The Revenant: Iñárritu Wins Again

The Revenant - poster

The Revenant is a grand spectacle of filmmaking virtuosity on a scale perhaps never before seen.  With Birdman, Iñárritu set the keystone of his newly developed fluid style.  I wrote that Birdman was:

…a film executed in whirlwind non-stop frenetic fashion that will hold you from start to finish. …But I found the story too monotone, or put another way Birdman has trouble breaking free of its self-imposed Alcatraz.

The Revenant builds on the expertise set forth in Birdman, and adds a stronger story.  Birdman’s enclosed spaces have been blown out and replaced by vast, wide-open, windswept and snow-covered landscapes, and realized by an absolute mastery of the lens and anything put in front of it.  From a moviemaking point of view, The Revenant is pure wonderment.  This is an impressive film.

The Revenant - text blockSomething else I liked was that this is a Western put in stark, brutally realistic terms — a true rarity.  So there is no doubt The Revenant is a great film.  But there were a couple storytelling issues I ran into.  A couple 5-minute days, for example.  I mean, I know it’s winter and the days are short, but they aren’t that short.  Another small problem toward the end nagged me slightly.  And ultimately, the story, with all its applied nuance, is fundamentally a one-dimensional revenge picture, with a pair of characters at the core who could have been more interesting to say the least.

The Revenant will win the Best Picture Oscar, and I don’t have a big problem with that.  8/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Dancing with Wolves, Dead Man, I Spit on Your Grave; Not Recommended: The Grey, True Grit (2010)

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Cinematic Greats: Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can - poster large

Catch Me If You Can (2002) is my favorite latter-era Spielberg movie, and my favorite Leonardo DiCaprio performance.  And while the true story is “supremely entertaining” (Stephen Holden), it is greatly enriched by deeper elements including Frank Jr.’s relationship with his father, and the loneliness of life on the run.  Performances by DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, and Christopher Walken unify with first-rate production and a great story into one superlative movie-watching experience.

Don’t Wolf It Down

2013 is turning out to be a bad year for movies.  Some of the most anticipated films the year have disappointed me — American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, and now The Wolf of Wall Street.  I found The Wolf to be a very entertaining movie — for the length of a normal movie.  For no good reason, though, it’s three hours long.  Now I have no problem with long movies — as long as there’s a reason for it.  Last year’s best film, Django Unchained, clocked in at 2 hours 45 min., and I can’t imagine cutting a thing out.  It was a rich film that required every last minute to tell its delicious tale.  2001: A Space OdysseyBreaking the Waves and Mulholland Drive are further examples that come to mind, ones made greater by the time they occupy, not lesser.

Not the case with The Wolf of Wall Street.  I agree with critical consensus that this is a very entertaining film — but for only about the first half.  The second half on its own is not terrible — though there are some ridiculous, B-movie sequences that are put forward — but after about the half-way mark the film has said as much as it will by the end.  The last hour of the movie adds nothing fresh, and it ends up suffocating under its own extruded weight.

The Wolf of Wall Street - still

Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio in characteristic form which well represents the entire film.

And that’s a pity.  Trimming this movie down to the lean mean fighting machine that it deserves to be would have resulted in a champ.  As it is, I can only recommend it with the caveat that you peel yourself away for the last hour or so.  But of course I must judge the entire film, and on balance it’s thumbs down.  5/10

She by Spike Jonze is the next, and probably the last, big 2013 release — I sincerely hope I won’t be disappointed again.

* * *

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Wall Street (duh), Natural Born Killers, Cape Fear

Gatsby Ain’t So Great

The much-anticipated Baz Luhrmann spectacle The Great Gatsby is a miss.  There are occasional moments of beauty, but the inspired style found so long ago in Romeo + Juliet has given way to a banal grandiosity familiar to those who endured his last effort, Australia.

Gatsby is thin on story, and given the content presented runs a full hour overlong.  As I watched, a feeling grew in me that this picture is hollow at the core.  And another thing — coupling this one with The Cider House Rules (an even worse disaster), I’m wondering if Tobey Maguire in central billing should henceforth stand as a warning to stay away.  He is beginning to tire as a filmmaker’s stamp of official sentimentality.  4/10.

Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby (IMDb still)

Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby (IMDb still)

Now on DVD & Blu-ray: Django Unchained

django still

Django Unchained, the best movie of 2012, is available today on DVD & Blu-Ray (It had already been available via streaming on iTunes/Apple TV).  Read my review here.  Hopefully you’ve already had a chance to see it in the theater, but if not, it should translate well to home viewing.

D-J-A-N-G-O. The D is silent.

djangoQuentin Tarantino is a genius.  He is becoming the great dramatic storyteller, inheriting the mantle of Alfred Hitchcock.  He has established himself as the master filmmaker of our time.

When I saw that opening scene in Inglourious Basterds — that marvelous scene in the French countryside — I thought, ah-HA!  Brilliant!  This is more than I expected; we’ve really got something here.  This could be really good.  And it was.  So sets the stage for his next movie…

In Django Unchained, Cristoph Waltz plays a character not dissimilar to that of his Nazi Basterd in QT’s last film — except this time he’s a good guy.  He has this ability to appear as something of a mustache-curling dimwit while at the same time preparing yet another ingenious Houdini act, out-witting everyone within shouting range.  And he is absolutely hilarious doing it — this movie is full of laughs.

Waltz plays former dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, who pairs up with soon-to-be freed slave Django, played with spirit and vitality by Jamie Foxx.  These two go about their business, continuously running afoul of their southern company and plunging into one seemingly inextricable situation after another.  At the center of QT’s genius is his ability to weave and build up these fantastic dramatic sequences wherein our heroes become further and further entangled.  The brash King Schultz and his protégé Django swing delightfully haphazardly into these situations — until you realize Schultz is not haphazard at all.  It’s all part of a brilliant scheme, and we can’t wait to see how he gets himself out this time.

Tarantino has wisely never tried to re-make or even return to the form of his masterpiece Pulp Fiction.  For a while there, with the Kill Bill duplex and Planet Terror, it seemed he was in a pattern of making entertaining if not particularly exceptional movies; certainly nothing that approached the bar set with Pulp Fiction.  The Kill Bill movies were certainly fun, but a little draggy at times, and basically Tarantino’s straightforward take on, and homage to, old school martial arts movies.  Inglourious Basterds derailed that track and set off in a direction I could not have anticipated: unique, original, brilliant and fantastically entertaining cinema.

So it was that I was keen to see Django.  But with a 2 hr. 45 min running time, I was fearful of dull boring passages.  I thought that maybe Basterds was a one-off fluke.  And further, the previews and marketing for Django stirred me only a little, not unlike Basterds’ marketing, which did not motivate me at all.  That may be because the small bits and bites that comprise a trailer do not do justice to the beautifully constructed sequences in these movies.

Django Unchained is a fantastically entertaining, fun, brilliant and wonderful movie.  A testament to how good it is: the long running time of 2 hr. 45 min flies by — a difficult feat to acomplish.  I will at some point publish my Best of 2012 list, which I had for months thought would be topped by little indie Sound of My Voice.  But now it’s clear that the best movie of the year is Django Unchained.  My only reservation: is it a 9 or a 10?  10 is the mark of a timeless masterpiece,  so it seems that I should give a movie some time before bestowing upon it a 10.  So for now, Django Unchained receives a 9/10, with my right reserved to upgrade it sometime in the future.

A note on the titles & credits: In my post on Basterds, I noted the various font styles QT uses at the beginning of his films, and the signature “A Band Apart” cuing the audience for impending Tarantino hilarity.  Django has omitted both these elements, sticking to a consistent title scheme — a minor disappointment perhaps.  I think this is because QT uses titles here as a way of adhering to the stylistic theme of the spaghetti western genre, as he talked about in the Charlie Rose interview I recently posted on.

And one last thing: stay through the credits.  There is one last “Easter egg” at the very end.