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Scott Roberts
on Dec 15, 2014 at 4:46:37 pm

I'm actually proud of myself this weekend for the movie I ended up seeing. I'm patting myself on the back right now. Oh, but not because of the actual movie I saw; I'm proud of myself for the fact that I took a hard pass on Exodus: Gods and Kings. In the weeks leading up to Exodus' release, I kept thinking to myself "Do I really want to see this?", "This looks kind of long and boring", and "There's no way that will live up to any sort of expectation, right?". Then I remembered from my experiences with Robin Hood, The Counselor, and (to an extent) Prometheus, that I kind of totally dislike Ridley Scott. Or at least anything he's put out in the last five years.

Then I look at the waves of terrible reviews (28% on Rotten Tomatoes) and bad word of mouth, and the fact that it's two and a half hours of potentially excruciating drivel that likely only has a condensed two minutes of cool visuals I'd be interested in seeing. Two minutes of visuals that 1) I've probably already scene in the trailer, and 2) are probably worth just waiting to see for free on HBO. I think about how bored and disappointed I was during Robin Hood, and how The Counselor was such a waste of time that it felt like Ridley Scott was slapping me in the face with my own money, and it just gives me a sense of satisfaction that I didn't pay money to kill my Saturday afternoon at Exodus. It's a movie I knew I probably wouldn't like, by a director I don't like, that nobody else seems to like. Just saying, I normally don't turn down these huge big budget event movies because I like to see what they have to offer, but I guess I'm finally learning from my mistakes...? Though, that doesn't explain why I blindly handed my debit card over to see Horrible Bosses 2 a couple of weekends ago... Baby steps!

Well, maybe I should, like, talk about the actual movie I watched, and stop talking about the one I didn't see? Ok, fine. I'll move past it. Wild is the newest movie from the director of Dallas Buyers Club, and it's about a recently divorced woman named Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) who decides to backpack alone across the Pacific Northwest in order to spiritually cleanse herself of her problems. As I write that, this sounds like the whitest movie ever made (except for maybe Exodus: Gods and Kings [HEY NOW!]). It's based on a book written by the real woman, and I'm sure it's pretty factually correct because nothing much outlandish actually happens in it.

That being said, the opening scene of the movie has Cheryl ripping off her toenail, which grossed out everyone in the theater, and I thought that was going to set the tone for this just being a chronicling of gross make-up effects for two hours (because hiking is hard, you guys). And while there are plenty of gross(ish) bodily injury moments (mostly bruises and cuts), I was pleasantly surprised that the movie never went fully hokey with the injuries. For the first few times that Cheryl has to climb over a big rock or cross a log on a stream, I was assuming she was about to fall down and break her ankle or slip into the water and almost drown in the river. But then I realized that this wasn't that kind of movie. It's more about her treating these little obstacles as tiny victories in her process of learning more about herself. I know that sounds like the least exciting movie ever made (and in a way, it isn't very exciting overall) but it kind of works for what it is.

I totally "get" what the movie was trying to do. I do. It's about loss and coping, and exploring nature as if it is an extension of yourself. If Cheryl has to walk 1000 miles to learn something about herself, good for her. That's her thing. Sadly, I didn't fully relate to her situation, her thought process, or her life problems that led to her breakdown; so there weren't many moments that emotionally shattered me or anything. But for someone who *can* relate to Cheryl, this will probably be a life changing film for them. Buy your hiking boots and iodine tablets right now, you troubled soul, you!

Despite the fact that I didn't really connect with Wild, I can still recognize it as a decent movie. It has some good intercutting editing between her journey and her past, and has some really great scenic photography of that region of the country. As someone who lets out an aggravated groan when an elevator is out-of-order and I have to walk up three flights of stairs, the only way the beauty of that nature trail will be seen by me is by watching this movie. There ain't a chance I'm ever nature hiking for more than a single day at any point in my foreseeable life. So thanks for the "journey", guys!

It's an interesting, quiet film, that will be appreciated by anyone looking for something introspective. By all means this could have been one of the most boring movies ever made (does "Reese Witherspoon walking" sound that great of a movie to you?), but it managed to hold my intrigue the entire time. The director/author/screenwriter manage to come up with new things for Cheryl to do, while consistently putting the notion of potential fear in our heads, yet not really following through on any of said fears. Hey, there's a rattlesnake! Hey, there's a creepy guy! Hey, there's snow! Hey, let's move on to the next scene! She just keeps on walkin'. And if you don't assume that this movie is going to end with an open-ended closeup of Reese Witherspoon's face, than you didn't actually read this review.

Long story short, Wild is a good vehicle for its somewhat A-list star (and yes, she shows her boobs in this, you guys... but in, like, a tasteful way), and a probably moving (for someone else) story about overcoming a lifetime of loss through physical sacrifice and self-reflection. I liked it, didn't love it, but I'd still recommend it for the non-CGI-tidal-wave-killing-500-horses-while-an-Australian-guy-gets-casted-as-Pharaoh crowd.

