The Revenant Review

revenant5Yesterday I had the chance to go to an early screening for The Revenant directed by Alejandro Inarritu and it is a tricky film to review.  Inarritu directed last years Birdman, which I happen to think is one of the most overrated films of recent years.  To me The Revenant is a huge step up from that film but your enjoyment of the film will entirely depend on the type of movie you like to watch. So I have come up with some questions so you can decide whether to see the Revenant or not.

1 Do you require likable characters that show humanity to others?

If yes than The Revenant isn’t for you.  In a 156 minute film there is exactly 3 brief moments of humanity- 1. the bond between Hugh Glass and his son,  2. a Native American man who rescues Glass, tends to wounds and makes a shelter.  3. Domhnall Gleason’s Captain Henry is a good, honorable man who trusts people.  All 3 moments don’t end well so they aren’t exactly motivating or encouraging in any way.

revenant3Every other character in the film is a complete beast and the film is unapologetically dismal and gloomy.  Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald is a complete monster.  He only cares about himself and his own survival.  It’s certainly not the Western hero we used to get from likes of John Wayne.  That’s for sure!   This movie makes Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven look like a birthday party.

reveant332. Do you value striking cinematography particularly of the cold outdoors?

If yes than The Revenant is for you.  The cinematography in the film by Emmanuel Lubezki is unbelievable. Filmed with all natural light the grayness of the cold Montana scenery is magnificent and deadening at the same time.  The water is unbelievable- especially one scene where Glass gets thrown down a rapids in the bitter cold.

I still can’t believe how they got some of the shots.  The story of the brutal filming is near-legend with narrow windows of time with the right lighting to get every take.  They had to move to Argentina eventually because Canada started to warm up!

3. Can you handle gory realistic violence?

If yes than you may find The Revenant exhilarating.  I don’t so a fair amount was tough for me to watch.  I closed my eyes a couple of times.  However, it was so immersive and new that I did find it compelling.   I had prepared myself for the violence so that helped but even then it was brutal.  You could say I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone for this one but it’s good to do that every now and then.

revenant4Much has been said about the bear attack, which is long and shocking.  You watch and wonder ‘how the heck did they do that?’.  I really have no idea! I know they used a combination of a real bear and cg but it was flawless.   As a film fan I love moments in movies I can’t figure out!

Oddly enough the more violent parts I felt were the Indian warfare.  It is relentless in showing person after person get speared with an Indian’s arrow- sometimes through the head, other times completely through the body. I’ve never seen violence quite like that before, and I’m not going to deny it impacted me.   There’s also so much of it.  It goes from the first till the final frame and never gives a moment to breath.

4. Do you need a fast paced film?

revenantIf yes than the Revenant probably isn’t for you.  At 156 minutes it is a slow drip and not that varied in what it is depicting.  We go from Glass getting attacked, getting abandoned, moving around on the ground, finding food, hiding from Indians, stealing a horse, building fires, etc. Basically surviving day after day.  It makes The Martian feel like a joy ride!   There really isn’t one moment of levity or break from the horrors of the West.

5. Is acting more important to you than characters?

revenant2What I mean by this question is Leonardo DiCaprio’s character doesn’t have much to him.  There are a few sequences where he dreams of his wife and a better life but we hardly hear him talk.  He is surviving and it is the elements that have all the character and personality.

That said, it is a tremendous performance and DiCaprio gives it his all and it is hard to not admire that.   The same is true for all the other roles.  Tom Hardy is great.  Domhnall Gleason is great.  Will Poulter is fantastic as Jim Bridger.  But their characters are pretty basic.  So performances great, characters one note.

So if you want to see great actors pour their heart into roles than see The Revenant.

6. Do you want to see something new and different?

Some people like seeing what we already know and recognize. I am certainly one of those people.  I enjoyed traditional reboots such as The Peanuts Movie, Star Wars, Cinderella etc this year but there is something to be said for a film like The Revenant which feels so entirely new and different.

If you can appreciate film as an art and are craving to see an advancement of that art than you must support films like The Revenant.  If you don’t than Hollywood will learn from this year that all that gets people in the seats is the same old, same old.

I love that traditional stuff but love the new stuff where they are trying, experimenting and taking risks.  I will give directors like Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki a bit of a longer leash than normal because it is so bold and daring.   Just the night shots around the fire I was stunned by.  How did they do that using no artificial light?  Amazing.

I realize I didn’t talk much about the movie in those questions but it’s such a simple story there isn’t that much to talk about.  Hugh Glass gets mauled by a bear and left by his fellow pelt hunters to die. The movie is about his survival.

The music by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto and Bryce Dessner was also amazing.  It somehow added to the cold with the constant breathing heard in the background.

Here’s the trailer to give you more of an idea.

It’s a really hard film to grade because I can see hating it and loving it.  Parts of me felt both ways.

Overall Grade-  B

Content Grade- F (I can’t overstate how gory and brutal this movie it is.  Not for the faint of heart).

