Month in Review: May ’19

Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit’s that time again! Another month of cinematic magic to look back on, or . . . since it’s early in the year, perhaps lament the lack thereof. From yet more pointless biopics (Tolkien, if you take a look at the numbers, apparently only has $4 million worth of fandom, but that paltry figure surely betrays the popularity of his works and indeed of the man himself, whose fantastical realm created a global fraternity of deeply loyal, line-memorizing fans), to Dennis Quaid looking totally annoying and embarrassingly in need of a paycheck intruding your local cineplexes in this hackneyed home-invasion “thriller”, or even a lack of good animated films (Ugly Dolls — no thanks, no thanks), I’ve felt like Keanu Reeves wandering the arid Sahara in search of answers, or at least decent entertainment this month. (Oh but John Wick 3 delivered. Or, it delivered what we have come to expect from it by now and not a shred of texture beyond that.)

May did hold some intrigue, however, what with the Godzilla sequel (yes, I know you hated the first but I didn’t) and the Elton John biopic (admittedly bordering on gratuitous profiting too) both coming out on the same weekend. There have also been several interesting things popping up on streaming platforms that uh, yeah, I haven’t gotten around to yet — remember when I said I would do a whole month of streaming-based reviews? Thank goodness this is a blog and not an actual job. I’d be fired twice by now for not delivering. Maybe I should fire myself. I suppose it’s not too late to do such a thing (stream an entire month’s worth of movies that is, not fire myself). But I’m not setting any hard deadlines.

Before we dive into it, there’s just one other thing I’d like to mention. Note the new feature on the side, Beer With Me! This is something I’ll be maintaining casually as I stumble upon new beers that I like (and can confidently recommend) and maybe figure out some ways to incorporate my love of IPAs with my love of movies. Like, for example, I might feature a Beer of the Month in these recap posts — something that might actually justify this otherwise middling and superfluous feature I created. Give it a look, feel free to share comments/suggestions about what I should try next in the comments section here or, of course, on any of my posts.

Without any further verbal spewage, here’s what has gone down on the world’s most active movie-related blog in the month of May.


New Posts

Theatrical Releases: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu; John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum

Other: The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot (Redbox)

Alternative Content: 30 for 30: Seau


Bite Sized Reviews

High Flying Bird · February 8, 2019 · Directed by Steven Soderbergh · Calling all NBA fans! This is your movie. His second consecutive “portable” production, once again shot entirely on an iPhone, Steven Soderbergh’s High Flying Bird tells of the creative maneuvers an ambitious, hard-working talent agent (André Holland) seeks to pull off in a bold attempt to put an end to the 2014 work stoppage that prefaced that season. Melvin Gregg plays Holland’s (fictitious) rookie client, Erick Scott, a gifted player both lusting after the glam and the glory of being a pro baller while being scarily unprepared for the realities of being a professional athlete. Deadpool 2‘s very own Zazie Beetz plays a crucial supporting role in both his personal and professional development. The script by Moonlight scribe and accomplished playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney draws undeniable parallels between old-fashioned slavery and NBA ownership (and if that seems sensationalist, consider the awful spectacle that befell the Los Angeles Clippers — incidentally that very same year, when then-owner Donald Sterling was forced to sell the team after audio recordings of him making some odious remarks about his own players were leaked to the public). Brief interviews with current players (Karl Anthony Towns, Donovan Mitchell and Reggie Jackson) tie seamlessly into the narrative and give perspective on the pressures faced by rookies to perform in the modern game and age of Twitter. So, in case it isn’t obvious, High Flying Bird is a film of specifics — it’s inarguably the Ocean’s 11 director’s most esoteric project yet, with sport and business jargon abounding. High Flying Bird is also a notable step up in terms of picture quality, thanks almost entirely to the gleaming urban setting. Unlike the drab, murky interior shots that dominated (and plagued) his previous effort Unsane, here buckets of sunshine wash over the silver edifice of New York City, adding a sense of style and elegance to a narrative that isn’t afraid of tackling the ugly underbelly of the National Basketball Association. Insightful for fans, likely isolating and boring for everyone else. (4/5)

Venom · October 5, 2018 · Directed by Ruben Fleischer · Oh boy, where do I even start with this. I guess let’s start with I hated it, pretty much beginning to finish. The first standalone, live-action movie focused upon the (only bad) people-eating exploits of the anti-hero Venom, an alien symbiote who inhabits the body of disgraced journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), finding it a match made in alien heaven, is one I only wish I could un-see. The first half of the film obligingly fulfills some human drama quota, trudging through the consequences of Brock’s overreaching during a tense interview with self-anointed global savior Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, victim #1 of some truly terrible dialogue and bland, wanton villainy), his probing questions over what’s really going on behind the scenes at the mysterious Life Foundation causing his fiancee (Michelle Williams) to lose her job there and thus end their relationship, leaving Brock vulnerable to forcible alien penetration. When his superpowered alter-ego begins taking over in earnest, Venom swings like a bipolar teen from dull and no fun to sensationally goofy and downright dumb, the voice of Venom coming across as a misunderstood rascal rather than an extraterrestrial being of dubious morality. The movie hits a low with Williams shoving her tongue down the throat of said alien, the act managing to be both creepy and an utterly unconvincing change of heart in one fell swoop. Hits a high when the end credits roll. Okay, that’s not entirely fair — Tom Hardy at least deserves a nod for being a good sport, though neither he nor the rest of the talented ensemble (including Jenny “Marcel the Shell” Slate as a scientist with a conscience) are enough to elevate this clunker out of the lower echelons of superhero adaptations. (1.5/5)


What’s been your favorite movie this month?

