Walking Out (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
Alex Smith and Andrew J. Smith’s “Walking Out” unfolds like a beautiful adventure novel, so willing to detail the interior lives of its characters while showing what happens to the father and son, Cal (Matt Bomer) and David (Josh Wiggins), while out in the wilderness during a hunting trip. It is a survival story, certainly, but it works as a drama first and foremost. It makes for a compelling watch, made for lovers of nature and intimate portraits of relationships in which the plot serves to explore the surprising bonds between family and their arresting but unforgiving environment.
Flashbacks are too often misused as a tool to plug in the missing pieces of the screenplay. It is a rare occasion when it is utilized effectively, as it is here, because the memories we come to see serve to enhance an already rich material. Because the filmmakers do not use flashbacks as a crutch, the viewers look forward to the retrospectives since these either highlight a theme or reveal surprising information about why, for example, Cal insists on teaching David how to hunt even though his son is apparently not into it initially.
These flashbacks involve young Cal (Alex Neustaedter), who was around David’s age, and his hunting expeditions with his father (Bill Pullman). The images are majestic, especially when the camera gets as close to an animal as possible, but at the same time the film is unafraid to show that being out in the mountains is often cold, dirty, frustrating, and requires a colossal amount of patience. There is a wise but amusing line regarding the key difference between hunting and shopping.
Bomer and Wiggins share solid chemistry even though there are times when it feels as though we are watching two brothers rather than a father and his son. While it is not necessary to make Bomer look older, it might have helped if the performer had adapted a body language that is a bit more worn or experienced. Or perhaps a certain way of walking. At the same time, however, perhaps the father’s youth is the point, one of the reasons why he connects deeply with his son during moments when he isn’t a teacher or guide.
Meanwhile, Wiggins fits the role as a teenager so used to constantly holding technology in his hands that he forgets his visit to his father in the remote wilderness of Montana is one to be cherished, not just for the views but also when it comes to time to be shared. (We assume his parents are divorced and David only sees his father perhaps once or twice a year.) His growth throughout the picture is thoroughly convincing; it is the correct decision that the final shot be of David looking at a distance.
“Walking Out” is based on a short story by David Quammen. It is efficient but filled with details and so we are entertained by the drama that unfolds. Particularly impressive is the second half in which the dialogue becomes uncommon and the slow pacing dominates. It is meant to capture a particular experience so we are left listening to shuffling feet as it struggles against inches of snow, the call of wild animals, and the muffled sloshing of a river underneath inches of ice.
Accidental Tourist, The (1988)
★★★ / ★★★★
Macon (William Hurt) and Sarah (Kathleen Turner) lost their young son just a year ago, and both are still very much grieving and unable to move on. Sarah wants a divorce because Macon, a writer of travel guides, is not always home to provide the emotional support she needs. So they can move on together, Macon suggests that they should attempt to have another child. Sarah is appalled by the idea. For her, the only choice is separation.
The most impressive aspect of “The Accidental Tourist,” based on the screenplay by Frank Galati and Lawrence Kasdan, is its ability to hone in on the universal emotion that is grief, mainly from a father’s perspective, and supporting two ideas: there is no right or wrong way to deal with death and grief does not come with an expiration date.
Because the material deals with the subjectivity of emotions, it is wise that, for the most part, we are left to our own devices. We are encouraged to ask why characters think or act the way they do. For instance, I think there is feeling of hopelessness in the marriage because Macon and Sarah believe that they should have already moved on even though it has been only after a year since their child’s death. Although they try very hard to tell themselves that they are or should be past it, they just aren’t. Something is missing.
The film is special because it is brave enough to touch upon the western idea that grief should have a time limit. I may get over a death after two months. You may get over it after five years. It does not make me insensitive; it does not make you hypersensitive. Each of us just tend to process emotions in different ways.
Unlike Sarah, Macon deals with his sadness by shutting down emotionally, being more reticent and inexpressive. As he jumps from one plane to another, he sits on his chair with a book wide open but we can almost feel him not really reading or processing what his eyes have seen, just staring blankly at the pages, wondering what has gone wrong. We take note that he is an organized man who has grown to fix anything that appears inconvenient. But death is anything but convenient. He feels powerless because he cannot undo or fix a life that has been lost. Hurt plays Macon with searing emotional pain, but a lot of it is hidden underneath by his character’s need to complete his work and responsibilities. It is very sad because he does not seem to be aware that he owes it to himself to feel the magnitude of the situation before he gets a real shot toward acceptance.
