Creed

Though we’re done with the Best Picture nominated films, we’re going to take a look at the Rocky-sequel Creed, starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, the latter of which is nominated for Best Supporting Actor. It is rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality.

From IMDB: Adonis Johnson is the son of the famous boxing champion Apollo Creed, who died in a boxing match in Rocky IV. Adonis wasn’t born until after his father’s death and wants to follow his fathers footsteps in boxing. He seeks a mentor who is the former heavyweight boxing champion and former friend of Apollo Creed, the retired Rocky Balboa. Rocky eventually agrees to mentor Adonis. With Rocky’s help they hope to get a title job to face even deadlier opponents than his father.

9.5 out of 10

The first time my dad showed me the original Rocky from 1976, I didn’t quite understand why it was so iconic in film history. I had seen all of the same plot points in other sports movies I had watched, though they had came after Rocky, and didn’t think there was enough boxing in the actual movie. It took me a few years after I had seen it to realize that the movie took the subject of boxing to tell a grounded, realistic love story. But then the sequels went to ridiculous points from Rocky fighting Mr. T to singlehandedly ending the Cold War and although that can be fun, I can say with much confidence that Creed brings back what makes the original movie great.

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When I first heard that they were making a Rocky spinoff movie, I completely dismissed it as an unnecessary cash grab of a property that had once been great. But my interest initiated then I heard that the director of Fruitvale Station (great film to check out if you haven’t) Ryan Coogler as well as the main actor in that film, Michael B. Jordan, signed on to the project. In Creed, Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo Creed, who fought Rocky in the original film but the two went on to be friends until he died fighting in the ring. Adonis, without a father, bounces around Juvenile prison and gets into other mayhem around Philadelphia until he finds his father’s passion for boxing, so much so that he gets an older Rocky, played again by Sylvester Stallone, to train him.

The directing is a standout in its brilliance. Coogler was able to take bits and pieces from the franchise to make it feel like a Rocky film but not hit you over the head with it to make it original in its own right. The most incredible moment I find from the film involves a boxing match in the middle of the film that is all shown through one shot. This reimagining of a sequence that we have seen executed so many times is incredibly impressive considering he choreography that must have been done to be able to weave the camera around the boxers.

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As well as the excellent direction, the acting is what makes you feel connected to the story. Jordan is great in portraying Adonis’ inner that he slowly translates onto the boxing. Also, the actress who plays Adonis’ love interest, Tessa Thompson, is very good and the two create a genuine relationship where each relies on the other for support. But Stallone really steals the show not by playing the grizzled veteran, but coming off as sensible and kind hearted. Every time he appears on the screen, the audience either wants to laugh, smile, or cry.

These three along with Coogler are able to transcend the story beyond boxing to be more about the relationship between the protagonist and their arcs. It brings all the same emotional pull that the original does, but in a new way.

Flaws are hard to come by in this movie, but if I were to nitpick I would say that sometimes the movie relies a bit on boxing movie cliques with the training montages and how the final fight is set up.

But a film that can cause an entire crowd to scream out in joy when the Rocky theme is teased for a couple of seconds, is a success.
~Seth

9.5 out of 10

Filmgoing sportos, which do you like better: a comeback story or an underdog one? Lucky for you, Creed boasts such a dynamic duo that you don’t even have to choose. Yes, Sly’s latest feature is a nice little reunion/reboot combo that gives fans the best of both worlds.

If you’re looking for a rightful descendent of the old Rocky films, you better believe it’s here. Creed fits neatly in with the whole saga as it acknowledges the canon, picks up right where we left off and drops a few tasteful tidbits of nostalgia (Just the right serving, I promise.). Heck, even some of the franchise’s goofier moments aren’t forgotten here and the jabs at them are brief but welcome.

But if you’re the one guy who hasn’t experienced classic Rocky, this film is still damn entertaining. The choice to focus on newbie Michael B. Jordan’s character over the Rocky everyone knows and loves was a bolder one (Heck, listen to it. It sounds like a typical Hollywood cash-in spinoff begging to spin out the series.) but it paid off quite well: our new lead Creed and the team in his corner (A host of characters who are all granted dimension beyond being a set of cheerleaders) prove to be exceedingly engaging enough to court any viewer, well acquainted with the previous films or not.

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Which brings us to the Stallone/Jordan team-up that drives the feature: it’s a sublime passing of the torch. Stallone isn’t merely talking with the camera on or trying desperately to slip back into old Rocky form, he knows the character’s changed and he’s changed right with him, deftly demonstrating the Italian Stallion’s descent into illness and old age without sacrificing his lovable tough guy attitude. Jordan, in turn, holds his own with Academy Award hopeful, delivering his own great grit. Are there some typical, somewhat cliche partner push-pull moments that you can tell the direction of pretty easily? Yes, but the chemistry is more than enough to carry you through.

