Arctic


The deadly desolation of the Arctic circle beckons a plane crash survivor.

(2018) Adventure (Bleecker Street) Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir. Directed by Joe Penna

 

There is something magnificent and terrifying about the polar wastes. It is awesome in its desolation and yet beautiful, the endless vista of snow, ice and rock outcrops. Little survives here but polar bears and fish.

Also, the occasional plane crash survivor. Overgård is the sole survivor of a light plane crash above the Arctic Circle. His plane is done for; one wing twisted and the nose blackened after an engine fire. He goes about the business of survival methodically, tending to the grave of the co-pilot who didn’t make it, scraping snow down to the base rock to spell out “SOS” and fishing through ice holes. From time to time he comes across polar bear tracks which cause him to scan the horizon nervously. He also tries to get his radio to work without any success so he essentially waits for someone to come and rescue him.

Eventually someone does but that ends up in catastrophe, the helicopter losing power and buffeted by polar winds and crashing to the snow. As in his situation, one of the pilots doesn’t make it. The other (Smáradóttir) is seriously injured, falling in and out of consciousness. Overgård tends to his new charge, trying to get her to eat the raw fish he is able to catch. He scavenges what supplies he can from the downed helicopter and comes to a decision; the girl won’t survive if he can’t get her to safety. He decides that he will leave the shelter of the plane where he might have been able to hold out for weeks and constructing a makeshift sled, determines to transfer her to a seasonal camp on the detailed map that he found in the copter.

That’s a far more dangerous thing to do than it sounds; the way is through a mountain range where the weather is even worse than on the plain. The footing can be treacherous and there are crevasses hidden from view that he can fall into. He is more exposed to the weather as well as to roving polar bears who are as likely to make a meal of him and his defenseless charge. Can he get her to safety or will they be just two more frozen bodies awaiting discovery in the Arctic?

First time feature director and YouTube veteran Penna crafts a pretty strong debut. The movie was filmed in Iceland and the natural surroundings are put to good use. While the desolation is well-represented, the peril of the Arctic really doesn’t come to the fore until the second half of the movie while Overgård is on the move. There are long stretches of time in between where there is little in the way of action but that doesn’t mean that the movie doesn’t carry its own fascination.

What this movie really has going for it is Mikkelsen. He has long been an actor who has always garnered my attention and he rarely delivers anything less than a solid performance. He does much better than that here, showing alternately quiet resolve and overwhelming despair. His character’s name is a bit of a giveaway; Overgård guards over his patient. There are also other unexpected Easter eggs in the film; I’ll leave it to you to find them.

This is not as compelling a film as it might have been. While I think it is a good idea that Penna doesn’t reveal too much about the characters or the circumstances focusing entirely on the survival aspect, there are times it feels like we’re watching parts of movies we’ve already seen. Some of the mechanics of survival become a little bit overdone; while I understand that the fishing lines are necessary, we don’t need to see him checking them as much as we do. A little cinematic shorthand might have been nice.

In some ways it might have been better had this movie come out later in the year. Mikkelsen’s performance might have had an outside shot at Oscar consideration then; in February he has virtually no chance barring an aggressive marketing campaign by Bleecker Street. However, seeing as many of us are in Oscar mode with the ceremony coming up the weekend this is being released in Orlando, it might get some folks who love great performances to check this out. However, some readers in Northern climes may not be too eager to see a movie given the recent Polar Vortex that reminds them of the weather outside their door.

REASONS TO SEE: Mikkelsen doesn’t need dialogue to deliver a scintillating performance.
REASONS TO AVOID: There are stretches where the film feels like it’s caught up in itself.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as a couple of bloody images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The picture on Overgård’s ID badge is the same one that was used for Mikkelsen to show a younger Hannibal Lecter in the TV show Hannibal.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/23/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Grey
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
We Are the Heat

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Iron Brothers


Winter is coming and the Iron brothers are running!

(2018) Western (Random) Tate Smith, Porter Smith, Talon Teton, Trevor Beasley, Richard Dean, Luke Kalmar, Ernest Appenay, Terrence Appenay, Walton Appenay, Bryson Appenay, Kalen “Broken Arrow” Hammond, Stephen Barrus, Troy Moss. Directed by Josh and Tate Smith

 

The old West was a harsh mistress. Unforgiving landscapes of mountain, prairie and desert tested the limits of endurance; outlaws were a further issue. Mistrust between natives and white settlers added yet another dimension of danger. Those who hoped to survive had to be as tough as nails..as strong as iron.

The Iron brothers Abel (Tate Smith) and Henry (Porter Smith) Iron were fur trappers in the Rocky Mountain lowlands of the early 1850s. It is not a good time to be fur trappers; beaver has fallen out of favor as a fashion accouterments and the price for pelts has fallen starkly. Beavers themselves have gotten more and more scarce, as Abel who does most of the capturing of beaver can attest. Henry, the younger, does most of the negotiating (mainly with Randal (Kalmar) who has been their buyer for years) which isn’t really a good fit with his hotheaded temperament.

That hotheaded temperament led to their predicament; while Abel was out fur trapping he ran into some Shoshone natives out hunting and a misunderstanding led to the death of one of the Shoshone. As that was going on, Henry had taken some of their pelts to sell to Randal; when he gave him a substandard offer, Henry lost his temper and leads to a violent encounter. Randal’s associates managed to shoot out Henry’s horse (the only one the two brothers owned.

Henry managed to evade the two gunmen and make it home. When Abel arrived he made it clear they would have to leave their cabin and head west to California. It was the onset of winter and in a matter of days the weather would turn nasty and with no horse the two men had little chance to make it out but their chances of remaining alive if they stayed home were even worse. They will be chased by both the Shoshone and Randal’s associates who mean to do them in – if the winter weather doesn’t kill them first. Their bond will need to remain strong in order for both of them to survive.

This is a beautiful looking movie that captures the majesty and desolation of the Rocky Mountains in winter. Cinematographer Josh Smith uses a variety of cranes, handheld cameras, lenses and angles to make the background more interesting. This is a double-edged sword; for one thing, the magnificent scenery doesn’t really need it and at times he gets a bit carried away; some two-person conversations have as many as six different angles which became distracting.

The movie needs it unfortunately; although the condensed plot may sound pretty action-packed and fascinating on paper, the movie is edited for a more epic scope which gives it a sprawling feel but without the onscreen energy and action to justify it. Don’t get me wrong; Westerns should have an epic feel. They also require a certain amount of conflict and onscreen drama and there isn’t as much of that as there should be. The fights with the Shoshone are curiously restrained as if the hearts of the actors weren’t in it. That can be problematic especially for low-budget productions when the inexperienced actors all know each other.

It looks like most of the Native American roles were portrayed by Native Americans which is admirable, particularly in a low-budget indie film. Big budget Hollywood movies should take that page out of the Smith brothers book. However, one thing the brothers could have done better was the dialogue; there are a few words and phrases that they use (like “let’s do this”) that were not in vogue in the mid-19th century and when they’re uttered here it takes you right out of the movie.

However, the better aspects of the production do slightly outweigh the lesser ones and the movie is gorgeous to watch. Western fans, who are pretty much starved for content these days, should check this one out. Those who love the Rockies might also make an effort to give this a look.

REASONS TO GO: The cinematography captures some beautiful but desolate winter mountain landscapes. They cast native Americans in native American roles.
REASONS TO STAY: The pace is extremely slow-moving. Some of the dialogue is a bit anachronistic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence and a little bit of gore
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was a Smith family affair, with brothers Josh, Tate and Porter Smith involved both behind and in fron of the camera, sister Janelle doing costuming and father David producing.
BEYOND THE THEATERS:  Amazon, Google Play, iTunes
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/29/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Searchers
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Bennett’s Song

Daddy’s Home 2


A boy’s night out isn’t necessarily meant for all boys.

