I shifted back to the Modern today after spending yesterday watching movies at AMC Palace. I’m sad to miss two blocks of short films, but I didn’t want to miss one of the festival’s marquee attractions.
The evening started out with Lilting, a mood piece about an Englishman of Cambodian-Chinese descent (Andrew Leung) whose death in an accident leaves his gay partner (Ben Whishaw) to work things out with his mother (Cheng Pei-Pei), who’s in a nursing home, speaks no English, and doesn’t approve of homosexuality. Writer-director Hong Khaou goes for a lyrical feel, but despite some comic interludes with the mother trying to date a man at the nursing home (Peter Bowles), I found the movie to be too much of the same mood of gentle loss. I could have used less of the old British stiff upper lip. The presence of a Mandarin translator (Naomi Christie) proves to be a wrench in the works, too — she’s indistinctly characterized, and her translations wind up stretching out scenes needlessly. I’ve seen good work from both Whishaw (a gay actor who played the new Q in Skyfall) and Cheng (a martial-arts star whom you may remember as the villainous Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), but the movie’s supposed to hinge on these two characters finding common ground, and the difficulties of building chemistry when both are performing in different languages prove to be too much. Hong is an interesting talent who might make something really good one day.
The movie that packed the Modern’s auditorium was Wild, which at this point seems like a mortal lock to secure at least an Oscar nomination for Reese Witherspoon. It’s based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, detailing how the author went into a tailspin following her mother’s death and pulled herself out of it by hiking more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which starts in California at the Mexican border and stretches all the way up to Canada. The material proves to be a great fit for director Jean-Marc Vallée, who revels in the natural beauty along the trail. He uses flashbacks to depict Cheryl’s life before the hike and a lot of voiceover to simulate the thoughts in Cheryl’s head as she hikes, remembering things she or other people have said and humming snatches of songs to herself. I’ll admit this isn’t my favorite Witherspoon performance of all time (that would be either Freeway or Election), but she is more than good enough to remind you that she can act. I feel the same way about the movie as a whole. I don’t think it does as well as the book in depicting how the walk gets Cheryl’s head in order. Still, there’s an awful lot to recommend it. You may notice Fort Worth native and Fort Worth Weekly profile subject Charles Baker as the bowhunter who meets Cheryl alone in the woods and scares her by giving out rapey vibes. Strayed herself has a cameo as a woman driving a truck with two biker dudes, and her real-life daughter portrays her as a little girl.
I’m getting an early start tomorrow so I can see Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep. I’ll let you know how it goes.