Dunkirk

Release: Friday, July 21, 2017

→IMAX

Written by: Christopher Nolan

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

In memory of my late grandfather, John Little.

In his first historical drama, one that gives the acclaimed writer-director an opportunity to fly that British flag high, Christopher Nolan is deeply committed to creating a singular, sensory experience that goes beyond a mere reenactment. Relying on an intimate relationship between its technical elements as well as time as a constant factor, the acutely distressing thrills of the mighty Dunkirk you will feel in your marrow.

As always, Nolan doesn’t just go for style points. Firmly entrenched within the chaos and destruction of this senses-shattering summer blockbuster lies “the Miracle of Dunkirk,” a story of survival and stoicism nearly lost to the sea of newspaper headlines declaring an embarrassing defeat for the good guys. In fairness, much was lost. This was desperation. Even the British Bulldog acknowledged, sprinkling a pinch of salt upon his heaps of praise for his boys: “Wars are not won by evacuations.”

June 1940. The Nazi campaign was steamrolling Europe and had pinned a significant number of Allied forces against the grimy waters of the northern French harbor of Dunkirk. An increasingly desperate Luftwaffe, to whom the task of preventing any sort of escape had ultimately fallen (after a significant delay), had been engaging the opposition on the water as well as in the air. Devastation was catastrophic on both sides, though the Germans suffered greater aerial losses — some 240 aircraft over a nine-day span. In that time 200 marine vessels were sacrificed, including a hospital and the famed Medway Queen, a beautiful British paddle steamer. Out of a total Allied strength approximate 400,000, some 30,000 were either killed in action or presumed dead or captured in this violent and pivotal clash.

Because the Brit has built a career around an intellectual yet highly entertaining brand of filmmaking, the bluntly observational Dunkirk feels somewhat like a departure, if for no other reason than it feels gauche to call this entertainment. The material demands a certain intonation, and as a result Nolan has created his most harrowing, his most sobering movie to date. Even more to his credit, his approach consistently shies away from excessive bloodshed, making this, in some ways, the anti-Saving Private Ryan. The anti-Hacksaw Ridge. The anti-any war film that subscribes to the notion that gore and blood are necessary evils if a viewer is to be properly immersed in the action.

In realizing a significantly world-shaping event, Nolan finds himself as a director adapting to the circumstances. Instead of philosophizing and extrapolating, he takes a more back-door approach to accumulating profound emotion. Empathy for the masses doesn’t require an intimate relationship with any one character. The point is to highlight the commonality found within the calamity. To that end, two things tend to strike you about the film: its narrative style, which follows key role players on each of the three fronts, and the sound design, chiefly realized through Oscar-winning composer and six-time collaborator Hans Zimmer (who clearly took the memo to heart when Nolan told him to make a show of force).

The scenery has changed, yet the element of time remains Nolan’s favorite ball of yarn. Once again he demands it be a malleable object, able to be manipulated in order to heighten the sense of all-encompassing, inescapable danger that crashed upon the stranded repeatedly like waves against the beach. His nonlinear triptych spreads the workload of presenting each unique aspect of the Good Fight across an incredibly efficient 107 minutes, resulting in frequently intense and dynamically intersecting perspectives that show all parts working together. It’s the epitome of cinematic, as opposed to the simple trick-fuckery some critics have dismissed the technique as.

Presented first is “The Mole,” so named after the long breakwater pier upon which thousands stood awaiting rescue, and it describes everything that happens on land. This is where we meet a trio of young soldiers, privates Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Alex (Harry Styles) and a low-ranking soldier named Gibson (Aneurin Barnard). We follow them through an obstacle course from hell. Nolan brings aboard a few recognizable faces to give weight to the proceedings, like dry-as-a-box-of-saltines Kenneth Branagh, who doesn’t do much as a British commander, but then the role requires that his hands be tied. James D’Arcy is alongside him as an army colonel.

“The Sea” is the second thread introduced and it develops over the course of a single day. It’s characterized by a death-defying crossing of the English Channel. Mark Rylance gets the distinction of representing this stalwart civilian effort, playing a regular old Joe who felt a great sense of duty to answer Churchill’s call. He’s joined by son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and a young local boy (Barry Keoghan). The purity in this gesture, in their desire to help, is what the movie is all about. Because sometimes actions really do speak louder than words, Nolan keeps dialogue to a minimum in Dunkirk, allowing the actions taken both by the individual and of the collective to drown out even the bombast of Zimmer’s incredible score.

