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

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Up next is Mad Max: Fury Road, the first film in the series in 30 years, featuring the debut of our friend, Jenya. Directed by George Miller and starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and Nicholas Hoult, the film is rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images.

Mad Max, set in a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken,, follows two rebels who attempt to restore order. One is Max (Hardy), a man of action and of few words, and the other is Furiosa (Theron), a woman of action looking to return to her homeland.

10 out of 10

Do you want to touch the face of god?

I walked away from this movie thinking the proclamation Nicholas Hoult’s psychotic Nux makes: “What a day! What a lovely day!” is a rather fitting summarization.

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This film oozes setting and style like a t-shirt struggling to contain a fat person. We see numerous distinct factions, two-headed lizards, steering wheel worship,the resurgence of Valhalla worship along with the use of awesome exploding spears(clever details showing a return to more medieval mindsets), and a guy in a red onesie playing a flamethrower guitar on a goddam moving truck. Yes I just said that. A guy in a red onesie plays a guitar that breathes fire while riding on a truck. It seems like an insignificant(albeit freaking amazing) point to focus on, but the creativity found in such a small background character shows how the filmmakers really want you to see this world as more than a generic wasteland but as a living, breathing, world that has gone to hell, setting up a universe that is begging to be explored, a unique characteristic that has been lacking in many films.

Tom Hardy’s Mad Max is the gruff badass we all want to be, his often quiet demeanor helping to show the solitary and damaged soul that hides within. Charlese Theron’s Furiosa is fantastic as she plays a badass chick who does not give a damn and kicks as much ass as she pulls at your heart strings, the audience discovering her journey is as much about redemption as it is freedom. The real dark horse pulling out ahead of everyone at top speed is Nux. How do you feel sympathy for a henchman, especially a suicidal and insane one? Hoult pulls it off by giving us a good look someone who chooses to give into the insanity since he has nothing else, his character being quite sympathetic as well as entertaining. What truly helps the acting shine is the decision to limit dialogue at times to allow the facial and physical actions for the characters to narrate their current feeling and growth, the choice to have people shut up being far more powerful than having them tell the audience the depth of their sadness in words.

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Now that sounds great, right? Well hold onto your butt and keep it in park because I haven’t even gotten to the villain yet! Imperator Joe is the classic villain that makes a film like this fun. He is diabolical, intimidating, and downright driven(like a car).

Speaking of cars, let me get on to them. The cars in this movie are understandably THE MOST GORGEOUS THINGS IN THE PLANET. The Big Rig the heroes drive around is like a souped-up ghetto Optimus Prime and is amazing. We see a huge variety of vehicles that are exciting to see since you never know what will come next. Who knows it could even be a cadillac WITH TANK TREADS. It is worth seeing this movie just to see the lengths its inhabitants go to make their rides as dope as possible for the hell hole that is their home, these making the exhilarating action scenes even more outrageously awesome that they already are.

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This film could be said to be nothing more than an extended chase which is a fair assessment to make. But if you hold it against the film, you fail to see the underlying genius behind it. Making a film nothing more than a chase scene and squeezing in the amazing setting, characters, and action is a gift in of itself and the real tension the movie fills you with makes it standout and truly be a masterpiece that every man, woman, and accompanied child should see.

Who knew that I needed the maker of Babe in the City and Happy Feet to remind me what good action is?
~Jenya

9 out of 10

If there’s one thing I love in cinema, it’s a pleasant surprise. A summer cinematic pleasant surprise? Even better. Mad Max: Fury Road just happens to be one of those stealth-bullseyes that has absolutely (and deservedly) dominated these past few weeks.

When I first heard the idea, I was pretty skeptical; of all the films to recreate during the Remake-Renaissance, the film about a bunch of clunky, sometimes cheesily-designed thundering through the desert seemed like an unlikely pick. Yet Fury Road has proven to me just I’m always in for a rock solid remake: it weaves in a little complexity in what could have been one dimensional story, it injects an old world with new colors and fascinating characters and, above all else, it resuscitates a pretty stagnant franchise. Remakes are always best when they reignite interest.

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First, let’s address the sheer insanity of this movie because it’s beautifully hyperactive from beginning to end. There’s no denying, the movie is chaotic and kinetic, pretty much unstoppable. If I may use car wordplay (forgive me here), it goes from 160 to infinity in two hours. The best part though, the thing that keeps the film fun, is that the viewer doesn’t get lost in the shuffle; I’ve maintained the simple fact that, for a movie to be truly fun, the audience has to be able to actually keep track of what’s going on as plenty of directors who toy with obscene amounts of CGI and indecipherable shaky-cam don’t seem to grasp. With all the hot rods and oddball characters running around here, keeping up with things certainly isn’t hard to do. You also – gasp – actually care about what’s going on here. (You’re laughing and saying “but it’s an action movie” but believe me when I say it’s all the difference). The movie’s relentless nature has led it to be viewed as a two hour chase by some and, yeah, it kind of is but that’s an occupational hazard of a Mad Max movie.

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This is all bolstered by the fact that the film has its own taste and unforgettable flare. I can only imagine how much time was poured into all these vehicle designs and pieces of clothing but the effort is tangible. The filmmakers pretty much galvanized a world fading into forgetability which is darned admirable. The actors working with the materials are giving it their all as well (Tom Hardy never fails to impress).

There’s also one driving (a-ha) idea behind the movie and that’s survival. Critics have lauded this for its surprising complexity and, yeah, I was nicely surprised by it. I like how the cars have become symbols of power in a barbaric world and I love how those who made the movie morphed it from being a standard action flick to being a full-on epic about what happens when humans are relegated back to their most aggressive instincts. There are definitely other themes there but my brain is too burnt out from finals to grope around for them (apologies).

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Whether you want to see it as the Odyssey of action movies or you’re just looking for some noise and neat visuals though, one thing’s for sure: you won’t be dissatisfied by the latest volume in the Mad Max saga.
~Zach