SAG Awards

FILM REVIEW: “WILD”

‘Wild’

Written by: Nick Hornby, Cheryl Strayed (novel),

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern

Story: Haunted by her past drug abuse, tragedy, and infidelity, Cheryl Strayed decides to walk the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail to heal her body, mind and soul.

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Wild is a film that has garnered a lot of attention over recent months, and has been on the campaign trail for some serious awards. Witherspoon missed out on the Golden Globe, but managed to secure herself an Oscar nomination. This makes for an interesting task in reviewing the film.

The story of ‘Wild’ is simple and director Jean-Marc Vallee really could of made either a beautiful or an abysmal film out of it. When you take such a simple story you run the risk of making either a boring film or a film that really tried too hard to be introverted or philosophical. Wild is neither. While it does get off to a relatively slow start, the film provides the perfect amount of philosophy to balance the technical ‘hiking’ aspects of the film.

Strayed, on her journey, faces a number of issues due to both the physically torturous nature of the hike, to struggling to deal with her own prior indiscretions. It would be easy to say that Strayed is not a likeable character, however within her ability to be self deprecating and at the same time inwardly optimistic, we find something undeniably relatable. Anyone who has ever done something that they’re not proud of that really stays with them is going to be able to understand at some level what it is that the protagonist is dealing with.

Witherspoon’s performance is strong, and perhaps the strongest we have seen from her to date: this is a considerable statement since Witherspoon has always been one of the most consistently reliable performers within her genre. Witherspoon gives Strayed a sense of humanity and a genuinely real nature which draws an investment out of the audience. While we can try to be critical of her performance (because this is what we do), there really isn’t much that we can fault.

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Jean-Marc Vallee has constructed a film that is stark: it contrasts so tightly the beauty of nature vs real life in quick cuts between Strayed’s heroin binges and her new life living on bare necessities. This contrast alone adds depth to the film and begs the viewer to notice the differences between fundamental need and desire. Where Cheryl may have made decisions in the past based on desire, as we all do, it was getting back to nature and the essentials of human life that made her human again.

Perhaps the most brilliant part of this film is the soundtrack. With artists such as Wings, Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Portishead to name a few, the score will bring any music lover to their knees. The songs are all emotional and are tracks that can hold personal interest to viewers, which only opens us up more to relate to the loneliness and isolation of the main character.

All in all, ‘Wild’ is well balanced, patient, and poetic. It really is a film that looks inwards and a film that will touch even the most insensitive soul. We will most definitely watch again.

Rating: 9.5/10

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FILM REVIEW: ‘CAKE’

‘Cake’

Written by: Patrick Tobin

Directed by: Daniel Barnz

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Sam Worthington, Anna Kendrick, Adrianna Barraza

Story: Fascinated and haunted by her suicide, Claire befriends the widowed husband of a woman from her chronic pain support group.

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Jennifer Aniston is here to let us know that she is not simply a comedic actress. From time to time this does happen: a traditionally comedic actor will take on a role that is much more dramatic, much more complex. Often it pays off, and almost just as often it doesn’t. For Aniston, she strikes gold.

‘Cake’ is not a dessert. It is a rich and savoury main course which will leave you feeling full. This is an intense and moving exploration of the way in which we can forgive and move on from tragedy in our lives. For Aniston’s character Claire, she has suffered a tragedy which has taken everything she has from her: everything but her mother figure which she finds in her hired help Silvana. The empathy that Adrianna Barraza brings to this role is mature and measured. She plays off Aniston extremely well, and between the two of them there is some sort of familial electricity. We are assured through Silvana’s presence that Claire is always going to be OK – she is always going to get by. The beauty in this is that with Aniston’s performance, we want Claire to do more than get by. We want her to thrive.

Aniston comes into this role with a sense of wisdom and intense vulnerability that you would be hard pressed to find in many other actresses. When watching ‘Cake’, it is clear that she has approached this role with both passion and caution, and not too much of either.

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The screenplay is finely put together and incredibly well paced. When watching this we have to be prepared for heaviness and deep character study. If this is not the type of movie for you, then do not watch it. Many things are explored but some are left unsaid: this is a fine quality in a script and Patrick Tobin should be commended.

One is tempted to say that ‘Cake’ is worth watching for Aniston alone, however strong supporting roles from Adriana Barraza, Sam Worthington and particularly Felicity Huffman it would feel unfair to say. Her role is small, but Huffman becomes an integral part of this story, providing a certain optimism that we could perhaps lack at times when trying to process Claire’s journey.

Mature and understated, Cake might just be one of the most emotionally intelligent films you watch this year.

Rating: 9/10

FILM REVIEW: “AMERICAN HUSTLE” (2013)

“American Hustle”

Written by: Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell

Directed by: David O. Russell

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence

Story: When their fraudulent schemes are uncovered by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his seductive partner Sydney Prosser (Adams) are forced to co-operate with him in a grand plan to expose a mafia ring in Jersey.

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David O. Russell is having a very good time. Just a year after winning countless awards and critical acclaim for ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, his Jersey based mafia comedy has been nominated for almost everything you can be nominated.

After seeing American Hustle, I wanted to review it straight away but instead I let it sit for a while in order to mull it over. My hope was that the film would appear more remarkable and have more of an affect on me as time passed. Now coming back to it, I had to sit and watch a few clips and trailers to actually remind myself of what I had seen. See where I’m going with this? There is nothing really too remarkable about American Hustle.

The thing that stuns me the most about this film is that it is billed as a comedy. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few laughs all of which come from Jennifer Lawrence’s devilishly clumsy (but secretly brilliant) Rosalyn. Other than that, I found the excessive out of place dialogue to be boring and disjointed which made the whole pace of the film perhaps three times slower than it should of been for such a plot.

Amy Adams is shockingly forgettable as Sydney Prosser. The character was originally supposed to be irresistible and seductive, but Adams has somehow taken this and turned it into awkward and uncomfortable to watch. Given that the realism of the story revolved around her sex appeal, she perhaps should of taken a few lessons from Margot Robbie’s ‘Naomi’ in The Wolf Of Wall Street. Of course, Adams has been told that it is sexy to not wear a bra (at all, ever…) however her attractiveness in this film begins and ends with her oh-so-visible nipples.

I have heard time and time again that the key to an enjoyable film is a protagonist that you can understand on some level, and with whom you can empathise. In American Hustle, we are given two protagonists: Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale. Though costuming, makeup and lighting have done an excellent job with these two, what we are faced with is two characters who are distinctly impossible to like. Cooper is incessantly annoying: his character comes across as stupid and spoon fed; where Bale’s Rosenfeld is almost worse. Rosenfeld is not only stupid, but he is aggravatingly ignorant. Pitch them against each other fighting for Sydney Prosser’s affections (we still don’t understand why) and you’re left sitting in the cinema checking your watch and wondering when things are going to start happening.

The film turns out to be somewhat enjoyable: it isn’t all bad. Hair, makeup and costuming are particular highlights, and the music is enough to make anyone crack a smile.

Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence are right to be recognised for their acting chops in taking this blithering train wreck of a script and turning it into something watchable, but I would probably rather save my money than try and watch this again. Maybe buy the soundtrack instead…

Rating 3/5

Photo Credit: imdb.com