Wild reviews

dws1982
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Re: Wild reviews

Postby dws1982 » Sat Jan 17, 2015 12:04 am

I remember a (otherwise not good) book I read said once basically said that "the greatest lie I've ever encountered is that life is a story about me". Here we have a film celebrating someone who hasn't figured that out yet. Basically a feature-length high-five to an absolutely insufferable egomaniac, framing (or trying to frame) what's a purely self-centered pursuit--by someone who clearly has no regard or respect for anyone but herself--as some kind of martyrdom. Vile. Not even well-photographed.

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Re: Wild reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Dec 14, 2014 10:34 pm

I'm a bit less enthusiastic about this than BJ -- perhaps because his reaction got me a little too primed. There's nothing much wrong with the movie -- like, say, Gorillas in the Mist, it's an absorbing study of a tightly focused woman on a journey. The steps along that journey kept me generally engaged (I'll agree with BJ that the Red River Valley interlude was the most striking), but I didn't feel like I learned anything along the way that surprised me: I knew early on this was a woman who'd hit bottom from grief over losing her mother, and I knew the same thing at the climax. Whatever growth Strayed achieved in the course of the film seemed standard self-actualization stuff, and I didn't feel any specific way in which it derived from her hiking experience (or even any way in which it surprised her, by how it differed from her pre-concept). The whole thing was just a bit pat, for me.

There were a few narrative details that bothered me a bit -- the fact that Strayed seemed not to have even looked at a single manual prior to starting her hike; the fact that every guy she ran into at least initially seemed like an extra from Deliverance; and that that damn fox showed up at least one time too many. But, as I say, I'm not terribly down on the movie; I just think it fails to soar in any way.

Which includes Witherspoon's performance...but, again, though I'm offering faint praise, I don't intend it to damn. This is clearly the strongest role Witherspoon has had in a very long time, and she's perfectly up to it. But, except for a few scenes (especially her encounter with the counselor), she didn't have many breakout moments; what she does is carry the film, which is not nothing, but I don't think it measures up to what Julianne Moore does in Still Alice (and possibly others, like Cotillard, do in films I've yet to see).

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Re: Wild reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Fri Dec 05, 2014 6:47 pm

I went into Wild prepared to dutifully check off Reese Witherspoon's Best Actress nomination, and I was quite surprised at how special I thought this movie was overall -- inspiring, very moving, funny in often brittle ways, even scary at times. It's not that we've never seen stories about characters embarking on seemingly pointless adventures in the wilderness before, but I found the level of insight here to be quite high, with a lot of moments that affected me not because they necessarily meant anything, but just because they were beautiful in simple ways.

Most impressive is the sheer variety of encounters Cheryl has with others along her journey. The farmer who appears potentially threatening, but who's really just well-intentioned (albeit painfully old-fashioned). The groups of young guys who Cheryl bonds with in almost brother-sisterly ways. The hunters who seem poised to take advantage of a woman alone in the woods. The park ranger who's clearly trying to get into her pants, and who may or may not make a move on her she might not want. The other woman she's ecstatic to meet along the trail. The guy at the music festival who she has a great night with, and probably never sees again. The grandmother and her son, singing "Red River Valley," in probably the movie's most inexplicably overwhelming moment of power. Scene after scene shows Cheryl interacting with people who enter her life only fleetingly, yet who make tremendous impact on her at moments when she is otherwise alone (physically, of course, but also emotionally.) Damien once referred to Auntie Mame (obviously a wildly different movie than this) as a celebration of life and the people you meet along the way; Wild seems like a different spin on that idea -- a celebration of Cheryl's tremendous journey and the fascinating individuals who touched her life for just a moment, before they all moved on. I found the collective impact of her experiences to be quite poignant.

It probably goes without saying that this is the strongest role Reese Witherspoon has had since her Oscar win, if not Election. Witherspoon was an actress whose snarky sense of humor was quite appealing to me in the Pleasantville/Election era, but her string of (usually bad) rom coms suggested she wasn't much interested in challenging herself once she ascended to stardom. It's nice to see her again in a part with some meat to it. I wouldn't say it's a tour de force -- a lot of acting in these survival tales amounts to sizable stretches of looking exhausted and gross -- but her essentially one-woman show gives her a part with a lot of colors, and she delivers on them across the board. A certain and well-deserved Best Actress nominee.

