Monday, January 26, 2015

Sundance review: A Walk in the Woods - 1 1/2 stars

Robert Redford plays an author of travel books.  After attending the funeral of a friend, he gets restless and decides to hike the 2,100 mile long Appalachian Trail.  His wife (Emma Thompson) insists that he can't do it alone, so he brings along an old friend, played by Nick Nolte.

It's kind of like Wild crossed with Sideways, but poorly written.  Redford and Nolte have good chemistry together, but they don't have anything interesting to say to each other.  There are no real stakes and no consequences.  They just go from one encounter to the next and by the end, the journey felt kind of pointless.

I was bored watching this movie.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sundance review: Best of Enemies - 3 stars

From the Sundance film guide:

In the summer of 1968, television news changed forever. Dead last in the ratings, ABC hired two towering public intellectuals to debate each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. William F. Buckley, Jr. was a leading light of the new conservative movement. A Democrat and cousin to Jackie Onassis, Gore Vidal was a leftist novelist and polemicist. Armed with deep-seated distrust and enmity, Vidal and Buckley believed each other’s political ideologies were dangerous for America. Like rounds in a heavyweight battle, they pummeled out policy and personal insult—cementing their opposing political positions. Their explosive exchanges devolved into vitriolic name-calling. It was unlike anything TV had ever broadcast, and all the more shocking because it was live and unscripted. Viewers were riveted. ABC News' ratings skyrocketed. And a new era in public discourse was born.

It's a lot of fun watching these two insult each other.  They have such a command of the English language that their insults almost sound like poetry.  Besides watching their debates, we get political scholars and other experts commenting on Vidal and Buckley's history, the political landscape at the time, and ABC's ratings.  One commentator said if they wanted to end the Vietnam War, all they had to do was put it on ABC and it would be canceled within a few weeks.  They also said there were only three networks at the time but somehow ABC was still fourth.

I enjoyed the movie for the most part, but I don't think it's for everyone.  It helps if you're a political junkie.  As much fun as the debates were, by the end of the movie I felt underwhelmed.  But Dick Cavett is one of the interview subjects, so that makes it worth watching right there.

Sundance review: The Tribe - 3 stars

From the Sundance film guide:  

Sergey, a new student at a boarding school for the deaf, must navigate through the institution’s social hierarchy, led by a gang of students reveling in crime and prostitution. Initially shunned, he is eventually initiated into the crew, inheriting the role of pimp to two giddy best friends. After saving up money for a sexual encounter with Anna (notable both for its explicit nature and cinematographic restraint), Sergey begins to fall in love, risking the rest of the tribe’s wrath.

This movie is a unique cinematic experience.  A title card at the beginning prepares us:  there are no subtitles and no voiceover narration.  The characters communicate by sign language, and there isn't even a musical score.  So the movie is almost completely silent.  Even though we can't understand exactly what the characters are saying to each other, we start to understand what's going on.  

I admit there were times I would have loved subtitles to explain a few things.  I was a bit thrown when at first, the gang makes Sergey strip and give them his money, then all of a sudden he's friends with them.  And when the gang goes outside to rob and beat up homeless people, I couldn't help but be reminded of Alex and his droogs in A Clockwork Orange.  You would think that people would figure out that it's dangerous to walk by the school at night after several people were mugged there.

The movie did drag at times.  Ukranian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy likes long, unbroken takes and there were times where I wish he had done a little more editing.  I got a little tired of watching the characters walk from their dorm room to the outside, or watching the prostitutes and Sergey walk around the lot full of parked semi trucks looking for customers.  

It's not a movie I'm eager to see again, but it was a unique accomplishment and I'm glad I saw it.