Meeting a dog trainer, Muriel (Geena Davis), is critical to his journey. He finds her to be rather odd. She is not afraid to express what she thinks and what she wants. Although she is a stranger, being with her summons feelings of interacting with a great friend who extends a helping hand without ever being asked. There is a warmth to her and Macon is initially–and understandably–repelled by it. After all, when something very hot and something very cold mix, a reaction is usually observed.
There is a great subplot involving Macon, his two brothers (David Ogden Stiers, Ed Begley Jr.) and sister (Amy Wright) living in one roof. All are over forty years of age and still–or recently–single. Perhaps the reason why is because they have grown accustomed to their comfortable routines. Having to break from the usual is inconvenient–there is that word again–and almost unthinkable. When Macon’s publisher, Julian (Bill Pullman), begins to have feelings for Rose, Macon’s sister, the brothers are threatened. They hope that the relationship will not get to the next level simply because they will have to adapt and that requires effort. Macon’s grief and dysfunctional siblings mirror each other in surprising ways.
Based on the novel by Anne Tyler, “The Accidental Tourist,” directed by Lawrence Kasdan, is purposely slow and somber but it has moments of genuine comedy even if the characters do not crack a smile or laugh. We are on the outside looking in. If we can feel their unhappiness so strongly, imagine being in their shoes.
Last Seduction, The (1994)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino) was slapped by her husband, Clay (Bill Pullman), for calling him stupid. So, while he was in the shower, Bridget took Clay’s drug money of over five hundred thousand dollars, left New York City, changed her name to Wendy, and settled in a small town. There, she met Mike (Peter Berg), a man who was recently divorced, in a bar. Convinced that the repercussions of her recent thievery was far from over, Wendy figured that she could use Mike to get away with the money once and for all. Written by Steve Barancik and directed by John Dahl, “The Last Seduction” was a sexy, smart, and fast-paced neo-noir with an edgy main character. The film made all the men in the film look completely idiotic which had very amusing results. I didn’t think it was unfair because how many times have movies made women look like complete bimbos? It was easy to label Wendy as “evil” because she was not above committing murder to get what she wanted. I argue that if she was a man who wore dark shades and a black suit when she schemed, she would be considered as “cool.” I perceived her as a survivor with a sharp tongue. In some ways, she reminded me of myself. When Wendy met Mike and she bluntly told him that she wasn’t interested, he bragged that she was missing out because he was as hung as a horse. Instead of allowing the conversation to end, she called him over and insisted that he showed her what he was so proud of. I had a laugh because I would have done the same. She was the kind of person who liked to push the envelope and, if necessary, make someone question his self-confidence. She had her own way of getting to know a person. The dark comedy worked because two completely opposite characters took center stage. Mike liked to discuss sensitive things like feelings and have deep conversations. Wendy just wouldn’t have it. It wasn’t like she didn’t want anyone to know her. She was just rarely in the mood. When Mike confessed that he felt like a sex object, Bridget suggested that he lived it up. What I admired most about the movie was the balance between the twisted relationship and the stolen money. Fiorentino’s fiery performance allowed the two spheres to converge without resulting to painful typicalities like a shootout in the end or someone drastically changing the way he or she saw the world. In reality, people don’t really change all that much despite personal crises. The screenplay was focused in naturally allowing the characters’ behaviors to speak for themselves. I relished “The Last Seduction” because it was stripped of sentimentality. Its bravado in turning gender roles on its head was both charming and unexpectedly hilarious.
