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Fri09182020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

I’m a big fan of the original Pete’s Dragon, a mix of animation and live action that was a technical marvel when it was released in the late 1970s. My father took my siblings and me to see it after our dog got hit by a car. We were still mighty bummed out, but the movie cheered us up for a couple of hours.

I bristled a bit when I heard they were remaking it as a live-action film with a CGI Elliott the Dragon. I got annoyed when I heard they were dumping the music—in the original, the music was pretty goofy, yet quite charming.

Director David Lowery changed the whole thing from a comedy into a rather dour family drama about a young kid who is orphaned after a car accident in the first scene. Oakes Fegley plays Pete, who turns into a little Tarzan who howls like a wolf when he’s sad. Elliott the Dragon, a furry CGI concoction that always looks a little strange and off, rescues him.

The whole film failed to grab me, and pales in comparison to the original. Robert Redford shows up as an old guy who saw the dragon when he was younger, but nobody believes him. He’s essentially the Mickey Rooney character from the original—minus all of the fun.

Special Features: There are a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes, as well as a director’s commentary.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

A Walk in the Woods spends very little time in the woods. The film does, however, spend plenty of time in remote hotels, laundry facilities, rental-car parking lots, diners and homes.

The project that would become A Walk in the Woods has bounced for nearly 20 years, and at one point was being positioned as a reunion movie for Robert Redford and Paul Newman. That might’ve been very cool. Seeing Newman and Redford onscreen together again would’ve earned a lot of goodwill from audiences, even if the characters they played were a bit tacky.

Instead, we get Redford following up some great performances (All Is Lost, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) with perhaps his worst performance, as he spends a 104-minute slog swapping bad dialogue with a croaky Nick Nolte in full clown mode.

Redford plays Bill Bryson, the real writer who penned the book upon which the film is based. While taking a walk during a funeral, he spies the Appalachian Trail. After a few hours on Google, he decides he’s going to do the 2,000-mile hike, much to the chagrin of his wife (Emma Thompson), who insists he gets a hiking partner.

Bryson finds a partner in Stephen Katz (Nolte), a friend with whom he had a falling out years ago—who now very much wants to go hiking with him for no real explainable reason. The two set out on the trail, and we soon learn the chemistry between Redford and Nolte is nonexistent. They just look and feel weird together, and while that’s intended to be funny, it winds up being unsettling and odd.

What constitutes humor in this film? At one point, Bryson and Katz are sleeping in their tents when a couple of big bears wander into their camp. Bryson hears their approach, and the first thing he does is yell to Katz—probably not a good idea, since bears have these things called ears. Bryson happens to have a bear-attack handbook nearby, and he coaches Nolte to stand up in his tent and yell a lot. The bears see a couple of tents jumping around, and they decide they don’t like that sort of thing before scampering off. Ha ha ha ha ha!

First off, possible bear attacks aren’t funny. They are scary. I’m good with a scene in which two guys manage to get hungry bears out of their camp, but I’m not good with a scene that feels like it should be in a Disney Channel sitcom. Watching Redford and Nolte behaving like asses while bears roar in disapproval is as weak as it gets.

It seems the main direction given to Redford was: “Do your best surprised and confused look!” He spends half the film looking ridiculous while doing things like falling down and getting stuck in the mud. Meanwhile, Nolte is asked to stuff pancakes in his face and help an overweight woman who gets her panties stuck in a washing machine. It’s downright embarrassing.

The movie is directed in a rather pedestrian way by Ken Kwapis, the maker of such landmark films as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Dunston Checks In. Directors who were slated to helm the project over the years included Richard Linklater (Boyhood, School of Rock) and Larry Charles (Borat). Something interesting would’ve probably been delivered by either of those guys. Instead, Kwapis made something akin to a “Let’s go camping!” episode of Full House.

In the end, this movie isn’t really about hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s about trying to hike the Appalachian Trail and getting into wacky hijinks along the way. A better title would’ve been A Walk Into a Laundromat to Mess With Some Large Lady’s Underwear After Eating a Bunch of Pancakes While Mugging for the Camera a Whole Lot … and Then Maybe We’ll Actually Hike In the Woods for, Like, Ten Minutes.

A Walk in the Woods is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Back in 2011, I wrote that Captain America: The First Avenger, while having a slick retro look, came up short on “action pow.”

Well, Captain America: The Winter Soldier brings an awful lot of “action pow” in a more-modern setting. Chris Evans, as the title character, is coming into his own as an action superstar—and it doesn’t hurt that Scarlett Johansson gets a lot of screen time kicking people in the face.

As Thor 2 and Iron Man 3 did, The Winter Soldier shows an Avenger dealing with life after saving New York City from an alien attack. Cap is trying to catch up on modern culture and settle into a new world after being frozen for almost 70 years. (His list of things to do includes watching Star Wars and Star Trek, trying Thai food, and listening to Nirvana.)

