Ice on Fire


The sun is setting on our window of opportunity to reverse climate change.

(2019) Documentary (HBO) Leonardo DiCaprio (narrator), Jennifer Frances Morse, Patricia Lang, Pieter Tang, Thom Hartmann, David Yacopian, Michael Mann, Jim White, Peter Wadhams, Janine Benyus, Ottmar Edenholer, Brigitte Knopf, Jürgen Meinholt, Pavel Serov, Jan Wurzbager, Christof Gebald, Daniel Nocera, James Murray, Neil Kermode, Ietef Vita. Directed by Leila Conners

 

Climate change exists; despite the denials of politicians, the petroleum and natural gas industries and others with a vested interest in the status quo, climate change is fact. Climate change documentaries also exist, and have been growing rapidly in number and more strident in tone.

This new HBO documentary which debuted on the cable giant this week pulls no punches. Narrated by actor and environmental activist DiCaprio, the move globe-hops from Norway to California to Colorado to Iceland and all over the world, examining the effects of the polar ice caps melting and how dire the situation has truly become. Many climate scientists have been stunned at how quickly the dominos have begun to fall and several tipping points have already been reached – and exceeded.

Conners gives the film over to those self-same scientists who explain the science of how greenhouse gasses have affected the planet. These scientists are not meant to be entertaining and their explanations can be dry and hard to fathom particularly since so much information is being downloaded into our brains here. But unlike other documentaries, this film isn’t a doom and gloom downer in which only the consequences of our inaction are decried. Conners and DiCaprio take great pains to show solutions that are already underway. The hopeful news is that we have the technology right now to turn around and even reverse climate changes by cleaning up our atmospheres and healing our oceans.

We are shown the Harvard researcher who has created the “artificial leaf,” a means of using photosynthesis to remove carbon from the atmosphere and the Connecticut fisherman who has helped nurture a new kelp bed near the Thimble Islands, bringing life back to overfished waters. We are also shown machines in Iceland that use geothermal energy to power a carbon capture machine that converts the carbon into rocks which are then buried; other carbon capture machines route them into greenhouses where it is used to grow food which we then consume. There’s also the researcher seeding the ocean with microscopic particles of iron which makes the ocean less acidic, becoming a magnet for microbial life which reasserts the oceanic food chain.

The film over-relies on graphics to help make their points. It’s not that graphics aren’t useful but over the course of the movie they become distracting, whether they are showing how CO2 particles are trapped by carbon capture machines, or show graphs of the release of methane into the atmosphere over time.

Also, I suspect this movie will end up preaching to the choir and little more. Unlike Wonders of the Sea which had an iconic Republican associated with it and thus might attract some who ordinarily wouldn’t have been drawn to a documentary of that nature, Leonardo DiCaprio is regarded as a leftie Hollywood snowflake who is not to be trusted. The dry scientific commentary and doom and gloom prognostications early on are also certain to get people to change channels before they can get to the meat of the movie.

There is little doubt that our planet is in grave peril and saving it needs to be a priority. While the United States continues to behave as if short term profit is more important (one could say “trumps”) than long-term survival, other nations are beginning to take the bull by the horns. We are still a long way away from being out of the woods but we can get there if we have the will. We could be the generation that saves the planet – or we can be the generation that through our inaction renders it lifeless. The choice is ours.

REASONS TO SEE: The film ends on a hopeful note. There is a lot of good information here.
REASONS TO AVOID: The graphics are overused and distracting. Mind-numbing in its presentation.
FAMILY VALUES: Children might find this overwhelming.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made its debut at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
BEYOND THE THEATER: HBO Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/15/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chasing Ice
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Back to the Fatherland

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The Revenant (2015)


Leo in the wilderness.

Leo in the wilderness.

(2015) Western (20th Century Fox) Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner, Joshua Burge, Duane Howard, Melaw Nakehk’o, Fabrice Adde, Arthur RedCloud, Christopher Rosamond, Robert Moloney, Lukas Haas, Brendan Fletcher, Tyson Wood, McCaleb Burnett, Grace Dove. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Nature has a way of reducing us to our primal, primordial selves. Life becomes reduced to a single choice; survive or die. There is nothing complex about it – but nothing simple either.

Loosely based on an actual incident, the story is about Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), an explorer and trapper in the 1820s American frontier who is leading a party of trappers set upon by the Pawnee, who erroneously believe they kidnapped one of their women. The Americans, under the command of the dauntless Captain Andrew Henry (Gleeson) are forced to stash their hard-won pelts and flee, led by Glass and his compatriot John Fitzgerald (Hardy). When Glass is attacked by a bear and gravely injured and the Pawnee hard on their trail, Captain Henry is forced to leave him under the care of three men, including Fitzgerald, young Bridger (Poulter) and Glass’ son Hawk (Goodluck), who is half-Native American. Glass’ wife (Dove) had been killed by soldiers a few years earlier.

