REVIEW: “WIND RIVER” (2017) Weinstein Company

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Writer/Director Taylor Sheridan is a wonderful screenwriter in his own right, however, he’s a terrible writer of film titles. Think Sicario, Hell or High Water or this latest title. “Wind River”. All had me questioning whether or not to see them before-hand based on title alone. Luckily for all of us, like the previous two, this film is much better than it’s title, and also gives the title sense as to where it came from.

Fortunately, this latest film “WIND RIVER” – his debut as a director – is a solid modern day western-type that starts us off with a slow burn leading into the plot of a Native American woman being found frozen dead and barefoot by local Fish & Wildlife hunter/employee Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). The young woman turns out to be the daughter of a friend Martin (Gil Birmingham) and the similar circumstances surrounding the death of his own daughter means that when Elisabeth Olsen’s FBI agent Jane Banner comes from the closest bureau office, which happens to be Las Vegas, and turns up clearly completely out of her element, being both underdressed and overwhelmed, you do get a feeling things could go terribly wrong. Along with the completely understaffed Reservation Police Chief Ben (Graham Greene), she asks him to please tag along and help bring the killers to justice.

The trail leads them through the reservation – with its social problems of drugs, criminality and social exclusion pointedly presented – and up into the wild. Here, Cory is the expert and Jane’s role is confined to hanging onto the back of his snowmobile for dear life as they plow their way through the snow. The investigation doesn’t allow her much scope to use her skills as one clue leads succinctly to the next. There are surprisingly few twists and turns, instead like Cory, the film doggedly follows the tracks. In apparent recognition of this, the film abandons mystery and reveals all with an expository flashback putting you the audience, completely in the emotional-fed moment right with them before sneakily edited into a tense stand off.

Renner confirms himself as a very respectable action lead, (despite the mis-step of Jason Bourne effort). He is a quiet professional here, a rugged sober man who is not afraid to show his sensitive side, as when he commiserates with the father of the murdered girl by baring his own grief. Olsen has less to do, but she manages with the thankless task of following Renner around and agreeing to follow his advice. The underwriting isn’t confined to her character. The motivations and actions of the villains also appear to be random and the sudden escalation of violence doesn’t make much sense except for providing us with a slickly realised set-piece.

All in all this is a satisfying and entertaining work from Sheridan. The portrayal of a forgotten American community – albeit from the point of view of a white-man saviour type deal we sometimes just see to much of – at least gives some visibility to an isolated part of the country. Though “Wind River” is far better than its title suggests and a promising directorial debut.

Kudos to director and all others involved in this remarkable outdoor production. The entire production was filmed in the middle of a brutal winter in Utah although the setting is supposedly Wyoming on the Wind River Reservation i.e., why the title finally makes sense. An added reality perk, real Native American’s play the actual Native American characters which for me, gives it a more realistic approach to the story at hand. A story that while starts slow, winds itself up into a vast emotional tug-of-war that left me thinking about the film long after it ended.

Grade: B-
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Review Screening: Tuesday, August 1, 2017 ~ Courtesy LAFTV Film Meetup
“Wind River” will be in theatres nationwide on Friday, August 4, 2017

REVIEW: “THE ACCOUNTANT” (2016) Warner Bros.

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Having not seen a film in over a month and a half or written a review for that matter, I was truly not knowing what to expect walking into the “THE ACCOUNTANT”. What I walked out with is still to be decided.

What I did like is how far ‘out of the box’ this film is. I mean it’s leaps and bounds out of the norm of any film I’ve seen yet this year, and as we all know, 2016 has not been a good year by any means for film.
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In this paint by numbers, crazy potboiler of a film, you’ve got Ben Affleck as Christian Wolff, who seems to be just another small-town number-cruncher, doing taxes for local farmers out of a non-descript strip-mall office called ZZZ Acounting. Reality is a much different place in this one though as Wolff is actually the man whom drug kingpins and the worst of the worst in the world turn to when they find a discrepancies in their books.

