Tag Archives: C

WILSON

Producer: Mary Jane Skalski and Jared Ian Goldman
Director: Craig Johnson
Writer: Daniel Clowes
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Judy Greer, Margo Martindale, Cheryl Hines, Isabella Amara,
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures

C

Grouchy but ultimately lovable misfits are a staple of movies and television, and Woody Harrelson gets to play one in “Wilson,” Craig Johnson’s adaptation of a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, whose “Ghost World” made a modest splash under Terry Zwigoff’s direction in 2001. This time around, whatever magic might have existed on the printed page evaporates in a meandering, tone-deaf tale that trades in blunt eccentricity until it succumbs to sloppy sentiment.

The title character is a layabout living in a dumpy room in some unnamed town, apparently in the Midwest, who drones on in long bursts of narration about his gruff contempt for modern technology and people’s dependence on it. Wilson’s only friendship is with a couple (Brett Gelman and Mary Lynn Rajskub) who abruptly announce their intention to move to Missouri—a revelation that he responds to as a personal insult (which in turn leads to her excoriating him). His sole companion is a fox terrier whose strangulated “voice” he sometimes uses in talking to random passersby who remark on how cute the dog is, though he really needs no rationale for intruding obnoxiously on strangers to offer goofy rants about the world, stream-of-consciousness tirades that might seem oddly appropriate to the Age of Trump. (One the movie’s worst visual jokes, incidentally, is suddenly to include a shot of a theatre marquee advertising “Umberto D,” Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist masterpiece about a man with only a dog as his friend. To suggest that any comparison between it and “Wilson” would be valid is an insult to a brilliant film.)

Wilson’s life changes when he’s informed that his elderly father, a cancer patient, is at point of death, and dropping off his pet with dog sitter Shelly (Judy Greer), he’s off to his bedside (where he berates the dying man). His father’s death leads to introspection and to a decision to seek out a friend—first a childhood acquaintance (David Warshofsky) who proves even more socially maladjusted than he is, and then a possible girlfriend. After stalking an ill-tempered woman (Lauren Weedman) he meets in a pet store, he briefly connects with a woman (Margo Martindale) who’s been dumped by her boyfriend, and though he cavalierly insults her, she introduces him to the world of Google, via which he locates his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern), who left him years ago when she was pregnant, informing him that she had undergone an abortion.

Off Wilson goes to see poor Pippi, who’s attempting to leave behind a history of addiction and prostitution by avoiding drugs and working as a waitress. Though she understandably puts him off at first, for some unaccountable reason she succumbs to his quite hidden charms and reveals that she actually had the child and put her up for adoption. That sends Wilson on a search for her, and soon he has not only identified Claire (Isabella Amara), an overweight teen who affects a Gothic style in reaction to bullying classmates, but has arranged meetings with her, Pippi tagging along. One outing involves a reunion with Pippi’s censorious sister Polly (Cheryl Hines), which turns out disastrously and lands Wilson in prison—a stint that sees him become both a victim and, rather unconvincingly, a weird model to his fellow inmates.

With his release, the sentimentality that has long been lurking beneath the movie’s acidic surface comes into full bloom. Wilson returns to Shelly, seeking his dog, and the two hit it off. As if his choice of quasi-conventional domesticity weren’t enough, Claire reenters the scene, having abandoned her earlier rebel persona but with a new personal problem to confront. Wilson offers her support, with the result that he mellows even more. One is reluctant to establish any hard-and-fast rules for movies, but if one were inclined to do so, a good candidate might be that any movie that ends with a smiling new-born babe and the family members gushing in unison over the child has become a saccharine wallow.

Harrelson certainly seems to be enjoying playing Wilson. At the same time, he never seems to fully inhabit the character. Of course, any actor would find it difficult to locate the center in a figure constructed completely out of surface tics and calculated verbal flourishes, but Harrelson seems content to coast on his amiable goofiness and refrain from investigating anything deeper. The women who surround him offer great support, with Dern, Greer, Amara, Martindale bringing warmth and Hines an almost brutal shrillness to their characters. Technically the picture is fine, with production designer Ethan Tobman and cinematographer Frederick Elmes joining forces to create a reflection of ordinary America without overdoing it, though Jon Brion’s score can occasionally respond too dead=on to the quirkiness.

One can see what the makers of “Wilson” were aiming for. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to discern how far they end up from their target.

