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Monday, August 21, 2017

Brief Thoughts: The Trip To Spain, Wind River & Kidnap


I really enjoy putting my reviews together.  I honestly wish I could delve deeper into certain movies, but alas, I get incredibly busy and can sometimes only deal with movies to a briefer extent than I would prefer.  This is why I write these occasional "Brief Thoughts" posts on movies I have seen, as I want to at least offer some of my own perspective on them.  They may not be as polished, but I can at least get my opinions out there. This edition of "Brief Thoughts" features mini-reviews for The Trip to Spain with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, Wind River with Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, and Kidnap with Halle Berry.


The Trip to Spain: 4 out of 5

Sometimes you worry about the law of diminishing returns and other times you see when to keep a good thing going. I continue to be delighted by what the films in The Trip series have to offer. Whether it's dealing with the contentious relationship between best friends/nemesis Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, watching these two men deal with aging, or simply having them try and best each other (and make each other laugh) with various impressions, this series completely works for me. Following two films edited down from two seasons of a 6-episode TV series that tracked these two through northern England and Italy, this installment finds the two journeying through Spain together. 

While there is minimal scripting as far as how the various interactions go (director Michael Winterbottom gets credit, but no screenplay credit is listed in the film), there has been something of an arc to the characters and it was interesting to see how things have shifted. While Brydon took more of the stage in 'Italy' things are back to the sad clown that is Coogan for 'Spain'. After being in a state of calm, the actor is now back to inhabiting a level of despair.

It is especially fitting, as this film comes after Coogan had received an Oscar nomination for writing and producing Philomena, which will most certainly inform the man's ego. Now going on a journey that somewhat retraces steps Coogan took through Spain as a younger man, the two continue to play with their personas, while contending with mild personal drama as well as each other.


Further adding to what we get out of these Trip films, while the food may have become less and less of a focus, The Trip to Spain may be the best-filmed entry yet. With wonderful looks at Cantabria, Aragon, Rioja, Malaga and more, there is a lot to enjoy in the scenery being taken in, as these two riff and joke their way through the cities and landmarks. Fittingly enough, adding onto what we get from the nature of these films, literary inspiration, this time around, comes in the form of Cervantes, adding another level of poignancy to what we see in Coogan's journey. This especially applies to the end, which finds a bit of a shakeup in play, as far as what to expect.

And of course, what would these films be without the impressions. Yes, Michael Caine comes back into play, as well as Roger Moore, but what would you say to the addition of Mick Jagger and David Bowie? Even as the two (particularly Coogan) find ways to get on each other's nerves, there's plenty of enjoyment to be had by audiences that can take the sort of aggressive point to be the funniest person in the room. Fortunately, whether or not Coogan and Brydon are always the funniest in the room, they have tapped into a way to make this a series that I'll be happy to see continue.


Wind River: 3 out of 5

Wind River tells a familiar story of crime investigated by two unlikely partners. One is a rookie FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen). The other is a skilled tracker with plenty of sage wisdom (Jeremy Renner). The film comes from writer Taylor Sheridan, who also makes his directorial debut this time around. After having spent time examining drug trafficking and the monsters that world creates with Sicario and probing frontier land ravaged by banks in the modern western Hell or High Water, Wind River functions as a noir-ish mystery, showing an affinity for what's left of Native American culture.

It's a shame the drama is merely constructed by way of familiar procedural elements. The victim is an 18-year old girl subjected to rape and murder, which means Renner will have to use his macho survival skills to ostensibly save the day. Adding to this is Olsen's rookie agent character, who rarely gets a chance to show much skill of her own. Sherdian constantly knocks her back by making the character a poor interrogator when it comes to sympathizing with the family members and constantly caught off guard by potential suspects who are more than happy to take a shot at her.

Wind River takes place on an Indian Reservation and the presence of Graham Greene as the matter-of-fact sheriff and Gil Birmingham (the overlooked, but also great cast member in Hell or High Water) as the victim's father makes me wonder what differences could have been made with a different choice of protagonist.



Nick Cave and Warren Ellis provide a solid score that keeps you invested in the proceedings. The film may be a bit too trigger happy for its own good, but Sheridan also finds a way to mount good tension in various interactions. One of the best moments comes towards the film's finale, which finds a way to solve the mystery of what exactly went wrong through a flashback at just the right moment.Wind River's deeper meanings may literally be spelled out just as the end credits are about to begin, but it still has a visceral quality that keeps it engaging enough as a thriller for adults.

As it stands, Renner does what is needed, though his understatement is less enjoyable to see than the wildcard factor he can provide in broader or more self-aware roles. This would perhaps be less of an issue if the characters felt more realized as a whole. Given the crackling dialogue that made up Hell or High Water and the haunting atmosphere that crept all over Sicario, I can't help but look at Wind River as the lesser installment in a promising trilogy that Sheridan has said to have completed with this film. However, there is at least a good sense of place as far as the construction of the film.



Kidnap: 3 out of 5

Speaking of thrillers for adults, make no mistake,
Kidnap is little more than pulp fiction made for exhausted mothers ready to see a joyride through what they would do if their child was at risk, but it's fun. Halle Berry now has this film and The Call under her belt, as far as ridiculous high concept genre flicks that feature innocents and peril, as a ticking clock rages on and the results have been stellar. After sitting on the shelf for nearly two years (Relativity Media faced some financial crisis, so Aviron Pictures eventually picked up distribution rights), Kidnap has finally hit screens to show off what it's all about.


With maybe 10 minutes of this film devoted to establishing Berry's character as a single mother and waitress, it is off to the races once her young son is snatched by would-be kidnappers. The film does not stop from there, as Berry spends a majority of the 80-minute film behind the wheel of her minivan, chasing down the Ford Mustang that contains her child. Like Berry, the film has no time to lose in getting to the point and sticking with it. There's no time for flashbacks, subplots with other characters or anything else, as this is a mean and lean thriller with Berry giving her all to the performance to nearly helping the film from straining credibility.

Of course, the screenplay is nothing to write home about. There are some elements that may cut to the chase, but really sound off when thinking about what the film is trying to say and how characters are trying to handle themselves. That's not the point though, as director Luis Prieto is more focused on emulating the experiences of the bus in Speed, as opposed to the passengers inside.



Using New Orleans and Lousiana as a backdrop, the film does well to capitalize on the highways and locations to the best of its abilities, even if it means lingering on certain moments to pad the running time. Credit where it is due, however, Berry's character is not forced to cause massive civilian casualties in her personal efforts to save her son. This is the rare modern action film to consider the collateral damage from the hero's perspective and have them act at least somewhat accordingly.

Kidnap
 won't win any prizes (unless the Razzies are just that lazy, which they might be), but it's efficient action filmmaking that creates the required level of thrills for audiences that want what was advertised. It's also a good reason to hope Liam Neeson's grizzled old man heroics can be teamed up with Berry's everyday-woman-caught-up-in-action persona for one crazy action-thriller down the road. Surely director Jaum Collette Sera's ready for that.

***

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