Wednesday, January 07, 2015

This That Week In Tickets: 15 December 2014 - 21 December 2014

Another slow week, and this time work did have a little something to do with it. That and it being cold and rainy enough that if I couldn't walk out of the subway and almost directly into the theater, I needed to be convinced.

This Week in Tickets
The first few days of the week were chock full of "agile training" at the office, with the idea being to change processes so that everything is done in two-week chunks, testing happens as you go, and the discovery that what you were told to build and what you were supposed to build are different things happens much earlier. It seems like half good ideas and half a consulting company trying to sell us stuff, but we'll see. In the early days, I'm amusing myself by seeing how long it takes for the folks on the team to realize that I will not say "SME" (pronounced "smee") out loud like it's a non-ridiculous made-up word, but will just abbreviate "subject matter experts" as "experts" and be understood by those who haven't taken the training.

Fortunately, I was able to escape the early enough on Monday evening to catch my last show of the Harvard Film Archive's Jacques Demy series, Lady Oscar, which is no classic but is at least a fascinating oddity - a French guy directing an English-speaking cast in an adaptation of a Japanese comic set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. Yes, this one grabbed my attention as soon as I saw it on the schedule.

Thursday, with training safely over, I decided that I would, in fact, see Chinese romance Back in Time. It was another mixed bag - some entertaining moments and characters stuck in a story that finds a new way to be off the mark every twenty minutes or so. It's the type of thing where every potential tangent or alternate direction makes you wonder why you're not watching that story play out.

There weren't many new releases I had interest in over the weekend, other than Wild opening at the Somerville after having already been at lesser theaters, so I did that Sunday afternoon, after a little Christmas shopping. Enjoyable, pretty good little movie.

And after that, the crazy Christmas week - both for movies seen and running around.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 December 2014 in Somerville Theatre #5 (first-run, DCP)

Wild is less a simple story told well than a fine job of giving shape to the anecdotes that form a life if not necessarily a tidy narrative. In a way, the teasers' voice-over saying that Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) wouldn't change a thing she's done because it has led her to where she is lays the necessity of building the movie that way out, right down to being said on-screen at an almost random point. There is cause and effect, and what you do does reverberate later on, but it's seldom tidy. Finishing her hike up the Pacific Crest Trail is a big deal, but doesn't get swelling music and doesn't conclusively close the door on the rest of her life; it just makes a chapter divider.

In getting there, writer Nick Hornby (adapting the real-life Strayed's memoir) and director/co-editor Jean-Marc Vallée do a nice job of jumping around. A movie about walking a thousand miles intercut with the downward spiral leading to it has the potential to be filled with excess bulk - and if it isn't it can feel like they are deliberately overlooking just how much effort something takes. Vallée and company do a good job of highlighting the Good Parts, cutting back and forth between Cheryl on her hike and appropriate flashbacks, but making some jumps so abrupt that there does seem to be some time spent elsewhere. It's a small thing, but progress captions are used well, both to show how difficult it is for Cheryl at first and to feel a rhythm later.

Mostly, though, this is woman-against-wilderness, and both play their part. Witherspoon doesn't always disappear into the role - she has movie-star charisma here even when she's trying not to - but she always feels genuine when discovering new things, and she does that enough to be a big positive. And, yes, a lot of time is spent gaping at the trail, but it's worth it, with Vallée and cinematographer Yves Bélanger always finding the right scale to make the world in comparison to Cheryl.

That's pretty good, especially with nothing to mitigate it if some of the big pieces go wrong. That doesn't happen, though, making Wild a drama worth the big screen even if it seems like a small story.

Lady OscarBack in TimeWild

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