Fur trappers push the American frontier against brutal environments and hostile natives to find their fortune in pelts. Hugh Glass has lived in this frontier for years, tending to his son and still in mourning over his wife's death. After a violent encounter with the wild Glass is left for dead and must rely on his frontier knowledge to push his body to vengeance. Alejandro G. Iñárritu directs The Revenant from a screenplay written by Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.
There's a direct correlation between my interest in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's movies and how placid they are. Birdman wasn't the brilliant film many of my contemporaries thought but it was an excellent way to spend an afternoon. The same goes for Amores Perros, which hurtles into layers of Mexican society with such passion every scene feels vital. With The Revenant Iñárritu is continuing his respected artist / insane genius act Birdman began but to diminishing returns.
The Revenant is an impressive piece of craftsmanship. I don't want to diminish the film-making itself as Iñárritu and company went through absolute hell to get the story committed to film. Tom Hardy is on hand to provide the superb supporting work he's excelled at and Leonardo DiCaprio gives a heart in hand physically and emotionally naked performance. Then there's the climax, lord that climax, which sees two men battle each other in so brutal a fashion the closest analogue I have is from the bloody knife fight from David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises.
The craftsmanship is superb, but the end that craftsmanship serves is one I can't support. Iñárritu is a deeply spiritual director and The Revenant is at once an exorcism of dark impulses and optimistic glimpse into the unknown. However, the glimpse comes from delving into deeply troubling storytelling tropes and Iñárritu's willingness to flaunt the artificiality of the movie he so desperately wanted to be free from. Iñárritu may be the only person on earth other than Werner Herzog who could have made The Revenant but he turns out to be his own worst enemy.
The Kenneth Anger films discussed as part of this project are available for purchase in a collection from Fantoma.
I've come to the end, for now, of my look at the movies of Kenneth Anger. In a curious twist I wonder how my reaction to Lucifer Rising might have been if I didn't spend the last couple of months watching Anger's work. All the elements of Lucifer Rising are assembled from the different elements of style Anger assembled for his earlier movies. We've got the multicultural imagery akin to Rabbit's Moon, the subtext of Fireworks, the fragmented editing combined with rock star soundtrack of Invocation of my Demon Brother, and an apocalyptic outlook similar to Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.
My reaction to Lucifer Rising was like eating a lackluster stew. I sense all the familiar ingredients and, individually, love them. But when Anger throws them together in Lucifer Rising my reaction grew from interest to boredom. This throws me for a bit of a loop since I enjoy so much of what Anger puts into his films and some of the incidental buzz about Lucifer Rising I've gleaned recently made me excited to watch it.
Ellis Lacey is going to America. Not that she's excited, in truth she's nervous, nor is she happy to leave her family. With the possibilities of America laid out before her Ellis tries to find her place in this land while dreaming of the Ireland she loves. John Crowley directs Brooklyn, from a screenplay written by Nick Hornby, and stars Saoirse Ronan.
Somewhere in the contract women performers have to sign to "make it" must be a clause about being the lead in a romantic period piece. Carey Mulligan had her turn in An Education, Keira Knightley for the ur-romance Pride and Prejudice, and, if we go by the primary relationship, even Meryl Streep did the same for Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Now Saoirse Ronan gets her turn in the romantic period piece Brooklyn.
I haven't read the novel upon which the movie is based. Whether it's a good or poor examination of immigrant conditions at the dawn of the 20th century is not reflected in its cinematic adaptation. It's not that there isn't fun to be had with Brooklyn as I laughed frequently. The problem is more these romantic period pieces seem cut from the same cloth and end up reducing the complexities of women to choosing a proper mate than saying anything about their period.
Again, I don't want to sell Brooklyn too short, but it is what it is. Thankfully there are several elements in play which keep the familiar pieces moving at a brisk pace. Chief among them is the spectacular work by Ronan, strong and subtle direction from John Crowley, and a screenplay written by the perpetually charming Nick Hornby.
The Cold War is ramping up as American and Soviet spies play cat-and-mouse on the ground while propaganda pieces blare over the airways. Rudolf Abel, spy for the Soviets, is arrested by the CIA after spending years in America. The American government hopes to put on a show about the fairness of their justice system and enlists insurance lawyer James Donovan for the defense - a defense Donovan takes more seriously than his superiors and leads him into the world of espionage. Steven Spielberg directs Bridge of Spies from a screenplay written by Matt Charman, Joel Coen, and Ethan Coen, and stars Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance.
Steven Spielberg has been a convenient boogeyman whether you fall on the high or low side of the cinematic cultural divide. Either he's the person who tries and fails to introduce complex ideas to a mainstream audience or waters down his considerable talent to make easily accessible mediocrities. I'm slightly exaggerating both positions but they're not uncommon since he was "responsible" for breaking the artistic control directors had over studios in the '70s (see also: the George Lucas backlash). However, this is important to think about as we look at Bridge of Spies because if we focus on the surface it's the sort of lark he and Tom Hanks might throw together during an otherwise lazy summer.
But Spielberg has a trio of aces to play in the form of a screenplay co-written by Matt Charman, Joel Coen, and Ethan Coen. Spielberg's never been shy about throwing some institutional critiques in with his support of patriotism. Having the Coen brothers on hand to sharpen those critiques makes what would otherwise be a decent film into a pretty good one.
Live in Boston? You're likely a Catholic. The Church and city are so synonymous that everyone knows, is, or has lapsed from their grace. But sometimes it takes an outsider to see the sin in a virtuous façade, and with one observation a team of reporters begins a long and trying investigation into the evil these "good men" do. Tom McCarthy directs Spotlight from a script written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, and stars Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci.
I had to ask myself - just how long did it take me to notice the sexual abuse committed by the Catholic Church? I ask because I don't remember. My memory has this haze between when the Catholic Church was only the guilt-ridden older brother to the Episcopalians we went to when I lived in South Carolina. In my memory the Catholic Church was a monolith then somewhere along the line it all switched and the abuse seems so disgustingly natural to the structure of the religion my mind just didn't make a note of it.
But I remember where I was on 9/11. I remember sitting at my desk in my grammar class in high school while my teacher stood at the end of my aisle staring in horror at the television screen. Even then I knew it meant war, more meaningless death, and the next few years proceeded as painfully and disastrously as my seventeen-year old mind predicted.
Spotlight, in its own painful way, reminded me of the dedication of those who continued doing their jobs in spite of 9/11. The characters aren't heroes, they're people flawed in their actions and have filters which selectively chose information as the months rolled on when the proof of the sexual abuse was in their hands the whole time. Writer / director Tom McCarthy, one of my absolute favorites (I'll assume The Cobbler was the price he paid to make this), has made so many low-key movies of insight that I wouldn't have picked him to handle something with the scope of Spotlight. But he was the perfect choice because he is at his best when depicting people just trying to get the job done.