I also think Laura Dern makes a pretty significant contribution to the movie, though her role -- existing entirely in flashbacks -- just may be too chopped up for a nomination. Dern creates such a joyful personality, and her scenes with young Cheryl show such a meaningful bond, we understand how the impact of her death (not a spoiler, since it's the whole premise for the movie) sent Cheryl into such a downward spiral, resulting in her ultimate journey along the Pacific Crest Trail. I think the way Hornby and Vallee handle the structure of the movie -- with these flashback scenes interwoven with Cheryl's journey, as well as the voiceover of her thoughts -- is quite impressive. (Loved the quotes Cheryl leaves in the PCT books along the way.) That said, I can definitely see some people wishing a director with a more fantastical sensibility were in charge of these dreamlike moments -- Vallee seems a lot more comfortable in the moments of raw realism than in sequences that require a bit more imagination than he probably gives them. And some elements -- like the fox that follows Witherspoon like an obvious symbol -- can be a bit heavy-handed.

But, on the whole, I found this movie to be a far more ambitious work than I'd anticipated, and a very full movie-going experience. I think I'll be recommending it to a lot of people this holiday season.

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Re: Wild reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Aug 29, 2014 11:44 pm

Variety


Justin Chang
Chief Film Critic @JustinCChang

Cheryl Strayed’s heartrending 2012 account of her 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail presented no shortage of obstacles en route to the bigscreen, not least in the way it used the great outdoors as the backdrop for a resolutely interior journey. But director Jean-Marc Vallee, screenwriter Nick Hornby and star-producer Reese Witherspoon have met the challenge head-on with imperfect but rewarding results in “Wild,” a ruggedly beautiful and emotionally resonant saga of perseverance and self-discovery that represents a fine addition to the recent bumper crop of bigscreen survival stories. Resting squarely on Witherspoon’s sturdy shoulders (along with the back-crushing backpack she carts around throughout), the Fox Searchlight release should be admiringly received by critics and arthouse audiences come Dec. 5.

Still, the film could face some competition from John Curran’s equally accomplished “Tracks” (set to open Sept. 19 Stateside), this year’s other adaptation of a bestselling woman-in-the-wilderness memoir, and it remains to be seen whether it can improve on the modest commercial performance of films like “Into the Wild,” “127 Hours” and “All Is Lost.” Of those three particular forebears (all of which also screened under appropriately scenic, high-altitude conditions at the Telluride Film Festival), “Wild” bears the closest resemblance to Sean Penn’s 2007 drama, not only in their similar titles, but also in the way both films employ a jagged flashback structure to peel back the painful circumstances that led a young college grad in the ’90s to retreat from society and walk a very lonely road.

Unlike Christopher McCandless, of course, Cheryl Strayed (born Cheryl Nyland, before she chose her wayward-sounding surname) lived to tell the tale, and she did so with no shortage of brutal honesty and hard-bitten humor — an element that finds a natural complement in Hornby’s own sharply funny instincts as a writer, making him a less counterintuitive choice here than some might expect. Indeed, the filmmakers have arguably mastered the material’s subtle, sardonic insights more so than its big emotional moments, most of which involve Strayed’s beloved mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern), whose death from lung cancer at the age of 45 set off her 22-year-old daughter’s startling downward spiral into sex and heroin addiction, culminating in the end of her marriage. In condensing the book into a fleet drama that clocks in at just under two hours, Hornby has moved Bobbi’s tragic decline from the beginning of the story to the middle — a shrewd decision that nonetheless feels a bit too calculated in the execution, too neatly arranged to maximize the film’s slow-building emotional crescendo.

Still, “Wild” is never less than involving as it follows Witherspoon’s Cheryl from the Mojave Desert, in the summer of 1995, to the Oregon-Washington border more than three months later, deftly maneuvering between her past and present sufferings along the way. The film gets some wry comic mileage out of her misguided early decision to strap on an enormous, unwieldy backpack, which is so heavy that a fellow hiker christens it “the Monster” — just one of many examples of how ill prepared Cheryl is for this particular trip, despite her tough, resilient attitude and cross-country training. Slowly she plods her way northward, dropping expletives with every step, subsisting on oatmeal that she heats on a small gas-powered stove, fending off the occasional rattlesnake, and trying to stifle the inner voice that keeps telling her, “You can quit anytime.”