(2017) Comedy (Paramount) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow, Linda Cardellini, Alessandra Ambrosio, Owen Wilder Vaccaro, Scarlett Estevez, Didi Costine, John Cena, Andrea Anders, Kyle Tristan Wakefield, Hector Presedo, Yamilah Sarivong, Daniel DiMaggio, Matthew Delameter, Yimmy Yim, Bill Mootos, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, Sylvia Barjolo. Directed by Sean Anders

 

In our modern age, children often have more than one father or more than one mother (and occasionally both). Marriages don’t last a lifetime as they did back in the day. Sometimes having more than one pair of hands can be helpful. More often though things just get confused.

Co-Dads Brad (Ferrell) and Dusty (Wahlberg) have patched up their differences and are humming along as a unit; Dusty has found his inner touchy-feely guy and Brad is still dangerous around power tools. Christmas is coming and rather than bounce from house to house, the two have decided to have one massive Christmas celebration, a “together Christmas.” The prospect is exciting but for the advent of…the granddaddies.

Dusty’s dad Kurt (Gibson) is a womanizing ex-astronaut who looks at his son’s new-found soft side about the same way a steak lover would look at maggots in his filet. He is convinced that Brad is emasculating his son and seeks to drive a wedge between the two of them. At the same time Brad’s dad Don (Lithgow) has arrived with his love of improv comedy and enough hugs to give Richard Simmons diabetes.

With the kids undergoing crises of their own and Sara (Cardellini) – Dusty’s ex and Brad’s current wife – showing justifiable jealousy over Dusty’s new girlfriend, the extremely sensuous best-selling author Karen (Ambrosio) and this family is a Christmas meltdown waiting to happen.

Like the first film, the comedy is strictly hit or miss with the edge going towards the latter. However, the sequences that work will induce plenty of laugh-out-loud guffaws in all but the most jaded of audiences. However, most audiences will also experience extended sequences of dead silence, possibly punctuated by an occasional groan or eye-roll.

The chemistry between Ferrell and Wahlberg remains pretty strong; adding the two veterans Gibson and Lithgow to the mix doesn’t appear to affect it much. Lithgow however is in top form, hitting a comedic stride that actors who specialize in comedic roles might envy. I found myself grinning every time Lithgow was onscreen; even though Don is a bit of a one-note character, Lithgow keeps that note fresh and sounding clear as a bell throughout.

Some critics have expressed absolute disgust that Gibson was cast at all. I have three words for them; Let. It. Go. You’re talking about events that happened 20 years ago when Gibson was a raging alcoholic. Yes, I get that he said some absolutely detestable things but his career was effectively derailed and by all accounts he’s sober at the moment. Do people have to pay for their mistakes the rest of their lives or do we forgive them and move on at some point?

The subplots involving the children seem to be aimed at an entirely different audience and the movie could have easily done without them. And not for nothing but the juvenile actors here give performances that can only be deemed as “excruciating.”

It also should be said that none of the women in the film – and there aren’t many – have any character development to speak of. All of that is reserved for the men. Make of that what you will but personally think the filmmakers could have spared a little bit of time to allow us to get to know Karen and Sara a little better.

Mainly this is adults behaving badly and at times the film descends into shtick and cliché. There are enough funny moments to balance that out for the most part but generally speaking, Daddy’s Home 2 left me with absolutely no desire to check out a third film. I suspect I’m not alone in that regard.

REASONS TO GO: Lithgow is hysterically funny here. There are some pretty decent laughs here and there.
REASONS TO STAY: None of the female characters are developed at all. The kids are extremely annoying.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity and some sexually suggestive material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Gibson plays Wahlberg’s father in the film, in reality Gibson is only 15 years older than his onscreen son.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/16/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 19% positive reviews. Metacritic: 30/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Daddy Day Camp
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Small Crimes

God Knows Where I Am


Some of the beautiful imagery used in the film.

