Showing posts with label Carly Simon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carly Simon. Show all posts

Friday, January 22, 2016

"The Revenant" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Revenant" as well as DVDs "Sicario" and "Testament of Youth."  The Book of the Week is Carly Simon's memoir "The Boys in the Trees." I also bring you up to date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with the 1990 Iranian film "Close-Up." 

And as an extra-added treat: a reprise of Andy Cohen's and Anderson Cooper's "Deep Talk and Shallow Tales" tour in theatres now]

The Revenant

Story based on the true life experiences of frontiersman, Hugh Glass (Leo DiCaprio), who while acting as a scout with his son for a fur trading expedition in 1820 was attacked by a bear and left for dead, but resurrected himself to seek revenge.  Revenge is a mighty potent medicine.

Revenant (noun): a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.

Hugh Glass and his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), a boy Glass had with a Pawnee woman, are acting as guides for fur traders working for an American fort in what is now Montana/North Dakota/Wyoming (though the movie was filmed in Alberta, Canada).

While drying their pelts, the traders are attacked by Native American warriors.  With few men left in their expedition, they head down river to try to get back to the Fort and to salvage what they have left of their pelts.  As they camp for the night, Glass is attacked by a bear. The remaining frontiersmen do what they can for him, but realize they will never make it back to the fort carrying Glass on a makeshift gurney.  So Captain Henry (Domhnal Gleeson), the head of the trapping party, decides they need to split up, offering two men, Fitzgerald  (Tom Hardy) and a much younger Bridger (Will Poulter), more of a share of the pelts if they stay with Glass and his son until they can come back with help. 

Fitzgerald is not a very nice guy and grows tired of waiting and hoping for Glass to die so he tries to smother Glass.  Hawk sees this and yells for Bridger.  Fitzgerald attacks Hawk. He also decides Glass is going to die anyway so buries him alive and swears Bridger to secrecy.  Fitzgerald is a bad, bad guy.

But there is something about revenge.  Despite his wounds, Glass is able to resurrect himself from his shallow grave and after mourning his son, starts his quest to find Fitzgerald and kill him. The rest of the film follows Glass on a harrowing journey where he faces all kinds of frightening entanglements that he must get out of, but "revenge is a dish best served cold."  And as Glass says, "I ain't afraid to die anymore.  I done it already."  He just keeps going. Revenge is like that.  Remember Charles Bronson in "Death Wish?"

When I go to the movies, I want two things:  I want a really well-made, well acted film and I want an enjoyable movie experience.  And that is also how I judge a film. "The Revenant" delivered just one of those for me.  It was a really well made, well acted film, but an enjoyable movie experience?  No. 

And let me clarify - an enjoyable movie experience for me can be anything from a horror film to a romantic comedy.  It doesn't have to be a piece of fluff for me to enjoy a film.  I can watch blood and gore and be dazzled by the story or the movie-making or the acting or all three.  But here, it was just too much, too intense and just too long at over two and a half hours.

I had my hands over my face, peeking through my fingers for most of the film, because it was just one intense, miserable, gruesome experience after another: an Indian attack, a bear attack, murder, being buried alive, trekking through frozen wilderness half alive, being pulled down a river, gutting a dead horse and sleeping inside the carcass, killing and more killing.  Every 15 minutes or so I had to quote Dorothy Parker and wonder, "What fresh hell is this?"  Leo just couldn't catch a break.

I am willing to go on a harrowing journey in a film but there has to be a point.  I have to feel it was for a reason, that the filmmakers were trying to make a huge statement and I just didn't feel that here.  It's just a revenge movie despite the dream sequences and his dead wife floating around.  Director Innaratu seems to like to add a dream quality to his films showing the mind and past of his heroes in spiritual sequences -  he did it in "Birdman" too.  But I didn't really get it.

And speaking of the wife, I found the relationship with his Native American wife confusing. Anyway, I think she was his wife. It was never really explained. Flashback scenes showing Glass wearing a soldier's uniform as he surveys a burned out Indian village after an attack by soldiers that killed his wife and burned his son were confusing.  Was he married to her?  Why was he there during the attack right after the attack?

But that doesn't mean that I did not appreciate the production values and the acting.  Based on a novel about Glass by Michael Punke and directed by Alejandro Inarritu, who won a Best Director Academy Award for "Birdman," the film looked beautiful thanks to cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezski, who also won an Oscar last year for "Birdman" and the year before for "Gravity."  I saw an interview with Leo where he said the entire movie was filmed in natural light and most days that was only about 90 minutes. The actors would rehearse for most of the day and then when the light was right, they would do the takes.  He also said how harsh the conditions were.  I can appreciate all of that.

Breaking it down, the bear attack was spectacular.  It was CGI, but I believed every minute of it.  I felt the bear's drool as she stood over Glass, and I felt those claws cutting into him, even with my hands over my eyes.
The acting was also spectacular.  Leo will most certainly get an Oscar, partly because of his wonderful work here, but also partly because it's time.  He has been passed over too many times before. Leo couldn't rely on his looks here, or witty repartee, because for the entire film he was grizzled and bearded and dirty...and silent.  He had little dialogue because for much of the film he was alone, but his eyes, his face told the story.  It was a great acting feat.

