This is one of those weeks where I’ve not got anything to say other than the usual lamentations on my lack of progress or the woes of international podcasting, so instead I’m going to highlight a podcast I’ve started listening to recently that you might like. I don’t watch a great deal of TV, but one of the few shows I’ve not only seen in its entirety but have revisited at least once is The West Wing, and one of its latter-season stars, Joshua Malina (he played Will Bailey), has recently begun a podcast called The West Wing Weekly, which he hosts alongside Hrishi Hirway, a self-proclaimed big fan of the show. On this show Joshua and Hrishi discuss an episode of The West Wing every week, in chronological order, occasionally with guests who were in some way involved in the TV show. So far they are six episodes in, and their guests have been Dulé Hill (who played Charlie Young), Janel Maloney (Donna Moss) and Eli Attie, a writer/producer who was also Al Gore’s chief scriptwriter. Whilst I’ve never been terribly interested in politics, especially that of another country, and one that seems to become more of a literal circus every year, my love of The West Wing stems from the characters, their interactions, relationships and dialogue. I discovered the show after watch Aaron Sorkin’s follow-up, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, which was criminally cancelled during the first season, and remains one of my favourite shows ever, one season or not. When I was denied further episodes, I sought out the next best thing. After recently lending the whole boxset to a friend, who returned all seven seasons in a matter of weeks, my partner has also shown an interest so I’m introducing her to the show whilst re-watching it myself, and at one-a-week it shouldn’t be too hard to keep up with the podcast.
Anyway, enough of TV, here are the films I watched this week:
A Walk in the Woods (2015)
I actually watched this last week, but it had so little impact on me that I completely forgot about it until I spotted it amongst my Letterboxd diary. I’m a fan of Bill Bryson’s travel books, and A Walk in the Woods is one of my favourites, so much so that I re-read it last year, and still thoroughly enjoyed Bryson’s wit and sense of superiority of his environment, even when it is kicking him up the backside. Here, Bryson – who was 47 when the book was originally released in 1998 – is played bythe 79-year-old Robert Redford, who admittedly doesn’t look much older than his late 60s, but it changes the tone somewhat from an unprepared mid-to-late-40s guy going on an expedition into the woods when you add a couple of decades onto his life history. The general plot is Bryson suffers something of a mid-life crisis after a friend’s funeral and decides to embark upon the Appalachian Trail, a 3,500km trek through the eastern states, from Georgia to Maine and crossing fourteen states in total. Bryson’s wife (Emma Thompson, 23 years Redford’s junior) insists he not walk it alone, and the only person willing to join him is Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), a severely out-of-shape individual who Bryson spent a long time hating after their last expedition together some decades ago. It’s not a bad film, but as with most adaptations it utterly pales against the book. Devoid of a constant narration you miss out on most of Bryson’s humour and insight into the trail’s history and what it begins to mean to him. The film desperately tries to make the Applachian Trail a character of the story too, but cannot without these necessary details. Also, some actions are impossible to decipher without the book’s text. For example, on one of their frequent stops Bryson needs to go to a supermarket to pick up some supplies. In the book he opts to walk there, having gotten so used to walking everywhere in the previous weeks, but the path takes him along busy roads and through an underpass that is essentially a marsh, ruining his clothing and making the whole expedition not worthwhile at all. In the film this still happens, but without the clarification that Bryson is doing this because he now considers himself a walker, someone who walks places. Instead he looks like a fool who doesn’t know how civilised folk cross a road. On the bright side, Nolte is perfectly cast as Katz, and in my re-read I could see no-one else in the role. Similarly some of the supporting character cameos are great too, specifically Nick Offerman as a store clerk who sells Bryson his gear, and Kristen Schaal as a particularly irritating fellow hiker. It’s not a bad film overall, in fact it’s often enjoyable, but it’s very much a passing-the-time picture more than anything that simply must be consumed.
