Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
Sean Penn´s Into the Wild documents the heartbreaking true story of Christopher McCandless, who shunned society and disappeared into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992 at age 24. McCandless´ journey is a tragic one, extraordinarily documented in Jon Krakauer´s excellent book by the same name and recreated here. Though at times a draining experience, the film ultimately serves as both a celebration of the kind of lifestyle we´ve all imagined from time to time, as well as a cautionary tale against the dangers of a nature we, perhaps, don´t know enough about as we should.
Emile Hirsch is captivating as McCandless, who goes from youthful, bright-eyed college graduate to rugged traveler and makeshift survivalist between 1990 and 1992. Upon graduating from Emory with straight A´s, McCandless donates his grad school savings to charity, cuts up his IDs and credit cards, burns his cash and abandons his car in the desert. He takes to the road with only the possessions he can carry on his back, which includes the prophetic book, ‘Edible Plants and Berries´. Dubbing himself ‘Alexander Supertramp´, he relies mostly on the kindness of strangers, people who Krakauer incredibly tracked down for the book and are played here by actors like Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook and Kristen Stewart. Each of them aids him on his journey and McCandless, misguided as he may be, has plenty to offer them as well. The film is framed with the scenes of Alaska and McCandless´ survival inside the ‘magic bus´ he discovers in the middle of nowhere, and things turn intensely sad as our hero becomes a victim of his own inexperience. But never too sad; it´s a compelling tale, told with, at times, the same kind of exuberance of it´s leading character. Cinematography by Eric Gautier, especially of the Alaskan landscapes, is simultaneously breathtaking and frightening. Excellent original music by Michael Brook, Kaki King, and Eddie Vedder is complemented by a well-chosen soundtrack.
Also see Alone in the Wilderness, the true story of Dick Proenneke, who similarly abandoned society for the Alaskan wilderness in the late 1960´s. Proenneke did it right, however, and the film, which consists of footage he shot of building a log cabin and other aspects of survival, is fascinating; his resourcefulness makes for an interesting comparison to McCandless´ youthful inexperience.
An atrocious excuse for a Romancing the Stone-type romance-adventure, Andy Tennant´s aptly titled Fool´s Gold won´t be fooling anyone who has seen a decent adventure pic. Treasure hunter Benjamin “Finn” Finnegan (Matthew McConaughey) finds a shard of something-or-other that represents a clue to the location of a long-lost Spanish Galleon and untold fortune. Unfortunately, his ship catches fire and sinks beside him, bringing him further in debt with local stereotype Bigg Bunny (one guess what his profession is). Finn´s estranged wife Tess, meanwhile, is working a stewardess on a yacht owned by billionaire Nigel Honeycutt (Donald Sutherland); as Nigel´s spoiled daughter arrives for a visit, Finn sees a convenient opportunity to finance his latest expedition and rekindle things with Tess.
We´ve seen all these sunken-treasure movies have to offer, starting perhaps, with Peter Yates´ The Deep in 1977, and recent efforts like John Stockwell´s Into the Blue have had little new to offer; yet Tennant´s film is a virtual retread of the Paul Walker/Jessica Alba vehicle, and it even fails on those thin terms. McConaughey and Hudson have no chemistry (it doesn´t help when our romantic leads get a divorce ten minutes into the movie) and the goofy tone the film takes completely fails to draw us into the story. Which isn´t anything we haven´t already seen anyways. Just in case you weren´t offended by the laziness of the screenwriters, we´re given abominable stereotypes of homosexual chefs, black gangsta rappers, braindead beauty queens, and a ridiculous Ukrainian immigrant played Ewen Bremner, who embarrasses himself while trying to obscure a Scottish accent. The pits; about as bad as a $70 million budget can buy. A curious excess of scenes featuring McConaughey getting beat up may please some viewers.
A mild, inoffensive romantic comedy (a bit light on both the romance and the comedy, but hey – I´ll take what I can get), Michael Ian Black´s Wedding Daze, retitled (awfully) The Pleasure of Your Company in the US, went straight to DVD in the states but secures theatrical distribution in the Czech Republic while Oscar favorites like Juno are gathering dust. Jason Biggs stars as Anderson, who languishes for a year after proposing to his girlfriend and watching her drop dead from the shock. Friend Ted urges him to ‘get back in the game´, and Anderson, taking the advice a bit too strong, proposes to the next (reasonable looking) woman he sees, waitress Katie (Isla Fisher). Little does he realize that Katie, going through her own crises, will actually say yes. Unconventional, perhaps, but the two decide to make a go of it: why can´t you just glance across a crowded diner and find the love of your life? It´s a cute little premise, competently executed, and the film is filled with colorful side performances, including fathers played by Joe Pantoliano and Edward Herrmann. But it´s also very conventional, and just a bit too by-the-numbers; something I wouldn´t have expected from director Black, one of the creators of MTV´s wonderfully irreverent The State. Another major flaw: the film too often sacrifices its colorful characters for a cheap gag or two, which usually don´t work anyway. Despite the low rating, you could do (much) worse.
After Scary Movie 1-4, Not Another Teen Movie, Date Movie, Epic Movie, and countless others (recent entrants Meet the Spartans and The Comebacks have boldly ditched the ‘Movie´ tag, lest we mistake them for some kind of entertainment) Craig Mazin brings us Superhero Movie, a listless spoof that forgets to be funny while providing a virtual scene-for-scene retread of 2002´s Spider-Man. During the movie I wondered what ZAZ (David Zucker, Jeff Abrahams, Jerry Zucker) thought of what has become of the spoof genre they pioneered with classics like Airplane! and The Naked Gun, and the film that started it all, The Kentucky Fried Movie; that David´s name shows up here as executive producer is rather disheartening. If you´ve seen Raimi´s first Spider-Man, you´ve seen this: shy high-school student (Drake Bell) is bitten by a radioactive dragonfly, and soon becomes the crime fightin´ Dragonfly, squaring off against Christopher MacDonald´s villain Hourglass. Being generous, there are a couple decent lines and a maybe a OK gag here; film otherwise flatlines as the plot is far too specific to successfully lampoon. Sole bright spot: Leslie Nielson, doing this stuff in his sleep, the only member of the cast who can deliver the lines with a straight enough face to make them work when they´re funny; Nielson played a parody of himself Airplane!, a parody of his self-parody in films like 2001: A Space Travesty, and has now become a parody of that – the implications are, I fear, too great to comprehend. IMDB´s plot keywords sum up the film better than I can: Fart, Profanity, Excrement, Flatulence, Toilet, Bestiality, Vomit Scene, Scatological Humor, Urination Scene, Hit In Crotch, and Depression, which is, perhaps, the lasting impression here. The best I can say about Superhero Movie is that it´s not the bottom of this miserable barrel (that honor belongs last year´s Epic Movie), but it´s certainly scraping it. Without credits, the film clocks in at a mere 70 minutes, and feels long at that (about 70 minutes too long, actually). How low standards have sunk.
Also opening: Masayuki Ochiai’s Shutter (showtimes | IMDb), a remake of the 2004 Thai film of the same name, starring Joshua Jackson and Rachel Taylor; film has been butchered by critics, with an impressive 7% on the Tomatometer.