Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Walk in the Woods, Z for Zachariah, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, Queen of Earth

A Walk in the Woods
Z for Zachariah

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
Queen of Earth

A poor week at the movies:

My lone recommendation - a mild one - is for the Robert Redford - Nick Nolte odd couple/buddy/road comedy "A Walk in the Woods," in which Redford's author Bill Bryson and Nolte's long-lost pal Stephen Katz reunite to hike the Appalachian Trail, against the wishes of Bill's wife Catherine (Emma Thompson). I feared the movie would trigger flashbacks to late-80's junk like John Hughes' "The Great Outdoors," with Dan Aykroyd and John Candy. These players, though, operate at a higher level, particularly the disheveled Nolte, who looks like hell and whose voice makes Harrison Ford's sound robust by comparison, but who makes the movie with his "aw, fuck it" insouciance. (Redford's a bit of a prig.) Emma Thompson disappears for most of the runtime, and Mary Steenburgen has absolutely nothing to do (check out "Miss Firecracker" and see how little she needs to steal a picture), but there are just enough big laughs - most memorably during and after Katz's laundromat encounter with an enormous woman named Beulah (Susan McPhail) - to merit a surprised thumbs-up. 

Quick capsules on the rest: "Z for Zachariah" posits the post-apocalypse as backdrop for a wan love triangle in which almost nothing happens. I can't imagine wanting to ugly up the beauteous Margot Robbie, but director Craig Zobel (of the phony-baloney "Compliance") feels compelled to dye her hair brown, give her a hat-hair coiffure, and sprinkle dust liberally over her Ann Burden. Chiwetel Ejiofor, still searching for a worthy follow-up to "12 Years a Slave," is Loomis, the scientist who arrives in God-Knows-Where and confirms that Ann is not in fact the only human survivor of God-Knows-What. They undertake a wary and halting courtship, and then in walks Caleb (Chris Pine), a hunky and impossibly blue-eyed drifter bound for "the South." Nissar Modi's script threatens violence between the two men and adverts to potent cuckolding themes, but there's no charge in these batteries, erotic or otherwise… Alex Gibney needs to pace himself. The Oscar-winning documentarian of "Taxi to the Dark Side" this week released his second film of the year, "Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine." It comes on the heels of his "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief," which I gave a mild recommendation primarily because it shone rare sunlight on that dark cult. Neither film evinces the rigorous reporting that characterized Gibney's best films, the expansively entertaining "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" and "Casino Jack and the United States of Money." In the former, Gibney turned up flowcharts involving an anonymous figure named "M. Yass" (my ass); in the latter, he showed how a U.S. Representative from Ohio came to deliver a hilariously apropos-of-nothing acclamation to a Florida land developer on the House floor. Such moments are missing from this "Jobs," a shallow, stale and, at 128 minutes, drastically overlong rehash of well-known information and anecdotes… Finally, Alex Ross Perry's "Queen of Earth," which one may admire on a stylistic level while hating every minute of it. Perry, whose "Listen Up Philip" earned comparison to good Woody Allen, is the sort of contrarian who might make a feature film just to use the cursive "Q" in the titles. He maintains a uniform tone, which the better-than-the-movie preview, with its hideous narration, illustrates: Elizabeth Moss, good in both "Philip" and last year's gem "The One I Love," excels here, while Katherine Waterston (Sam's daughter) plays second fiddle, occasionally hinting at greater potential. These are horrible people treating each other horribly, the supposition that they're best friends a laugher.

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