Of course, he’s not going to be able to just kick back and relax, because evil still exists below America’s shimmering surface—and governmental wrongdoings are going to challenge Cap’s ability to remain loyal to the country after which he’s named.

After an attempt on the life of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), attention goes toward somebody called the Winter Soldier, a fighting machine with powers similar to Captain America.

Cap’s mission eventually leads him to the discovery of HYDRA, a virus-like, evil movement that has been controlling members of the government since the Nazi days. With Black Widow (Johansson) and Falcon (a well-cast Anthony Mackie) at his side, Cap looks to take down HYDRA, kick the Winter Soldier’s ass, and possibly work in a date during the whole mess.

New to the Marvel universe is Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce. Redford gets a chance to do some new things in this prominent role, the details of which will not be revealed here. (I can’t really write a lot about this movie without ruining things.) Thanks to his bravura performance in last year’s All Is Lost and his badass work here, Redford is experiencing a nice late-career renaissance.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, whose previous works include mostly TV shows and the horrible You, Me and Dupree, prove to be surprisingly with this blockbuster behemoth. Their action scenes crackle with a zippy, kinetic energy, especially during the smackdowns between Cap and the Winter Soldier. They also do well with visual effects, especially the return of the flying aircraft carriers, and an amazing finale featuring crumbling buildings and fights upon the aforementioned carriers as they fall from the sky.

As always, a bunch of folks got up and left at my screening before all of the post-credit action played out. People … never leave a Marvel movie until the screen goes permanently black. There’s one sequence that occurs after a few minutes of credits, and another sequence after the credits (just before everything goes dark). About 20 percent of the audience got up and left before the first sequence, and then another 50 percent more left before the final bit.

The summer movie season (yes, I know it’s barely April) is officially off to solid Marvel start with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy (which looks like a lot of fun) are still coming, so there’s more plenty of potential Marvel goodness in the near future.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

In All Is Lost, a movie that features almost no dialogue, Robert Redford delivers some of his best work ever as a man trying to survive a shipwreck in the Indian Ocean.

While sleeping in his yacht, Redford’s character (simply called “Our Man” in the credits) is abruptly awakened by a floating cargo bin crashing into his boat’s side. What follows is more than 100 minutes of Redford’s character solving problems and fighting to stay alive.

Much credit goes to the legendary actor, as well as relative newbie writer-director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), for making this compelling from start to finish. You’ll be surprised by how gripping the sight of a man simply trying to repair his boat can be.

Redford looks like he put himself through the ringer, and the results are well worth it. His character gets no real back-story; other than one loud expletive, a couple of radio-transmission attempts, and some quick narration at the start, Redford’s character never speaks. There’s no need: Redford does it all with his face in a performance for which he will always be remembered.

In one of Oscar’s biggest shockers this year, Redford was passed over for a nomination (as was another big seafaring actor named Tom Hanks) for a Best Actor nomination. Redford deserved a nomination over Christian Bale (for American Hustle) and Bruce Dern (for Nebraska). I don’t know what else Redford could have done to get a nod. He’s only gotten one other Oscar nomination for acting, 40 years ago for The Sting. He absolutely deserved the accolade this year, and the snub is strange.

Special Features: A director’s commentary (without Redford) and some featurettes on the making of the movie. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

In a movie that features almost no dialogue, Robert Redford delivers some of his best work ever as a man trying to survive a shipwreck in the Indian Ocean.

While sleeping in his yacht, Redford’s character (simply called “Our Man” in the All Is Lost credits) is abruptly awakened when a floating cargo bin crashes into his boat’s side. What follows is more than 100 minutes of Redford solving problems and fighting to stay alive.

Much credit goes to the legendary actor, as well as relative newbie writer-director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) for making this compelling from start to finish. You’ll be surprised how gripping the sight of a man simply trying to repair his boat can be.

Redford looks like he put himself through the ringer in this one, and the results are well worth it. His character gets no real back-story; other than one loud expletive, a couple of radio-transmission attempts, and some quick narration at the beginning, we never really hear Redford’s voice. However, there’s no need; Redford does it all with his face in a performance for which he will always be remembered.

All Is Lost is playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); and Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

In The Company You Keep, Robert Redford directs himself as an upstate New York lawyer with a past who must flee his life when a nosey journalist (Shia LaBeouf) discovers his true identity.

The film gives us fictional characters who were former members of the very real Weather Underground, played by the likes of Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte and Julie Christie. LaBeouf does much of the heavy lifting, and it’s some of his better work in quite some time.

Redford is just OK, though—as is his movie. I can’t say it blew me away, but I didn’t dislike it, either. It gets by with semi-competent directing and acting, without truly wowing you.

Others in the cast include Stanley Tucci, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins and Sam Elliott.

The Company You Keep opens Friday, April 26, at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way; 760-323-4466); and the Century Theatres at The River, 71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews