Monday, December 28, 2015

The Revenant

Gritty, grisly and gripping are the applicable adjectives for Writer/Director Alejandro Gonzάlez  Iñάrittu’s survival story The Revenant. 

The film is based on the real-life trials of 1820s frontiersman and trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who was mauled by a bear and, then, purposely left for dead by fellow trapper (Tom Hardy), who, also, killed his son (Forrest Goodluck).
Left without food or weapons and his body wracked with wounds, Glass is forced to undergo incredible torments and dangers by men, beasts, weather and terrain to get back to some semblance of civilization.  But, even then, the battle is not over.

Though not for the faint-hearted, this film is a triumph of the human spirit.  

Don’t be intimidated by the over 2 ½ hour length.  Iñάrittu’s genius is exemplified by his use of award-winning Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s sublime images and Composers  Bryce Dessner’s, Carsten Nicolai’s and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s fabulous music to keep the action flowing.   

And, it’s DiCaprio’s talent that makes this otherwise prosaic piece of history meaningful.  
The point is that any lessening of the length would have robbed the story of its powerful feeling for Glass’s desperation.

I give The Revenant a 4.4 out of 5.


In Writer/Director David O. Russell’s Joy, the main character’s mother (Virginia Madsen) is obsessed with TV Soap Operas and the initial problem with this otherwise wonderful production is that for the first 20 minutes or so, the film plays like a Soap Opera with the only difference being that it is acted by a superstar cast of actors, including Jennifer Lawrence as Joy, Robert De Niro as her father, Diane Ladd as Joy’s grandmother and Isabella Rossellini as her father’s new love.
It’s not until Bradley Cooper, as a QVC shopping channel executive, comes on the scene that this film really takes off and, when it does, it soars!  But, the soaring is due to the actors more than the script, which seems to put too much emphasis on the real life story of Joy Mangano, who served as one of the Executive Producers, instead of being more universal in its reach.

Despite its lame opening and script issues, Joy still gets a 4.5 out of 5.  

Son of Saul

Writer/Director Lάzlό Nemes’ Son of Saul is a grim portrait of man’s inhumanity to man, taking viewers into the inner workings of a Polish death camp in 1944.

Here, the most able-bodied Jews are forced to clean the gas chambers, strip valuables from the clothes, burn the corpses and shovel the ashes into the nearby river.  Things you’d never want to realize took place happen around Hungarian Jew Saul Ausländer (Gėza Röhrig), as Cinematographer Mάtyάs Erdėly keeps his angular face in close-up.

In an effort to have some degree of moral focus, Saul tries to give a Jewish burial to a young boy, who, somehow, survived the gas chamber only to be suffocated by a doctor. 
The problem is that Saul’s moral compass turns to obsession as he claims the boy is his son and lets his delusion betray the living men, who are attempting to escape the prison.  

The ultimate failure of Saul to help both the living and the dead left me feeling sick, but perhaps that’s what Nemes intended. 

If you’re looking for entertainment, avoid Son of Saul like the moral plague the Nazis created.  Still, as a powerful first effort, I give it a 4 out of 5.

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Director Jason Moore’s Sisters is an uproarious gross-out laugh fest.

Star/Producer Tina Fey and Amy Poehler play siblings, one a wild cat and the other a pussy cat, who throw a final party in their childhood home, when their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) decide to move into a condo.

Obviously, chaos ensues, but with Writer Paula Pell’s hilarious script and Cinematographer Barry Peterson’s sense of capturing comedy from the right angles, Moore creates the most laughs I’ve had since Melissa McCarthy’s Spy, earlier this year.

Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, John Cena, Samantha Bee, Ike Barinholtz and John Leguizamo add to the fun.

The interesting thing about this experience was the fact the women in the audience laughed louder at some lines than the men.  (I’ll admit that some of those times, I didn’t fully understand the joke.)  But, there were times when the men had the louder laughs.  However, most of the time, there was mutual enjoyment of the humor.  (Though some of the humor may not be appropriate for those who have led too sheltered a life.)

If you need some big belly laughs, and who doesn’t, go and enjoy Sisters.

I give it a 4.5 out of 5.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The first thing I want to say about Writer/Director J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that it is even better than I hoped it would be.  Abrams has truly awakened a franchise that has been suffering from disastrous prequels to the original, which opened in 1977.  He has masterfully blended what made the Star Wars franchise so successful with a new generation of heroes and heroines that ensures more adventures to come.
Since, thankfully, the details of this film were kept underwraps, here are some of the things with which I was most impressed (without spoiling any plot points for you). 

First of all, I’m thrilled that Harrison Ford is back as Han Solo and that this character and Chewbacca are so important to the plot.  Secondly, I’m delighted to tell you that Carrie Fisher is more attractive as Leia, today, than she was in 1977.  Thirdly, the addition of Keira Knightly look-alike Daisy Ridley was brilliant  casting.   And, that’s not, in any way, a putdown of this marvelous actress, who admirably proves herself.  (I’m looking forward to a film in which she and Keira play sisters.)  And, fourthly, I’m happy that Abrams brought Michael Arndt (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) to the writing team to make it so much more than an action-flic.
To be sure, however, there is action galore to keep you on edge throughout, great music by Composer John Williams and amazing camerawork by Cinematographer Daniel Mindel.

 Additional performance standouts are Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, Domnall Gleeson as General Hux, Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata and John Boyega as Finn.
The only problem I had was the casting of Adam Driver as Kylo Ren.  And, it didn’t have to do with his fine performance.  It’s just that there’s no way looks-wise he could be the biological son of Han Solo and Leia as portrayed by Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.  That might seem as nit-picking, but this is one of those rare years when the highest grossing film may also be a top contender for Best Picture of the Year and these little nuances can make the difference.

If you are or were a Star Wars fan, this film is an absolute must-see.  And, go early, so you can cheer along with the rest of the audience, when your favorite characters come on the screen.

I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens a 4.8 out of 5.