Lists: 2015 Movies
Choose Life 6/10
The Martian (2015)
My favourite film released internationally in 2015 (Whiplash takes the official UK-release title, though I’ve not re-watched that yet) still remains top of the list after this re-watch. And I’m very much in the camp that Matt Damon would have been far more deserving of the Best Actor Oscar over Leonardo DiCaprio. His performance in The Revenant was fine, but I feel what he put on screen could have been done by a great deal of actors, whereas Damon’s combination of humour, charm and ability to handle the oft-forgotten emotional beats ranks him far above Leo. I look forward to watching this again many times in the future, whereas I doubt The Revenant will ever darken my vision again.
Choose Film 9/10
I found myself needing a background film earlier this week, and I’d had Goon recorded for ages, having heard it was better than I’d otherwise expect from a sports movie about a thug-like ice hockey player portrayed by Seann William Scott. In actuality it was pretty much in line with my expectations, just with slightly fewer frat-style comedic moments, almost all of which are provided by the film’s writer, Jay Baruchel, in the role of Scott’s incessantly swearing best friend. Scott himself plays Doug, a bar bouncer with a talent for brawling who is taken onto his local ice hockey team for the sole use of knocking out members of the opposing team when they become potentially problematic. Doug’s lack of skating or hockety experience are glossed over for the most part in favour of a moral that everyone has a place in the team. There’s a romantic sub-plot with Alison Pill’s Eva that feels very tacked-on, having almost nothing to do with the main plot, but Scott was good, Liev Schreiber was fun as his nemesis/idol Ross “The Boss” Rhea and Kim Coates was terrific as his new coach. Overall though I was disappointed.
Lists: TiVo Movies
Choose Life 5/10
The Elephant Man (1980)
April’s Blind Spot pick.
Lists: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, Empire Top 500, Blind Spot Movies
Full review here.
Lethal Weapon (1987)
This week’s Lambcast is on the Lethal Weapon franchise, a quartet of films I distantly remember watching once, a long time ago. The first film is on one of my lists, so expect a review soon.
Lists: Empire Top 500
Full review coming soon.
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
The other three films, however, are not on the list, so I’ll talk about them as I go. I’ve only watched Part 2 so far, so expect Parts 3 and 4 in next week’s post. Lethal Weapon 2 takes the premise of the first film – two very different cops become partners, one a near-suicidal crazy guy struggling to get over the death of his wife, the other an older family man with a wife and three kids at home – and extends it a couple of years, throwing in a fast-talking witness in need of protection (Joe Pesci, terrific) into the mix too, plus a love interest for Mel Gibson’s Riggs (Patsy Kensit, of Emmerdale fame). It’s not quite as good as the first film, with a script that’s not quite as tight, but this was still a lot of fun. It’s a little heavy on the call-backs to elements set up earlier in the film – the nail-gun, the doggie door in Riggs’ trailer, the poker game etc. – but I appreciated the humour rife through the script, even the visual gags like Murtaugh (Danny Glover) driving his wife’s station wagon, which gets progressively destroyed throughout the course of the film.
Choose Film 7/10
Posts you may have missed:
Blind Spot: The Elephant Man
Lambcast #318 Bring A Discussion Topic: This week’s Lambcast did not go well. After some scheduling issues we started late, but my recorder didn’t work at all, whilst the back-up only managed to record that person’s side of the conversation. I attempted to piece something together using that audio, plus some bits added in by me, but it’s not a long show and was released pretty much to keep the schedule going. Regardless, there’s some discussion here from myself and Will Slater, with missing parts from Marc Armstead and Daniel Lackey. We talked about the Criterion Collection, our favourite “bits” of actors, great uses of soundtracks in films and which 90s blockbusters should have gotten a sequel before Independence Day.
Aim: Review 8 or 9 1001 List movies each month
Should be on: 33
On Track: No!
Aim: Review 1 “Bad” movie each month
Should be on: 4
On Track: No!
Aim: Review 1 “Blind Spot” movie each month
Should be on: 4
On Track: Yes!
Aim: Review 2 “Film-Makers” movies each month
Should be on: 8
On Track: No!