Some Bullet Points Concerning The Revenant, the Amazing HTFU Movie of the Year

Since I made a big deal about it when I first saw the trailer back in July, and one of my favorite poets once suggested I looked like I could be in the movie, I figure it’s probably worth my time to write out a few observations now that I’ve seen the film a couple times. Perhaps it will be worth your time to peruse them? If you’ve seen the film as well, I welcome your commentary. There are likely spoilers below, so keep that in mind.

  • If you snarkily refer to the movie as just “the most recent version of Dances With Wolves” or something inane like that, I’m here to tell you you’re a moron and are incapable of having intelligent discourse concerning movies that will likely be talked about for a long time, whether you like it or not.
  • If you’ve heard that the cinematography is mindblowing, or something along those lines, that’s because it is. If you haven’t heard that, let me tell you: the cinematography is mindblowing.
  • There are stretches of incredible excitement, but it is a slow burn of a film. If you don’t like slow movies, it might not be your thing. I like slow movies if they are also gripping, which this one is.
  • Be warned, it’s pretty damn violent too.
  • I don’t think you can really fake the hardships the actors went through and be believable. Which is why director Alejandro G. Iñárritu put them through such a difficult process. If you haven’t heard the stories of how rough the shoot was, work some google magic. Being a hardass was a good decision on Iñárritu’s part, because it makes for a compelling piece of art.
  • This movie truly is art, and it has its weaknesses. I left the theater wondering why I bother to go to shitty blow-everything-up movies, even though they’re (sometimes) fun. Watching and reflecting on The Revenant has made me completely question my approach to my own artistic endeavors, and that’s a good thing.
  • I could accept Tom Hardy winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor over Stallone in Creed, but I’d still be irritated.
  • The movie really isn’t anything at all like Michael Punke’s book. Entirely different scenes, different ending, the works. They are two completely different tellings of roughly the same story.
  • The bear attack scene is arguably the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen in a movie.
  • In fact, the entire movie is like a cautionary tale of all the horrifying ways one can die out in the types of landscapes I like to saunter around in, doing the types of things I most love to do.
  • The early fur trade in North America was a brutal, bloody business. Especially for the friggin’ beavers.
  • We take way too much shit for granted these days.
  • People who shrug that DiCaprio’s performance wasn’t that big of a deal because it was “only cold” or whatever have obviously never been outside of a climate-controlled environment for longer than it takes to waddle from the car to indoors. I’ve been cold; I like the cold. But this stuff was COLD, and that shit is terrifying and makes you act like a crazy person. In other words, the distance from “Whatever….” to “Fuck this!” is way, way shorter.
  • Whiners take note: just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Even if he had access to wifi, I doubt Hugh Glass would have dragged up social media and typed, “Wounds still sore, can hardly feel my hands.” Or, “Sigh. ANOTHER travel delay. Indians ran me off a cliff, spending another night out in the woods. Inside the body of my horse. Maybe I’ll get home SOME day.” HTFU, people. Please.
  • The whole subplot with Glass (DiCaprio) having a son isn’t part of the book, and I’m not sure it was necessary to add. Then again, the average movie goer probably wouldn’t buy the theft of a rifle, a knife, and some sundry equipment to be enough motivation to stiff-arm death and seek revenge. But in reality it was. Chalk it up to being one of those things that is too true to be believable as a storytelling frame.
  • The subplot with the kidnapping of the Indian woman, and the subsequent rape scene, etc. was totally unnecessary. In fact in a lesser film it would have been the turning point that made me ultimately give it a thumbs down. Again, I understand why they added it; my guess is it gave the story a reason for a band of Arikara Indians to be hunting white people in the wilderness. Again, different from the book. Cutting all that shit out and shortening the movie by a third probably would have improved it.
  • There were a couple too many dream sequences, but I did like the otherworldliness they created kind of hanging over the entire film, though.
  • The soundtrack is phenomenal too. I’ve been listening to the hell out of it. I’m listening to it now, in fact. I may never listen to rock n’ roll again.
  • I think the actions of all the various factions involved are portrayed honestly and fairly considering how shit was going down, as we know it, back then.
  • There were moments of clunky dialogue here and there, but folks painting it with a broad brush as being all terrible are simply wrong.
  • I liked it better the second time I saw it; I could just sit back and absorb it all without expectations. The first time I was too busy measuring its events against the events of the book. In fact, considering I read Peter Stark‘s fantastic Astoria at around the same time (another frontier book — 100% nonfiction — set in roughly the same time period), I kept getting events from the two books interchanged. Are you one of those people sneering and going all, “Like that could happen!” over The Revenant? I suggest then you read Astoria. The stuff those early people out on the frontier went through makes you wonder how anyone ever survived anything at all. We should all be extinct by now.
  • I’m pretty much in favor in all of us going extinct right now, frankly. It’s an election year, after all.
  • I think there are deeper meanings and symbols in this film that I haven’t mentioned, but that’s for film buffs to debate. I just like good movies. This is one of them, and it’s a good guarantee we don’t have to worry about a sequel.

