Tag Archives: film

The Revenant by Alejandro González Iñárritu

I got to see The Revenant, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, over the weekend because Leonardo DiCaprio and Iñárritu. I started seeing previews for it last fall and knew immediately that I wanted to see it…because Leonardo DiCaprio and Iñárritu. I’ll watch DiCaprio do anything. He gets a hard time from my male peers because the women in their lives made them watch Titanic (which is a great film, by the way), and they targeted their anger at DiCaprio. He became their nemesis, and they’ve overlooked all his work since then. However, while DiCaprio is beautiful, his work as an actor absolutely stands the test of time.

The Revenant (2015) Poster

image from imdb.com

DiCaprio does depth in The Revenant, but the role doesn’t particularly call for range or complexity. He might finally get the Oscar for this one, but it will be one of those that *are on behalf of his entire body of work* because he’s done plenty of roles that were absolutely Oscar-worthy. (From DiCaprio, you can always expect a shriek (his are singularly evocative), and they don’t make you wait for it in this film.)

The Revenant is beautiful. It’s shot only with natural light. The landscapes are breathtaking. Iñárritu frequently includes long clips of running water, scan birds flying through the sky, or unset through the black silouette of a forest–the kind of stuff I would Instagram. In that way, he has a tendency toward over romanticization and daydream and, in this case, it didn’t always fit the grittiness and realness of the film.

I thought Iñárritu’s Birdman was really interesting in that it broke convention, but still felt like an Aronofky film to me. Similarly, The Revenant does not break convention. If you know and love great mountain man films, like Jeremiah Johnson, you’ll notice pretty typical “mountain man tropes” from start to end. The film follows a pretty typical “mountain man movie” trope.

Here’s somewhat of a

***spoiler alert***

In the film, you get a stoic man, completely competent in hunting, fire building, and surviving for months on end in high mountain blizzards. His only drive is to avenge the death of his Indian wife and children–all senselessly murdered in cold blood, of course. He eats buffalo. He contents with wolves and a grizzly. He navigates seemlessly between the friendly and the hostile Natives. He speaks several Native languages. He survives a blizzard inside the carcass of a large dead animal. He stumbles through cold mountain streams. Audiences can’t believe he’s still alive. Audiences marvel at how quickly they themselves would be dead in similar circumstances. In the beginning, the man is stripped bare, by the end it goes unimaginably further. In the end we are all wondering, what now? What was it all for?

The Revenant is relentless. Some of it’s most difficult scenes are seem to never end. Despite it’s length, the film held my attention. I wasn’t dying for it to end. I was engaged throughout. This one’s worth seeing in the theater if just for the magnificent and enormous shots of landscape.

August: Osage County by John Wells

Let me start by quoting Cam from Modern Family, who astutely observed the following: “Excuse me, Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice.” And I agree.

I watched this during a movie night with my mom. She was working on her art, and I was knitting, and we made the mistake of watching it after Terms of Endearment, which is perfection and nothing else can be said about it.

image from amazon.com

Netflix then suggested we watch August: Osage County directed by John Wells. This film has good acting all over the place. Each member of the stunning ensemble cast absolutely shines–as you would expect. Except there are so many other problems with the film that I started to marvel that the actors could pull off these impossible scenes.

So, first: melodrama. This film is melodrama. Midway through the film, Meryl Streep is running wildly through a hay field, chased by her reticent daughter (Julia Roberts), and the audience is just sort of embarrassed, and tired, and no longer buying in (even though we wanted to! even though we love Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts!). The scene where they’re running through the field and the very long, après funeral dinner scene are so over the top that there’s no recovering. The melodrama might go over better on stage.

That said, the film does deal with compelling emotional content and succeeds at pairing emotional content to characters, but struggles with putting those emotions to plot and story. The film deals with powerful stuff: struggles with addiction, unhealthy boundaries, and loving and withholding. With more subtlety, this film could have been spectacular.

