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In the picture

Amy Poehler’s directorial debut Wine Country is light on laughs; The Highwaymen takes an interesting look at the efforts to bring down Bonnie and Clyde.

In the picture

Wine Country**

*ing: Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell, Emily Spivey, Jason Schwartzman, and Tina Fey

Directed by Amy Poehler

Tagline: Friendship is a trip.

Amy Poehler brings together some of her Saturday Night Live alumni friends in her film Wine Country, an ode to female friendship that follows the story of a group of gal pals spending a weekend together in Napa.

Six middle aged women who befriended each other decades ago while working at a pizza place reunite to celebrate a birthday in this star-studded comedy that marks the Parks and Recreation actress’s big screen directorial debut.

inthepic-img6Poehler plays the group’s (seemingly self-appointed) ringleader Abby, who is planning a weekend getaway to mark the fiftieth birthday of Rebecca (Rachel Dratch), a therapist who is in denial about the sad state of her marriage. Going along is Naomi (Maya Rudolph) a mother of four who is afraid of receiving test results from her doctor; workaholic business woman Catherine (Ana Gasteyer) who is perpetually on her phone; antique shop owner Val (Paula Pell) who just had a knee replacement surgery and is looking for love; and Jenny (Emily Spivey, also the co-writer of the comedy alongside Liz Cackowski) who isn’t very enthusiastic to join the trip.

The ladies end up at a house owned by Tammy (Tina Fey) who can tell that the weekend is likely to lead to more mayhem than merriment.

With a cast this impressive, Wine Country should be a riot. But instead of living up to its comedic promise, the movie ends up being disappointingly bland. Neither fun, nor particularly funny, the film is burdened by a very weak script that is in desperate need of more polish. Fresh ideas are in scant supply here, as are properly amusing setups. The characters are one dimensional and tiresome, and a huge waste of the talent of the actresses portraying them.

Wine Country lacks the vibrant energy, zany antics, touching warmth, and sharp wit that you are likely to associate with names like Poehler and Fey. It does give you a chance to spend an hour and a half in the cinematic company of these lovely performers, but beyond that, this predictable girls’ trip doesn’t yield the fun and excitement that you had hoped for.

 

The Highwaymen***1/2

*ing: Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Kathy Bates, John Carroll Lynch, Kim Dickens, Thomas Mann, and William Sadler

Directed by John Lee Hancock

Tagline: The legends who took down Bonnie and Clyde

inthepic-img5John Lee Hancock offers a very different take on the whole Bonnie and Clyde saga in The Highwaymen, viewing the end of the notorious outlaws’ reign through the eyes of the men who delivered their comeuppance. Former Texas Rangers Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) are enlisted by governor “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) to stop the crime spree of Bonnie Parker (Emily Brobst) and Clyde Barrow (Edward Bossert) – two “cold blooded killers who are more adored than movie stars”.

The aging lawmen reluctantly reunite and set out on a long journey pursuing the felons who seem to be one step ahead of them at every turn. Their physical and mental strength is tested along the way, while questions are raised about the moral implications of the actions on both sides of the chase.

The film is based on a very intriguing real-life tale and offers some interesting observations about law enforcement, politics, fame, and notoriety. Instead of glorifying the romanticized Depression-era criminal couple, Hancock (working off a script by John Fusco) casts the criminal duo in a more negative light without taking away their human elements. The focus may be on the efforts of those who ultimately ambushed Bonnie and Clyde but the inevitable hail of gunfire at the end is still shocking in its intensity and grotesqueness.

inthepic-img4Strong performances by Costner and Harrelson as well as their chemistry carry the film as it goes along its unhurried route, giving viewers the chance to really soak in the whole situation, although some might be less than thrilled by its leisurely pace.

It isn’t as dynamic or memorable as it could have been, but The Highwaymen still builds a compelling drama using a fascinating chapter from history combined with some solid acting and impressive camera work.

 

Rating system:  *Not on your life  * ½ If you really must waste your time  ** Hardly worth the bother  ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only  *** Good enough for a look see  *** ½ Recommended viewing  **** Don’t miss it  **** ½ Almost perfect  ***** Perfection

Sameen Amer

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