Perhaps the real guiding star of the movie though is director Ryan Coogler who crafts some marvelously paced fights. It takes especial talent in shooting and editing to make a rapid sport like boxing seem deliberate and demanding of tact shot for shot yet Coogler gets the job done as he lays out what very well could be the Rocky series’ jaw dropping slugfests (They’re so good they’ll make you feel even worse that you actually paid for Mayweather-Pacquiao that one time). The climax in particular used bursts of action and slowmo breathers so well it demanded a few gasps from the audience I saw it with.

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Creed stands among the best installments of the franchise (Objectively and technically in fact, it’s probably the best Rocky film to date.) and leaves things nicely open-ended as it could very well be a stepping stone to a spin-off (Which I’d oddly welcome after seeing all this renewed story.) or a knockout closer to a series that has certainly had its ups and downs. Will Sly get some good news come the 28th? Maybe. Let’s put American flag shorts on Tom Hardy and call him Apollo until then.
~Zach

 

Spotlight

For our 100th (!!) post, we will be concluding our look at the Best Picture winners with Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy. Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams, it is rated R for some language including sexual references.

From IMDB: When the Boston Globe’s tenacious “Spotlight” team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal, and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world.

9.5 out of 10

Before we start, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to all… six of you who read this blog. It’s been a lot of fun for me and Zach, so thanks to everyone who has read and written.

spotlight 4Now to main course: Spotlight. By coincidence, we happened to leave, in my opinion, the best for last. This is my best film of the year, hands down. With an incredible cast and an outstanding script, Spotlight, emulating All The President’s Men 35 years later, is an eye-opening, life changing look into the impurity of religious institutions.

Michael Keaton, who might be in his second straight Best Picture winner, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams are all fantastic, playing journalists who begin to question everything they believe in after working on uncovering molestation of allegations in the Catholic church. Ruffalo is the best, transitioning from relentless investigator to manic journalist running after cabs and through courthouses. His desperation to expose the church’s wrong doings is especially evident, providing the most memorable moment of the film by delivering a scathing speech against the church about their wrongdoings. With solid performances all around, the most impressive part of the cast is that they perfectly blend together to create a skilled and interesting group of journalists that we are rooting for all the way.

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The journalistic aspect of the film provided the drama with its energy. The constant researching, interviewing, and digging is an exhaustive process, and when 9/11 comes along and hits the group like a train, that exhaustion is evident. The reality of the situation is clear. These are real people being destroyed by a real life scandal that the church is responsible for. Spotlight does an incredible job of sticking to the story and having the intensity increase with every scene. The events of the film keep managing to topple themselves.

This doesn’t have the shock value of The Revenant or the flair of The Big Short, but what makes Spotlight so special is its profundity. We see the psychological trauma of thousands of victims who suffered at the hands of one of the world’s most powerful institutions. Spotlight takes the discomfort of the situation and tackles it head on, sparing no detail and creating a story that forces you to question the everything you believe in, including the church– an institution with the implication of purity.

After the conclusion of the movie while the credits role, one can’t help but feeling despondent. The truth comes out, the church exposed, and victims finally come forward. But it’s almost impossible to keep faith– in God, in our judicial system, and in human beings– after taking it all in. If Spotlight does not make you feel uncomfortable, then it has not succeeded. Tom McCarthy takes the sensitivity of the subject of molestation and pedophilia and uses it to make the tone one of intense discomfort.

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Of all the films this year, Spotlight was the one that resonated with me the most. It had the most electric performances, best written screenplay, and ultimately is the movie that will have the most significant impact on society by bringing these issues to the public’s eye on a much larger scale than the original Boston Globe article in 2002. If that isn’t a Best Picture winner, then I don’t know what is.
~Vig

9.5 out of 10

In my opinion, the only thing better than grand fiction played right is a true story that need be told being done absolute justice. Sure, crafting a movie with intricacies and moving cogs all motioning in one direction is great but, to me, nothing can quite match a film that embraces uncertainty and reality, shuns pizzaz, resists the temptation to taint its real life subject with any fabrication and chugs forward. Sometimes that means sacrificing conventional pacing. Sometimes that means banishing big, cinematic, Oscar-baiting moments. Sometimes it means earning more admiration from a viewer than sheer enjoyment.

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Spotlight is one of the rawest movies I’ve seen in years and stands among the best because of it. It may not offer the most riveting pacing (The first fifteen minutes are actually mostly office reorganization and story shuffling) and it’s very, very rarely loud or big yet it derives so much strength from how untreated it is. It’s difficult to explain but there’s just this accumulation of tension and intrigue that comes from watching an infantry of hard-boiled reporters slowly and carefully unearth a still-searing story. As with any fantastically daunting investigation, each answer opens up more questions.