(2016) Documentary (BOND360) Joan Bishop, Lori Singer (voice), Caitlin Murtagh, Kathy White, Brian Smith, Matthew Nelson, Doug Bixby, Lora Goss, Wayne DiGeronimo, Stephanie Savard, Judith E. Kolada, Paul Appelbaum, Kevin Carbone, James E. Duggan, Thomas Scarlato, E. Fuller Torrey, Jennie Duval. Directed by Jedd Wider and Todd Wider

 

In 2008, the decomposing body of a woman was discovered in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse. Her shoes were neatly at her side. Nearby two notebooks full of journal entries told the tale of her stay in the farmhouse. She was identified as Linda Bishop, a woman diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder who had walked out of a New Hampshire mental hospital and walked to the farmhouse where she would die of starvation.

This film by veteran documentary producers Jedd and Todd Wider, a brother team best known for their work with Alex Gibney, utilized Bishop’s own words from her journals (spoken by actress Lori Singer) as well as interviews with her sister Joan, her daughter Caitlin, her close friend Kathy as well as psychiatric and medical professionals that treated her, the police officer and medical examiner working her case as well as the Judge who committed her.

The Wider brothers choose to build a story, slowly adding details that complete the picture. We meet Linda as a young woman, charismatic and full of life. We discover her love for the outdoors and nature, and discover that she’s smart, articulate and knowledgeable about the world around her. She gets married, has a daughter, gets divorced but is by all accounts a wonderful mother who is virtually inseparable from her daughter who adores her.

And then the mental illness begins to rear its ugly head. A job as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant is quit because she believes the Chinese mafia is out to get her. This prompts the first of several relocations with her puzzled daughter. Soon it becomes apparent that Linda is incapable of caring for herself, much less her daughter. Caitlin is sent to live with relatives and Linda alternates between lucidity and delusion, depending on how vigilant she is in taking her medication. The problem is that Linda doesn’t believe that she’s ill; as her paranoia deepens, she begins to believe that Joan, one of the last advocates that she has, is out to get her pittance of an inheritance left to her when her dad had passed away. For that reason, Linda refuses to allow Joan power of guardianship, a crucial event which essentially blocks Linda and the rest of the family from getting much of any information about Linda’s care and treatment at all. They aren’t even notified when she’s released. As a result, nobody notices she’s gone while she’s slowly wasting away on a diet mainly of apples she’s picked in the woods and rain water. By that time, Linda had alienated her daughter and her own friends. Only Joan still stood by her and one gets the sense that it was a burden for her.

The movie originated in a story in The New Yorker written by Rachel Aviv who is a producer on the documentary. It is a poignant tale and for the most part it is told well here. The filmmakers for some reason decide to leave some crucial information out – doubtlessly to make it more impactful when it is revealed near the very end of the movie – but I don’t think they’re successful in that matter. We mostly can guess who “Steve” is and his role in the story and as he s mentioned many, many times in Linda’s journal, it gets a bit frustrating.

The cinematography here is absolutely breathtaking. Gerardo Puglia fills the screen with bucolic farmhouses, still winter landscapes and beautifully lit apple trees at sunset. Singer who most will remember from the 1984 version of Footloose reads Bishop’s words with extraordinary depth and even the thick New England landscape does nothing to rob Bishop of her character.

The title is an ironic one; it is taken directly from Linda’s journals in which it is used as an expression of faith. Linda knows that God is aware of her; He knows where she is and will take care of her in the end. However, it can also be construed to be an expression of being lost and there are few souls who were more lost than Linda Bishop was.

The filmmakers very much believe that the mental health care system in this country is badly broken and in all honesty it’s hard to argue with them. In our zeal to protect the rights of the patient we sometimes forget that they often are unable to make informed decisions on their own. The tale of Linda Bishop is a sad one; even in her last days she had a sense of humor and a bluntness that is refreshing and one can only wonder what she would have been like had she continued to take her meds. There’s one certain thing she would have been had she done so – alive.

REASONS TO GO: The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. The story is truly heartbreaking.
REASONS TO STAY: The identity of Steve, who is mentioned throughout, is withheld until the very end which gets frustrating.
FAMILY VALUES: The theme, having to do with mental illness, is adult.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won a special jury award at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto last year.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/30/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Devil and Daniel Johnston
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: For Here or to Go?