However, the cowardly Fitzgerald, thinking that Glass is a goner for sure, decides to bury him prematurely while Bridger is away. Hawk discovers him and tries to fight him off but gets stabbed to death for his trouble. Fitzgerald quickly buries Hawk and then convinces Bridger that the Pawnee are almost upon them, and throws Glass into a shallow grave, still alive. Bridger reluctantly agrees but his conscience is absolutely bothering him.

The trouble is, Glass is not quite dead yet. And having witnessed his son’s murder, he is full on with a thirst for revenge. The trouble is, he is hundreds of miles away from anything and anyone and he can barely walk. It is the middle of winter and his chances of survival are nearly nil, but never count out the human spirit – and the thirst for vengeance.

This is one of the most beautifully shot films you’re likely to see. In my admittedly inexpert opinion cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is far and away the Oscar favorite and this has been a superb year for cinematographers. It is bleak and cold, but there is so much beauty. The shots are carefully constructed to frame the action but at the same time look like works of art, with the trees and the sky and the snow all combining to bring the audience into the frame. I couldn’t help but shiver at times.

DiCaprio was nominated for the Golden Globe for his work here and also has been nominated for an Oscar which are a few weeks away as of this writing and while his performance isn’t my favorite of the year, it was certainly worthy of the nominations and has a good shot at winning the statuette, Eddie Redmayne notwithstanding. He doesn’t have a whole lot of dialogue here and has to communicate much of his performance through wild looks, spittle blown out of his mouth and wordless screams. As elegant as Redmayne’s also-Oscar worthy performance was, this is primal and raw, a caveman to the sophisticate of Redmayne. It is rare to see such diversity of styles in a single nominated group and I don’t envy the Academy voters their task to pick just one winner.

Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto provided the minimalist score which often was comprised of found sounds, both natural and man-made. The composers also knew when silence would be more effective; the entire bear attack scene had no music other than DiCaprio’s agonized screams and the bear’s grunts and groans. As that scene almost has to be the most effective in the movie in order for the film to work, Iñárritu made some wise choices in setting up and executing not only the action (the bear was CGI from what I understand and quite frankly I couldn’t tell) but also in how that action was framed.

Iñárritu is a bit of a mystic and some of the scenes have that sense, almost like Carlos Castaneda translated to celluloid. He captures the brutality of life on the frontier almost too well; at times the intensity and the starkness is hard to watch. More sensitive viewers may find the film too grim for their liking. While this isn’t my favorite movie in the director’s filmography, it may well be his best in many ways but for reasons that may well be personal (I was literally exhausted while I was watching it after a sleepless night the evening before) it didn’t connect to me the way his other works have. In my case, this is a film that I admire more than I love, but that doesn’t mean you won’t love it. This is certainly when all is said and done essential viewing if you intend to capture the very best of 2015.

REASONS TO GO: An amazing technical achievement. One of DiCaprio’s finest performances of his career. Realistic almost to a fault.
REASONS TO STAY: Not for everybody; grim, relentless and sometimes too intense for some.
FAMILY VALUES: Along with frontier violence and some gory images, there’s also a scene of sexual assault, brief nudity and some foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: DiCaprio, a vegetarian, at an actual raw buffalo liver in the scene that called for it.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/20/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Man Called Horse
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: Road to Nowhere

New Releases for the Week of January 8, 2016


The RevenantTHE REVENANT

(20th Century Fox) Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner, Joshua Burge. Directed by Alejandro González Iňárritu

Hugh Glass, a legendary explorer of the American frontier, is attacked by a bear and left for dead by his own hunting party. Betrayed by his closest friend, Glass endures incredible odds to recover from his injuries, survive harsh elements and gain vengeance for unendurable grief and pain. The movie opened for an Oscar qualifying run and has garnered laudatory reviews and huge buzz. It’s definitely the movie to see this week.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Western
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity)

Carol

(Weinstein) Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler. Based on a Patricia Highsmith novel (and said to be auto-biographical), a married woman in the 1950s New York who is trapped in a loveless marriage of convenience falls for an ambitious dreamer of a store clerk. The two embark on an affair in an era when sexual relations between two women was taboo. When the husband discovers her infidelity, the wife is torn between her children and family and a life unfulfilling to her and rebelling against society’s norms to live the life she wants.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Winter Park Village, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: R (for a scene of sexuality/nudity and brief language)

The Forest

(Gramercy) Natalie Dormer, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt, Noriko Sakura. An American woman journeys to Tokyo to find her twin sister who had ventured into the Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji and disappeared. She discovers that the forest is notorious for being a place where people commit suicide and their angry and tormented souls haunt the forest. She will have to fight these spirits and the darkness within her to learn the fate of her sister – and survive her own trip into the forest.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing thematic content and images)

The Masked Saint

(Freestyle) Brett Granstaff, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Diahann Carroll, Roddy Piper. A former professional wrestler discovers a different calling and retires from the ring to become a small town pastor. However, he finds his flock gripped in the vise of poverty and crime. Donning a mask, he moonlights as a costumed vigilante while trying to evade police and criminals both while reconciling his violent alter ego with his standing as a pastor and family man. Apparently, this is based on a true story.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, UA Seminole Towne Center

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and thematic elements)

Wazir

(Reliance) Amitabh Bachchan, Farhan Akhtar, Aditi Rao Hydari, John Abraham. Two unlikely friends – one a wheelchair-bound chess grandmaster, the other a fearless police officer – are brought together by mutual grief. The two decide to aid one another in a cat and mouse game against a ruthless opponent lurking in the shadows who seeks to raise the stakes to the ultimate.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Mystery
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Gangs of New York


Gangs of New York

A more dapper group of gents you will never meet.