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The J.O.T. Film Festival 2013, Day Two

Day One was easier because it was a terrible weather day. Day Two turned out glorious in the afternoon, which makes it difficult to stay indoors. I did get my watching in, and was also able to get outside a bit. Day Three promises to be equally challenging. . . .

Miller’s Crossing (1990)

This should/would have been the second part of my Coen Brothers night, if I’d actually done one. This is one of their movies I’d not seen before (I guess there are about 5 more I’ve yet to see as well). I enjoyed it, but it took some getting used to. It lacks most of the humor I usually associate with their films. It is more straight up drama, though in the end I’d say it is still better than average. It’s a gangster thing, set in the Prohibition days, where the main character is caught in the middle of a budding war between two crime bosses. His loyalties are divided, if only because he happens to be having an affair with a woman connected to the boss he’s most loyal (ahem) to, and the principal bone of contention (i.e. one boss wants a particular guy dead, the other boss claims the man as being under his protection, and blazing tommy guns ensue) is a slimy character who happens to be the woman’s brother. Make sense?

Gabriel Byrne delivers a standout performance in the lead role as an Irish gangster with a thing for booze, gambling, and beautiful women. The main story is how he uses his wits to keep himself alive, playing one side against the other, raising questions of loyalty within each side’s ranks, etc. While there is some violence, it’s more of a think piece than an action movie. There are quirky, humorous moments, but fewer than I’m used to with a Coen Brothers film. I suspect I’d enjoy it more with a second watching.

All in all, as a fan of these period gangster flicks, I’d definitely say it’s worth watching. I’d see it again.

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The Warrior’s Way (2010)

This isn’t a movie I had in my must see list for this year’s J.O.T. Fest, it just happened to be in my Netflix queue and had a relatively short running time, so I watched it. As low budget action movies I expect to be awful go, it was better than expected. Even borderline enjoyable at times.

The story is about a Japanese assassin who kills all of the members of his clan’s enemy, becoming the greatest swordsman of all time. Only one member of the opposing clan remains — a baby girl. Poised to kill her and wipe out her clan forever, the man hesitates and spares her life, taking her with him into exile. This of course makes him clan enemy #1 in the eyes of his former allies. He goes to the American West, where he has a friend he expects to meet up with, but, it turns out, has died. Instead he falls in with a town of quirky circus performers trying to make a go of it as an actual town. He takes over his former friend’s laundry business, falls in with a girl with a tragic past, one thing leads to another and of course he ends up facing off first with an entire gang of cowboy killers and then his ninja-like former clan mates.

If all this sounds laden with action movie seen-that-befores, it is. The final battle reminds me of my days playing the MMO video game City of Heroes, where my uber-powerful character would just mow down throngs and throngs of thugs. While that can be fun at 10 PM working the controls with one hand and shoveling takeout Chinese food into your mouth with the other, these overblown set pieces in action movies are getting more and more tiresome. The acting isn’t that great, and even the good characters are stereotypes, but I didn’t hate it. Some of the cinematography is pretty neat, and they made the most of their limited budget.