Der Bunker


Bad haircuts never go out of style.

Bad haircuts never go out of style.

(2015) Something Else (Arsploitation) Pit Bukowski, Daniel Fripan, Oona von Maydell, David Scheller. Directed by Nikias Chryssos

 

We see the world through a lens of normality; we have expectations of what people’s lives should look like and then we figure they’ll conform to them. But that conformity is a lie; it’s not always the case. Sometimes what’s just below the surface is twisted enough to make us grow pale.

A young German student (Bukowski) – and that’s all the name he gets, folks – trudges through the snow in the woods to an underground bunker. There he is greeted by the owner who is known only as Father (Scheller), his comely wife Mother (Maydell) and their somewhat unusual son Klaus (Fripan) who is a 30 year old man with a bowl haircut who acts like an 8-year-old and is sure he’s going to be the President of the United States – even though he’s German.

The boy is being homeschooled but it turns out that he is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Father has been handling the teaching duties but he hasn’t made much of an impression despite his rather severe methods, so Student is enlisted to teach the boy. At first he doesn’t make much headway but when he discovers that Klaus seems to respond to pain things begin to get better.

Mother has been putting the moves on Student in the meantime, something he’s not altogether opposed to, but when he discovers that she is breastfeeding Klaus, alarm bells begin to go off. That and Father’s bizarre joke night where he tells jokes dressed as a mime, and then discusses them existentially. Father also seems to be a bit of a tyrant, counting every dumpling eaten and every napkin used and keeping a running tally.

But things really get odd when the Student discovers an open wound on Mother’s leg that has been infested by an alien named Heinrich who apparently is controlling Mother and the entire family. She is loathe to let Klaus grow up and leave; and now, it appears she has designs on keeping the Student around as well. Can he escape from this madhouse?

Chryssos directs and writes this and he’s drawing comparisons to John Waters and David Lynch and from the standpoint that this is a quirky cult film-type, the comparison isn’t wrong. Fans of those two worthies (and others along the same lines) will likely dig the very oddball world that Chryssos delivers here.

He uses color in a very unusual way, shooting through red filters as the story draws to a climax. Everything from Klaus’ bizarre wardrobe and Father’s tacky sweaters seems deliberately chosen for texture and color. Only Mother and Student are dressed rather blandly most of the time (and Mother is undressed quite a bit). The bunker itself is unremarkable although it seems a bit less spartan than the other onscreen bunker homes I’ve seen. Perhaps that is a European thing.

The performances are actually pretty good, and considering there are only four people in the film, there really isn’t anywhere to hide. Von Maydell has a thankless task playing a controlling woman yet making her sympathetic, while Fripan as the man-boy Klaus has the weirdest role of all and pulls it off without making it a caricature.

This is really not a movie for everybody. While some have marked it as a horror film (and several horror websites have given the film some coverage), it is more of a cult film. Yes there are aliens but they are never seen; for all we know they could manifest inside Mother’s head alone. However, the constant barrage of weirdness and the skewed point of view may be off-putting to those who are uncomfortable with the bizarre. For my taste, this is something you might have seen back in the days of the Weimar Republic only with a kind of Russ Meyers edge, along with the filmmakers I’ve already mentioned. This is a strange one, but if you like strange, you’re gonna like this.

WHY RENT THIS: It’s weird but in a good way.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This might be a little more twisted and out there than mainstream audiences are comfortable with.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sexual situations and plenty of nudity as well as some violence and a fair amount of corporal punishment.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Made it’s debut in 2015 at Austin’s venerated Fantastic Fest.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.
SITES TO SEE: Vimeo
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Borgman
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Wiener-Dog

Bunny the Killer Thing


That rabbit is dynamite!

That rabbit is dynamite!