(2002) Historical Drama (Miramax) Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Lewis, Stephen Graham, Eddie Marsan, David Hemmings, Cara Seymour. Directed by Martin Scorsese

 

It’s a myth that immigrants have always been welcomed to America with open arms. Immigrants have all too often been sneered at, spat upon and been the victims of violence. Still, nobody can argue that immigrants were the bricks that built America. Every European-descended American citizen has an immigrant somewhere in their family tree. Gangs of New York is a story of some of those who built modern America, and it isn’t pretty.

In the mid-1800s, Priest Vallon (Neeson) wants his Irish comrades in the Five Points section of New York to be left alone. He wants freedom from the harassment of the Nativists, led by “Butcher” Bill Cutting (Day-Lewis). The two warring factions decide to settle their differences the old-fashioned way — on the field of battle.

Vallon is backed by his lieutenant, Happy Jack (Reilly) and the mercenary Monk McGinn (Gleeson) who fight passionately but to no avail – the Nativists carry the day after Cutting cuts down the Priest. Vallon’s son is taken away to Hellgate to be raised as an orphan.

Forward to 1862. The Civil War is in full fury, and the word of the day is conscription. Irish immigrants continue to pour into New York, at a rate of 15,000 a week; ongoing for the 15 years since the potato famine of Black ’47. The son of Vallon, Amsterdam (DiCaprio) has grown to manhood and intends to infiltrate Butcher Bill’s gang, and then strike at his father’s killer when the time is right. Amsterdam meets a thief and cutpurse, Jenny Everdeane (Diaz) from whom he initially recoils, but the two fall deeply in love true to Hollywood form.

Cutting has made an alliance with Boss Tweed (Broadbent) of Tammany Hall to deliver crucial votes in the upcoming election in exchange for political protection. However, the coming conscription is making everyone uneasy. Many don’t want to fight for the rights of blacks, who are despised nearly as much as the Irish.

Still, Amsterdam quickly becomes one of Butcher Bill’s best men, and the gang leader takes a liking to the young man, in almost a father-son relationship. Eventually, he discovers the true identity of Amsterdam and all hell breaks loose, leading to a confrontation. Unfortunately, the two leaders pick a bad day for a fight – a riot has broken over the conscription act, and federal troops move in. A fight for survival becomes even more harrowing.

Director Martin Scorsese does an incredible job of evoking 1862 New York City. He establishes a realistic depiction, down to the language and idioms of the dialogue. The costumes, the sets, all reek of authenticity. Of course, there is a great deal of violence, which is to be expected. There is also a surprising amount of nudity, particularly in the bordellos where some of the movie is takes place.

The cast is marvelous. Daniel Day-Lewis gives his most electrifying performance since The Last of the Mohicans and one of his finest ever, pointing out what a shame it is he doesn’t do more movies. DiCaprio doesn’t have to carry this movie due to Day-Lewis’ presence and as a result delivers a more relaxed performance, paving the way for a long association between him and Scorsese. Reilly, Broadbent, Gleeson and Henry Thomas (as a friend of Amsterdam’s) all do solid work.

The problem here is the love story. It’s extraneous, and detracts from the movie overall. The Jenny Everdeane character exists only to be DiCaprio’s love interest, and doesn’t contribute much to the story. It’s billed as a love triangle, but the movie would have worked just as well, if not better, without it. Some of the 2-hour, 46-minute run time could easily have been excised.

Martin Scorsese is considered by some to be the greatest American film director of all time, and Gangs of New York does nothing to diminish that claim; in fact, over the years it’s become a movie that many consider to be one of his finest – certainly it stands up well with some of his better-known movies like Taxi Driver and The Departed. It’s an amazing epic that never averts its eyes from the seamier sides of the story, but refuses to wallow in them either.

WHY RENT THIS: Amazing performance by Day-Lewis. Perfect capture of an era long gone. One of Scorsese’s finest and that’s saying quite a lot.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A superfluous love triangle. Runs a little bit too long.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a whole lot of violence, some of it quite graphic. There’s also some sexuality and a surfeit of nudity, along with a few curse words.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The sets of old New York were actually built on the lot at Cinecitta studios in Rome. George Lucas visited the set during filming and reportedly said to Scorsese “You know, sets like that can be done with computers now.”

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There’s a 30-minute Discovery Channel documentary on the real gangs of New York, a U2 music video, a featurette on the Five Points area where the filmwas set, and a featurette on the immense sets at Cinecitta with Scorsese conducting a personal tour of the sets and relating stories from the production.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $193.8M on a $100M production budget; the film was just shy of breaking even during it’s theatrical run, although it almost certainly turned a profit on it’s home video release.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: Arbitrage