Movie Meter: Reese Witherspoon is Back and Chris Rock Deserves a High Five
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Wild: Through the more than two decades of her acting career, 38-year-old Reese Witherspoon has gone from being totally unknown to known to overrated to supremely overrated, and now all the way back down to significantly underrated. Jean Marc Vallé’s film—based on an Oprah-approved memoir by Cheryl Strayed about an emotionally devastated woman who decides to hike the PCT from Mexico to Canada to reclaim her lost soul—gives Witherspoon a showcase opportunity to show the world what she’s capable of with the right material. Not unlike Matthew McConaughey, who starred in Vallé’s previous film, Dallas Buyers Club, and rode that performance to Oscar glory, Witherspoon is getting rave notice for her most welcome return to form. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Top Five: Funnyman Chris Rock has always been more than a gifted comic; much of his material’s powerful satire has an undeniable edge of political and cultural outrage. (See: here) His third directorial feature finds Rock playing a comedian who tries to catapult to success by airing his marriage to a reality-star (played by Gabrielle Union) on TV. The flick offers a cast chock full of comedic power (Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, J.B. Smooth) in order to craft a cheeky satire of the worship of celebrity culture. A rave at this year’s TIFF festival, it might be the closest we get to having a truly winning comedy in 2014. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Diplomacy: A fact-based World War II drama from German director Volker Schlöndorff. It stars Niels Arestrup as General von Cholitz, the German military governor of occupied Paris, and André Dussolier as Swedish diplomat Raoul Nording. As the Allies mark their victorious crawl through Europe in 1944, von Cholitz is given orders from Hitler to level the city if it falls into enemy hands, destroying such glories as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame. Aware of this potential horror, Nording sneaks into von Cholitz’ office one night to reason with the General about the impact of the cultural loss. Based on a play, unsurprisingly, as the action largely revolves around two men in an office on a single night, Schlöndorff’s film nonetheless remains gripping, even though we know the eventual outcome. As Michael O’Sullivan of the Post puts it, the joy comes in “watching the cagey choreography of two acrobatic minds.” Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Exodus: Gods and Kings: In the past, a Ridley Scott film could be counted on to be forceful, provocative, and exceptionally well-constructed, but those days are sadly long behind us. Now his films feature garbled scripts stuffed with oodles of lazy CGI, big-name stars vamping for the camera, and vastly unrealized potential. His latest effort, which covers Moses freeing the Jewish slaves of the Pharaoh and leading them to freedom, stars Christian Bale as the great bearded one and an enormous star-studded cast of equally racially miscast actors and actresses (seriously, Joel Edgerton as Ramses and John Turturro as Seti?), and sounds for all the world like another colossal misfire. One New York critic describes it as “eye-rollingly bad.” At least we’ll always have Alien. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 43%
Piers Marchant is a film critic and writer based in Philly. Find more confounding amusements and diversions at his blog, Sweet Smell of Success, or read his 142-character rants and ravings at @kafkaesque83.