But she presses defiantly onward, even when she finds herself on a dusty 20-mile walk to a water tank that turns out to be empty, or when she veers into snow-covered mountain terrain that takes an especially rough toll on her too-tight boots and cracked, bloodied toenails. (That grotesque image aside, Vallee is more inclined to linger on his Oregon landscapes, captured in awe-stirring but never self-admiring widescreen images by d.p. Yves Berlanger, using handheld digital cameras with an emphasis on natural light.) Along the way, Cheryl’s agony and tedium are relieved by kind, encouraging strangers; by the meaningful quotes from Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and James A. Michener that she scribbles in her journal (and which appear a bit too frequently onscreen); and by the care packages she receives every few hundred miles or so from Paul (Thomas Sadoski), the most supportive ex-husband a woman could hope for.

The painful disintegration of Cheryl’s marriage, accelerated by her frightening if not entirely convincing transformation into a heroin-shooting nymphomaniac, is presented as a direct result of Bobbi’s death, at which point “Wild” reveals itself to be, among other things, a mother-daughter love story. The film seeks to convey the full trauma of Cheryl’s loss through flashbacks to happier times, revealing Bobbi (wonderfully played by Dern) as something of a survivor herself — a woman who fled an abusive marriage and raised two kids, including Cheryl’s younger brother, Leif (Keene McRae), on her own. (Strayed’s real-life sister, Karen, has been dropped from the movie entirely.) When Bobbi is shown going back to school to earn a belated bachelor’s degree, somewhat embarrassing Cheryl by attending the same Minneapolis university, the contrast between cynical, hard-edged daughter and sunny, optimistic mother is fully felt — but so, too, is an unconditional sense of mutual devotion.

It’s no surprise that the versatile Vallee, who recently directed two Oscar-winning performances in “Dallas Buyers Club,” has elicited from Witherspoon an intensely committed turn that, in its blend of grit, vulnerability, physical bravery and emotional immediacy, represents easily her most affecting and substantial work in the nine years since “Walk the Line.” (The actress’ still-youthful appearance helps fudge her 12-year age gap with the 26-year-old Cheryl, as well as her only nine-year age gap with Dern.) Nor is it a surprise that Vallee, whose bracingly sharp editing on “Dallas Buyers Club” was one of that film’s more unsung virtues, has applied similarly bold cutting-room strategies here.

Once again working under the pseudonym of John Mac McMurphy (and sharing duties with Martin Pensa), Vallee jumps compulsively between narrative tracks; certain individual shots are sustained for just a split second, which creates a whispery, hallucinatory effect in conjunction with the film’s richly detailed soundscape. It’s here, however, that “Wild” begins to feel more constructed than fully realized, its abrupt narrative transitions relying on convenient visual parallels and memory-jogging song choices (in lieu of a score) rather than on intuitive storytelling decisions. When Cheryl is shown panting her way through a patch of dimly lit undergrowth, the sudden cutaways to her panting her way through a rear-entry sex scene seem more distracting and heavy-handed than anything else.

Incidentally, Vallee and Hornby’s insistence on presenting their protagonist as a fully formed sexual being is one of the film’s most refreshing qualities, and the truest mark of its fidelity to its ardent and lusty source material. As an attractive woman in her 20s traveling alone, Cheryl is acutely aware that every strange man she encounters is a potential predator — whether it’s the kind farm worker (W. Earl Brown) who offers her a hot meal and shower, or the fellow traveler who turns out to be a very real threat. But Cheryl is neither a passive victim nor a saint, and in a film of quietly understated moments that often prove more impressive than the whole, few are as telling as the one where she casually spies on a male hiker (Kevin Rankin) emerging nude from a dip in the river — a rare example of the female gaze at work in American movies.

“You sound like a feminist,” says a journalist (Mo McRae) who stops to interview Cheryl, the first “lady hobo” who’s crossed his path. It’s an amusing scene, and a slyly self-aware one as well: While “Wild” will surely be praised in the coming months for having a strong, well-written, flesh-and-blood female at its center, it’s to the film’s credit that it wears this badge of honor with a lightness that in no way undermines its sincerity.

