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Posts Tagged ‘Reese Witherspoon’

Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin

Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin

“INHERENT VICE”  My rating: C

148 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has been on such a long, productive run (“Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “There Will Be Blood,” “The Master”) that it was inevitable he’d mess up one day.

While you can’t categorize “Inherent Vice” as an outright disaster, it spends an awful lot of time going nowhere in particular. Mostly it spreads around lots of  stoner whimsey while wasting the efforts of a terrific cast.

It’s overlong, underpopulated with anything like real characterizations and — perhaps most frustrating of all — it’s a mystery yarn so uninvolving that 10 minutes after seeing it I could no longer recall who dunnit…or what they done.

Critics describe Inherent Vice as the most reader friendly of Thomas Pynchon’s dense, hallucinogenic novels.

As compared to what?  A trigonometry textbook?

It’s a riff on the classic L.A. detective yarn, set in the late 1960s and offering as our private eye protagonist a ganja-addled, sandal-wearing doofus.

“Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix, sleepy-eyed and moving at half speed)  is a beach-dwelling sleuth with offices in a free health clinic. He’s visited one night by his former girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), a one-time flower-power love bunny who is now the mistress of the ruthless Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), L.A.’s most celebrated real estate developer.

Shasta tearfully asks Doc’s help in stopping a conspiracy by Wolfmann’s wife and her lover to have him committed to a mental institution. Doc — who for all his pharmaceutical excesses works to maintain his integrity — assents for old time’s sake.

But then both Wolfmann and Shasta go missing, and Doc finds himself dealing with coke-snorting dentist Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short),  killer Adrian Prussia (Peter McRobbie), and a sax-playing junkie (Owen Wilson) who was declared dead but is now back among the living.  Not to mention the Golden Fang, a vast drug-smuggling cartel.

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Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon

“WILD” My rating: B+ 

115 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Man-against-nature stories are fairly common. Women-against-nature…well, that’s a rarer breed.

In “Wild” a perfectly unglamorous Reese Witherspoon plays real-life writer Cheryl Strayed, who some years ago hiked more than 1000 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, which begins at the Mexican border and ends in Canada.

Strayed‘s story, as recorded in her 2012 memoir Wild, was both an escape from a tormented past (a failed marriage and drug addiction, for starters) and a long trek toward self discovery.

That journey, and the agonizing personal history that got it all started, have been effectively realized by Witherspoon (another Oscar nomination seems inevitable) and director Jean-Marc Vallee, who guided Matthew McConaughey to a best actor Oscar in “The Dallas Buyers’ Club.”

That earlier film was a middling movie elevated by a terrific lead performance. “Wild” raises the bar considerably — not only is Witherspoon superb (for much of the movie it’s just her and the scenery), but the storytelling technique proffered by Valee and screenwriter Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity,” “About a Boy,” “An Education”) almost perfectly captures the key elements of Strayed‘s tale through visual and aural poetry rather than conventional narration.

The film begins with Strayed, a tenderfoot in both the literal and figurative sense, setting out on the trail maintained by the National Park Service.

She has crammed her backpack with so much equipment that she moves like Atlas straining to lift the entire Earth.  The damn thing is so heavy it constantly threatens to flip her onto her back and leave her clawing the air like a helpless turtle.

Her new hiking boots are too tight, resulting in blood and blisters. Initially she’s lucky to cover five miles a day. She has never pitched a tent before, or tried to cook on a propane camp stove. She’s not sure how to deal with the rattlesnake in her path or the coyotes that howl all night.

But she’ll learn, just as she’ll learn to deal with heat and snow and physical exhaustion.

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"Lost Boys" discover electricity...(left to right) XXX

“Lost Boys” discover electricity…(left to right) Arnold Oceng, Emmanuel Jal, Ger Duany

 

“THE GOOD LIE”  My rating: B+  (Opening wide on Oct. 3)110 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Look past the sex, violence and escapism, and you’ll find that Hollywood still is capable of telling genuinely moving and positive stories.