Last but certainly not least is “The Air,” which features all the acrobatics aloft. This segment takes place over the course of just one hour. In it we experience the way Nolan has interpreted the ‘dogfighting’ phenomenon associated with World War II. Needless to say, it’s breathtaking and deeply involving. Bullets ricochet cacophonously. The tin sound is abrasive. Radio comm between the RAF and Farrier screams ’40s simplicity. Some of the most stunning and graceful sequences of combat you will ever see in a war film result from Nolan’s decision to place IMAX cameras on the bodies of actual Spitfires, and returning DP Hoyte Van Hoytema’s ability to create unique, disorienting angles. Don’t blame Nolan for any confusion. If anything, lay it all on Hoytema, who turns cameras sideways as we sink into the water to give the impression ‘the walls are closing in.’

As time ticked away and spirits and ammunition ran out, the thousands — mostly British and French, but among them a smattering of Belgians and Canadians — stared longingly across the Channel, wondering if they’d ever make it back to the familiar shores of their hometowns. Others looked skyward, hoping for a miracle in the form of the Royal Air Force, only to be disheartened by the sight of a Messerschmitt dive-bombing right for them. And the lucky left wondering if they’d ever see (and hear) the end of this unrelenting period of undulating, unbearable stress.

Nolan’s latest test piece is about so much more than an historic military debacle. The pearl that lies inside, the drama that lies underneath the drama as it were, is that Churchill got ten times the number of men that he had hoped would bolster the effort in the inevitable Battle of Britain. The moral victory that resulted from Operation Dynamo’s success, the widespread cooperation, epitomizes why Nolan makes movies. As do the incredibly high stakes. The cumulative effect gives modern audiences a better idea of how close we had actually come to living in a world in which the Nazis had conquered more than Europe.

Recommendation: Relentlessly intense and loud, Dunkirk poses unique problems. As an event film that embraces a wide audience, I saw a number of people exiting the theater with their hands over their ears. Perhaps its ambitions as a senses-throttling experience do have drawbacks. But there is no denying the approach makes this a unique war film, and the epitome of a Christopher Nolan production. It doesn’t get much more profound than this. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 107 mins.

Quoted: “I’m on him.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Because Oscar Said So: Best Supporting Actor Nominees

BOSS - best actor nominees feature image

Because Oscar Said So (B.O.S.S. for short) is yet another first for this blog. In years past I haven’t spent much time going into detail about the major categories recognized at the Oscars ceremony, particularly the official selections as quite often I find myself at odds with the Academy’s choices. Longtime readers of the site know that I like to take matters into my own hands by putting together a mock awards ceremony, a post in which I overwhelm my poor readers with my ramblings on break down several different aspects of the year in film. If you’ve yet to come across The Digibread Awards, you can click here to find out what’s up with all of that.

When it comes to my reaction to the official recognition of achievement in the acting categories, this year has been a little different as I’ve found myself agreeing with an unusually high percentage of the names that have made the Oscar’s shortlist, and now I would like to offer some thoughts on the subject; hence, B.O.S.S. This two-part post shall manifest as Thomas J’s coverage of outstanding achievements in a supporting role for the year 2015. Why the supporting roles, you ask? Great question.

While I made a concerted effort to see as many films as I could where the odds of making an appearance at the Oscars in February were very much in their favor, I wasn’t entirely successful and therefore I can’t comment on every lead performance that’s been nominated. (Missing from my list is Charlotte Rampling’s Kate Mercer in 45 Years, and Brie Larson’s “Ma” in Room.) That’s a major motivation to look to other categories.Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone in 'Creed'

Secondly, I find the supporting role category needs a stronger cheering section. There’s almost no comparison between the amount of recognition headlining names get versus those of supporting players. And yet, when it comes right down to it, preparation for each type of role is far more comparable — particularly when supporting parts become so substantial that the line between ‘lead’ and ‘support’ begins to truly blur. However, with prestigious lists like the ones we have this year, perhaps the tide is slowly changing. Names like Christian Bale, Tom Hardy and Sylvester Stallone are so large you’d be forgiven for assuming these are the film’s major stars . . but in these cases, they are indeed taking a backseat to other talent, or at the very least they’re willing to share the spotlight. The relative humility is refreshing.

Basic (read: compulsory or less memorable) supporting roles offer, if nothing else, structure to a given story. Strong support affords emotional balance (or occasionally the lack thereof) and perspective; superior actors know how to interact with more prominent characters, while lending both depth to the environment (be it fictitious or real) and credibility to the story being told. Fulfilling a supporting role doesn’t necessarily mean one has an easier task ahead of them than a lead, though. Often it can be a thankless proposition, with a variety of factors playing host to challenges both large and small, including, but certainly not limited to significant physical, emotional and psychological transformations. Actors take on these assignments and the research necessary to bring the characters to life, all while knowing they’re not going to be receiving the level of attention some of their colleagues undoubtedly will.

Rare are the productions that don’t require supporting parts to occupy screen space in some way, shape or form; only two films come to mind in the past several years (that I’ve reviewed, anyway) in which a single actor was called upon to carry the entire film. Those films, Locke and All is Lost, are rare exceptions — low budget but ultimately high risk productions. But if done well, these can be incredibly effective.

When it comes to this crop of nominees, there seems to be a movement towards bigger, stronger, more popular casting and films like Adam McKay’s The Big Short and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant — the former a dramatic comedy centered around the collapse of the housing and credit bubble of 2008, the latter a brooding take on life on the frontier in 19th century America — epitomize star-studded casts.

Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes in 'Spotlight'

Christian Bale has been selected for his contributions to the energetic but awkward financial flick, playing hedge fund manager Michael Burry, who is one of the first to point out the instability of subprime mortgage loans circa 2005. The role is a completely different beast for Bale who has spent a lifetime putting on dramatic disguises and turning in powerful performance after powerful performance. He’s nearly unrecognizable in  a role this casual; the portrayal of a man who prefers to listen to death metal while at work, and parading around the office without shoes on.

Tom Hardy (who happens to be the star of that one-man road show Locke), on the other hand, cranks up the intensity with his portrayal of 19th Century fur trapper John Fitzgerald. He manifests as The Revenant‘s primary antagonist and conveys open hostility from the word ‘go.’ The man is ferocious in a film that demands a lot from its actors. In fact he’s so good the Academy likely is going to find a way to deny Leo once more, stripping him of the Best Leading Actor trophy and bestowing it upon the native Londoner. It would be a move that would surprise very few.

Sylvester Stallone makes a triumphant return to glory, reinvesting in his iconic Rocky Balboa but this time with an entirely different energy and sense of purpose. Here’s a supporting role that has already garnered a Golden Globe and a global standing ovation for the Rocky we have come to know and love has matured into his latter years with uncommon grace, providing a mentor figure that most sports films require, only this one is far more believable than any other that have come before. I suppose it helps that Stallone has lost none of his imposing physique. Sure, he’s older but the guy is still a massive screen presence and the material surrounding him elevates a performance with gravitas already built in.

There are quieter, more humbled performances lying in wait this year as well. Mark Ruffalo and Mark Rylance turn in tremendous work with their respective contributions to fact-based stories Spotlight and Bridge of Spies. Whereas the former focused on the troubling investigation into the molestation of children at the hands of Boston-area priests, the latter finds Steven Spielberg once more tapping into the history books as a source of inspiration. Spies revolves around the tensions between American and Russian diplomacy, when a suspected Communist spy is arrested in New York only to be represented by insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks); meanwhile, an American pilot is downed over Russian soil, leading to a protracted set of negations and creating a drama that resembles a high-stakes chess match.

Of all the nominees this year it’s Ruffalo who is most likely to go home empty-handed this year as in my opinion his work isn’t all that distinguishable from his co-stars — and that’s a very, very good thing. His Michael Rezendes, a contributing reporter to the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, epitomizes actors sharing in the burden of absorbing an information-dense and conceptually rich script. The work from the others (Michael Keaton, John Slattery, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy James) is just as outstanding, and it seems odd to single out any of the actors if the entire cast can’t take the stage in February. (Of course, I realize the fantasy of that argument. The Academy isn’t exactly fair.)

Rylance is subtle and graceful as the suspected Communist, casting a shadow that’s nearly as long as that of the legendary Tom Hanks. He’s not too shabby for an actor who has worked most of his life in theater, and this relative break-out performance is one not to be missed by anyone who has typically got along well with the Spielbergian brand. Never mind the fact political movies always seem to curry favor with critics, it’s quite possible we have a  dark horse in our midst with his restrained, brilliantly nuanced performance. Sweating over whether he’s a lock seems to be both a waste of time and energy, though. Would it help?

Ultimately the call isn’t mine to make. It isn’t up to any of us to decide; it’s up to whoever happens to be announcing the winner on stage in the Dolby Theater. And for anyone watching on, we just have to trust that the name that echoes throughout that auditorium, is the same name that’s written on the index card. Sure, the popular vote counts for a lot, but if it has taken Leo this long to get to a place where he seems like a shoe-in for Best Actor in a Leading Role, I’m prepared for all kinds of surprises. The argument that the Oscars are rigged is a bit overblown but there’s no doubt the politicization of the whole thing is very much a reality we have to deal with. Who really ought to go home with the trophy? That’s another great question, to which I can only respond: it’s whoever’s name gets called on that fateful night.

Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel in 'Bridge of Spies'

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.variety.com; http://www.cinemablend.com; http://www.ew.com; http://www.ftw.usatoday.com; http://www.moviescopemag.com; http://www.tvguide.com; http://www.zimbio.com; http://www.dailymail.co.uk; http://www.cineplex.com

The Lucky 13 Film Club: The Revenant

 

Dear loyal DSB-ers. . . DSB-ites . . . DSB-ians. . .(what’s the correct syntax here?)

I am delighted to bring you a link to a discussion I was fortunate enough to be part of over at Cindy Bruchman, an absolutely outstanding site discussing many different aspects of film and the culture that surrounds it. If this post is the first time you’ve heard of the site, you really should take a little time to check out what Cindy is doing. It’s fabulous work.

This piece today, part of her Lucky 13 Film Club, discusses aspects of the recent survival drama The Revenant. I’d be elated to hear what you guys have to say about our thoughts on it. Thank you.

Cindy Bruchman

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The Revenant

The Revenant movie poster

Release: Friday, January 8, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu; Mark L. Smith

Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu

There are some things in The Revenant that you can’t un-see. Like the bloody confrontation between the Arikara tribe and Captain Andrew Henry’s men in the very first scene. Or a human body torn apart by monstrous bear claws. These moments transcend shock value, they go beyond the call of dramatic duty, depicted so authentically so as to become genuinely upsetting.

