Tag Archives: Owen Wilson

Bad Trip

Owen Wilson and fam run into trouble on other side of the world

THE COUP

No Escape

Starring Owen Wilson, Lake Bell and Pierce Brosnan

Directed by John Erick Dowdle

R

Less than 24 hours after relocating to take a new job in Southeast Asia, an American businessman and his family find themselves in the middle of a violent political revolt.

That’s really all there is to No Escape, but it’s enough to fill 103 minutes with a surge of raw, primal-survival adrenaline as Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), his wife (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) make a life-of-death dash along a terrifying gauntlet of madness, murder and mayhem.

The movie was filmed in Thailand, but the country in which the (fictional) No Escape takes place is never named—likely because the filmmakers hope no specific part of the world (like Thailand) takes it personally. The rioting “natives” are a nameless, voiceless, mostly faceless horde of marauding Asians, but they might as well be zombies—or mutants, demons or even the Devil himself. Director John Erick Dowdle, working from a script co-written with his collaborator/brother Drew, keeps pulses pounding with some of the same pulpy shocks and lurid sights he used in the schlock-horror flicks Quarantine (2008), Devil (2010) and So Below (2014).

Dowdle knows what makes an audience jump, jolt and squirm—like with a sequence in which Jack has to get his family, and himself, from one high rooftop onto another. But other parts of the movie are a mess: the editing is a jumble; action scenes downshift into slurry, blurry slow-mo for no good reason; in one scene, daylight abruptly turns into full nighttime; in another, it’s dry one second and pouring rain the next.

THE COUP

Pierce Brosnan and Owen Wilson

Bodies pile up, buildings are bombed into rubble, Americans are slaughtered in the streets. The title tells us there’s “no escape,” and for much of the movie, it sure looks that way. (The movie was originally titled The Coup, but test audiences apparently found that “foreign” phrase unappealing.) Thank goodness for Pierce Brosnan, who keeps showing up at just the right time as a British expatriate who knows his way around town, and then some. His character also provides a mini-lesson in the politics, multinational colonialism and economics that have caused the roiling ruckus—and the mob’s seething hatred of Americans.

Wilson is best known for playing doofuses, and it’s interesting to see him in an out-of-his-element “everyman” role with more grit than goof-ery. Bell, currently starring in the Netflix comedy series Wet Hot American Summer, isn’t given much to do other than react to the horrific scenario.

Dowdle amps up the tension, in scene after scene, of the terror of a white man, his wife and their two young daughters under the constant threat of being beaten, raped or killed by an all-male horde of “fourth-world” monsters. You may wince at its less-than-noble notions of race and cultural relations, but you can’t say that No Escape isn’t well timed. With a leading U.S. presidential contender campaigning to put up a wall to keep immigrant “rapists” and “killers” at bay, it seems safe to say a good number of people won’t have much trouble relating to Jack Dwyer’s desperation to shield his wife and kids from people on the “other side” of the world practically salivating to make them suffer and bleed.

At one point, Brosnan’s character notes the situation’s blurred moral boundary lines—which give clarity to their situation. “There’s no good or bad here,” he says. “There’s just getting you and your family the hell out.” Once a lot of viewers get out of the muddled, nightmarish obstacle course that is No Escape, they might just see clearly enough to vow to never venture off the green, green grass of home ever again.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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‘Vice’ is Nice

’70s counterculture detective yarn is one heck of a trip, man

INHERENT VICEInherent Vice

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon & Katherine Waterston

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

R

A swirling, swingin’ sleuthing tale set at the dawn of the ‘70s on the seedy coastal side of Los Angeles, Inherent Vice stars Joaquin Phoenix as a keep-on-truckin’ private investigator coasting on a cloud of dope smoke, Josh Brolin as a hippie-hating L.A.P.D. detective who likes licking on chocolate-covered bananas, and a cavalcade of other characters who pop in and out to move the story along.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s dark-comedy adaptation of author Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 crime-noir/counterculture novel is a thing of cinematic achievement, fitting in comfortably with his other critically lauded films, There Will Be Blood, The Master and Boogie Nights. And it’s also one heck of a trip, man.

Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, who’s hired by a damsel in distress, his ex-lover Shasta Fey Hepworth (Katherine Waterston, actor Sam’s daughter), to investigate the disappearance of her new boyfriend, a wealthy real-estate tycoon, possibly arranged by his wife. But when Shasta Fey also goes missing, Doc realizes that he’s dealing with a love triangle that’s become an even bigger, much more unwieldy geometric tangle.

