Last year (technically 2014) director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel) masterfully directed the Best Picture-winning Birdman. Starring Michael Keaton, the film followed a once great actor (Keaton) struggling to become relevant again by writing, directing, and starring in a production of his own stage play. Aside from winning four Academy Awards for the film (Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and Cinematography); what stood out the most about the film to me was that the entire film seemed to be encompassed by one long continuous shot. How does Iñárritu follow up a smart and elegantly shot film like Birdman? By going out into the harsh wilderness of Canada and Argentina to shoot The Revenant and in all natural light.
The Revenant focuses on frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who while on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s is left for dead after being brutally mauled by a bear; and embarks on a quest for survival and revenge against those responsible. Battling immensely harsh environmental conditions, Glass also has to contend with Native Americans and his diminishing health in order to stay alive.
If there is one thing I have to say about Iñárritu, it’s that he really knows how to envision a story. At its core, The Revenant is a story about survival. It’s Iñárritu’s keen vision and the actors that he chose to work with (namely Leo), that gives the film this grandeur that really makes it something to behold and see in a movie theater.
Because as I’ve alluded to already, I’ll start with the cinematography; it’s a real standout aspect of the film. Working with his longtime partner/cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Iñárritu beautifully captures the Canadian and Argentinian landscape in The Revenant. From snow covered forests to foggy woods, to night shots lit by firelight, nearly every scene that does not include a human is exquisitely shot. But, it isn’t all about scenic vistas, the scenes with humans are masterfully crafted as well.
As if he was winding down from Birdman, Iñárritu employs many long takes in the film which amp up sequences in the film. The action does not stop for a moment as the camera follows characters and much of the action that takes place, all in real time. In a sense, it keeps the audience locked into a scene because It doesn’t really give the viewer a moment to catch their breath.
In one spectacularly shot scene that one-ups the opening sequence of Avengers: Age of Ultron, in one take, the camera follows several individuals during an Indian attack on Glass’s encampment. Right after someone gets hit with an arrow, the camera deftly follows another member of the party as he scrambles to get his bearings. Next the person that the camera is following shoots at an attacker and then the camera shifts and follows the incoming attacker as he shoots an arrow at the previous person we were following. Still with me? The audience is led through this elaborately choreographed battle sequence in one or two quite long camera takes! And then there’s the bear sequence. I haven’t even gotten to that yet (just wait).
I think it’s safe to say that Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the best working actors today that hasn’t gotten an Oscar. Just perusing his filmography on IMDB as I type this and he’s played a lot of different characters for a lot of different directors. And he does it all with this intensity that metamorphosizes him into the characters he portrays. He just flat out does good work and we shouldn’t expect anything less from him at this point.
With The Revenant, Leo really gets to do a lot with a role that is physically demanding by enduring harsh conditions AND forces him to act and emote with not a lot of dialogue. In many of his scenes, Leo conveys much of his emotions and what he wants to “say” by the look on his face and his body language. After being attacked by a bear in the first 20 minutes of the film, Leo’s character Glass is wounded (physically and emotionally) for the remainder of the film and is pretty much on his own. Much like Robert Redford in All is Lost; Leo scowls, grunts, and moans his way through most of the film. With that intensity that he has, he’s able to communicate a lot with the look and pain in his eyes. When DiCaprio jumps into frigid waters, forages for food, or crawls his way through dirt and snow . . . you can nearly feel the chill, hunger, and distress that he’s going through as he experiences them on screen.
The said bear attack in the film is one of the most harrowing scenes in any film from 2015. Again, as with many of the other scenes throughout the film, it’s very well choreographed and pretty much sold by the expressions that appear on Leo’s face. For the most part, the bear is a product of visual effects, but there are some practical effects mixed in as well to give a very realistic feel. Not that the bear was a product of bad-CGI, but there is just no way that any studio (and probably even Leo himself) would allow Leo to interact with a grizzly bear. Needless to say, the intensity, realism, and pain in the scene are sold through Leo’s eyes.
Though Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, and Will Poulter all lend supporting roles in the film; this is Iñárritu and Leo’s film to be sure. It’s a simple story told on a grand and extravagant scale as only these two auteurs could create. And as amazing as the film is, I can’t recommend it for everyone. For starters, the film clocks in at 2 hours and 36 minutes (just about ten minutes shy of The Hateful Eight that’s playing here) so it’s a long film to start. And like I mentioned earlier, much of Leo’s scenes don’t involve a lot of dialogue; many are also meditative as well. If you crave non-stop action, a lot of talking and explanation in your movies, or movies that have a run time of fewer than two hours then The Revenant is not going to be for you. However, if you can withstand all that, then The Revenant is definitely worth seeing and is one of the best films of 2015.