While You Were Sleeping (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★
“While You Were Sleeping” was one of those romantic comedies in the 1990s with big stars, really cheesy soundtracks and even cheesier storylines. Sandra Bullock plays Lucy, a person who worked on a subway station as a token collector and fell in love with a stranger (Peter Gallagher) who she saw every day but he never paid her much attention. But when the stranger had an accident at the subway station, Lucy jumped in front of a moving train to save his life. The stranger fell into a coma and due to certain circumstances, the stranger’s family thought Lucy was the stranger’s fiancée. To top it all off, Lucy started to fall in love with the stranger’s brother (Bill Pullman) who was curious about Lucy’s true identity. Despite the movie being predictable and formulaic, I enjoyed it because of Bullock. Her charm rescued this picture; she was so good at being vulnerable and her charm mixed with perfect comedic timing and geekiness was refreshing. A movie like this, let alone a star as charming as she is, is hard to come by nowadays. Even though Lucy lied to the family, we couldn’t help but root for her because she was a good person but she didn’t have a family or any close friends. Another reason why I liked the movie was Bullock and Pullman’s chemistry. There was something about the way that they looked in each other’s eyes and interacted with each other that made me feel warm and almost giggly. Since the source of the tension between them was obvious, I think I would have rolled my eyes and rejected the romance angle if the two lacked chemistry. Everything about this movie was nice (except for the obnoxious “real” fiancée but I’m glad she didn’t have much screen time) and if one was familiar with movies like “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” one would know exactly what to expect from this movie. “While You Were Sleeping,” directed by Jon Turteltaub, managed to get away with relying on the conventions of a romantic comedy because it embraced its genre to the fullest. It wasn’t trying to be edgy or ironic or shocking; it just allowed its actors do what they do best and it worked. These days, romantic comedies almost always consist of teenagers or twentysomethings and those movies often rely on sex or gay jokes. “While You Were Sleeping” is a PG-rated movie that features thirtysomethings who happen to have intelligence and maturity despite the issue of mistaken identities.
Bottle Shock (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
I decided to watch this movie because I was interested to learn more about one of the landmarks of the wine industry (even though I don’t know much about wine). That is, the creation of the perfect Chateau Montelena chardonnay. Alan Rickman stars as Steven Spurrier, the owner of Academie du Vin, who traveled to the United States in order to collect wine for the Judgment of Paris wine competition. One of the places he visited was Chateau Montelena which was owned by Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), a man who was buried in loans and frustration with the fact that his son (Chris Pine) failed to show interest or enthusiasm when it came to the family business. The weaker and less interesting part of the film was the romance triangle among a Hispanic worker (Freddy Rodriguez) in Chateau Montelena, a new intern (Rachael Taylor), and Jim’s aimless son. Another negative was that even though the story was supposed to be set in 1976, it didn’t feel like it was because of both the actors and the script. That sense of authenticity was important to me because I really wanted to be sucked into the time period. I also felt as though the picture played everything a bit too safe. With each scene everything just felt nice and breezy instead of revolutionary, which is a problem because the core of the movie was how the events in the vineyard impacted the wine industry. Randall Miller, the director, should have taken more risks instead of resting on the romance between the three younger characters. In fact, I think the movie would’ve been better off if about thirty minutes were cut off because it would have been more focused and the pace wouldn’t have felt as slow. Still, I don’t consider “Bottle Shock” a bad movie because there were moments of true wonder for the audiences, especially when the wine suddenly changed from clear to brown. I had no idea whether that was a positive or a negative thing prior so I certainly learned something from the film. And the exciting competition scene was quite amusing because the French judges tried so hard to discern which wines were from France and which ones were from the United States. The looks on their faces after the competition was priceless.
★★ / ★★★★
Jennifer Chambers Lynch (“Boxing Helena”) directed this thriller about the investigation of two FBI agents (Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman) regarding the murders of two serial killers. In the police station, they had three witnesses whose commonality was someone close to them was killed: a little girl (Ryan Simpkins), a drug addict (Pell James), and a police officer (Kent Harper). The FBI agents tried to put pieces of the puzzle together but not all of the information they gathered fit. I did like this movie until half-way through the picture. I found the murder scenes to be chilling and horrific. I also liked the idea that the inaccuracies of testimonies were explored in a meaningful way through extended sequences when the interviewers would ask pretty much the same questions in various ways. However, I grew tired of the movie because of the uninterminable scenes regarding the two officers shooting tires since they were either bored or had nothing better to do. I believe that it took away a significant amount of time from the film instead of really exploring who the killers were. A lot of critics mentioned the fact that Jennifer Lynch was David Lynch’s daughter. While that may be true, I thought their ways of telling a story were very different from each other, which was a good thing because I thought Jennifer Lynch really came into her own. However, toward the end of “Surveillance,” I felt that she tried to inject some of her father’s methods of storytelling. It did not work for me because I thought that the twist did not add much for the movie’s dramatic weight. In fact, I felt a bit cheated during the revelation. This film’s sinister tone definitely reminded me of memorable thrillers like “Se7en” and “The Usual Suspects” but, as a whole, it was more limp instead of haunting. I definitely wanted more emotional resonance instead of empty darkness and despair with far too many loose ends.