Monday 11 December 2017

Movie Reviews: A Walk in the Woods, The D Train, Tangerines

A Walk In The Woods
A Walk In The Woods
The D Train

A Walk in the Woods is an old pals act, The D Train is on track and Tangerines is a poignant war tale

A Walk in the Woods

Comedy/Drama. Starring: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal. Director: Ken Kwapis. Cert: 15A

Several people know Bill Bryson the world over as a hugely popular travel writer: a sort of avuncular, cuddly uncle figure with a head for both adventure and mindless trivia.

Given that Bryson has also split his time evenly between his native Iowa and the UK, he bears the hallmarks of both provenances. He has a thing for keeping a stiff upper lip, but also has a knack for throwing a tasteless joke into the wrong situation. All told, it's a really fun combination and makes his travel books delicious slices of escapism.

Bryson was always going to make an interesting movie character, but few could predict that the square-jawed Redford would ever take up the reins. Anyway, here we are.

Travel aside, Bryson is a man who has achieved much. He has a loving family, a rather understanding wife (Emma Thompson, playing really rather charming here), and critical acclaim galore. Still, there is a niggle; a sense that something needs to be ticked off the bucket list. Call it a midlife crisis, but Bryson decides that he will tackle the Appalachian Trail, all 1,000 miles of it.

Given that he can barely pitch a tent in the backyard, his wife is rightly concerned. He can go with her blessing with one caveat: he takes a plus one.

After an extensive ring-around, word reaches his old friend Katz (Nick Nolte), and he decides he would like to come along for the hike. Bryson is in the autumn of his years, but he's a hale and hearty whippersnapper compared to the gruff, barely-standing Katz.

Where Bryson has shone in life, Katz appears to have taken a few wrong turns, although has stories every inch as compelling as his compadre's. Off they set, and after a few wobbles (a dicky heart, and what have you), they're on their way.

It's pretty hard to make a hike, undertaken by two older men, a compelling cinematic experience, but Kwapis has a few aces up his sleeve. Buoyed by a delicious Appalachian folk soundtrack, and throwing in a few prime chunks of breathtaking scenery, A Walk In The Woods is occasionally bracing.

The squabbles that Bryson and Katz enjoy also move the action along, as does a brilliant cameo by Kristen Schaal as a know-it-all seasoned hiker the pair try desperately to lose. There's also a fun scene in which Katz ends up being chased by an irate husband after he meets a potential hook-up in a launderette.

Anyone raised on the teat of 80s movies will likely find former action hero Nolte as Katz something of a shock, but he is pretty magnificent as the bleary, gin-blossomed old codger. Redford is fairly still as Bryson; charming in a different way to the author.

At times, however, A Walk in the Woods feels like just that; a long, endurance test with no end in sight.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail sounds like a noble thing indeed, so some audience members may feel, as the pair end their odyssey in a rather unexpected way, a little short-changed.

Rating: ***

The D Train

The D Train

Comedy. Starring: Jack Black, James Mardsen, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Russel Posner, Mike White, Charlotte Gale. Director: Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul. Cert: 15A 

Presumably on a toilet door in some hallowed Hollywood establishment, there is a scrawl of graffiti that says, 'if in doubt, make a film about high school'. Certainly, those five or six formative years tend to stay with us forever, but there's not likely to be a shortage of films for which the politics, the jocks and the detentions cast a long shadow.

They certainly cast a long shadow on the life of Dan Landsman (Jack Black), the type of suburban dad whose picture comes up in the dictionary under 'everyman'. He has the non-descript job, the devoted wife (Kathryn Hahn) and the adorable kids, and he's also heavily involved in the high school reunion committee.

It all rings familiar if you've seen Reese Witherspoon as the ebullient Tracy Flick in Election: oblivious to just how little his peers think of him, Dan carries on regardless, giving himself nicknames and getting right on everyone's wick.

In a bid to inject some interest into his reunion project, Dan needs to make the whole thing a bit sexier. How better to do just that than to enlist the help of Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), who was the coolest kid in school and is now an actor of some repute.

In reality, Oliver is no more than a rung up on the Hollywood ladder than the guy who cleans the toilets at the Chateau Marmont, but he has a TV ad under his belt, which makes him bona fide famous in Dan's eyes.

A meeting in LA between Dan and Oliver goes… well, better than expected. To say how would ruin the element of surprise, and to be fair, it's one of the few aces that The D Train has up its sleeve. Suffice to say that Dan ends up on a personal quest even he could never have anticipated.

Blending darkness and light to impressive effect, The D Train is bolstered by the effervescence of Black and the charm of Marsden (even if he is playing a doofus). In any case, a film about reflected glory and those long shadows from youth can rarely go wrong.

Rating ***



Drama. Starring Lembit Ulfsak, Elmo Nuganen, Giorgi Nakashidze, Misha Meskhi, Raivo Trass, Zura Begalishvili. Director Zaza Urushadze. Cert: 15A

And now for something completely different, although it is one of the most stirring and touching films of the week, month or even year. Someone once said that by making a story even more micro, it becomes more universal, and the same can be said of this war drama.

Tangerines is the first Estonian movie to receive a foreign film Oscar nod, and with good reason. Set in 1992 at the height of the Georgia/Abkhasia conflict, Tangerines' concern Ivo, a carpenter who, while his neighbours flee to relative safety, decides to stay firm. His reason is noble and simple; he helps his neighbour Margus (Elmo Nuganen) with the tangerine harvest every year, and he's not backing out now - war or otherwise.

Right outside the door, chaos erupts as Ahmed (Giorgi Nakhashidze), a Chechen mercenary on the Abkhazian side, and Niko (Mikheil Meskhi), a Georgian in opposition, get caught in the crossfire. Both men end up bedridden under Ivo's roof. In close quarters, a thaw happens and a tentative kinship forms.

The universal theme of war is always harrowing and compelling, but this small, intimate look at the conflict is brimful of humanity.

You may think you've seen war stories before, but certainly none like this one.

Rating ****

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