I liked it okay, and prodigious consumers of Netflix may like it well enough. For people like me, though, who really don’t watch that many movies, there are probably better options out there.

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It’s Festival Time Again

Yesterday morning I delivered Julia to the airport for her to make her annual trip to visit family in  Tucson. Unfortunately for the second year in a row, my schedule didn’t line up so I could accompany her. My loss is your gain, however, because that also means for the second year in a row it will be the Julia’s Outta Town (J.O.T.) Film Festival here at Naked But For a Loincloth!

My plan will be the same: try and watch at least two movies each day she’s gone (Monday through Thursday) and provide short reviews. Since today is already Tuesday, that means I already have two movies from last night to report back on, which I hope to do yet this afternoon. These movies (ahem, excuse me, films) will be ones that I wouldn’t necessarily watch with her. So either stuff I want to re-watch (she isn’t a big re-watcher), stuff she thinks I should see because she already has, or stuff I want to see that I doubt she’d like, or that she has already said she doesn’t want to watch. Expect nothing but the best.

Meanwhile, here is a recap from last year’s event, which also covered four days.

Day One: Haywire and Underworld: Awakening

Day Two: Batman Night, featuring Batman Begins and The Dark Knight

Day Three: Winter’s Bone and American Grindhouse

Day Four: True Grit

Looks like last year had some problems, and kind of fizzled out at the end (i.e. X Night never happened?!). I’m better prepared this time around, with movies already rented and ready to watch. The excitement . . . can you feel it?

Blockbuster Season is Upon Us

Every year, May ushers in the season of the summer blockbuster movie. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m usually a sucker for these things. Probably my guiltiest pleasure, in fact, though I don’t feel any guilt at all. I enjoy going to movies, I enjoy spectacle, and there are certain movies that simply must be seen on a big screen. So every year there are easily a half-dozen or so that I look forward to. So far this year I’ve seen three.

The Great Gatsby

new-great-gatsby-posterDoes this qualify as a blockbuster? Maybe not, but I’d mentioned before my desire to see it, so I figured I should report back the results: I really liked it. I don’t know that I loved it, at least not to the degree perhaps that George R.R. Martin did, but I probably enjoyed it the most of the three films mentioned here. The telling adheres quite closely to the Fitzgerald novel, and the changes made I definitely feel serve the story. I like the glitz and bombast, though frankly I’d have preferred some of the dancing scenes to be extended a little, or at least not cut away from so quickly. Using modern music was also a plus, and the cast was excellent. Much of the cinematography was breathtaking, even the CGI stuff. Scenes cut with actual footage from the era were excellent as well. Leonardo DiCaprio killed it in the title role, and I’m not saying this as someone who generally considers himself a Leo fan. Top to bottom, I felt all the performers delivered the goods.

My favorite scene [and this might be a spoiler if you don’t know the story] is the one toward the end, where the tension reaches its highest point, when Gatsby is trying to convince Daisy to tell Nick that she never loved him, and that she always loved Gatsby. This builds to the climax of the entire movie, and I thought it was handled very well. We see all the emotions of the characters, and I was riveted to the screen. Daisy struggles with her emotions, and seems to be with Gatsby . . . but something changes. Is it when she sees him lose his temper? Is it when Tom reveals the source of Gatsby’s wealth? Who knows for sure, but it happens. And from there the end comes at us like a freight train.

Good stuff. Compared to the next two movies (which I saw before this one), it was a nice change to have an ending that wasn’t totally overwrought. Recommended.

Iron Man 3

iron man 3 posterI had high hopes for this one based on the trailers. I was never much of an Iron Man fan, but when the first movie came out I loved it and thought Robert Downey Jr. did an excellent job as Tony Stark. Iron Man 2 was just so-so to me, but then the character rebounded mightily in the Avengers movie. This one was a little disappointing; I’d slot it in somewhere between the 1st and 2nd movies in this franchise. There are some nice twists in it, and Guy Pierce does an awesome turn as a villain, but Downey’s shtick as Stark is wearing a little thin. Maybe I’m just tired of Downey in general. I think I learned I liked him better in a supporting role like the Avengers than as the main guy. My favorite parts were his interaction with this kid he encounters — he was kind of a dick to the kid in a lot of ways. Frankly, I enjoyed that. I also liked that his girlfriend, Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), isn’t just there to be saved.

