Reverence for The Revenant

The Revenant_04

Oh, how I wish I could have gone into The Revenant completely cold, knowing nothing other than it was Inarritu and DiCaprio.  Curiously the film suffers from following an amazing, shrewdly edited trailer that promised uncompromised tension as DiCaprio fights for survival across dreadfully gorgeous cinemascope-worthy mountainous winter landscapes photographed in otherworldly fashion by the king of pretty “sunlight through trees” cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki.  What if I hadn’t known that epic bear attack was coming?  What if I hadn’t known Tom Hardy was going to murder (wait, does everyone know this yet?).  What if…what if…what a shock the film would’ve been had I not already known its moves.

Bu the trailer and its subsequent building buzz hit perfectly on everything:

  • This was loosely (very loosely) based on a harrowing true tale that became a book.
  • DiCaprio gets viciously mauled by a bear (in fact, gets his throat almost ripped out and spends the rest of the film in sparse, pained speech when not completely silent or gurgling blood) and left for dead.
  • Mother Nature is both heartless and beautiful.
  • Tom Hardy (sporting his own unique growling speech and interesting accent) is gonna get his.

Despite being in awe of the craftsmanship and audacity of its scope, watching the film seemed stripped of any suspense.  You feel like you’re going through the motions even though it’s utterly captivating from a visual sense.  Continue reading

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All is Lost but What Does it Mean?

All is Lost

Are filmmakers trying to tell us something important?  Here in 2013, is another film, this one from J. C. Chandor (who helmed the uber-relevant Margin Call), that when boiled down to its marrow (and trust me, this is one of the most boiled down films of recent memory) is essentially a “One Person Survival Tale Against All Odds.”  As if Cuaron’s epic cosmic odyssey of survival and rebirth in Gravity wasn’t enough…or we weren’t sufficiently bored by Captain Phillips (seriously, what was the point of that film other than for Tom Hanks to break down and cry for an Oscar again?)…or Solomon Northup’s harrowing true life story in 12 Years a Slave wasn’t adequately profound…here comes the minimalist to the point of banality All is Lost.  Is this trend (whose current incarnation actually stretches back to 2012 with The Grey and Life of Pi on opposite ends of the survivalist spectrum), which has admittedly seen some amazing highs, lending itself to some poignant commentary on the state of the world today?  Or is it all just a bunch of pseudo-philosophical-political-societal-mirror-holding hogwash, some of which has been better packaged than others?  And to be fair, though a survival tale, the historical and essential 12 Years a Slave should not be to be held to this type of reductionist dialogue like the others following this trend.

Robert Redford (looking old as heck and with oddly colored almost orange hair) plays the nameless “Our Man” – a loner, presented to us with next to no context, inexplicably out there somewhere in the Indian Ocean, who through a string of bad boating luck finds himself fighting for his life against the great big wide ocean.  J. C. Chandor’s direction is sparsely poetic, and he’s created somewhat of a miraculous cinematic oddity here.  I’ve never in my life been more mesmerized and bored simultaneously.  Continue reading

The Perfect Pull of Gravity

GRAVITY's stunning opening sucks you in.

GRAVITY’s stunning opening sucks you in.

In our era of instant interconnectedness, ADD and immediate gratification, Alfonso Cuaron’s bold new film, Gravity, demands viewers to Watch…and Listen.

The film opens with a spectacular continuous long shot of planet Earth from outer space.  Slowly we begin to hear the static-laden chatter of astronauts and mission control grow louder and clearer while the camera leisurely pans in closer and closer to those working outside of a shuttle docked at the Hubble Space telescope.  First-time space traveler, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is installing a new scanning device to give NASA a better way to watch the skies in deep space.  Longtime astral cowboy Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is out for a “Sunday drive” around the shuttle and telescope overseeing things while telling tales and keeping things light with mission control.  But then a frantic warning comes from Houston.  Stay calm.  Get back inside.  The Russians have taken out one of their own satellites.  The debris is traveling high above the globe at breakneck speed slamming into other satellites and anything in its way causing an avalanche of deadly metal to come hurtling right towards our dear crew.  Suddenly, in the vast distance of blackness above a blue and white sphere, the debris is coming into view.

The next ninety minutes become an epic cosmic ballet of white-knuckle suspense, eye-popping visuals and ensorcell acting.  Shot in 3D, the photography of Emmaneul Lubezki (who previously luxuriated in the magic of the cosmos in Malick’s The Tree of Life) is wholly immersive under Cuaron’s self-assured direction.  Cuaron spins his Oscar-winning mega stars through the calamities like a choreographer or puppeteer without strings.  There’s not a single moment in the film’s airtight run time where the director isn’t in complete control.  Continue reading

International Tragedy through the Lens of Intimate Family Drama in The Impossible

Director J. A. Bayona brings the tsunami to horrifying life on the big screen in THE IMPOSSIBLE.

In December of 2004, Maria Belon and her family were among the many who experienced first-hand one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the world when a tsunami overwhelmed large swaths of Southeast Asia including the coastal resort area of Thailand where Belon and her family were spending the holidays. Director Juan Antonio Bayona (who previously put viewers through tear-soaked thrills in the Catholic ghost story, The Orphanage) has adapted Belon’s harrowing tale for the silver screen. Here Maria Belon becomes Maria Bennet (the incomparable Naomi Watts) and her husband is played by Ewan McGregor and three boys by newcomers Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast. They’re a picture perfect beautiful British family living abroad, and Bayona, in ways both Spielbergian and Hitchcockian, puts them through the wringer in this tsunami horror-show tear-jerk thriller that pulls all the right strings.

The Impossible is worth the price of a ticket just for the ten minute tsunami sequence, frighteningly realized without CGI and done all with scale models and a giant water tank. Bayona in the sequences building up to the disaster uses sound effects for foreshadowing, and by replaying the tsunami through the eyes of Maria and her eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland in a riveting star-making performance), he totally immerses the viewer in the chaos of the event tossing the two actors around like rag dolls in the deluge of water and menacing debris that tears and rips at human flesh relentlessly.
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