(2015) Horror Comedy (Artsploitation) Hiski Hämäläinen, Enni Ojutkangas, Veera W. Vilo, Jari Manninen, Katja Jaskari, Roope Olenius, Olli Saarenpää, Vincent Tsang, Orwi Imanuel Ameh, Marcus Massey, Gareth Lawrence, Henry Saari, Juha-Matti Halonen, Annilina Koivisto, Matti Kiviniemi, Päivi Komulainen-Vuoti, Maria Kunnari, Erno Michelsson, Marko Moilanen. Directed by Joonas Makkonen

What would you say to a six and a half foot tall rabbit-man hybrid with an 18” penis and a raging libido? Pretty much anything it wanted to hear, no doubt. Dr. Moreau ain’t got nothin’ on this.

In the mountains of Finland, a mad scientist has injected a strange fluid into a writer who escapes into the woods, mutating into something hideous. Not long afterwards a group of Finn friends head out for a vacation mainly of sex, centered around fashion designer Emma (Jaskari), her friends Sara (Ojutkangas) and Nina (Vilo), their erstwhile boyfriends Tuomas (Hämäläinen), Jari (Olenius) and Mise (Manninen) and stowaway younger brother Jesse (Saarenpää) who has an outrageous libido and a massive crush on Emma.

=Along the way they pick up a trio of Brits – Lucas (Massey), Vincent (Tsang) and Tim (Ameh) who were stranded alongside the road. They head to the group’s rented cabin (complete with sauna, a must for Finns) and get down to partying, Finnish style. Vincent and Sara develop a bit of a thing, although it is derailed due to acute alcohol poisoning.

In the meantime, the giant Bunny is hell-bent on crashing the party in its ongoing pursuit of pussy, which is essentially the only word it knows. It will rape anything with a vagina; in fact, even a drawing of one will do. Or an eye socket. Or a gaping wound that resembles one. Any hole will do. I’m sure the knotholes of the forest were in danger.

Based on an earlier short film, this is earmarked for cult status. A goofy hybrid of The Human Centipede, The Island of Dr. Moreau and Dead Snow, there is a wacky over-the-top vibe here that isn’t so much as endearing as just pure fun. Now using the term “fun” in a movie in which rape is so much a part of the plotline may get me criticized in some quarters; this is not in any way to trivialize the crime of rape any more than a comedy set in the Civil War era is meant to trivialize slavery and racism. Very little of the rapes are actually seen onscreen and because the rapist is basically a visible Harvey who likes to swing is penis around like a lasso, the ridiculousness of the situation mitigates things a bit. However, those who are survivors of rape should only view this if they have a great big sense of humor about it.

The creature effects are, I think, deliberately cheesy and the gore, while plentiful, tends to be also a little bit on the “oh no you didn’t” variety. Don’t expect a whole lot in the way of character development and backstory – we never really get a coherent explanation as to how the transformation takes place or why – but to be honest, that’s fine with me. This is meant to be a twisted creature feature and the filmmakers seem content with essentially taking a bunch of beautiful, sexy women and a group of guys who are in no way shape or form in their league and throwing a monster into the mix. There’s mayhem and chaos in goodly amounts and the squeamish need not even think about this one.

It takes a little while to get going but once it does, it’s a roller coaster ride of bizarre insight into the male libido, a hoot and a holler creature feature from the 90s and a Rocky Horror-like cult film. This isn’t going to grow on everybody and some will find it truly offensive but for those of us who are able to get around the films flaws (some of which are, I believe, deliberate) then this might well be one of those midnight movies that you’ll want to view again and again and turn your friends onto.

REASONS TO GO: A cult classic in the making. Over-the-top in a good way.
REASONS TO STAY: The sexuality may be a bit much for more reserved American audiences. Some of the effects are of the bargain basement variety.
FAMILY VALUES: Given the plot description above, you can expect (and will receive) plenty of graphic violence and gore, graphic nudity and sexual situations, scenes depicting rape, a crapload of profanity and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally based on a short film by Makkonen made in 2011. He’d wanted original actor Tuomas Massa to return to the feature film but Massa was unable to do so. The character was renamed Tuomas in honor of the actor.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/30/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Human Centipede
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Marguerite

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