Hell or High Water is a refreshing release for a year which is stacking up to last year in awfulness, movie-wise. This is one of my favorite genres, the modern western. Like No Country for Old Men, which draws the obvious comparison, Hell or High Water frames its action in the context of pursuer and the pursued. But the filmmaking approach cannot measure up to the Coens’ masterminds; rather, this film is more an easy division of labor along the lines of Falling Down.
Which is still good company to keep. The retiring-cop-on-his-last-assignment ploy is an unnecessary and decidedly non-refreshing cliché, but when that cop is played by Jeff Bridges in top vintage form, you don’t mind so much. There’s one more scrape: If you need a scene at the end recapping the whole movie, that’s a bad sign. Still though, Hell or High Water is entertaining and fun. A solid recommendation; 7/10.
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.
Something 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
Quentin Tarantino has made three of the greatest films of the last 21 years. Brilliant virtuosity propelled Inglourious Basterds, outright glee erupted from Django Unchained, and anchoring his entire oeuvre, Pulp Fiction is one of the most iconic films of all time, and a masterpiece.
The Hateful Eight is not in that class. But it’s darn good, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Despite its nearly three hour span, I slipped from its grasp only once, and very briefly. Some critics have likened the film to a bad play, but I didn’t get that feeling at all. I can see where they are coming from, but this is not a Mamet picture. Flashes of cinematic greatness dispel any idea that you’re watching a stage production.
Critics are sharply divided on this one, some giving a solid thumbs-down while others hail it as the best of the year. Check out the Tomato page to see what I mean. For me: I liked it a lot, but wished for the complexity of his better works.
A note on the presentation: The Hateful Eight features an overture and intermission if you see the 70mm presentation. I was not so lucky. It’s criminal that a movie which is supposed to include an intermission and overture is generally not being shown that way. Thank you AMC, not. I didn’t mind too much, though, as the story flows well without it. 8/10
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, is a story of redemption, which itself was redeemed by the end. Which is to say most of it is not terribly robust. A mild recommendation, with all the normal caveats in place. 6/10
Availability: iTunes rental
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A Note on Home Viewing
I think that this movie would have had a greater impact on me had I seen it in the theater, perhaps even enough for a higher rating, which brings up a point I wanted to make about seeing movies in the theater versus at home. Certain critics out there have a rating system which goes something like “Very Good, see in the theater”; “Good, but not great — wait and see it at home”, and “Don’t bother.” A nice, simple, direct rating scale. But a film will have more impact in the theater than at home. Even under the most ideal circumstances, there will likely be an interruption or two while watching at home — something that doesn’t happen in the theater. In this case, I admit there were several interruptions, which served to weaken the impression Three Burials made on me. So if anything, it should be “Good, but not great — make sure to see in theater because if you don’t there’s no point in bothering later.” The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada — and many, many other borderline films fall in this category.
Point being, to say “This movie is good, but not good enough to see in the theater” is contrary to logic in my experience. I understand this is said as a recommendation for someone not to spend as much money to watch a film of lesser quality, but in light of the quantity and higher-than-ever quality of original TV programming and selections available via VOD, this type of recommendation doesn’t hold water. A movie that isn’t worth seeing in the theater isn’t worth seeing period.
The Homesman, directed by Tommy Lee Jones, begins with something of a jumbled mess, and over-stretched theory of the rope is used one too many times. But good-sized chunks of the story and the movie’s characters appealed to me, especially Hilary Swank’s strong yet vulnerable independent prairie woman. 6/10
IN CASE YOU hadn’t seen this making the rounds… not much to see, but it looks like we can definitely expect a new Western-styled QT movie next year. I’m thinking a sequel to The Magnificent Seven, but hoping that Tarantino keeps up the level of deft originality displayed in his last two films… which will be no easy task.
Looking at this poster, I’m put off by the “8TH FILM FROM QUENTIN TARANTINO” proclamation, something I talked about in regards to Kill Bill — but I suppose with the run he’s been on it’s justifiable.
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.