The Revenant expands today and is now playing in theaters locally.
4 of 5 stars // rated R // 2h 36m
I know many people are excited for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and even as you read this many more are actually watching the film. Which brings me to the conundrum before me: how I write about this film when so many people have yet to see it? I certainly don’t want to spoil the excitement and anticipation that I had by spoiling something for those who haven’t seen it. I know I would be pretty disheartened if I was going to watch the film this weekend (or maybe even in the coming week) and I read something that basically spoiled the film for me. Having said that, this will be a NON-SPOILER review of The Force Awakens. This review will discuss the film, but not reference specific details that would give anything way. There is one caveat–any footage from the trailers and tv spots is fair game to discuss and reference.
I guess the burning question on everyone’s mind is: Does Episode VII ‘get it right’ after the disappointment that was the prequels? In my honest opinion, I think it does. JJ Abrams brings us a really close approximation on what ‘Star Wars’ is. With his work on Mission Impossible III and Star Trek, JJ has done a great job of taking old franchises and updating them for new audiences and The Force Awakens is no exception. Because of who he is, JJ Abrams respects this material way too much to make a Star Wars film that’s not Star Wars. He knows what we want and expect from a Star Wars film because he himself is just as big of a fan.
One of the ways Abrams makes The Force Awakens a Star Wars film is by mirroring several beats from Episode IV – A New Hope. Without giving too much away, some of the journeys undertaken by characters in The Force Awakens are similar to those of characters in A New Hope. Some may claim that there are certain plot points lifted straight out of Episode IV. I think JJ and fellow screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt diversify things enough to make The Force Awakens feel fresh AND familiar.
By incorporating Original Trilogy (OT) characters into The Force Awakens, it automatically gives us older fans something to latch onto and in a sense bridges two generations–both the characters in the film and audiences in the real world. I went on the record earlier this year as saying that I didn’t really care for JJ’s decision to bring in OT characters into this new trilogy. I was worried that it would be too much fan service and would try to give us a new movie with the OT characters as the main focus. It’s not a spoiler to say that this is not the case.
Daisy Ridley’s Rey is the main character of The Force Awakens with John Boyega’s Finn, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, and BB-8 providing great supporting roles. Ridley’s Rey has this certain spunk but yet at the same time this isolationism that in some ways combine both the characters of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker into a single character. I think one disappointment that I did have is that I wish there was more screen time for Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron. He’s a great X-Wing pilot, but we really don’t get a sense for his character too much since he doesn’t have a lot of screen time. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is not a cameo role at all and if I were to guess; actually has the second most screen time when compared to Ridley. Carrie Fisher as Leia and Mark Hamil as Luke Skywalker also turn in supporting roles that literally support the roles and missions of our new characters.
Since going into detail regarding what our new characters are like would give away too much from the film, I’m going to stick with the fan favorite that I know everyone is excited to see . . . Mr. “We’re Home” himself, Han Solo. The apprehension I had seeing him in the full trailer back in April was put aside early on. I was worried because in his past couple of films we’ve seen Harrison Ford as a crotchety old man who looked like he was there just to collect a paycheck. I don’t know what JJ Abrams did or if it was just being with old castmates again or if maybe he was just excited to be Han again, but Harrison Ford BROUGHT IT for Star Wars. The man that I saw on screen was Han Solo. A slightly older version of Han Solo, but you could see the character we fell in love with from the OT in Ford’s performance in The Force Awakens. He had the great one-liners, quick quips, and that scoundrel-like attitude that made Han Solo, Han Solo. And he did it with these new set of characters.
As for the film itself, storywise, I think JJ and Kasdan have come up with a great hook in which to get the saga going in a new direction. You get a sense of that from the film’s title, but the opening crawl will make it plainly clear what this first film is about. The film is quite action packed and if I had to venture to guess, probably has the most action in any of the films in the series to date. Chase sequences, battles between opposing forces (pun not intended), and one-on-one battles happen multiple times throughout the film. With all the action going on you would think that there wasn’t much storytelling going on. There are a few quiet moments for characters to tell us about themselves, but JJ excels at giving us character and story development in the midst of these action sequences.
Overall I was pretty pumped by the time end credits’ overture started to play. Here was one generation of Star Wars characters passing the lightsaber to the next. The action and spirit of the saga were all present in The Force Awakens and while the film closed at an appropriate point it left me with a number of questions that already have me anticipating the next episode.