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up to his Oscar-friendly Birdman doesn’t get any less haggard as it plods onward, but the bloodletting slows just enough for us to catch our breath and get our feet back under us. Through a protracted adventure across harsh winterscapes, one that favors physical over verbal communication, Iñárritu’s epic vision confirms those who tough out the opening half hour will be well-equipped to handle everything Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass must go through in the ensuing two-plus hours.

Acclaimed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Alfonso Cuarón’s right-hand man, drops us into the early 1800s. It’s man against nature; us against the sprawling, unforgiving territory of the Louisiana Purchase. Even from a distance and in comfy theater chairs, feeling cold and exposed is an inevitability. Lubezki’s fiercely uncompromising artistry — a refusal to use anything but the natural light a pale sun and dusty, white-washed landscapes provide — ensures that of all the things we are going to feel, safe won’t be one of them. This is his movie as much as it is the director’s (and Leo’s). Iñárritu directs a script he co-wrote with Mark L. Smith, one that tells of a remarkable true story of survival and human courage.

The premise is simple, one of those one-line blurbs that could present a problem to those who weren’t enthralled by the chase in Mad Max: Fury Road; this is an all-out crawl against the odds as Glass hunts down the man responsible for killing his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) after Glass is mauled by a bear and left for dead by Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and his men. The Revenant isn’t interested in making things complicated because society at this stage isn’t exactly what you’d call civilized. People get by on raw bison liver and don the skin of bears they’ve just killed for protection from the elements.

Yet, there is a reward for enduring, not just in terms of its occasionally stomach-turning imagery. The bulk of the narrative pivots around Glass’ interactions with the great outdoors, the pace often slowing to a literal crawl but not once does it become lethargic. Of course, come the end we still hope the wait has been worthwhile — will we get that ultimate showdown between good and evil? How will justice be meted out? As much as we want to shield our eyes from the next confrontation, the trifecta of superior directing, acting and photography simply doesn’t allow it.

In a film like this, the protagonist is only as good as the villain he must face. While nature is in itself a force to be reckoned with, The Revenant has been gifted Tom Hardy, who plays John Fitzgerald, a thoroughly despicable fur trapper whose ideological differences with Glass’ headstrong explorer type drive the narrative forward. The tension between them can at times be unbearable, the look in Hardy’s eyes frightening and proof that Charles Bronson was merely practice for the big leagues. But the hostility of Native American tribes might well take the cake in terms of driving home the tragedy of what America once was.

So, what of Leo then? And why have I put off discussing him for so long? It should come as no surprise that some of the film’s best-kept secrets — many thankfully avoid ruination by not featuring in the overplayed trailers — hinge on what Leo does and does not do with his body. Imagining a role where an actor must do more to convey the physicality of early American life is nigh on impossible. As he inches his way from one life-threatening obstacle to the next, his Quaalude-induced spasms in The Wolf of Wall Street become a far crawl from true greatness. But Leo’s not just another decomposing body in a picture filled with death and decay.

Glass is a fiercely protective father. His paternal instinct is his trump card, a tenderness and passion for rearing his child the right way offering balance to a character with great potential to come across all too heroic and mythological. Whatever distances we try to put between ourselves and the brutes we face here, there’s no denying little has changed about the fact parents are willing to do anything to protect  their children from the indiscriminate terribleness of the world. DiCaprio is nothing less than incredible here. (I won’t say Oscar-winning lest I jinx the whole damn thing.)

It’s well-known The Revenant was a very difficult movie to make, though not for financial reasons. The cast and crew suffered brutal conditions. The shoot was described as “hellish.” If the actors look like they’re very uncomfortable in their respective scenes, that’s probably because they are. Many of the original staff didn’t see the project to its end. Shot on location in the Canadian Rockies and in Argentina, the film pulses with a vitality that’s impossible to stage. Natural beauty brilliantly disguises the film’s black heart. Every time I had to shield my eyes — I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but yeah, I did — I then reminded myself what a thing of beauty it was that I was witnessing.

things start getting hectic in 'The Revenant'

Recommendation: This film is not for the squeamish. Raw power, visceral imagery and blunt honesty combine with legendary performances to create a film that will be impossible to forget, much less imitate. I haven’t seen the Mexican auteur’s full filmography yet, but I have this nagging feeling he might have just hit a career high with this stripped-back and naturalistic production. A must-see for fans of DiCaprio. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 156 mins.

Quoted: “You came all this way just for your revenge, huh? Did you enjoy it, Glass? . . . ‘Cause there ain’t nothin’ gon’ bring your boy back.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Legend

Legend movie poster

Release: Friday, November 20, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Brian Helgeland

Directed by: Brian Helgeland

Otherwise known as the notoriously boring true story of the Kray twins.

Much to the displeasure of anyone who might fairly assume Tom Hardy playing two roles in the same movie means that movie should be twice as fun, Legend delivers not even half the entertainment it promises in its enthusiastic, bonkers-looking trailers by venturing down a street paved in romance rather than the bloodlust of two notorious British criminals.