INHERENT VICE

Owen Wilson

How much bigger, and how complex? Well, there are Nazis, black power groups, a mysterious offshore schooner, a cabal of heroin-smuggling dentists, a surf-saxophone legend (Owen Wilson) who’s faked his own death, Eric Roberts in a looney bin, Reese Witherspoon as a federal district attorney who likes an occasional walk on the wild side, and a massage-parlor hoochie-coochie mama whispering a cryptic warning: “Beware the Golden Fang.”

As Doc tries to sort out who’s who and what’s what, things keep getting weirder and wilder. The characters’ names give you some idea of the story’s stoned-out La-La-Land twists and turns: Michael W. Wolfmann, Sauncho Smilax, Coy Harlingen, Rudy Blatnoyd, Puck Beaverton.

Brolin, with a perpetual scowl and a serious crew cut, nearly steals the show as Lt. Det. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, who also moonlights as an actor (watch for him late in the movie cropping up in a “doctored” episode of Adam-12). Phoenix sports a set of mutton-chop sideburns that look like they’re about to invade his mouth at any moment. Funnyman Martin Short gets only 10 minutes onscreen as a lecherous dentist, but he makes the most of every second. Witherspoon and Phoenix have one entire conversation against the backdrop of a country song, Jack Scott’s “Burning Bridges,” which seems to be a nod to not only their relationship in the movie, but also their previous co-starring roles as John and June Carter Cash in Walk The Line (2005).

INHERENT VICE

Reese Witherspoon & Joaquin Phoenix

Phoenix worked with Anderson previously, in The Master, and the two have another fine synergy here. As Doc stumbles, unwashed and unkempt, through the case, he’s also stumbling through the end of an era, the come-together, flower-power ‘60s, and into another, the uncertain, unhinged ‘70s. Doc knows the times, they are a-changin’—and that wistful, wayward, weed-saturated vibe seeps into everything about Inherent Vice.

The story takes its title, we learn, from a maritime term about a piece of cargo’s hidden defect, something that makes it an unacceptable risk to insure. People—and places, relationships, even moments in time—can be defective, too, can spoil and go bad, as Doc knows all too well. But the defective, “damaged goods” Inherent Vice parades on screen only adds to the fractured fun of its hippy-dippy, time-tripping yarn.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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A Great Escape

Wes Anderson’s latest romp is a quirky, colorful movie getaway

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori and Willem Dafoe

Directed by Wes Anderson

R, 100 min.

 

With director Wes Anderson, you either “get him” and his oddball characters, quirky plots and distinctive, whimsical visual style, or you don’t. A whole lot of people do, however, in his movies including The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums.

Now The Grand Budapest Hotel offers a bustling movie getaway most Wes Anderson fans will find irresistible.

GHB_7195 20130213.CR2

Tony Revolori & Saoirse Ronan

A wild romp set in a 1930s Eastern European mountain resort, it features a colorful assortment of players and a story within a story within a story that keeps burrowing deeper into its own silly seriousness. As with most Anderson projects, he works with cavernous open spaces as well as delicate, meticulously detailed miniatures.

His sights, like scenes carefully colored with pastel crayons from a storybook, are often sumptuous, and his actors move, and speak, with a clockwork cadence that adds to the sense of comedic orchestration.

The plot unfolds backwards, as unspooled by the owner of the hotel (F. Murray Abraham) to one of its guests (Jude Law), relating his beginnings as the establishment’s bellboy, Zero (played by newcomer Tony Revolori in his first starring role). Zero and his mentor, the hotel’s longtime, ladies-man concierge, the ultra-dapper Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Feinnes), become friends and co-conspirators in a spiraling, sprawling misadventure that includes a murder, a missing will, a purloined painting, an outlandish prison break, and the outbreak of something that resembles World War II.

Along the way, they encounter a spectrum of characters, played by actors including many who’ve cropped up in previous Anderson movies (Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray—who’s appeared in every Wes Anderson film—Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel), as well as Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson.

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

Bill Murray

Everyone seems to be having a big old time in the big old hotel, and everywhere else, and several scenes are real hoots, like the scampering prison escape—which feels like a live-action re-enactment of something from the stop-motion animation antics of The Fantastic Mr. Fox—and an extended sequence in which a secret cadre of other concierges drop everything to help one of their own out of a jam.

The story is based on a book by little-remembered Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Sweig, who was actually one of Europe’s most popular writers of the 1920s and ’30s. Anderson gives Sweig an “inspired by” credit at the end of the film.

Anderson’s detractors often think his movies are contrived, pretentious, gimmicky, too indy/arty or simply not nearly as funny as Mr. Anderson must think they are. OK, fair enough. But if you’re looking for a kooky, slightly off-kilter stopover in a place that can offer you an exhilarating, completely unique experience like nothing else at the multiplex, then I recommend you check in for a couple of free-wheeling hours—at The Grand Budapest Hotel.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

 

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