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And who to carry this slow dive into an article better than this star-studded cast? Ruffalo and Keaton (among several others whom I can’t do any justice in these 500 words) deliver some whopping performances as their characters reconcile with the fact that their 9 to 5s have become an all-out ethical quest. The actors aren’t given that many monologues but any thrilling material tossed to them is handled incredibly well (Without giving away too much, Ruffalo in particular tears into a heckuva tirade on the whole thing that leaves your blood boiling).

Director Tom McCarthy’s masterwork is also an unabashed celebration of the power of the press as the Globe picks up moral slack in a city where local lawyers, politicians and, yes, the Church itself fail to do so. Not since All the President’s Men (which I will shamelessly say this one’s surpassed) has the might of the pen (as well as the perils of pushing it) been so well flexed. After seeing a whole onslaught of people who’ve looked the other way throughout the film, you’ll be more thankful than ever for journalists – who act more as crusaders than mere reporters.

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Rage-inducing? Yes, a little, this is some good ol’ fashioned muckraking after all. That tension we talked about earlier builds up but never really lets up. The film itself (again, without giving away too much) seems to communicate the problem it deals with is ongoing and you’d be hard-pressed to step out of this one without at least questioning the hypocrisy of religious institution. Overall, this contributes well to helping the whole thing pack a bigger punch.

Will this take home the Oscar? It sure is my pick at the moment and, for now, let’s just say it’s certainly hard to handwave. If it doesn’t get it, however, at least you can be sure it will earn a place as the film some lazy Journalism teachers show to their students during the Ethics unit. To me, well, that’s one of the bigger honors there is.
~Zach

Room

This week, we will be taking a look at this year’s sleeper hit, Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, and Sean Bridgers. It is rated R for language.

Kidnapped and kept captive for many years, Ma (Larson) and her spirited son Jack make do in a 10×10 shed that Ma calls ‘Room’. She attempts to provide her son with a normal, pleasant life for as long as possible, but when Jack’s curiosity for the situation grows, they plan to escape. Once they make it to the real world, everything has changed, and Jack makes a thrilling discovery.

7.5 out of 10

Abduction stories are the absolute worst. I couldn’t help think of Josef Fritzl or Ariel Castro while watching Room, something that simply added to the horror of the situation. Just the idea that there are people evil enough to keep others locked away for years disgusts me. Of course, like Hollywood is always able to do, they take this horrifying story and make it into something inspirational, which can be attributed to incredible performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, who play a mother-son duo that has been to hell and back.

In case you haven’t heard, Larson is the hands on favorite to win Best Actress. She delivers the performance of a lifetime as Ma, who attempts to raise her son under the awful conditions of being trapped in a square shed coined ‘Room’. The most impressive part of the performance is the psychology behind it– the transformation from nurturing mother to struggling victim is remarkable, and something that Larson does flawlessly.

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While Larson does a great job and is indefinitely the backbone of the film, I think Jacob Tremblay gave the most impressive performance. The young actor (8 years old at the time of the film’s release!!!) does a fantastic job of playing Jack with the naivety and innocence that this boy needed to have. He was a child wanted to eat cake before bed and would yell at his mother if he didn’t get something that he wanted… Typical things that kids do. But what is impressive about this is he is able to translate that to confusion and denial when Ma opens up about the situation to him. It is rare to see such a multi-dimensional performance from an actor so young and inexperienced.

My one qualm with the movie is that the second act really dragged. Once Ma and Jack finally escape from the room, the movie did not feel worth watching, which is unfortunate because of how interesting the psychology of being a victim is. The transition in between the transition from the room to outside of it was very abrupt and did not feel gradual, resulting in some pacing issues that present Room with its only major flaw. The majority of the struggles for Ma and Jack come outside the room, which is why it is disappointing that the film dragged towards the second half.

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With that said, pacing issues are usually a fatal flaw for most dramas. Luckily for Room, it was not significant enough to take away from the rest of it. Ultimately, the message of hope is what stands out when you finish the movie and absorb it all. The sad reality of the film is that is an event that occurs in real life– the book was based on one of the Fritzl victims– and this movie provides some sort of closure on those victims, good or bad. Room is a really good film, not the best of the year but far from being the worst of the year. Watch for Brie Larson’s name the next few years– she will be everywhere.
~Vig

9.5 out of 10

I walked into Room knowing only two things: 1. that it was about a mother and son and 2. that it had gotten really good reviews. And from this blankness came a film that grabbed me emotionally and didn’t let go for its entire 118 minute run time, turning into one of my favorite films of 2015 (after Mad Max, Sicario, and Inside Out of course).

'Room' is a journey out of darkness, director says

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in “Room.” (Ruth Hurl/Element Pictures)

I don’t want to give the entire plot because its first act revelation mostly why it completely worked for me, but I will say that Room is about a mother and son living in what they call Room, a small area that is the only place that the five year old boy knows of in the whole world, and grappling with leaving the room. The film has been nominated for four Academy Awards including best picture. Brie Larson is also the favorite to take home the best actress category for her performance as ma. And she definitely deserves it, both being comforting and sweet to her child whom she loves very much as well as bold enough to deal with her situation in both settings, in the room and out of it.

