January 2015
This issue's contents Current issue Index Search


Reviews by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Guaranteed: Many Spoilers

Citizen Four (2014), directed by Laura Poitras, is a brilliant documentary. In a time of falsified semi-scripted and staged documentaries, Poitras just pointed her camera at Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald and let them speak. She is barely a presence herself. As a result, we understand the case of a young man who, at no personal benefit and very great risk, went public because he couldn't stand what he was doing any more--one of the last great heroes in a world in which most of us just go along to get along. There is a moment when a fire alarm begins ringing in the hotel, and you can clearly read Snowden's mind: its a ruse, and in a moment that door will crash down and heavily armored troops with semi-automatic weapons will rush in, and I may be shot immediately; and there is not a damn thing I can do. Imagine deliberately placing yourself in a situation where that was a realistic possibility.

Wild (2014) directed by Jean Marc Vallee is a reasonably satisfying rendition of the Cheryl Strayed book. Reese Witherspoon is intelligent and credible as a woman who walked a thousand miles to find herself. The book avoided inspirational syrup, and so does the movie. Its a low key and very enjoyable picaresque exercise; the interesting and sympathetic people you meet along any long distance hiking trail include yourself.

Winter Sleep (2014) directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan got me thinking about titles. If you are going to use a word like "Winter" or "sleep" in a title, you need to couple it with something exciting ("Winter's Bone", "The Big Sleep"). Calling a three and a half hour movie, which I saw in winter in a theater with comfortably padded chairs, "Winter Sleep" was probably a bad idea. Ceylan has been a brilliant, lively director, but this is a very middle-aged movie;in fact, it is a Turkish-internationalist version of the privileged male self pity movie. The protagonist is rich, has a beautiful young wife, and thinks his life sucks. The only missing element is the infidelity.

Big Eyes (2014) directed by Tim Burton was a near miss. I didn't like any of the characters. Its the true story of a too passive and complacent woman bullied by a charming, manipulative man. I lost sympathy early on and never recovered it. It has a wonderful courtroom scene, though, in which the judge settles a dispute over ownership of the art by directing them both to paint a big-eyed child. She goes happily to work, he dithers and makes excuses.