Mad Max Fury Road Review

mad maxWhen I saw the trailer for Mad Max Fury Road I was positive it would be one I couldn’t see.  I don’t like violent films and it looked like a gory, violent mess.  However, I always go through my process I describe for evaluating movie content in How to Be Mormon and Like Movies. I look at reviews, the detailed content summaries on screenit.com and I ask friends who have seen the movie.  To my surprise I found it to have virtually no profanity and to not be as violent as I anticipated. It is an R but most of that is more battle like violence, some nudity and vehicular battles. Convinced it was within my comfort level I decided to go check it out .

mad max7It’s a very tricky movie to review because it does what it is trying to do masterfully well. I don’t know how that can be debated.  Whether such a master work is your cup of tea is another question. It’s certainly not a movie I will be frequently rewatching but I did think it was good and engaged me more than I would have guessed. All in all it is a success and I can see why many people love it.

I have not seen the original Mad Max movies because I always figured they were too violent so perhaps I will give them a watch.  This Mad Max doesn’t have much of  plot. It’s one action sequence after another.  It does not try to have symbolism or a puzzle like a Nolan film might have.  It doesn’t have a strong lead character like a Bond film.  The title is perhaps a misnomer because Mad Max has only a few lines of dialogue and is an ensemble player with Charlize Theron and others.

mad max9Basically the plot that does exist starts out with setting.  It is a desert post-apocalyptic world that is ruled by a man named the Immortan Joe.  Max has been arrested and is forced to be a blood bag for a War Boy played by Nicholas Hoult.  Charlize Theron is Furiosa who abducts 5 of Joe’s wives called the breeders.

mad max6The rest of the movie is Max, Furiosa and crew getting chased by Joe and having intense battles with each other.  Each of the cars is so imaginative with one even being a giant speaker system with a guy playing an electric guitar.  There are cars that have long poles for people to swing onto other cars.  There are rigs with gasoline and others covered in spikes. It keeps the action exciting because you don’t know how the cars work and how the fight will play out.

mad max3For not speaking much Tom Hardy is good as Mad Max.  But the movie doesn’t give you a lot of time to contemplate his character.  I can’t even imagine how awful it must be to shoot a movie like this with all the dust and dirt but he is convincing as the stoic anti-hero.

mad max2The CG is kept to a minimum and it at least appears to have a lot of practical effects. The stunt work is flawless.  I wonder how much Hardy and others did of their own stunts? Whatever the percentage is by professionals you definitely can’t tell.  It feels earthy and real which we haven’t seen in an action film in a long time.

I loved how Mad Max handled its female characters.  It reminds me a little bit of Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow.  These are not cliched warrior women or damsels in distress.  Even the breeder women are relatively complex especially for this kind of movie.   Charlize Theron is amazing! She is tough but has heart and there is a moment that is completely devastating for her and she sells it.

mad max4There are different kind of women- old women, young women, pregnant women and they all defy female tropes.  The last thing I expected in a movie like this is an awesome group of women and it definitely helped sell me on the film.
mad max8Hugh Keays-Byrne is good as the villain Immortan Joe but most of that credit has to go to his costume and mask.

mad max5There is such attention to detail.  The amount of time that must have been spent to get teeth right, skin layered and dry, lips cracked, everything covered in dust is mind blowing.  The makeup on the war boys including Nicholas Hoult is very convincing.  They are brainwashed to believe if they are obedient servants to Joe they will achieve immortality at the gates of heaven.

mad max10Mad Max Fury Road is not a movie that gives the audience much time to breathe.  There is very little dialogue and I did feel kind of exhausted by the end of it. But then again I feel like it was trying to do something completely different and new and from a comic book guy like George Miller it makes sense it is primarily a visual spectacle.  Still, it pushed me to my limit of apocalyptic car battle sequences (who knew I had such a limit? 😉 ).  I’m a little surprised it is so universally loved because I would think a few people might be bothered by the thin plot and lack of character development?

I guess they just accept it for what it is- a new dazzling creative vision of what a war movie looks like.  After all do we complain that the villains in a WW2 movie aren’t fleshed out enough? Do we want more dialogue in our John Wayne war movie? No.  Same with this.  It is visually incredible and the action is immersive enough to carry the day.

mad max 11Like I said, the women put it over the hump for me to a strong recommendation.  It was such a pleasant surprise and I bet you could see the movie and not even notice most of the women.  They are just characters in the movie like anybody else.  It looks gorgeous.  The action sequences are stunning and I was entertained.

As far as content it has some nudity from a distance and women are milked like cows in one brief shot.  Characters are stabbed, impaled, tortured and shot in the battle scenes.  Another you see briefly has his face ripped off from a mask. A lot of crashes, explosions and sand storms that are intense.  A woman has a c-section mostly off screen and an IV is seen being inserted.  I know it sounds crazy but its actually more tame than you might think.  No language.  Mostly it is a lot of cars and broad fighting like a battle than one on one violence like you might get in a horror movie.