The good news is that, despite the content, Tom Hardy is still a good reason to shill out the money to see screenwriter Brian Helgeland‘s directorial debut. He shoulders the weight of having to play both Reggie and Ronald Kray — a set-up that indeed implies he would have to act and then react to himself in certain scenes — with aplomb.

But hearing Hardy is really good in Legend isn’t all that surprising. Is it even interesting? Call us spoiled, for the Londoner has pretty consistently demonstrated in times past he can turn on the intensity, and if there were a film that ever tested the limits of that intensity, it would be this one. He inhabits both roles with completely different energies and that in itself is the mark of an actor who is scary good at their job.

Legend certainly requires a lot of the mild-mannered-in-real-life Hardy. His character(s) is/are constantly subject to volatility. As Reggie, “the gangster prince of the East End,” Hardy is subtly menacing; behind Ronnie’s glasses he wears a perpetually sour face, mouth agape like a child’s when he’s not spewing out profanities in the general direction of anyone unfortunate enough to be close to him. There’s nothing subtle about Ronnie just like there’s nothing apparently bad about Reggie.

Generally speaking, there’s very little that’s subtle about the Kray twins. They operate with almost complete autonomy, owning everything from night clubs to casinos to, apparently, small pubs. The cops aren’t very good but they are still on to them. Christopher Eccleston gives some oomph to the powers that be behind the badge and gun, though he’s too infrequently seen to make that much of an impression. Meanwhile, Reggie’s brushes with Scotland Yard feel more like weekend visits than serious consequences.

At film’s open, the Krays’ reign of terror in London has already been established. We know this because we’re told explicitly so in a voiceover provided by Emily Browning’s Frances, the girl Reggie quickly courts and even more quickly marries. Helgeland, rather than showing the rise to power, chooses to tell us about it, a rather disappointing strategy considering the Tom Hardy-shaped weapon he has in his arsenal here. Legend is less about the uniqueness of the Kray twins’ exploits as it is about the personal cost of being a gangster.

There are some benefits to the story shifting to a smaller focus. As Frances becomes more entangled in Reggie’s dealings — despite the fuss her mother makes over her daughter dating a gangster — she also becomes our eyes and ears into the parties and exclusive hang outs that occur. There’s a real vulnerability her character introduces that allows us to get just a little bit closer to Reggie, even though we might not want to. She reveals a tenderness to Reggie that he wouldn’t admit he had to anyone else, much less express it.

Browning manages to draw out a surprising amount of sympathy because she fortunately isn’t a cardboard cutout of a person, unlike the many who supposedly comprise the criminal syndicate known as The Firm. Most of these characters hang like Christmas decoration around the Krays, having very little input but coloring the background just enough so Hardy isn’t just standing in a room alone, talking to himself.

Unlike these thugs, we do feel for Frances when things start getting bad. She didn’t have to marry a notorious criminal of course, but that’s immaterial at this point; Helgeland adapts John Pearson’s ‘The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins,’ and the facts are the facts.

One thing is pretty obvious: Brian Helgeland has been wanting to make a movie about these characters, and, yes, in the loosest sense of the term he has made a movie ‘about’ them. It’s just a shame that proceedings play out so predictably, that there’s not more to this story about crazy powerful, crazy violent mobsters. We never do get that sense these people are legends in their community. I suppose it’s also not fair to expect another Bane, but still. Sparing Hardy’s mad performance, Legend isn’t anything but a shadow walking behind the next big gangster biopic.

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Recommendation: Well-acted but very predictable and unengaging in its focus on a standard love story that doesn’t do much beyond confirm our suspicions that maybe Reggie isn’t quite as charming as he first looks. Legend appeals to big fans of Hardy but the story isn’t anything a gangster/crime thriller aficionado hasn’t seen before.

Rated: R

Running Time: 132 mins.

Quoted: “Never mess with a man’s genitals, mate!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Release: Friday, May 15, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: George Miller; Brendan McCarthy; Nico Lathouris

Directed by: George Miller

For a lesser population, what a lovely day it is indeed, a day in which a franchise is reborn. To anyone else not attuned to what was once a legitimate excuse for Mel Gibson going crazy, Mad Max: Fury Road feels like what a Michael Bay action sequence wants to be when it grows up.

Before dealing with the flack I’m going to inevitably receive for that comparison, may I remind you that Bay, despite himself now, has a knack for building enthusiastic, explosive entertainment. Whereas the aforementioned splurges on expense, George Miller ingeniously . . . well, he splurges too actually. Except here a $150 million budget is appropriated toward some mind-blowingly technical stunt work that is liable to leave most breathless, begging for more.

Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is seen at the film’s deceptively quiet open recounting his days of hardship via a gruff narrative, briefly reflecting upon a troubled past before being snapped up by a passing horde of baddies, undoubtedly the inspiration for some of this year’s most popular Halloween costumes. Behold, the War Boys. He is taken to a strange and desperate civilization known as the Citadel, a relative oasis presided over by the tyrannical King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who keeps most of the communal water and greenery to himself and his minions.

Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, a shaven-headed, fearless amputee with a face covered in soot, finally has had enough of living in such conditions. She goes rogue, fleeing the Citadel in Joe’s ‘War Rig’ and down an indistinct but narratively significant path of sorts, bound for a better way of life. On board the Rig are Joe’s Five Wives — a collection of beauty that recalls Bay’s casting sensibilities. But Bay doesn’t go for talent, really. He just stops at ‘good-looking.’