But the performance that I walked out of the theatre struck by is nine year old Jacob Tremblay as Jack, who was snubbed for a nomination in my opinion. Usually child actors can come off as annoying and “acting” instead of feeling natural, but Tremblay appears to have inhabited the character and makes choices based on it, which is extremely impressive coming from such a young kid. His voiceovers, which explain how he sees this world, are performed with an awe and wonder that contrast nicely with the intense situations that the characters find themselves in.

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Both the directing by Lenny Abrahamson and the script written by Emma Donahue, who wrote the novel it was based off as well, are able to balance the tension of the first half and the sheer emotional evolution of the second to make both just as engaging and balance each other well. The best thing I can say about Abrahamson’s direction (who was also nominated along with Donahue’s script, is that he is able to make us feel this story from the child’s perspective in the low angle camera shots as well as making the Room as expansive as it is in the child’s head, especially when you see it later from farther away and realize that it is a tiny room.

As for any complaints, the film does drag to an amount towards the end with scenes that feel very similar, until a really strong emotional punch with a new character at the end. Other than that, I found Room to be an emotionally captivating film that stuck with me long after it was over from its combination of excellent acting, writing, and directing.
~Seth

 

Brooklyn

Today we are going to take a look at John Crowley’s historical drama Brooklyn. Directed by Crowley and starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, and Emory Cohen, it is rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language.

From IMDB: Eilis Lacey leaves small town Ireland for a better life in New York, arranged by an Irish priest in Brooklyn. Working in a shop she takes a bookeeping course and participates in the Irish community. There she meets an Italian, and falls in love. They marry but she wants to see her mother after the death of her sister in Ireland. Returning home she falls into the life of the small town, meets a local guy, but also a nasty neighbour who knows she was married in the US.

8.5 out of 10

This movie gave me all the feels. I think I cried three or four times while watching it. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a love story.

Though Brooklyn may not have the celebrity-studded star power that some other Oscar contenders have, Saoirse Ronan did a terrific job playing Eilis Lacey. Her counterparts, Emory Cohen (what a cutie) and Domhnall Gleeson, also created lovable characters as her two romantic interests.

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Brooklyn takes you through Eilis Lacey’s journey from Ireland to — you guessed it — Brooklyn. At the beginning, Eilis is shy, soft-spoken, and visibly unhappy in her hometown. The frequent use of close-up shots of her facial expressions manage to say everything without words. Along with these close-up shots, cringe-worthy scenes (for lack of better film terminology) are used to further develop Eilis’s character. From the scene where she gets seasick on the boat to America, to when she attempts to make awkward small-talk with customers at Bartocci’s, viewers feel for Eilis during her struggle to adjust to her new setting.

While the storyline was very formulaic, the unique characters made it enjoyable. There is something to be said for a movie that takes you back to simpler times. With the detailed costumes and sets, along with ancillary characters like the God-fearing Irish boarding house keeper, Mrs. Keough, the ambiance of 1950s Brooklyn is captured perfectly.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the pacing of this movie. At the beginning, I immediately thought this would be a slow film, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. Everything transitions very nicely, from Eilis’s homesickness in America, to her falling in love with Tony (Emory Cohen), to her going back to Ireland. Which brings me to my favorite part of the movie: the romance.

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The love story of Eilis and Tony is what makes this movie exciting, unlike the boring immigrant story I thought it would be. It was refreshing seeing a film set in simpler times, especially with this romance. It was also interesting to see two different cultures collide (how much more cliche can I get). Tony, the poor Italian boy who comes from a big family, and Eilis, the prim Irish girl, unaccustomed to American traditions, make for a unique yet adorable couple. One of the best scenes in the entire movie is when the other girls in the boarding house teach Eilis how to eat spaghetti in preparation for her dinner with Tony’s parents.

I was so invested in Tony and Eilis’s romance that I was screaming at my laptop screen when Eilis had to go back to Ireland. Eilis is soon torn between two lovers, as she becomes closer with Jim Farrell (Gleeson), a boy from her hometown. She is soon confronted with the decision to stay in Ireland or go back to Brooklyn.

2015, BROOKLYN

As I mentioned before, the plot is rather formulaic, but nevertheless, very enjoyable. At the heart of it, it is a beautiful love story, and by the end of the film, I was so attached to the main characters, Tony and Eilis. Amidst all the other Oscar contenders that everyone is buzzing about, Brooklyn may be a simpler story, but it is just as entertaining.
~Jen

8.0 out of 10

Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, and Domnhall Glesson among others, telling the story of a young Irish girl (played by Ronan) in the 1950s who comes to New York looking for work in the new land, and then once acclimated, has to choose between her two homes.