A grade is tough because I did feel a little bit weary by the end but it looks so great, the  action is so well done and I loved the female characters so I grade it an…

Overall Grade-  A-   Content Grade- C

Also the music by a guy named Junkie XL was outstanding with a great combination of electric guitar, medal sounds and a traditional sweeping score.

Locke and Grand Budapest Hotel

I saw 2 movies this weekend and they are very different but both very good.

lockeLocke is a film that defies description. I was telling my sister about it and she laughed and said it sounded ‘like the worst thing ever’.   Why?

Well, it’s a man in a car talking on the phone for an entire movie.  I’m serious.  There are no other actors, just voices you hear and I’m telling you it is completely riveting.

locke1It’s so hard to talk about this movie without giving spoilers away but basically Tom Hardy is on a drive to do something he know he needs to do but wishes he didn’t have to.  Then as the car ride goes it becomes the worst day of his life.  Home, family, work, are complete chaos but he is a man who has a plan and knows he can make it all right, but as the story goes you and him start to become less secure that even he can salvage any of it.

It’s so tense and the music and lighting build until you worry he is going to drive off the freeway or have some kind of panic attack.  Then just when it seems he is losing control a conversation will happen that gives him a breath of hope and we start the cycle of anxiety all over again.  It was a thriller but about a person’s life falling apart and isn’t that kind of the scariest thing of all?

There are also moments where a character brings up a soccer game and after all he has been through it feels so stupid.  It kind of puts a lot of things we think are important in perspective.  It’s just pretty brilliant.

locke2

I’m telling you give it a shot.  The photography by director Steven Knight and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos alone has to be appreciated.  The lights and reflections off the windows add to the tension.

In a way it feels like someone in a hostage negotiation but the hostage is his life and happiness.

Steven Knight also wrote Locke and they made it for 2 million dollars.  It just goes to show with good writing and storytelling anything can be good, even a man driving for 84 minutes.

I was blown away.

It does have a lot f bombs so definitely adults only.

Content Grade- F, Overall Grade- A

GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

grand_budapest_hotelIt is no secret I am not the biggest Wes Anderson fan. Like Tim Burton, he can be more style over substance, but I don’t think any of his movies are terrible. Just not a fangirl. (I am Mormon which means I am so not a hipster…)

Anyway, the Grand Budapest Hotel is probably Anderson’s most approachable film even though I still didn’t love it but I enjoyed it.  The reason I liked this better than previous works (I haven’t seen all of them) is it is a story being told as opposed to something grounded in ‘real life’ like his other films.  It makes more sense to have his quirky style in a work in a fictional world to me.

It’s a little confusing because there are layers of storytellers.  Tom Wilkinson is an author telling the story to a little girl that he heard told to him by the GBH owner played by F Murray Abraham. So you have details from the girl, Wilkinson, Abraham and the actors.  This makes it seem like even more of a fairytale.  It is also set in a fictional town of Zubrowka (again more fairytale like).

It’s kind of a convoluted plot but basically it is about a concierge of the hotel named Gustave played by Ralph Fiennes and his devoted lobby boy played by Tony Revolori.

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-5Gustave is dedicated to the hotel and to giving great service with rewards from the elderly female patrons on the side.  One of the patrons played by Tilda Swinton gives him a valuable painting on her death. Her family is furious and so feeling it is his right he steals the painting and flees.

What follows is a cat and mouse chase with a lot of humor and whimsey.  We get a ton of actors involved in the chase including Adrien Brody, William Dafoe, Mathieu Amalric, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban and Owen Wilson.

the-grand-budapest-hotel-movie-5

It does get a little tiresome after a while but it isn’t that long of a movie so I was ok with the story and the Anderson cuteness. Like I said, it fit this particular tale better than some of his others and was generally nicer too. Some of his more popular movies I have a hard time bonding with because the characters come across as kind of mean and unlikable. (see I am so not a hipster).

But this I liked.  It isn’t my favorite movie by a long shot but I enjoyed the style, story was fun and performances all very good.

It does have nudity that is quick and easy to miss but strong and a fair amount of profanity so I would say adults or mature teens only.

gbhotelI would love to see Wes Anderson try his eclectic style in a different genre.  Like what could he do with a comic book movie or a musical?  I guess he kind of did that with Fantastic Mr Fox, which is my favorite Anderson film, despite it being more for adults than kids in pacing and tone.

Content Grade- D, Overall Grade- B

Any of you seen either of these?  What did you think? What a great year 2014 was for movies! I can’t think of another better in nearly every genre (don’t start a debate on that topic bc it really doesn’t matter what year is best.  I just really liked this one!).

Please put in your comments what you thought of either film? I’d love to hear.  Both are seemingly different but have a certain challenge to conventional storytelling which I really dug. Fun times at the movies!