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Wild reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Aug 29, 2014 6:29 pm

Hollywood Reporter

'Wild': Telluride Review
3:26 PM PDT 8/29/2014 by Stephen Farber

The Bottom Line

Two superb performances anchor this finely crafted adventure

Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee has only made half a dozen films, but they demonstrate extraordinary range. Many directors specialize in one genre, but Vallee has plunged into wildly disparate arenas. He went from a coming-of-age story called C.R.A.Z.Y to a lush historical epic, The Young Victoria. Last year’s Oscar-winning film, Dallas Buyers Club, explored a little-known part of the history of the AIDS epidemic. Now in Wild, based on a best-selling memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Vallee has crafted a vivid wilderness adventure film that is also a powerful story of family anguish and survival. All of these films focus on very strong-willed individuals, but the completely different worlds they bring to life testify to an astute directorial hand.

Vallee’s latest offering is alternately harrowing and heartbreaking, but laced with saving bursts of humor. The popularity of Strayed’s book and the strong performance by Reese Witherspoon should ensure an audience for the movie and bring more accolades to the director, as well as to screenwriter Nick Hornby (About a Boy, An Education), who adapts the book with finesse. The film has its world premiere in Telluride, and Fox Searchlight will open the picture later this fall, where it seems sure to figure in this year’s awards race.

Dallas Buyers Club earned Oscars for both its lead and supporting actors, and it’s conceivable that the new film could repeat the trick for two actresses. Witherspoon is actually a little old for the part of Strayed (which was a name she adopted after fleeing a troubled marriage), who was just 26 when she decided to hike the 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mexican border to the mountains of Oregon. But Cheryl obviously had been through enough painful experiences by then to make her look older than her years. Witherspoon transforms herself both physically and emotionally into this hardened yet needy young woman seeking to re-invent herself after a series of personal tragedies. She chose this marathon hike almost on a whim, and she was completely unprepared for the challenges. As Strayed wrote in her book, “I hadn’t factored in my lack of fitness, nor the genuine rigors of the trail, until I was on it.” Witherspoon captures all the conflicting, dizzying emotions that the adventure stirs in her.

Witherspoon is matched by Laura Dern, who plays her mother, Bobbi, an inspiring life force who is stricken with a devastating medical diagnosis. We learn of the closeness of their bond only gradually. The film begins with Cheryl midway through her odyssey, undergoing some physical setbacks in the wilderness. Flashbacks take us back to the beginning of her journey and then much further back into her childhood and through her turbulent family and marital relationships. This fractured storytelling is getting to be overused in contemporary movies, but it happens to be faithful to the way that Strayed wrote her book, and Hornby and Vallee make the intricate transitions pointed and crystal-clear.

Inevitably a film like this is going to be episodic, but the adventures that Cheryl has on the trail are always startling, from her encounters with wildlife to the nightmare of a freak snowstorm. Yet the human encounters also enrich her journey, and here Hornby’s ability to bring minor characters to life and Vallee’s fine work with an extraordinary supporting cast make all of these episodes richly compelling. The director is helped by the exceptional cinematography of Yves Belanger, who takes us through varied landscapes from the scorching Mojave desert to the imposing mountains of northern California and Oregon.

The film remains equally compelling during the flashbacks. Gaby Hoffmann as Cheryl’s supportive but skeptical friend and Thomas Sadoski as her conflicted husband make the most of their scenes, but it’s really Dern who tears at our emotions during her scenes with Witherspoon. Bobbi’s life journey, cut tragically short by illness, is as compelling as Cheryl’s. This is one of the most honest, complex portrayals of a mother-daughter relationship that we’ve seen in any recent movie, and the loss of her mother helps to explain Cheryl’s utter disorientation and her search for a major challenge to bring her back to life.

Witherspoon doesn’t shy away from showing the dark sides of Cheryl’s character — her surrender to sexual excesses and drug addiction. Her battle for survival began a long time before she hit the wilderness trail, so her journey illuminates a whole series of internal as well as external struggles. Witherspoon’s inherent appeal keeps us on Cheryl’s side even through her self-destructive exploits, but there’s nothing sentimental about the actress’s tart portrayal.

The film has unmistakable parallels to Sean Penn’s movie, Into the Wild, and if this story is ultimately more uplifting, we always feel that Cheryl Strayed is just a few beats away from catastrophe. The profound precariousness of all her life’s journeys is what makes her hard-won victory so stirring.


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