 But Tom Hardy.  Tom, Tom, Tom.  You are my new person.  He is the new "Olivier."  He is unrecognizable from "Locke," from "The Drop" from "The Dark Knight Rises" to "Mad Max: Fury Road."  I could go on and on.  He inhabits his roles, creates a character complete with voice and accent and leaves no trace of his last role or his real self.  I bet you didn't even know he was a Brit! He is the most exciting actor around these days.  I give my Oscar vote to him.
I loved seeing Domhnhal Gleason again but found him to be too callow and pretty for the part of the Captain of the fort.  He did a good job but was miscast.  I want to see him in more romantic comedies like "About Time."
It was refreshing to see Poulter in a sensitive, sympathetic role.  His looks often get him cast as the wise-guy, smart-ass kid or a bully, so it's nice to see this other side of him. 
As I always say, I am harder on films that have lofty goals.  This one obviously had lofty goals and is an epic film that could possibly win the Academy Award for Best Picture and another for Inarritu for Best Director. I give it props for what it accomplished, but let's just say, I'm more of a "Spotlight" kind of girl.
Rosy the Reviewer says...of course you must see this film.  But plan to have a drink afterward.  You will need it.

***Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)

Now Out on DVD

Sicario (2015)

Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, a by-the-book FBI agent, who is enlisted to help a CIA special forces team find a drug cartel hit man.

Kate is an idealistic FBI agent who makes a grim discovery during an FBI raid on a house in Chandler, Arizona. Some of her men are killed, and she and her colleagues discover false walls in the house filled with 42 dead bodies. She is assigned to be a part of an interagency task force to find the kingpin of the drug cartel and is bent on seeking revenge for the death of her men (another revenge movie)!  The group is a mysterious bunch of guys, headed by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), but Kate isn't really sure why she has been assigned to this mission and nothing these guys do is "by the book."

I said I wasn't going to review films I didn't like but this film was on several critics' Best Movie lists in 2015 so I thought I should and give you my take on it.  It's a nasty, gritty little film.  The bad guys are really bad.  They cut peoples' heads off and hang the bodies up like trophies.  And there really aren't any good guys and it all leaves you feeling really depressed.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, who gave us the taut thriller "Prisoners," here casts his eye on the fertile ground of drug trafficking and the evil that promotes.

Though I like feisty women in action films, Emily Blunt is miscast. I'm guessing she showed her action cred in the Tom Cruise film "Edge of Tomorrow" and this is capitalizing on that, but I'm just not buying it.  I find her too soft-looking and soft-spoken for an action star and, she doesn't do much in this one except look sweaty and scared and actually barely speaks for the first hour of the film.  And though she is the star, Del Toro steals it away from her.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this must be my week for gritty, dark movies. I'm exhausted. There is a message here about how the drug trade permeates so many lives but the message is pretty grim and futile.  If I haven't warned you off, then Del Toro's performance is worth seeing.

Testament of Youth (2014)

Screen adaption of acclaimed British writer Vera Brittain's 1933 memoir of World War I.

The film starts on Armistice Day in England, November 1918. Vera (Alicia Vikander) is amidst the throngs of people celebrating the end of the War.  But Vera is not as happy as those around her.

Flashback four years and we see a young woman and four young men swimming.  It's all young love, poetry and the immortality that young people feel.  But then war comes along.

With a title like "Testament of Youth" and happy-go-lucky youth at a time before the horrors of WW I, you can pretty much figure out what is going to happen.

Vera is an independent young woman who wants to go to Oxford.  However, her father (Dominic West) doesn't approve of education for women.  Vera wants to be a writer in a world where women are supposed to get married and have babies.  Despite her father's protests, Vera gets into Oxford.  But when WW I breaks out, Vera's brother Edward (Taron Egerton), her fiancé, Roland (Kit Harrington) and their two friends Geoffrey (Jonathan Bailey) and Victor (Colin Morgan) all enlist and are sent to the front lines. Ah, youth.  They tell Vera the war will be "short and fast."

Despite how hard it was for Vera to get into Oxford, the War makes her want to do more.  She leaves school to join the war effort and become a military nurse tending to wounded soldiers.  Brittain wrote a memoir about her experiences during the war which became a best-seller in 1933.

People don't realize today what a terrible war WW I was, and you don't see that many films about it. Eleven million soldiers died in WW I, 117 thousand of them were American soldiers and WW I lasted only a little over four years. Compare that to 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam; the war in Vietnam lasted 20 years. Plus WW I was a brutal war of hand-to-hand combat and primitive foxholes.  Brittain's book was a feminist story but it also became an anti-war statement as she described the horrors she experienced and, because of that, she remained a life-long pacifist.

The Brits know how to make these historical dramas and director James Kent has mounted a lovely production, with a screen adaptation by Juliette Towhidi.