T2 TRAINSPOTTING

Producer: Bernard Bellew, Danny Boyle, Christian Colson and Andrew Macdonald
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: John Hodge
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kelly Macdonald, Shirley Henderson, James Cosmo, Scot Greenan and Bradley Welsh
Studio: TriStar

C

At one point in Danny Boyle’s sequel to his two-decade-old cult favorite, coke addict Simon, also known as “Sick-Boy” (Jonny Lee Miller), says of his erstwhile friend Renton (Ewan McGregor), who betrayed him twenty years ago but has now returned to Edinburgh, “I’m going to make him sorry he ever came back.” By the end of the picture he hasn’t really done so, but viewers might definitely regret having responded to the invitation to revisit the motley crew that makes up “T2 Trainspotting,” which also includes wide-eyed doofus Spud (Ewen Bremner) and mad-dog thug Begbie (Robert Carlyle).

Coming in the aftermath of the Thatcher era in Britain, the original “Trainspotting” was a fever dream of a movie, awash in the florid, hyperkinetic visual style that would become Boyle’s trademark as it mocked the time’s conventionality by cheekily observing Scotland’s low-life drug-dealers and small-time crooks. “T2,” by contrast, pretty much ignores any real social commentary to concentrate on the personal side of its quartet of deadbeat survivors, winding up curiously devoid of any larger meaning. It’s somehow appropriate that the movie ends with a penultimate triumph of sorts involving a goofy application to the European Union for an urban renewal grant. Given that the Brexit vote has rendered such programs moot, the plot becomes instantly passé.

The same might be said of the entire film, scripted by John Hodge with a passing nod, though not much more, to “Porno,” the 2002 sequel to “Trainspotting” by novelist Irvine Welsh. It begins with Renton returning to Scotland after two decades in Amsterdam. He visits his widowed father (James Cosmo), checking out the bedroom his now-dead mother kept exactly as he’d left it twenty years ago when he fled with the loot he and his comrades in crime had heisted, and then goes to reconnect with Spud, whose life—we’re shown in a brief montage—has totally collapsed. Last in line is Simon, who now runs an old, run-down bar with an attached whorehouse where his East European girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) is, it would seem, the only working girl. He holds a grudge against Renton that’s hard to overcome.

Meanwhile Franco Begbie, the wacko sparkplug of the original gang, escapes from prison and goes back to his flat, where his anguished wife takes him back, despite his intent to introduce his straight-arrow teen son (Scot Greenan), who’s planning to take a college degree in hotel management, to a life of petty thievery. (The police, it might be noted, apparently never bother to look for him at the apartment.) When Begbie eventually makes contact with Simon and Spud, it’s clear that his overriding purpose is to track down Renton and make him pay for his betrayal with his hide.

But they’re not anxious to help him, as it turns out. By this time Renton has confessed the truth about his own miserable circumstances, and joined with Simon in a plan to renovate a ramshackle old building into a high-class brothel. (The local gang lord, played by Bradley Welsh, will, however, have something to say about that.) He’s also steered Spud onto a new path, which includes—incredibly enough—a budding career as a writer.

Hodge and Doyle, along with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and editor Jon Harris, treat all this in typically over-the-top style, piling up montages of clips from the first film, dream sequences, flashblacks, brawls and chases in leading up to a big finale that includes another betrayal. It’s all done up with frenetic dash that reeks more of desperation than inspiration, with plenty of pauses for reveries about the old days that evoke regret about past misdeeds even as the guys are planning new ones. The picture boasts a heavy dose of nostalgia, in fact, which makes “T2” feel, despite all the empty visual virtuosity on display, a pretty vacuous trip down memory lane.

But the cast certainly throw themselves into the action with abandon. McGregor manages to be both vaguely hopeful and resigned while pulling off the part’s more athletic demands, while Miller brings his patented brand of slick menace to Simon. Bremner and Carlyle, by contrast, throw the slightest hint of subtlety to the wind, chewing the scenery without mercy—Bremner with his bug-eyed goofiness and Carlyle with equally bug-eyed rage. Sultry, laid-back Nedyalkova is a welcome addition to the proceedings, but apart from her the women—including returnees Kelly Macdonald and Shirley Henderson–have little more than walk-ons. Irvine Welsh, incidentally, has a brief cameo.

“Trainspotting” might have been a revelation in its day, but twenty years on “T2” is but a stale reminder of what once seemed new and fresh.