New reviews: ‘Wendy and Lucy,’ ‘Inkheart’ and ‘Outlander’

Wendy and Lucy (dir: Kelly Reichardt)

New York-based filmmaker Kelly Reichardt returns to the Pacific Northwest and reunites with writer Jon Raymond for her follow-up to Old Joy, which was one of my favorite films of 2007. Wendy and Lucy is just as good, maybe even bettter, and if anything even more pared to bone of imagery and narrative. Nothing in this film feels gratuitous or false. This isn’t the romantic road movie of Alexander Supertramp in Into the Wild. This is survival, revealed in all the mundane details of a documentary portrait and the simple power of Michelle Williams’ unadorned performance as Lucy, a single young woman heading off to find work on Alaska in a used car with only her dog for company and support and a dwindling cash reserve.

Michelle Williams
Michelle Williams

This is survival, revealed in all the blunt details of a documentary portrait and the simple power of Williams’ unadorned, Oscar-worthy performance. When Lucy runs off and Wendy tracks her to a group of young drifters gathered around a bonfire, Reichardt keeps her camera back to watch Williams’ careful and wary body language tell the story of her vulnerability.

That vulnerability isn’t simply physical. With no fixed address, no cell phone and dwindling savings (all in cash), she’s practically off the grid. Every penny is accounted for and she sweeps the seats for change.

The disarming directness and seeming simplicity of Reichardt’s direction can lull you into thinking that there isn’t anything going on, when in fact the film is built on a multiplicity of details and insights, never commented upon but essential to understanding the character and her situation. And there’s a reason they don’t jump out at you: they are the everyday details of living in the modern world as experienced by a person living on the edge. A setback that carries a costly but merely inconvenient price-tag to most of us can be the disaster that pulls the rug from under Wendy.

Read my review at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer here.

Inheart (dir: Iain Softley)

This much-delayed adaptation of the best-selling young adult fantasy novel by Cornelia Funke has been getting poor reviews. I seem to be in the minority: I liked the film. It’s a pretty irresistible premise – the hero (played by Brendan Fraser) has the ability to make real the characters and events of books just by reading aloud, and the last time he did it came a tragic cost that haunts him still – and a natural for a film adaptation. You might say the filmmakers read the story out of the book and onto the screen.

"Inkheart" - the case against reading aloud
"Inkheart" - the case against reading aloud

Director Iain Softely isn’t much for action and he lacks a certain sense of wonder at the magic of the premise (have I mentioned how darn cool the whole concept is?), but neither is there a lot of empty action and contrived cliffhangers, and if it lacks thrills it certainly makes up for it with a very convincing sense of threat. The characters may have been read out of a third-rate fantasy but they have turned themselves into pretty dangerous folks since they’ve discovered the ability to write their own destinies in this world.

“Inkheart” feels a little confused in its tone and direction, but only a little, and I appreciate the way it both celebrates the power of literature and reminds us that stories have a life beyond the page, even if they are only in our hearts and minds.

Read the complete review at the Seattle P-I here.

Outlander (dir: Howard McCain)

It’s Vikings vs. Aliens when an extraterrestrial soldier crash lands in medieval Norway and joins forces with the local warring tribes to take on a ferocious space lizard with a fiery temperament. Here there be dragons, indeed. If only it was as fun as it sounds.

aka Spaceman and his Viking Buddies
aka Spaceman and his Viking Buddies

The science fiction of a careening space ship throwing off sparks and flames as it tumbles through the vacuum of space (okay, call it science fantasy) quickly gives way to barbarian politics and broadsword action after the knight from afar pulls his helmet from a spacesuit that looks remarkably like a suit of armor and reveals Jim Caviezel. He looks human but speaks some strange language and, according to his portable computer (obviously not a laptop – he heaves it ashore like it’s a satchel full of rocks), he’s landed on Earth, an “abandoned seed colony.” Luckily he’s from a civilization that has crammed that bigger-than-a-breadbox computer with things that might have seemed otherwise esoteric, like a program to upload Norse right into his brain. I guess it’s good they did, because now he speaks like a native. A native American, that is, in a colony of British-inflected barbarian warriors.

Howard McCain appears to be a graduate of the Roger Corman school of down and dirty filmmaking, but this is his first credit in ten years. One hopes it wasn’t all spent in pursuit of this project, a combination high concept twist on a story out of almost every cultural mythology and unimaginative reworking of a plot from countless B movies.

The battle scenes are shot in the busy, in-your-face style that turns action into an incoherent blur, and the CGI space dragon is a vague, indistinct thing that only becomes sketchier the more we see of it.

While I appreciate any film that stages an intimate conversation between king John Hurt and warrior-princess daughter Sophia Myles as a clanging swordfight exercise and casts Ron Perlman as a bald and bearded Viking king, it’s a skimpy script with unimaginative characters, mundane dialogue and routine plot twists. Even the battle between Kainan and the creature turns out to be some kind of grudge match. Does a fight with a monster always have to be personal?

Read my review at the P-I here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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