“The Good Lie,” a small epic about the generation of uprooted Sudanese children known as the Lost Boys, is one such humanistic triumph.

Covering more than 20 years and, while fictionalized, based on the true stories of these young refugees, the film is a low-keyed wonder, filled with moments likely to tighten the throat and unplug the tear ducts.

In hands less skilled than those of director Philippe Falardeau (of the French Canadian import “Monsieur Lazhar”) and screenwriter  Margaret Nagle it could have been a treacly affair of the movie-of-the-week variety. Instead it reminds me of Philip Noyce’s 2002 “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” a minor classic about Australian aborigine children on the run from a government bent on civilizing them.

Featuring a totally convincing cast of real Sudanese refugees and their American-born children (several from the KC area), the film gets a bit of star power in the form of Reese Witherspoon as a good-timing Kansas City woman who is sucked into their story.

But what nails the viewer to the wall is not just the knowledge that this astonishing saga is inspired  by real events, but that it has been repeated over and over in the lives of the 3,600 Lost Boys who barely escaped  from war-torn Sudan and found their ways to a new life in America.

In a sense this is two stories populated by different casts playing the same characters.

The film’s first half hour introduces us to village life in southern Sudan in the early 1980s and the civil war — fueled by religious and ethnic enmities — that leaves a handful of children orphaned and on an incredible 800-mile trek to safety in Kenya.

The oldest is only 13 or so, the youngest perhaps five. They endure heat and weather — it means drinking their own urine — dodge the soldiers scouring the countryside, cross a river dotted with bloating corpses, battle a pair of cheetahs for a chance to gnaw down on the big cats’ recent kill. Not all of them will make it. Their bodies will be left behind under the stunted brush in the midst of a vast, primordial landscape.

These opening scenes are both visually beautiful and dramatically harrowing. The oldest boy, Theo, by default the “chief” of the small band, saves the younger travelers by giving himself up to an enemy patrol. The smaller children trek on, until they finally reach a Kenyan camp packed with 100,000 refugees of the Sudanese diaspora.

Jump ahead 13 years.  After more than a decade of waiting some of the children, the lucky ones, are picked to be flown to the U.S. where they will begin their lives anew. Three young men — Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany) and Paul (Emmanuel Jal) — and Mamere’s sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel) find themselves aboard a jet liner for the first time.

Upon arriving in the US, though, they are told that while the boys will proceed to Kansas City, Abital has been taken in by a family in Boston. Nobody in KC was willing to adopt a Sudanese girl. The boys vow that they will find a way to be reunited with their “sister.”

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sksksk N A  and Matthew McConaughey

Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland and Matthew McConaughey

“MUD” My rating: A- (Opens April 26 at the Leawood, Barrywoods 24, Studio 30, Cinemark Palace)

130 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Damn that Matthew McConaughey.

Just when you’re comfortable writing him off as a lazy, pretty-boy romcom hack, he decides to start really acting.

Over the last couple of years he’s blown off his easy-going leading-man ways and tackled edgy, multifaceted characters in films like “Bernie,” “Killer Joe,” “The Paperboy” and “Magic Mike.” Even if you don’t like the movies, you’ve gotta love what McConaughey is accomplishing here.

That great run continues with “Mud,” the third feature from Arkansas filmmaker Jeff Nichols.

Nichols writes and directs superlative dramas about working-class folk. His first two efforts — “Shotgun Stories” (about a modern day feud between the brothers of two families) and “Take Shelter” (with Michael Shannon as a disaster-obsessed man who builds an elaborate tornado shelter in his yard) – achieved a sort of gritty poetry.

“Mud” is just as powerful. Maybe moreso.

Unfolding along the waterways of the Arkansas Delta, “Mud” centers on 14-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his best bud, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland).

Both kids survive on what their families can scratch out of the river. Ellis helps his father catch and sell crawdads, fish, and turtles. Neck, an orphan, lives in a seedy mobile home court with a slacker uncle (Michael Shannon) who harvests fresh-water oysters with a crude homemade diving helmet. (more…)

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