 

Trumbo by Jay Roach

At this point I’ll watch Bryan Cranston do anything, which is why I went when I had a chance to see him in Trumbo, directed by Jay Roach. Diane Lane is always exquisite, and Louis CK’s in it too!

image from imdb.com

This film felt long. It’s about two hours and fifteen minutes. It took me awhile to warm up to the characters. I’m a big Louis CK fan, but it took me awhile to buy him in a dramatic role. (He gets there, don’t worry.) Though the whole film felt somewhat rigid at first, it does warm up and pick up so that it is not dragging at the end. While I left the film feeling satisfied, I still think it could’ve been edited more aggressively.

Politically, the “red scare,” and McCarthyism is a fascinating and disturbing (and ongoing?) part of US history. It doesn’t take much to engage me on the topic. Yet, I had a hard time getting into this film. That said, it is worth watching. Because it picks up. Because it’s beautiful. Because it rises to something interesting and important.

Now, let me break it down. First, the smoke. These people are smoking constantly, and the cinematographer is having some fun with it. There are these glorious shots of white smoke swirly slowly and intricately around people’s faces. There’s a smoke shot toward the end that is absolutely over the top. Thick white smoke swirls through each grain of thick, gray mustache hair, and it’s both repulsive and lovely and artful.

And on that note, I’ll also talk about Bryan Cranston’s physicality—something I think he’s understood for his entire acting career. (I first noticed it in his Malcolm in the Middle days). He, more than anyone, knows the power of an ordinary middle-aged man wearing tighty whiteys, and he’s not afraid to use it.

Finally, the design. This was L.A. in the 1940s and 1950s. Every couch, every glass of water, and every earring is on point. I was busy watching the design elements while I waited for characters to develop and the plot to pick up, and that was more than enough to keep me satisfied.

Silver Linings Playbook by David O. Russell

I know I’m a few years behind with this one, but Silver Linings Playbook is on Netflix, so I finally watched it. All stars are brilliant in the film, but Jennifer Lawrence was a bad casting choice. She is still too young to bring the necessary complexity to this character. She needed to be world-weary, but soft, broken. With her husky voice and masculine (beautiful!) characteristics, I had a hard time believing her in this role. The topper is that we are supposed to believe that, in her spare time, this woman enjoys somewhat serious, competitive dancing. Dear Jennifer Lawrence provides a one-two punch of beauty and real acting ability, but she is not graceful by any stretch of the imagination. Based on what I’ve read of her in interviews, she embraces a boyish sense of humor and boyish way of moving through the world. I think even she would agree that being cast as a dancer is a bit of a stretch.

First, the beginning: what’s really innovative about this film is the role of bipolar disorder and Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of that mental illness as it evolves throughout the film. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that other characters, the father, the long-suffering mother, the leading lady, and even the best friend, are all really struggling with their own, very real, mental distress. The main character, Pat, has a troubled relationship with his father, which is increasingly revealed as very controlling and made a significant contribution to the main character’s distress.

***spoiler alert***Ok, here’s where the real spoilers begin because I’m going to talk about the ending. In the end, Pat (Bradley Cooper) ends up falling in love with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), and I’m not sure what to make of it. On one hand, it is a “happily ever after” ending that does not do justice to the complexity that is established earlier in the movie. It also comes as somewhat of a surprise. While it is clear that Pat is beginning to lust after Tiffany (as does the audience), a more substantive connection between the two is less clear. Still, okay, they fell in love, Pat and Tiffany live happily ever after while mom continues to make snacks for the big game and dad continues to recklessly gamble away the family’s financial security on football. Somehow, these two mentally ill people manage to heal each other and all is well and saved forever the end.

The second reading is much darker, it’s my own, and I highly doubt it was the intended interpretation. It is that Pat is a vulnerable person, still suffering deeply from a bipolar breakdown. Because of long-term manipulation and mental illness from his own father, Pat is used to unhealthy intimate relationships. When Tiffany comes along and lies and manipulates her way into his life, he recognizes it as the dysfunction to which he is accustomed, and he is unhealthy enough to get caught up in the troubled relationship. Tiffany will continue to exploit the relationship to its inevitably volatile end, and Pat will repeat his bipolar breakdown cycle because no evidence of new learning, growth, or healing ever really occurred. If you ask me, it’s a dark, messed-up film ending indeed.