Perhaps that’s the only thing Joe cares for as well. Enraged by the knowledge of their escape, he sicks the War Boys on the Rig, igniting a thunderous and violent chase across remote desert landscapes and into a sand storm that makes The Perfect Storm look like a gust of wind. Valleys become death gauntlets, their outer limits patrolled by bikers who are expecting a shipment of gasoline be delivered by Furiosa in exchange for her safe passage through. As sure as a Michael Bay car chase, more disaster awaits there.

Miller and Bay are both adrenaline junkies — the former addicted to cartoonish madness; the latter to closing the gap between CGI spectacle and cinema-related migraine. One of these addictions is healthier (at the very least, artsier) than the other. But the constant raucous atmosphere can be overwhelming for newcomers to this depraved world of half-dead humans clinging to life however they can. For a good portion of this ride Max is used as a blood bag to nurse Nux (Nicholas Hoult) back to . . . uh, health. And one of the Five Wives is very pregnant. This isn’t a thinking man’s movie, but if there’s one thing Fury Road is adept at other than delivering non-stop thrills, it’s showing humanity’s will to endure some crazy shit.

With Hardy replacing Gibson in the titular role, one that strangely bears less significance when put beside an iconic Charlize Theron, Fury Road threatens to abandon its cult classic status, exploding into potential box-office behemoth territory. Despite an outrageous, gothic dress code this costume design will likely remain one of the hottest topics of the summer. Maybe all year.

Apparently The Avengers: Age of Ultron is still playing in some theaters. Well, now there’s a new kid on the block and his name is Mad Max Absolutely Ridiculous. Decorated in war paint, yelling at the top of his lungs he demands you know his name. After spending two hours with him you aren’t likely to forget it. Perhaps that’s the most significant distinction between these auteurs of the action spectacular.

When you realize you left the GPS at home . . .

When you realize you left the GPS at home . . .

4-0Recommendation: Decidedly one-note when it comes to plot, Mad Max: Fury Road is still a unique experience — brutal and relentless action combined with beautiful visuals and a gung-ho spirit that fails to dwindle. Having seen the originals isn’t a necessity but I’d imagine it would help round out Max’s character more. Action junkies and fans of George Miller’s brand of filmmaking must see this movie. It’s a curious thing, too: there are two films coming out later this year (one this summer) with as much potential to deliver the goods and both indisputably appealing to larger audiences, but I wonder if these films will be as successful in recruiting new fans as Miller’s latest has been.

Rated: R

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “Hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.”

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Photo credits: http://www.southfloridafilmmaker.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Drop

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Release: Friday, September 12, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Fairly unsurprisingly, The Drop is a compelling modern entry into the gangster/crime genre.

Tom Hardy. James Gandolfini. There’s something foregone-conclusion-y about pairing those names together and sticking them in a mobster flick. It’s likely to be damn good. Of course you’d be forgiven for not being taken with the relatively bland title. But for dismissing lonely old Bob Saginowski (Hardy) who carries around a pit bull pup for most of the movie? Totally inexcusable.

That’s a side of Bane you won’t see too often. Even less from Charles Bronson. And doubtful there were many times in Tommy Conlon’s life where he felt so sensitive.

As striking a visual as Hardy nursing an abused and abandoned puppy can be there’s something more poignant in the reincarnation of Tony Soprano as “Cousin Marv.” The duo are indeed cousins who run a dive bar in Brooklyn, with the latter having proudly owned the operations for decades now and the former merely tending bar. If only life were actually that simple, though. Targeted as a ‘drop’ location by a dangerous Chechen criminal syndicate, this particularly dingy cave suddenly magnetizes all sorts of dirty money flowing in from various unsavory individuals.

When two dim-witted thugs hold the bar up one evening, Saginowski and his cousin find themselves in hot water with Chovka (Michael Aronov), a mob leader not even Tony Soprano would want to cross on a good day. The pair are left scrounging for the missing $5,000 before they too find themselves disappearing in a windowless conversion van parked in the shadows of some nondescript alleyway.

Hardy — if you can believe it — puts on a stellar performance as a sheltered, fumbling everyman whose social ineptitude symbolizes that part of the iceberg we can see peeking above the surface. Sooner or later we’ll get to know how deep it goes into the water. Before we do, there are several layers to Cousin Marv we need to peel away before coming into the frightening realization of how truly shady this whole operation is. This place is rotten from the inside out, and the last thing we are ultimately concerned with are the drops themselves.

The Drop blends sharp social commentary with an indomitable devotion to creating atmospheric tension. An unnerving turn from Matthias Shoenaerts as Eric Deeds, a renegade criminal with a keen interest in the dog Bob discovered in a neighbor, the broken but beautiful Nadia (Noomi Rapace)’s trash can one night on his way home from the bar, adds to that greatly. Seemingly channelling his inner Joker in his unrepentant disregard for logic or reason, Shoenaerts casts a shadow that puts the dreaded Chechen gang in perspective. Clearly there are degrees of evil here that we ought to be aware of. Therein lies the genius in having the omniscient perspective: we eventually learn no one is clean but as the story develops our willingness to take the lesser of two evils is directly proportional to how much we’re shocked by the developments.

