Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Case for Being Hateful

I had to time Hateful Eight carefully – at about three hours long, it is not a movie than really can be watched on the spur of the moment or on a normal school night, depending on the start time.  So a mid afternoon session was arranged, and after several superhero movie trailers (with Superman v Batman looking the dreariest), and we got stuck into it.

Though I have to admit, the first couple of hours got me dropping off a bit.  Not that the acting is low or boring, with Kurt Russell and Samuel L Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh and the rest of the cast giving their all and loving the n-word laden dialogue and the chance to just be their characters in one middling sized room, stuck together in the middle of an American blizzard.

No, it was more that there was just so much of it.  So much talking.  So many n-words.  Tales and recollections and racism and lies and truths and all the usual things you get in Tarantino-written dialogue, and while entertaining and witty and funny and all those things… there is just so much of it.  And not all of it is relevant to the plot.

Around the two hour mark, the narration (Tarantino himself) kicks in and I realised that I was not watching an “intermission” screening, as what we had seen was not 15 minutes earlier.  This is about the time the verbal sparring is totally overtaken by the actual violence.  Zoe Bell shows up for a brief but memorable cameo as a wildly enthusiastic cowgirl from New Zealand who seems completely out of time and place with the rest of the movie (though that may just be a little bit of cultural cringe coming in), and Channing Tatum also flashes his winning smile, though he doesn’t strip or bust a few magic moves.

The whole movie and the whole cast are brought together with loving care and everything looks so easy when in fact it must have been wildly difficult to manage.  However, it seems like a school play compared to the masterclass in beautiful cinematography that is The Revenant, and that dialogue, while amazing, is just so very, very long.

Verdict: Tarantino brings his usual talents to bear in Hateful Eight and it is an amazing movie and well worth seeing.  But it could have done with some serious editing, as did it really need to be that long?  7 jellybeans out of 10.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Case for Writer's Block

Trumbo stars the awesome Bryan Cranston as the man himself and the ever stunning Diane Lane (sigh!) as his long-suffering wife and chronicles their adventures during the Black List era of Hollywood, when Reds weren’t just under the bed but controlling Hollywood, and all those in the land of the free who were members of the Communist Party were out to destroy the American way of life.

It’s a fascinating insight into an incredibly intolerant age, with the arguments about free speech not really meeting much response from the “other” side (though getting a whole lot of hate), with “Kikes” being threatened with exposure to bring the studio bosses into line, with movie war heroes lecturing to people who actually were involved in WWII about patriotism, and bubbling in the background, the Civil Rights movement for African Americans. 

Helen Mirren leads the opposition, as Hatty, the powerful Hollywood Reporter who, with John Wayne “the Duke” and (in newsreel images) Ronald Reagan at her side, sought to oust all Communists, until ultimately, through people like Trumbo who worked around the restrictions put in place to continue with his Hollywood career, the system of marginalisation fell apart.

With such an incredible cast (including Elle Fanning and Louis CK), all giving wonderful performances (don’t cry Diane!!  I love you!!!), it’s a surprise that the film itself has a rather cheap feel to it.  The period costumes and sets and the like all feel authentic, but after the jaw-dropping cinematography of The Revenant, the movie feels like it was shot perhaps on video tape, with colours quite bland and the camera holding steady and unimaginatively (though there is nothing wrong with avoiding shaky vision, far from it!).

In the end, the film does feel a bit long, but it is a fascinating insight into the Hollywood lifestyle, and where some of the biggest stars sat when it came to the great Communist divide.  Considering the means taken and the scrutiny many in Hollywood suffered, it seems more understandable for me now when I hear about the divisions that still exist from people who remember or lived through that era.

It has to be said though that seeing Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas… well, it was really a bit bizarre.

Verdict: Trumbo is a great movie full of amazing performances and with an intriguing story to tell.  Its just a shame that everything around that is fairly average.  7 Roman Holidays out of 10.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Case for Revenations

My first film for 2016 was the Oscar nominated The Revenant.

A full cinema sat for two and a half hours, grimacing and cringing as Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) was beaten, mauled, exposed, horsed, and beaten again, the more gruelling scenes eliciting sympathetic groans of discomfort.  And barely a word was heard, even though the movie has long tracts of just one man against the bitter frozen North American wilderness.

It’s a simply stunning movie visually, and story-wise as well.  The narrative is compelling, though it plays second fiddle to the beautifully harsh landscape as Glass and his company have to make their way to a safe haven. 

Tom Hardy and Domhall Gleason (again!) are both excellent in their support (or otherwise) of DiCaprio, and in fact all the supporting characters give their all and fill the Revenant’s world with believable characters and motivations.

I won’t say too much again, for fear of spoilers, but the word “visceral” comes up often when people talk about this film, and with good reason.  You feel the pain and suffering Glass is going through.  It’s a bit like the story of survival told by The Martian, except in the Revenant’s case, there is no super technology on call nor a team of people back home doing everything they can to try and help Glass survive.  Instead, it’s a man alone, with nature at its harshest and least merciful, and with other men about actively plotting and planning to kill him.

However, the bleakness of the story and the landscape does not make this a depressing film whatsoever.  It’s filled with beauty and hope and shows the size and majesty of the world of the 18th Century explorer crossing the barely charted United States (or what, through annexation of Native American lands, became the continental USA). 

So, gripping from beginning to end, savage and primitive, The Revenant is an amazing film to behold, made more so by an immersive surround sound system.  Will this net Leo his Oscar?  Who can say – but for his effort and endurance alone in filming this harsh and uncompromising film, he probably deserves it.

Verdict: The Revenant is an incredible visual and emotional feast.  There’s not a huge amount of soul searching or scintillating dialogue, but the power of this tale of revenge and of man (or woman) against the elements delivers a lot of emotional punches, and makes for exhausting yet satisfying viewing.  9 bear hugs out of 10.