Wolff’s dealings with such men of notorious nature, captures the attention of Treasury director Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), who in turn blackmails his underling-with-a-past, Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into tracking Wolff down. In an attempt to stay out of trouble, Wolff takes a seemingly innocent little gig trying to find a financial leak in the books of Lamar Black (John Lithgow) who runs a state of the art robotics firm, only to attract the attention of hired killer Braxton (Jon Bernthal). Add in the films truly only awkward ‘friendship’ with whistleblower Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), whom he unseemly decides he needs to protect and a mystery phone-voiced woman who changes Wolff’s identities on the drop of a dime – and yes, each identity does have a meaning behind them to be revealed.
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To try to explain this whole plot and all it’s flashbacks, would not only suck the fun out of your viewing, but would be almost impossible since so much is going on. Yes, there is loads of violence, most of it you didn’t see coming, along with a plot twist most don’t see coming. To sum it up clearly, there are no ‘brilliant’ performances, but all of them make do and seem to be having a good time doing so. The whole thing shouldn’t add up, but yet somehow it does and while not a ‘great’ movie by any means, it is entertaining as end all.

Grade: B-
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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, October 12, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Nationwide Release: Friday, October 14, 2016

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015) Fox Searchlight

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Not being a huge fan of this genre of ‘dying’ teen movies, it would be so easy to sum up this film with just the title alone and leave it at that.

It would also be easy to criticize the fact that Me & Earl & the Dying Girl is directly aimed to the young teen Fault in Our Stars crowd with whom it’s guaranteed to be a summer box office moneymaker.
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And while all of that is true, what people will be missing if they don’t go to see this film is a truly good, touching, funny, quirky and well acted film. I went in to this film wanting to dislike it for so many reasons, the sheer fact of its utter teen-dream marketability and knowing how it will end thanks to the title. And to my pleasant surprise, while watching, I felt my mind change, change and then change again. I was reminded that movies like this do exist and some times they can not only be really good, but they also can be commercially successful at the same time and that’s a-okay for me.
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The film chronicles the senior year of “Greg” (Thomas Mann), his best friend/co-worker “Earl” (RJ Cyler), and “Rachel” (Olivia Cooke), who at the behest of his mother (Connie Britton) has been told to go ‘be friends with her’ as she has been diagnosed with leukemia (aka get it..Me & Earl & the Dying Girl). Rachel of course, sees right through his initial ‘pity’ visit but slowly and surely Greg begins to win her over with his cheekiness and charm.
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And yes, all of the teen dramedy tropes are present and accounted for. The awkward parents, most especially Rachel’s mom “Denise” (Molly Shannon) who practically mauls Greg she is so happy he is there for her daughter, the role of tatted up cool teacher who ‘gets it’“Mr. Walker” (Jon Berenthal) whom while he goes into some original territory – though maybe a little to much for me as I think there might be a line or two that is crossed. Add in the exploration of high school cliques as Greg seems to be the master of his universe as he somehow cultivates relationships in each clique in his school. He glides from circle to circle seemly effortlessly, not alienating anybody or anyone which if I remember high school as I do, is pretty near the impossible to make happen. Though with all this accomplishment, he doesn’t want to call anyone his ‘friend’ as he doesn’t want to emotionally connect with them fully, so he calls Earl, his actual best friend, a co-worker. The two share a bizarre, but fun love of cinema and re-create about 40 spoofs of films such as A Clockwork Orange & The Seventh Seal among others. These are some of the high points of the movie as it’s rather hysterical to see these kids become so creative over the years doing these oh-so-bad-they-are-good mini movies.
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A good supporting cast keeps the film fresh and rolling along. Greg’s eccentric parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) add a fun jolt of parental weirdness to their scenes, While I found myself wanting a bit more in regards to Rachel’s character, the film’s treatment of her friendship with Greg is both darkly funny and realistically somber. This is one movie that it’s safe to see regardless of its given ending.

Screening at Landmark Theatres Westwood – Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
Nationwide release date: Friday, June 12th, 2015
Grade: B
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RATINGS SCALE: A = OSCAR-WORTHY; B = ABOVE AVERAGE; C = AVERAGE; D = NOT RECOMMENDED; F = SKIP IT ENTIRELY (+ OR – GIVES IT AN EDGE UP OR DOWN)