Rapace isn’t the focus of attention here but her fragile state’s still worthy of mention as she offers up a vulnerability not found in the male characters. And her performance proves yet again how kaleidoscopic the Swedish actress’ image truly is. For Bob Saginowski Nadia represents a chance to outgrow his circumstances and become something more, all while still wrestling with a dark past of her own.

Perhaps owed to the effectiveness of the transfer of book to film at the hands of writer Dennis Lehane (responsible for both versions), you will likely not come across a more atmospheric and capably-acted crime drama this fall.

Or, maybe you will.

But it won’t have James Gandolfini in it, who in this case doesn’t even need to raise his voice to remind us of the ease with which he could command the screen. Additional credit must be given to the strong direction of Michaël R. Roskam, who’s only had one previous film released (and to similar critical success, as a matter of fact), for never allowing the sobering reality of Gandolfini’s absence hang too heavy over the proceedings. Marv is chameleonic, blending seamlessly with the decay of his surrounds. As the big man once again does with his favorite material.

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4-0Recommendation: Reiterating, the appeal is pretty clear here. The box office draw comes twofold in a dreamlike pairing of Hardy and Gandolfini in a thoroughly well-written and well-crafted reflection of a much harder life in America. Despite there being a substantial amount of commentary on the subject already, The Drop offers a clear-eyed view of some very, very, very gray areas indeed. Aside from a few limited moments of bloodshed, the lack of substantial gore might be one immediate way you can distinguish this effective thriller. It relies on studying and assessing character motives and relationships, and if that’s your sort of thing, you should be buying yourself a ticket right now rather than reading this blog. (But seriously, thank you for reading this blog.)

Rated: R

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “Are you doing something desperate? Something we can’t clean up this time?”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Locke

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Release: Friday, April 25, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

What’s harder to reconcile — the uncertainty and doubt associated with what the future may or may not hold for you, or acknowledging the truth of what’s happened in your past?

If you don’t find yourself moved by this kind of prying, existential question, a question that you can almost feel digging fingernails into your psyche as this simple narrative unfolds, there’s probably not a great deal something like Steven Knight’s brilliantly conservative Locke can offer you.

For anyone who does find themselves so moved, the film offers even less in the way of comfort. Emotionally hard-hitting and complex, this is a film that mirrors reality so well it’s actually more impressive that any of this is scripted. Presented as something of a road trip adventure infused with a touch of film noir, Locke is entirely caught up in the here-and-now, realizing what’s most important should be the thing that’s made most readily available to the viewer, and has little time or interest in distracting with other subplots or storylines. Indeed, what we get is Hardy’s face, a hands-free cell phone and a beautiful BMW (finally, product placement that isn’t obnoxious) as the key ingredients responsible for doling out the drama.

Tom Hardy plays an esteemed construction foreman who is seen at the film’s open leaving a work site for the evening, knocking wet concrete from his boots before getting into his car and driving away. For the remainder of the film this is where both he and the audience shall be confined — a gauntlet on wheels that comes to spawn a multitude of situations and conversations, all of which are not only believable, but also inconceivable. As the drive continues, Locke’s situation perpetually worsens and in ways that are entirely too convincing, with each successive phone call devolving into another nightmarish battle.

That the film is primarily set in the driver’s seat of a four-door sedan should be enough to make for a compelling indie film reel, but that’s not where the film excels the most. Though this intimacy certainly helps elevate the film, it’s the work that Hardy turns in that separates Locke from other limited-setting movies, and by several mile markers at that.

Hardy is a one-man show, an artist so in the moment time almost seems to come to a stand-still. He imbues his character with the perfect sampling of each human emotion that invariably would surface during a car ride of this magnitude, or during any number of stressful — granted, less intricate and bizarre — situations for that matter. Sure, driving may be the only activity the man takes part in here, but the circumstances surrounding what he’s doing have a kind of gravity that will put a lump in your throat.

Locke is, in a word, defiant, and the more that’s left unsaid about it, the better. Suffice it to say, though, expect a story which refuses to bend to convention, as Ivan refuses to lose sight of his ultimate goal. We, the ever curious — bordering on frustrated — third-party simply must sit perched on the edge of our seats, nervous, as we anticipate each precious little detail as they come spilling forward, either from Hardy’s mouth or from the speakers on the dashboard. The genius in this film is that frustration mounts but it never overwhelms, and that frustration is not the end game. It’s only part of the experience. And there are so many different parts.

An existential drama disguised as a road trip movie, Locke is quite simply one of the most inventive and riveting films you will see this, or any other year. There won’t be many things quite like it.

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5-0Recommendation: An exemplary indie film that is sure to satisfy the art house crowd and Tom Hardy fans in equal measure. See it for a much more nuanced Hardy performance — it’s really quite something comparing this role to his Bane, or something like Charles Bronson. But see it for far more fundamental reasons also: if you appreciate deeply human stories, Locke is one you cannot afford to miss.

Rated: R

Running Time: 84 mins.

Quoted: “Gareth, with all due respect: f**k Chicago.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com