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The film has been nominated for three oscars including best picture, best actress for Saoirse Ronan, and best screenplay for Nick Hornby, the same screenwriter from About a Boy, and the last two are definitely well­ deserved. Ronan has a sweetness and charm in her performance that matches the film perfectly, slowly maturing from the innocent girl to a brave woman that is so natural and understated you don’t fully realize until the ending when she is confronts another character how strong she has become until the end. This subtlety in its protagonist arc is also due to its excellent script by Hornby, which is able to make the
character’s journey and conversations with other people seem real, almost like it was taken right out of a history book. The look of the film also sells the 1950s feel of Brooklyn and creates the
borough as a character itself.

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With that being said, the subtlety in the script is not met in its direction, done by John Crowley. It is directed in a very standard fashion, but makes the big moment painfully obvious
with a shot put in super slow motion or an extreme close up during an emotionally important scene. I would have liked to see a few more directorial interesting yet understated moments that are up to the standard of the writing.

Aside from Ronan, everybody in the cast does a very solid job, except for, in my opinion, her Brooklyn boyfriend, played by Emory Cohen. From the beginning, he tries to be cute and
mumbles his words together in a Brooklyn accent, but ends up looking more like an actor going for a type than a natural performance, especially when he’s compared to Ronan. But Cohen did grow on me as the film progressed, putting enough charm into his awkwardness to not fully offer
it as a real complaint.

But another point that I do feel has merit against the film is what the main character’s main focus is. When Ronan’s character moves to New York, she is faces many problems, most
of which appear to be fitting in, and seems really accurate to the time period. But it seems like all of her problems go away when a man comes into the picture for a brief time. It is this over reliance on men in a female driven film that brings down her character a bit for me. Yes, that is
somewhat true to the time period, but is doesn’t need to be the focus of this character when made in 2016.

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Yet overall, the film is delightful yet has a maturity to it with an outstanding performance by Saoirse Ronan, and a great date movie as well.
~Seth

The Revenant

Up next on our look at the Best Picture films is The Revenant. Directed by reigning Best Director winner Alejandro G Iñarittu, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson, it is rated R for violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity.

From IMDB: After an attack that occurred in a fur trappers bivouac, across a river, in American wilderness, Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), his son, and his remaining companions, are going back to the nearest outpost. Glass is left in weak condition after being mauled by a bear forcing some men from the team to be his caretakers. One of the caretakers, John Fitzgerald (Hardy), chooses to betray Glass, and leave him to die. Relying on his insurmountable anger and powerful motivation for his family, Hugh survives and attempts to find John Fitzgerald, and make him pay for his terrible decision.

9 out of 10

If Leo does not finally seize that oh-so-elusive Best Actor trophy, I will protest. I will write several strongly worded letters to the Academy. I will make a thousand picket signs and with Leo’s thousand biggest fans, march through Los Angeles, pitchforks in hand. If it wasn’t clear before, If Leonardo DiCaprio does not win Best Actor for his turn as legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass, I will have lost all hope in humanity.

As it stands, I would probably put The Revenant as my third favorite film from the past year (after Star Wars and Spotlight), though there’s no doubt that it was the most intriguing. The premise is perfectly concocted, showing off the perfect mix of revenge, love, and spiritualism. The ensemble cast is spectacular, from the experienced DiCaprio to the younger Will Poulter, previously of We’re the Millers fame. The production design and costumes are spot on, providing this world with realism… albeit a grotesque one.

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The Revenant starts out with an emphatic bang, a battle scene with thrashing, nauseating violence— think Saving Private Ryan, only 150 years prior and with Native Americans and pioneers rather than soldiers and Nazis. The opening scene of the 1998 classic is known for its shockingly violent nature, highlighted by stray body parts and gushing intestines; The opening battle of The Revenant is almost on par. However that violence does not hinder; rather it helps in establishing the setting of the film in a place of conflict and disarray.

 

One of the stars of that battle is of course, Hugh Glass, who is, in the only way I can appropriately put it, an absolutely savage. Obviously this intensity has to be attributed to DiCaprio, who plays Glass with a determination and motivation that makes him a force of nature. From gutting a horse to use its carcass for warmth to eating raw buffalo liver (Leo actually did this! And he’s a vegetarian!), Glass goes to the most extreme lengths to stay alive— something that is evident through DiCaprio’s commitment to the character. He is the shining star of the movie, absolutely controlling the big screen for the entirety of the two and a half hours.

He is of course supported by Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson, the former snagging a Best Supporting Oscar nomination for his extraordinary efforts as the selfish, ruthless Fitzgerald. Gleeson is spectacular in the role of Andrew Henry, captain of the party, following up his solid performance in Star Wars with this great effort. Side note: Gleeson has had just a spectacular year, with starring roles in Brooklyn, Ex Machina, Star Wars, and now The Revenant. Bravo!