The problem with it is there is just too much going on. Too many robotic Iron Man suits. Too many of the same gags of him working out the kinks with his technology (one of the highlights of the first movie). And the ending . . . just way, way too much. It’s like directors get this toy box of CGI shit they can mess with and want to use ALL OF IT. It gets tiresome. Bigtime action movies, even comic book properties, don’t have to be like this. I enjoyed it okay, would see it again, but it isn’t anything that will make you a comic book movie fan if you aren’t already one. It won’t turn you off them either, but it might make you just a little bit weary.

Star Trek: Into Darkness

star-trek-into-darkness-teaser-poster1-610x903I’ve never been a huge Star Trek fan. Never really watched any of the TV shows, saw a couple of the previous movies and liked them to varying degrees, but never considered myself a big fan beyond my general interest in sci-fi stuff. I enjoyed the reboot from a couple years ago, so I was interested to see this one as well. This is one of those movies that, for most of it, I was having a great time with in the theater, but by the end it was starting to lose its luster. By the time I was out of the parking lot I was liking it less and less. I don’t regret seeing it, but it has its problems.

Stuff I liked: spaceships, Klingons, people blasting away at each other with phasers, all the characters but Captain Kirk

Stuff I didn’t like: no decent role for any of the women (and the gratuitous underwear scene was a friggin’ joke and unnecessary), too much reliance on “old” events from previous movies, plot holes I couldn’t ignore, Captain Kirk

And the ending. I really hated the ending on this one. You think it’s over . . . then we have to endure another 20 minute friggin’ action piece. I swear, if I never have to see another movie where characters are jumping from one moving object to another I’ll be happy. And the stuff going on in this one was just too ridiculous for me to suspend my disbelief. It is by no means terrible, but I think if Michael Bay had made the exact same movie that J.J. Abrams has here, it would be rated waaaay lower by critics . . . yet it really isn’t any different from a Michael Bay flick. But don’t take my word for it; here’s a review from my writer friend Jack Badelaire. And here’s a pretty snarky — but fun — takedown from the io9 website.

 

The Great Gatsby

I read The Great Gatsby the other day. I couldn’t remember if I had previously or not; I thought I might have in high school, but really couldn’t remember anything about it. Upon reading it now, I don’t think I ever did. I did, however, find it to be a great read, and certainly deserving of its place in the pantheon of American Literature. It remains very readable, which can’t be said about many 88yo novels.

I read it in preparation for seeing the new movie adaptation from Baz Luhrmann that is due for release this weekend. I’ve been seeing previews for it since last fall; wild visuals of raucous parties, dancing women,  and modern music, all rendered explosively in, bane of banes . . . 3D.

I won’t be jumping on the bandwagon that has been rolling through the social media sphere, though, where it is expected to make snarky comments about the idea of this book being adapted to 3D, etc. Maybe that’s a graduate school thing, I don’t know, but having read the book I feel like a modern treatment of it like this is perfect. If Luhrmann and the excellent cast get anywhere near pulling it off, I think it will be great.

Why is the excess of a big budget and 3D perfect, you may ask? Because that is exactly what the movie is about! Excess. Obsession. Shallow people clinging to soulless desires that leave them miserable. Doing the wrong thing over and over again. I’ve seen some people refer to it as a love story, but it’s a kind of love I can’t imagine wanting to be a part of because it comes with so many price tags. It’s a spectacle that is really a thin veneer covering something terrible, and I think it could be fantastic.

So I’m eager to see it. Maybe too eager now, I don’t know. I don’t know if I will get out to it opening weekend, but I know I will eventually.

I’m curious to know what other folks think about it. I suspect there are plenty who are affronted by the idea to the point of not even being willing to give it a shot. Maybe it just looks like a bad movie to some, I don’t know. I’m fine with that, I have a similar attitude to the new Lone Ranger movie. But that’s a different topic for another day. . . .