Into the Wild
Most of us have met some version of Christopher McCandless, a.k.a. Alex Supertramp. He’s that smart, good-looking guy with the piles of Thoreau who probably talks a bit more than most about the evils of society, and expresses a longing to tough it out in some rough wilderness or fishing boat. Of course, not many have actually gone to the extremes that McCandless did, liquidating savings and burning cash before setting off on a two-year adventure of wandering the country. The final leg of his journey included a trek out to an isolated area of Alaska with only a minimum of supplies, where he eventually starved to death. An article about McCandless written by Jon Krakauer for Outside magazine and expanded into the hit book Into the Wild is the basis for this Sean Penn-written and -directed movie. Emile Hirsch (looking amazingly Leonardo DiCaprio-esque) delivers on his earlier promise in films like the The Girl Next Door and Lords of Dogtown to carry the (heavy) weight of the movie—gloriously shot with sweeping panoramic scenery (the influence of Terrence Malick, who directed Mr. Penn in The Thin Red Line, is all over this film) and set to a Eddie Vedder-composed score. It’s apparent that Mr. Penn, a man who has long had an uneasy relationship with Hollywood’s glitz and glamour, strongly identifies with the movie’s themes of alienation and idealization. McCandless, for better or for worse, was a man of conviction, and the movie honors it even while showing the pain Supertramp’s decisions caused for his friends and family along the way. Brilliant too-brief cameos are turned in by William Hurt, Hal Holbrook and Catherine Keener, but the film might be a rough ride for audiences; clocking in at two hours and 20 minutes, Into the Wild is at times a difficult journey for viewers who know their hero isn’t going home. (Paramount Vantage, September 21)
David Cronenberg’s 2005 A History of Violence was one of those movies that audiences and critics bemoaned being overlooked when Oscar season rolled around (it was nominated only for screenplay and for William Hurt’s supporting acting achievement). For his follow-up, Eastern Promises, Mr. Cronenberg has reteamed with Viggo Mortensen—one of the more subtle actors working today—for a thriller that picks up the main theme from Violence: the exploration of man’s true complex and animal nature. The increasingly lovely Naomi Watts plays a London midwife who gets mixed up with the Russian mob—in which Mr. Mortensen’s character is a Russian-born driver slowly rising through the ranks of the family. As with many of Mr. Cronenberg’s previous films (The Fly, Dead Ringers, Crash), no one is who he appears to be, and twists come fast and furiously along with unrelenting, graphic violence. (If you thought there was a lot of blood in The History of Violence, just you wait. On a brighter note, Viggo fights in the nude!) Audiences will no doubt squirm, but there’s a push to make this Cronenberg film a mainstream hit that earns the Hollywood seal of approval. (Focus Features, September 14)
Director Ang Lee wisely leaves the cowboys and can’t-quit-you jokes behind him and follows up the success of Brokeback Mountain with an espionage thriller set in World War II Shanghai. Based on a 1950s semiautobiographical short story by acclaimed Chinese author Eileen Chang, Lust, Caution focuses on the Japanese occupation of the city and a radical Chinese youth resistance group. Much buzzing over this film has already taken place, thanks to its getting slapped with an NC-17 rating due to some explicit sex and excessive nudity (Ang, meet Viggo!), which Mr. Lee recently admitted taxed him mentally. The movie earned mixed reviews at last week’s Venice Film Festival, but we’re betting all the chatter will help fill seats, as will the distinguished actors in the film, including Joan Chen and hottie Tony Leung, who Americans finally got to know in Infernal Affairs (a.k.a. the original The Departed). (Focus Features, September 28)
The Darjeeling Limited
Wes Anderson has the honor of having the opening film at this year’s New York Film Festival with his latest, The Darjeeling Limited. Mr. Anderson has long won the precious hearts of sensitive, lanky lads in long-sleeved tees with his quirky characters, sharp dialogue and brilliant soundtracks, and sans a brief hiccup (ahem, raise your hand if you really liked The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou), it looks like he’ll continue to dominate the emo-boy smart market with this one. The regular Anderson players are all here: Jason Schwartzman (as a strangely if plausibly cast sex symbol), Owen Wilson and a terrific Adrien Brody star as three brothers who set off on a voyage to India to find themselves and do some good old-fashioned bonding. Expect a lot of talk about poor Owen Wilson’s troubles—he’s bandaged in the film after, yes, cheating death. (And don’t worry, Bill Murray—thank heavens—turns up, too.) (Fox Searchlight, September 28)
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