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If you saw Birdman, it might be clear to you that Iñarittu carried over his affinity for stretched out camera shots, the most memorable being the bear attack scene, shot in one continuous take. The extended shot puts emphasis on the brutality of the assault: the audience does not get a break from it because the camera does not cut away. This effect is prominent throughout the movie, underscoring the barbarity that Glass faces, which only strengthens his character every time he is able to overcome it.

My only criticism was the importance given to the storyline regarding the Indians and the French— all I really wanted to see was Leo, so each scene that was solely about this conflict felt like an interruption. Though this B plot ultimately served a purpose, I think it was given too much screen time, ruining the pacing of an otherwise great film.

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There are a lot of fantastic things in this movie. This movie is nearly flawless, impressing me in almost all aspects of film making (acting, cinematography, screenwriting, production design), with my only grievance being minor pacing issues. It is an emotional journey, with visceral effects that make it as realistic as possible. The Revenant can be considered nothing less than a successful follow up to Birdman for Alejandro G Iñarittu, one that could thrust him into Oscar glory for the second consecutive year, and finally give Leo that Oscar he deserves.
~Vig

8.5 out of 10

Much has been made of the great feat of endurance that was making Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The Revenant. And despite a comfy chair and a snack of Swedish, and firmly dead, fish coming out I felt that I could empathize somewhat with Leo and co.’s struggle. This sounds harsh but is not necessarily a criticism. Much like a long camping trip into the woods, The Revenant will be divine for some. But for others, The Revenant will be gorgeous, occasionally profound but at the end of the day all a bit much.

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Even the first scene, an attack on the fur trappers’ camp by natives, goes on ever so slightly too long. It is a minor sin but portentous nevertheless. From that scene onwards, the movie is a breathless assault on the senses. DiCaprio’s character, the abandoned fur trapper Hugh Glass, suffers trial after trial at the hands of the brutal land and its inhabitants, emerging bloodied and panting from each. Watching DiCaprio endure the first few is entertaining but as the film enters its third hour, they become tiresome and, as the watcher becomes ever more desensitized to the violence, Inarittu seems determined to keep the crowd gasping through escalating gore.

One possible solution to the problem of length might have been to shorten the film to a more digestible 90 minutes. This is an interesting suggestion but fundamentally flawed. A film titled The Revenant, as infantile as this may sound, has to be an epic. Although its raging 156 minutes may turn some off, in so many other ways the pure mass of the film is the film’s greatest strength. One cannot please everyone when making a film as grand as Glass’ story necessitates, and Inarritu deserves kudos for the pure conviction he displayed in making this beast of a film.

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And to be fair, there are some moments of repose. We are treated to occasional expository glimpses of burning camps and ethereal women on the wind. DiCaprio does well to imbue these scenes with emotion, even if at points one can almost hear the yearning for an Oscar in his breath.

On the more general topic of the acting in the film, it is all about the two men: Tom Hardy and DiCaprio. Both are such well-respected actors and in this film they earn their reputation with two great examples of physical acting. There is a strong stress on the physical there as both talk little and a decent portion of it is largely incomprehensible. In fact, DiCaprio’s most powerful line of the film, a laconic mutter about his son, is in the trailer. In the end, however, it hardly matters. DiCaprio and Hardy are both such immense presences on the screen, not only physically but emotionally too, that the dearth of dialogue becomes irrelevant.

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But as much as the film is really all about DiCaprio’s relentless hunt for those who forsook him, many will find that the most intriguing narrative to The Revenant is that of the Indians who weave in and out of the film’s forests and storyline. The film will certainly not be remembered for its portrayal of Indians and DiCaprio’s brief meeting with a wise healer/mentor at the darkest point of his journey is almost painfully cliché but the film’s portrayal of the plight of the displaced and disillusioned natives is nevertheless a thoroughly interesting piece of The Revenant’s epic puzzle.

In short, The Revenant may be one of the most divisive Best Picture frontrunners in recent history, and there’s a very good chance anyone who will enjoy it has already seen it. But if you like a good vista, and don’t mind a touch of blood, it’s a glorious ride.
~Nic

The Big Short

Up first on our countdown to the Oscars is The Big Short, directed by Adam KcKay and starring Steve Carell, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling. It is rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity.

From IMDB: Four denizens of the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight.

8 out of 10

Full disclaimer: I had a lot of trouble following what was going on in the movie. The dense terminology plus the complicated nature of finance completely lost me. But somehow, I still managed to really enjoyed The Big Short, probably because Adam McKay does an excellent job of recognizing that many regular people lack the ability to keep up and plays on it.

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For instance, cutting to Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining financial terms to simplify it is a genius move— it was a hilarious change of pace that allowed me to catch my breath (Though it probably would have been more helpful if Margot Robbie in a bubble bath hadn’t distracted me). McKay does this twice more, giving a movie that is essentially a documentary on finance some personality.