But this film belongs to Alicia Vikander. Before there was Alicia Vikander in "Ex Machina" (she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance) and "The Danish Girl (she is nominated for an Oscar for her role and just won "The Critics Choice Award"), there was Alicia Vikander in this coming of age story set against the backdrop of WW I.  It's also nice to see Harrington doing something different from his Jon Snow character in "Game of Thrones."

Rosy the Reviewer anti-war romance about a very terrible war with a lovely performance by Vikander, who has had a very good year.  This was right before it all happened for her. It's always fun to see young actors right at the cusp of hitting it big.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

264 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Close-Up (1990)

Based on a real incident, this pseudo-documentary explores the story of an Iranian man who is arrested for impersonating a filmmaker.

Pretending to be the famous Iranian filmmaker, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Hossain Sabzian (himself) gains access to a wealthy family by promising them parts in his next film. Though this is a dramatization of a real event, the real people play themselves and actual footage from the trial is used.

The film begins with a reporter coming to a house with some police officers and through a series of flashbacks, the story unfolds. While riding a bus, Hossain Sabzian meets Mrs. Mahrokh Ahankhah.  He has a copy of the novel, "The Cyclist" on his lap and she remarks upon it.  She tells him that she is a big fan of the director, Makhmalbaf, who made a film adaptation of the book.  Hossain, who is also a big fan of Makhmalbaf, tells her he is the director.  When she asks why a famous film director would be riding the bus, he replies that he often does this to get ideas and background information for his films. "Art must spring from life."

Over a period of time, posing as Makhmalbaf, Hossain ingratiates himself with the family, visiting them frequently, accepting money and saying that he wants to use their home for a film location and their sons as actors.  Eventually, after seeing a picture of the real Makhmalbaf, Mr. Ahankhah becomes suspicious and calls a reporter to the home to verify Makhmalbaf's identity.  The reporter recognizes the imposter immediately and the police are called.

What starts out as a small lie on a bus balloons into an exploration of the nature of truth and how easy it is to be hijacked into believing your own lies, especially when you are a man with few resources who gets to feel like "somebody," if even for a short time.  And it's a story of the difference between the classes.

Why it's a Must See:  "Besides being a funny, thought-provoking deconstruction of documentary conventions, [this film] is a tribute both to the power of cinema and to the essential goodness -- and imaginative capabilities -- of ordinary people."
--"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Abbas Kiarostami likes to play with movie conventions and to remind you that you are watching a movie.  He directed this film within a film using crude cinema verite techniques that make you question whether you are watching a movie or real events unfolding and in so doing Kiarostami reminds us of the power of film.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating recreation of real events using real people playing themselves that examines the nature of truth. 

***Book of the Week***

Boys in the Trees by Carly Simon (2015)

Singer/songwriter Carly Simon shares her story.

Born the third daughter of Richard L. Simon, one of the co-founders of the publishing house, Simon & Schuster, Simon grew up the child of privilege.  But as her story unfolds, we discover that money truly can't buy happiness. 

She grew up surrounded by music and culture.  Celebrities were a constant at her parent's parties, but her childhood and early adolescence were also fraught with secrets and insecurity.  She had a stutter that turned her inward and which made school difficult.  However, she learned that when she sang, the stutter disappeared.  She and her sister Lucy started performing folk songs in Greenwich Village and then had a heady time in Swinging London during the 60's.

As Simon tells her story, she weaves a delicious web that pulls you in and keeps you there, wanting to know more...about her first meeting with Jamie Taylor on Martha's Vineyard when they were both young; about Sean Connery's attentions on a ship crossing the Atlantic; about her love affairs (and she had a LOT of them - Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, to name just two) before she married James Taylor, the first time she met Mick Jagger and more.  There are lots of celebrity tidbits to satisfy even the most rabid celebrity maven. 

But it's not all celebrity titillation.  She also talks about her horrible stage fright, what women in the music industry must cope with, her career, her marriage to Taylor that ended in divorce, anxiety, depression, it's all here.

Rosy the Reviewer astonishingly candid autobiography that fans of Simon and of celebrity memoirs will love. It's right up there with the best of them.

***At the Theatre***

AC (squared): An Intimate Evening with Anderson Cooper & Andy Cohen - Deep Talk and Shallow Tales.

Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper are friends and are on tour with a show filled with good-humored banter and lots of inside stories about Bravo shows and each other's lives. 
Andy interviews Anderson and Anderson interviews Andy.  They intersperse it all with some film clips and end the evening with a Q & A from the audience. 
I actually got to ask my question.  It was a deeply felt and important question for Andy that I was sure the world wanted to know: 
"Are you real, every-day friends with any of the housewives?" 
Answer:  Carole Radziwill and Bethenny Frankel, but he has to be careful to not show any favoritism.  There, now the world knows!
Rosy the Reviewer says..If you are a Bravo TV fan or a fan of either of the Andys, you will want to see if this show is playing in a town near you.  It's a fun evening at the theatre.
That's it for this week.

Thanks for Reading!


See You Tuesday for

"The Good Old Days:
Were They Really Good? -
What I Miss and What I Don't"

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