ebert on this one. He gives it 3 stars out of a possible 4 and says:

“To Rome With Love isn’t great Woody Allen. Here is a man who has made a feature every year since 1969, give or take a few, and if they cannot all be great Woody, it’s churlish to complain if they’re only good Woody.”

It’s a poor film when compared to other Woody Allen films; that it comes on the heels of last year’s wonderful Midnight in Paris doesn’t help.

And as I watched the film, I began to realize something. The plots of the four independent stories, some of which border on the absurd, are closer in feel to the material in Allen’s books of short stories, essays, and plays from the 70s and early 80s than to what one has historically found in his films. For instance, the Roberto Benigni’s story line, in which his character, who is a normal, almost dull individual, becomes famous for no other reason than having become famous, put me immediately in mind of “The Metterling Lists,” a satirical essay analyzing the laundry lists of a man named Metterling. Those books were a delight, but that kind of thing may not translate well into film.

Gran Torino

On Saturday, Dixie and I had a second opportunity to see Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, a film about bitter, retired autoworker, his Gran Torino, and the disappearance of his old neighbourhood.

(Spoilers ahead: if you don’t want this film ruined for you, stop reading.  Just take this and run with it: I give it 4 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it.)

At first the movie seemed like just another redemptive/coming-of-age story–something that would fall into a similar category as The Man Without a Face.  But as the story progressed I was drawn in.  The conclusion to the film…er…saved, if you will, the rest of the story.

I don’t want to turn this film into a sermon, but there is a definite redemptive arc to the film.  In the end, Clint Eastwood’s character takes what you might call the “third way” to deal with the core problem of violence in the story and becomes a Christ-figure (quite literally, in terms of imagery).

Sorry of that ruins the movie for you.  It’s quite popular these days to find Christian imagery in movies and sometimes it’s annoying, but it was unmistakable in this film, and I’m usually the last one to catch this sort of thing.

Plus, I cried a couple of tears at the end of the film.  If I hadn’t choked the rest of them back, it may have turned into sobs.

4 out of 5 stars.  Highly recommended.