Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Revenant

After a handful of delays I finally got to see the Revenant last night at a near midnight showtime. The film is about 2.5 hours long so in the twilight of the Thursday midnight opening it might be one of the last opportunities to see a theater in a completely desolate state afterward; with nary an employee in sight. This film is fascinating for a number of reasons, not the least of which being its relative basis on a factual story. There are various elements that are constructed or adjusted for the film for obvious reasons but the actual core of the story, i.e. man gets mauled by Grizzly Bear, is left for dead, then crawls for 200 miles back to civilization seeking retribution, appears to be something that actually happened.

The first part of the film is a bit longer than I was expecting, but it did give the director an opportunity to introduce the characters and have them speak actual dialogue for a while. For the majority of the film very little is actually spoken, and I think the big reason why this is Dicaprio’s best performance to date is that he didn’t have to talk much (and about half of his dialogue is in a different language). A big issue Dicaprio and many other actors have is falling into the trap of playing almost the exact same character in every movie; regardless of the design of the character itself. This isn’t the same as being typecast, it’s simply a style of acting that lacks in range. However if you totally negate that aspect and make 90% of the acting physical: groaning, gurgling, crawling, limping; then it works pretty damn well.

Visually this film is absolutely gorgeous and was almost exclusively filmed in the wilderness of Canada (where the film is largely set) in natural light settings. The innumerable difficulties that this poses have been well documented, but it is certainly a fantastic achievement in cinematography alone. There is an odd obsession with the usage of rivers in the film which makes the exact way that Dicaprio survives seem a bit specious at times; but hey it’s a really ridiculous survival story to begin with so you should be able to bend your logic circuits a bit. I did find it odd that they never addressed Hugh Glass’ broken leg/foot directly, since setting a bone is a somewhat common film device lately why not have it in the Revenant somewhere, but that’s a relatively minor quibble.

The rest of the cast is very solid, Tom Hardy’s great as you might expect considering he’s Tom Hardy. Domhnall Gleeson delivers possibly his best performance ever, though it’s more an exceptionally competent role instead of an extraordinary one. The film has no real weaknesses and is basically a mish mash of Castaway, The Grey, and No Country for Old Men; with only the final film in that list really being on par with this one. Of course I still have to answer the big question, and no the Revenant is not better than Mad Max; it’s certainly the best not Mad Max of the year though.

Aside: I saw Snowpiercer recently since for some reason the upgraded Comcast interface is basically Netflix; really fantastic movie I’d probably stick it in 3rd for 2014 tentatively, behind Edge of Tomorrow and Birdman. Chris Evans is great in not Captain America roles (not to disparage the Cap), also worth watching in the Iceman starring Michael Shannon; another true story except about an incredibly prolific contract killer/family man.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Meaning of Life

“It’s a series of mediocre occurrences that add up to more or less nothing.” This was my response to a question I was asked today. The question was simply “Do you have any bad days?” Since my reflexive response to “how are you doing” in the hospital where I volunteer is just fine/good et cetera, as it is for most people. The sentiment itself is unremarkable, even astonishingly common in American society; I’d venture to guess 95% of people feel the same exact way about their lives as I do about mine. But what is remarkable is my oddly emotional response to having to say it.

Aside from sheer anger I rarely feel any particular emotion for long periods of time, my personality is just a continuous sardonic, purely logical observance of everything that goes on around me. I am, by my own design, bereft of most human emotional response systems. My goal once upon a time was to eliminate impulsion from my thought process, since being impulsive is the easiest way to fall into a trap in a strategic setting; so now I don’t have that more or less. I’m able to step back and take a prudent look at more or less everything. While I occasionally feel anger it almost never perpetrates a foolish action on my part, just because of the built up resistance to impulsion.

The admittance of my own mediocrity as a spoken word was enough to create some amount of sadness or depression in my mind; since it’s easier to skirt around the concept than address it so directly. I don’t believe all human existence is futile as some might and as the nihilistic sentiment above may perpetrate. I simply believe that most, even the vast, overwhelming majority of human existence is futile, that a scarce handful of great men and women dictate the course of history and everyone else is an irrelevant speck, more or less. I also believe the last person to fit that description in full died 195 years ago.

However the ability to become such a great person is not unique, surely, and the sheer population of the world strongly implies that there are thousands of individuals with an equal capacity for thought as any great conqueror or philosopher of old. So what makes them different than those that came before? Why, luck of course. Luck, providence, divine intervention, whatever you want to call it, what’s most important in dictating a person’s future is the situation into which they’re born, and while the population of the world increases the number of candidates for greatness it also has led to a general promotion of mediocrity and reliance on predictability. A person who is hiring someone in a modern climate wants a candidate to do exactly what is expected of them with little or no variance, the person who does exactly what they are told with no glaring failures and no remarkable successes. That is the ideal candidate for a job. Do you feel that you are unremarkable, identical to every other soulless cog in society? Well, good for you because you are that ideal candidate. Unfortunately for me, I don’t feel that way.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Hateful Eight

A good way to approach the Hateful Eight is to think of it as another Reservoir Dogs or 12 Angry Men; it is not by design or construction a Western persay; that is simply the setting of the proceedings. The film is basically a stage play with two different settings, one which dominates most of the film; it isn’t like Macbeth where there’s a dozen different locales so you could make a traditional style of movie out of it. With that in mind the film is almost three hours long, or about twice as long as the first two films. So, it should go without saying that the film does not have the rigidly perfect pacing of Reservoir Dogs (easily Tarantino’s best film) or the continuous momentum of 12 Angry Men, and on the grand scheme of things The Hateful Eight is ultimately inferior to a couple of masterpieces.

However that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see the film; I will say it is baffling just how pleasing a movie this is to sit through. Traditionally even the best three hour films have their tedium and boring moments, and at the end your ass is just sore from being in that damn chair for so long. Not so with the Hateful Eight; there is a short scene at the beginning of the film that drags for a few minutes but once you’re past that it’s nothing but solid Tarantino Dialogue and ridiculously over the top violence the rest of the way.

Another way to think of this film is in the context of Kingsman: The Secret Service, and I’d venture to say they’re basically the same movie just with different plots and genres. If you wanted 90 minutes of Sam Jackson laughing his ass off and swearing up a storm, this is your movie. Sure, sure there’s no “This a dope ass top hat!” scene and the funniest actual (unprintable by a Caucasian not named Tarantino) line is delivered by Tim Roth; but Sam Jackson is just loving this shit the entire time. Kingsman X Reservoir Dogs, the movie magic you never knew you wanted.

As for the rest of the cast, all of them are great. Haven’t seen Michael Madsen in a long time; and while he doesn’t have any “Stuck in the Middle With You” going on he’s still pleasantly satisfying. Mr. Orange returns with a British accent this time, Mr. Brown narrates a bit to explain why “Domergue’s Got a Secret.” I mourn the absence of Harvey Keitel, but all in all the entire cast performs just as well. Jennifer Jason Leigh is getting Oscar consideration and she certainly holds her ground in a fairly difficult role to sell, but like many of this year’s performances hers isn’t an astonishingly amazing one or anything.

If you have any remote interest in the American Civil War there’s a whole shitload of references to that, even moreso than something like Josey Wales; and I have to say Tarantino’s general knowledge of the time period is rather endearing. Even as someone who finds most of his work to be at least slightly overrated it’s hard to not admire his ability to make a three hour movie that’s not boring for any extended length of time; let alone with a single setting. I guess since I’m boxed into the idea of rating films I’d put this one roughly on par with Creed, joining a three way tie for 5th place.