It also breaks the fourth wall a lot, furthering easing regular viewers into the new world of confusing finance terms. Gosling opens the movie by doing this, and it is continued throughout the movie by man different characters. I personally loved when one of the actors broke the fourth wall to recognize when something in the movie differed from the real life account. Recognizing and exposing the subtle lies of movies ‘based on true stories’… Brilliant.

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Of course, The Big Short would be nothing without its trio of male stars that play extremely unique men emerged in this crisis. Carrell continues to prove that he is more than capable in dramatic roles, following up last year’s Foxcatcher with a sparkling performance as the cynical, hardened Mark Baum. Gosling acts as the films narrator in a way, opening the film with narration that draws us in and keeps us there. But the best performance of the film is that of Christian Bale’s, playing socially awkward genius Michael Burry. Bale is known for his attention to detail and it is no different here, nailing every quirk that Burry has.

The most impressive part of the film had to be how te structure and style reflected its message. The main point is that none of the American public had any idea what was going on (ex. the strippers), but instead remained obsessed with pop culture, much like how a regular audience does not have the slightest idea of what is going on in the movie and only pay attentions to the glamorized scenes with celebrities. The problem with the financial crisis is that Americans had no idea what was going on, this theme reverberating throughout the film.

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That being said, I think there was a lot of fluff that contributed to the movie being rather slow towards the middle. I thought a lot of the scenes were repetitive in terms of structure; essentially, I felt a bit of deja vu while watching the film. This, paired with the density of the material, led to some pacing issues that lulled me to sleep at one point. 

For a film that is essentially Inside Job with a bit more flavor, it is extremely well crafted. With a unique style and compelling narration, The Big Short is successfully comedic but full of grim implications, making it one of the best movies of the year.
~Vig

 

9.5 out of 10

“Anyone can make something complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.”

(Have I used that epitaph in a review before? Of course I have! I can’t remember which but I’d imagine it was something that clunked around under its own weight like Interstellar.)

Here’s a shocker for you: economics is not exciting. It’s pencil pushing and number crunching. It’s some brokers shouting and squawking before some red and green arrows on Wall St. It’s those contracts you never read and those acronyms you never cared to understand. Finance. Ain’t. Fun.*

I’ve previously expressed though that the highest of movie magic is when a film transfigures something from enormously complex to accessible without losing any of the topic at hand’s weight (Think Moneyball’s treatment of the nitty-gritty of teambuilding or even how the recent spectacle Spotlight deliberately paces but one protracted piece of reporting). The jargon and prolonged process is all there to bolster the accuracy yet there’s enough style, talent and deft delivery to make it (What else?) digest-able.

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Damned if Big Short doesn’t fit that bill. Comedy champion Adam McKay’s latest feature is smart as it is succinct and humorous as it is horrifying. It’s a movie that fully embraces the confusing nature of its subject (The shady swaps that all but consumed the American economy in 2008) in the hopes that you will too (Trust me, with writing this sharp and scenes this self-aware, you’ll succumb to all the monetary mayhem). This masterwork is the better blend of Inside Job (2010) and Wolf of Wall Street.

We’ll start with the all-star cast, of course, which sits at the heart of this cinematic juggernaut: comedy veteran Steve Carell wows as the curiously capricious Mark Baum. Ryan Gosling kills it as swift salesman Jared Vennet who sees the crisis coming (and exploits the living hell out of it). Even seasoned dramatics Christian Bale and Brad Pitt command more than a few snickers as their characters (savant and cynic respectively) carve through the Wall St. B.S.. Are all these characters and their antics pulled from real life? Of course, mostly (The film will gladly tell you when it diverges from nonfiction though).

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The film also stylishly zips from proceeding to proceeding, taking full advantage of an early 2000’s-dominated soundtrack (I forgot how much I loved “Feel Good Inc.”) and making some (at first) pretty jarring pacing choices. Does it suffer from these timing decisions? It stumbles a little at first but either it found its groove or I just got more absorbed by it. I’m fine with either.

Yet despite all the laughs, I left this movie feeling utterly punched in the gut. Make no mistake, it’s a muckraker disguised as a comedy. God help you when you suddenly realize the sketchy skylarking playing out onscreen did happen and, even worse, the only victim at the end of the day is you (Or so the movie seems to conclude). And all the wisecracks and keenly crafted montages in the world can’t even seem to conceal the ugliness of Adam Smith’s system today.

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*What do you call a cross between a jet plane and an accountant? A Boring 747! (I desperately wanted to fit this in the review but I have to confine it to a footnote.
~Zac

Steve Jobs

Hi everyone and Happy Holidays. This week we’ll take a look at Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle, starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, and Seth Rogen. It is Rated R for strong language.

From IMDB His passion and ingenuity have been the driving force behind the digital age. However his drive to revolutionize technology was sacrificial. Ultimately it affected his family life and possibly his health. In this revealing film we explore the trials and triumphs of a modern day genius, the late CEO of Apple inc. Steven Paul Jobs.