Because I’m so excited and because I have so much more to say, another review of The Force Awakens will be forthcoming, this time with spoilers. Until then, go out and see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. All the hype you’ve heard about the film . . . to quote Han Solo: “It’s true. All of it.”
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now playing everywhere. Look for our spoiler-filled review shortly after Christmas.
In the Heart of the Sea, based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction book documenting the events that inspired Moby-Dick, totally needed more big fish-on-man action. What we end up with is a rather sentimental shipwreck movie with one very aggressive, but elusive, sperm whale.
Breaking up the final book in a series into two movies instead of one seems all the rage these days. It started with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows being broken up into two 2+ hour films and then continued with the Twilight series becoming two sub 2 hour Breaking Dawn films. From what I’ve been told by book readers; for Harry Potter it was okay for the final book to be broken up over two films due to its content–not so much for Breaking Dawn. Is breaking up a book into two films more of an artistic decision to tell better tell the story that’s in the book? Or is it just another way for studios to grab money
These two questions aside, I’m always for more movie if it’s going to end up telling a better story. Which brings us to one of the top blockbusters of 2015; the final movie in The Hunger Games series: Mockingjay Part 2. Unlike Star Wars’s episodes or films in a trilogy or series, movies broken up into parts have the distinct disadvantage of being one really long movie with a really long intermission. They’re not two separate self-contained movies. They’re both parts of one movie. Which is why judging one-half without the context of the other half is difficult to do.
When we last saw Katniss, she had just been nearly strangled by her former District 12 Tribute turned Capitol propaganda speaker Peeta at the end of Mockingjay Part 1. Part 2 dives right in where we left off and hits the ground running with both Katniss and Peeta continuing to be used as tools of the war machine. Katniss, still the reluctant leader, is anxious to be fighting out on the front lines with the people that she is supposed to be rallying rather than just posing for more political propaganda pieces.
Mockingjay Part 2 continues the theme of war and propaganda that was started in Part 1 with the machinations of District 13 President Alma Coin and gamesmaker turned rebel war consultant Plutarch Heavensbee; but also puts a different spin on it in Part 2 with the inclusion of questions about war and who the enemy really is. Katniss questions whether or not Capitol loyalists from the Districts are the enemy of the rebels when they are in fact District citizens. She also questions whether it’s right to kill people who may in fact not be their enemy. And in a move that nearly kills her, she questions the rebel cause when she defends their enemy when it appears as if they are surrendering.
While I’m glad to see that some of the bigger themes from the book made it into the film, things don’t really pick up until we get to the action in the Capitol; where defying direct orders from President Coin, Katniss tries to go on a rogue mission to kill President Snow. If you’ve seen the trailers this is the part in the film where a majority of the city is laid with Hunger Games like traps for the rebels to wade through. As expected, the traps that are set are grand, over the top, and especially deadly.
As Katniss and her squad progress through the Capitol, their numbers are slowly diminished as they encounter trap after trap. Fellow comrades are mourned, more propaganda is spread, and the burden of being some big savior of the rebellion continues to build on Katniss’s shoulders even when they are mere steps from achieving their objective. Without giving the ending away, let’s just say people live and people die and that where Katniss eventually ends up is sort of befitting of what she’s been put through throughout the entire series.
All the actors that you know and love from the first three films are back. Obviously JLaw is front and center as Katniss with Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and Baby Thor Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthrone–the other two sides of the angsty love triangle. Lawrence is solid as always, though she doesn’t have as much heavy lifting (acting-wise) that she did in the first two films in the series. She does have a moment here or there where she is required to emote, but it’s nothing really overly dramatic. A bad day for her would still be better acting than what we see in a majority of other films. Hutcherson on the other hand had me convinced that he was damaged goods as the tortured and brainwashed Peeta. So much so that I never fully believed that he was actually getting better. I was just waiting for him to go all Manchurian Candidate on Katniss at some point when she or I was least expecting it. The two heavy Oscar hitters Julianne Moore as Coin and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch don’t have a lot of screen time and don’t really get a chance to spread their dramatic wings.
On the whole, Mockingjay Part 2 was not the conclusion to a great series that we needed or the one we deserved. From book readers I’ve talked to, Mockingjay was the weakest book in the entire trilogy and I think it definitely shows. We went from two really great films that focused on characters, the effects of war, and great action set pieces to a set of films that tried to tell a somewhat different story than what the first two films were.