7.5 out of 10

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Tim Wilson
Re: Wild
on Dec 15, 2014 at 8:34:04 pm

I really love Reese Witherspoon, and I'm sensing a pattern here. Her first movie as a lead was when she was 16, A Far Off Place. An odd little co-production of Disney and Amblin (!?!?!), it featured Reese (and a couple of boys - don't worry about it) walking 2000 km across the Kalihari desert.

AND her Oscar? For WALK the Line. WALK. GET IT?

(That movie tooooooootally should have been named Ring of Fire, but that's a rant for another day.)

Anyway, if you're ever looking for a Disney-Amblin co-production of a picture starring a 16-year old Reese Witherspoon walking across the Kalihari, this is probably your best bet.

I had this on LASER DISK. All the easier to skip the elephant massacre at the beginning. (What?!) Yeah, yeah, no animals were harmed, but it's still pretty hard to watch. Reese witnessing this, and getting caught witnessing it, is what sends her fleeing into the desert.

It's an interesting strategy and an interesting metaphor. I don't care how strong you are, and how evil you are. I will set my chin and my forehead to this, and I will win by outlasting you with sheer force of will. That's hard not to love. She's marginally young enough to be our daughter, so my wife and I adopted her on the spot.

She doesn't know this, and if you ever meet her, I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention it.

Which leaves her in an interesting position. She's got the same kind of force of will that Julia Roberts plays so well (think Erin Brockovich, but if you haven't seen Mystic Pizza in a while, do. She OWNS that mutha, in a truly explosive star turn), but with a few exceptions, hasn't spun real-live star vehicles out of it. Legally Blonde and Blonder are obvious exceptions, and they're worthy ones. Same intelligence, same force of will, sprinkle in a little Clueless (cute, funny, seems a little dim, but underestimate her at your peril), and it's pretty magical.

But she's also kind of a kid in it. Just wrapping college.

Her previous star turn was in Election, as a high-schooler, capping a trilogy of Pleasantville and Cruel Intentions. Based on Les Liasons Dangereuses, she played the "innocent" girl who turns the tables -- another not un-apt metaphor.

There were other leads in there, and some VERY interesting supporting roles. The one that SHOULD have been a hit was This Means War. It got savaged in reviews (26% at Rotten Tomatoes), but still somehow kind of one of the all-time great "this started out as a kind of misogynist bet but NOW I'VE REALLY FALLEN FOR YOU" pictures.

She's a grown-up in that one, and downright steely, but she's almost like a combination of The Anal Retentive Chef and Rachel Ray if Rachel Ray worked at a celebrity version of Consumer Reports. Steely but fun, and more than attractive enough to make 2 Bond-caliber CIA spies misappropriate the global surveillance intelligence apparatus to settle a kind of misogynist bet.

In a good way.

It's funny, she's almost slipped under the radar in some weird ways. She earned $15 million for the Legally Blonde sequel, and was a producer, and was one of the tippy-top highest paid actresses in Hollywood for years. Very much in the Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock range, which is all the more remarkable considering that she did without full-on glamour or action pictures.

Actually, her closest to a full-on action picture was very UN-glamorous, Freeway, from 1996. She was 20, playing 16 (which may be why it wasn't immediately obvious how big a star she was - short-ish, lacking mesmerizing hair, and playing students into her 30s), and boy, talk about steely. She's a teen prostitute running away from an abusive home-life, only to get picked up hitchhiking by a seemingly nice Kiefer Sutherland who's actually a sexually perverted serial killer....who gets his ass thoroughly and repeatedly kicked by Reese in a warped twist on Little Red Riding Hood.

So I'm really interested to see this as kind of her Eat Pray Love picture.The "woman in mid-ish-life crisis" picture isn't quite as firmly established a genre as its male counterpart, but it's definitely a THING, and it usually involves resolution with some combination of sex, exotic locations, and sex with exotic men. In THIS case, though, the problem is Reese's, and so is the solution. She finds it within herself, through...wait for it...force of will and steely resolve.

That's how it sounds anyway. Am I on the right path, Scott?


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Scott Roberts
Re: Wild
on Dec 19, 2014 at 7:30:57 pm

First off, I 100% agree that "Ring of Fire" > "Walk the Line", both in terms of movie titles and quality of Johnny Cash songs.

As far as Reese Witherspoon goes, I've enjoyed her career. She's not my favorite or anything, but when I think about her movies, I tend to not hate what I've seen. I *love* Election. And I no longer have any shame about saying that I will watch Legally Blonde every time I see that it's on TV (at least until the commercial break, but often longer). That's just one of those dumb guilty pleasure movies I can't control myself about. Like Drumline. I will do the same with Drumline and I HATE Nick Cannon. I think I have a sickness to several very specific stupid movies.

But anyway, sorry to TRAIL off there.


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