8.5 out of 10

Steve Jobs, named after the one and only, has Sorkin written all over it. It’s got the same fast-paced grit of The Social Network and the smart, sleek style of Moneyball. This may just be his best one yet though, thanks to a pair of dynamic performances and direction that gives Steve Jobs, one of this generation’s most influential people, a movie that accurately depicts his accomplishments and his failures, both as the co-founder of Apple and as a human being.

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I didn’t think he could get any better than 12 Years a Slave, where he played brutal slave owner Edwin Epps, but alas, he has outdone himself. Michael Fassbender is the driving force of Steve Jobs, bringing both the good and the bad to the titular character. Jobs is not a hero. He is not a good guy. He is not even a nice guy. But he’s human, and that is where Fassbender’s portrayal comes close to perfection. Despite there being no physical resemblance, Fassbender plays the man that we know and want to see; The hard nose, rude, egotistical man who has no mercy for his subordinates. But the most incredible thing is that there is still another side to it all. Steve Jobs still loves his daughter and despite neglecting her for the longest time, eventually shows that his love is unconditional. You’re going to be hearing Fassbender’s name during Oscar season, and deservedly so.

Backing Fassbender up is Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, marketing executive for Apple and more importantly, Jobs’ confidant. She is a tour de force, proving to be the only person that can stand toe to toe with the powerful, intimidating Jobs. She matches him blow for blow, proving to be a voice of reason that he not only listens to, but follows.

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The direction of the film is done in a way where everything is very fast paced and continuously moving– much like the life of Jobs. The transitions between scenes and time periods are flawlessly done through montages of what happens in between the events of the scenes that are taking place. There are really only three or four actual moments illustrated in this entire movie, but each is stretched out to capture every ounce of tension. Every emotion is exposed and used.

The opening of the film is a perfect example of that– one particular moment in which Jobs is demanding his employees to fix the computer for a presentation without regard for the risk of the fix. Intertwined with a fight with his ex-lover over child support, the direction in this scene maximizes the intensity of both sides of Jobs’ life and fuels them together. This is done throughout the movie, making every scene more intense than the one before it.

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The fast-paced nature of Steve Jobs, mixed with a soundtrack and styling that give it a high energy, would not seem appropriate for a biopic. However, this film is anything but conventional. Danny Boyle does an outstanding job of controlling the pace and emotions of the film, aided by a fantastic script. However, in the end, Michael Fassbender is easily the star, commanding this movie with unmatched grit and power, masterfully playing one of the most admired and loathed man of our generation.
~Vig

9 out of 10

We’re gonna need some background here (Minor spoilers): Steve Jobs (No, your brain isn’t melting. We did get one of these biopics about two years ago as well.) is spread over three sections, three different Apple product launches over three different decades. It’s pretty claustrophobic with all the major plays taking place in the backstage of every presentation and the roster limited to a tight chorale of characters (Funny enough, it kind of gave me Birdman flashbacks).

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So, what’d I think of this structure? Did the whole three act thing behoove the story exactly or did it just staccato things? Here’s the short answer: it was like seeing the same story three times with escalating tensions and stakes, each execution better and more powerful than the last. We’ll get that negative out of the way first, of course: make no mistake and be warned, this is an identical story on repeat. The movie’s enclosed cast of characters kept it limited to glossing over the same points and arguments over and over (We see Jobs wrangle with his wife over money and with his companion “Woz” over the state of their company several times each. Strap in.) .

What’s the upshot to this production choice though? Well, as I said before, it’s all about the slow swell of tension. We may be seeing the same people debating the same things every section but, each time, things get a little more intense, a little more ground is covered and everyone gets a little angrier. In that respect, the movie perfectly plunges us into Steve’s top entanglements with impeccable pacing. It’s all also theatrical enough to be satisfying but realistic enough to ensure that its not straying from or romanticizing the true story (See Social Network for some of these mistakes.).

And I really can’t stress this enough: if there’s one thing West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin behind this can write, it’s a heckuva pounding argument (He always does that moment exact moment where ego flickers on and seizes control so well). Michael Fassbender may just be the best vessel out there for Sorkin’s talents as he churns out a cool and calculating yet bubbling, fiery performance (As expected, dear Magneto did me proud with some Oscar-tier work). Coupled with fantastic work from Seth Rogen (You read that right) and Kate Winslet, some of these spat scenes hit such a climatic pitch of writing and acting that they leave you feeling absolutely throttled.

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Part of me does indeed wish I got a linear, lengthy “rise and fall of Steve Jobs” story or something along those lines but I appreciate director Danny Boyle’s foray into a more abstract, bare bones, no B.S. type of biopic. With some lush, breezy transitions to keep things moving and equally powerful acting, Jobs takes it place as a solid contender to be one of the top films of the year and (pretty much as expected) surpasses its Ashton Kutcher predecessor.
~Zach