Here in the Mockingjays, it’s more about the politics and maneuvering that the action in the films (which in the first two films supported the story) seemed to not support it. It’s almost as if you’re traveling in one direction and then turn dramatically in another direction. Instead of signaling and slowly making a turn, the Mockingjays seemed to have dramatically changed the pace of the overarching story in the final two films. While I get where things were going (big themes and questions about war, propaganda, and fighting); it just seemed a little out of place in Mockingjay considering where we as an audience came from in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.
I’m not going to say ‘don’t see it’, cause it’s definitely one of the biggest films of the year and if you’ve seen the other three then you have to see how it all ends. There is some spectacle in this film that is worth watching and the final third of the film does provide some dramatic moments for those that haven’t read the books. I will say just go into it wanting to be entertained. Like other cinematic bookends that have come before it (Return of the Jedi, The Dark Knight Rises, and even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), Mockingjay Part 2 is more of something you have to just see–not something you should be really excited to see.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is now playing in theaters everywhere.
3 of 5 stars // rated PG-13 // 2h 16m
After seeing him flex his broken arm to break off his cast in Furious 7, I’m really no longer sure what to make of Dwayne Johnson whenever I see him in a movie. It’s a bit like seeing a cartoon character like the Tasmanian Devil take the lead in The Day After Tomorrow.
Case in point, Johnson’s latest summer tentpole, San Andreas. Even the trailers were hard to take seriously. (And adding worse to wear, how the hell did Roland Emmerich NOT direct this movie?!) With special effects that look straight out of Adobe Photoshop, it’s difficult not to surmise that we were in some sort of strange holding pattern earlier this summer, just waiting for Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys. And Ant-Man. And in a car crash-kinda way, Fantastic Four.
The Big One hits California and everything falls apart. (Isn’t it odd how this summer movie season was pre-occupied with humanity’s extinction? Avengers? Mad Max? Tomorrowland? Not to mention that Terminator flick. The kids are gonna have nightmares about their mortality. Perhaps that’s the point? Make the world a better place while there’s still time? Man in the mirror?)
Dwayne Johnson plays a fire and rescue worker with one mission: to save his wife (Carla Gugino) and then his daughter (Alexandra Daddario). They all act properly panicked and anxiety ridden. Paul Giamatti is a scientist who predicts the giant earthquake and when he realizes how bad the devastation will be, someone asks him who they should call. The camera zooms in and with a straight face he says, “EVERYBODY!”
Yeah, it’s that kind of disaster flick. But the fault really isn’t in our stars for once. (Get it? San Andreas? Fault? Oh never mind.) Speaking of the fault itself, armchair scientists are going to have a field day spotting all the logistical inconsistencies and have the most fun doing it since Gravity. “Oh that couldn’t happen. Oh that couldn’t happen either!” Colton Haynes from Arrow, who was only in the first five minutes of this movie, showed up to the premiere in a completely pink suit. That happened. So really, who is to question what madness lies deep in the crevices of this production?
Surprisingly, for the mainland, there’s very little looting going on. Just one scene in a hick-ish town outside the urban proper. What’s really troubling is when an elderly couple on the side of the road with a broken axle yells at Johnson and Gugino to stop and pull over. They keep going and almost drive over a chasm. Only then do they turn back and offer their gratitude. But it works out for them because that elderly couple happens to own an aviation yard with one working plane.
Later the couple motor boat through the tsunami-ed waters of San Francisco. (I gave up counting when Johnson stole his third undamaged vehicle.) They see people drifting around in random boats and debris, but they keep going. In fact, the only time Johnson the professional rescue workers actually offers help is to yell a whole bunch of people to the safety of AT&T Park. But he probably only did that because wifey was gonna get smooshed by a falling building as well.
But one isn’t here to debate the morals of San Andreas. At least I hope not. That would result in a web article longer than what Chris Hemsworth is packing in the red band Vacation trailer.
Oddly, for once the 3-D here is surprisingly effective and present. Most often in simple scenes where actors are in both the foreground and the background, and especially during a canyon helicopter rescue that opens the movie. Oddly not so much when skyscrapers crumble, cable bridges twist and come undone, and helpless people get splatted by huge chunks of rubble. After Avengers (both of them), if you’ve seen one building crumble, you’ve seen them all crumble.
San Andreas made over $150 million dollars at the domestic box office. I feel like Paul Giamatti. Perhaps you will listen to my warnings and make the proper preparations to see Mad Max: Fury Road again. And who should you take with you? EVERYBODY!
San Andreas is now available to own on Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital download.