The Revenant (2016)

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****/*****

For Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s second blockbuster hit, we are transported to Montana and South Dekota, USA during the 1800s – a time where selling animal pelt, horses and weaponry were the main source of income, with a backdrop of blistering cold.

Following the style of camerawork displayed in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Inarritu uses carefully constructed long takes which give the film an artistic and professional edge of flawless and meticulous construction. The stunning locations, carefully picked and lit without artificial light sources, enable the film to stay true to these stunning locations – by shooting them as naturally as possible. As awkward and painstaking this may have been for the production crew by giving them only a certain amount of shooting time throughout each day, the end result gives a depth and earthiness to the picture.

The use of only natural light brings a deeper and richer tone to the films’ colour scale – with intense blues that melt perfectly into the bright whites of the snow, and are not lost in the greys. The contrasts of colour, like blood on snow or intense golden sunrises over the frozen landscape are wonderfully captured.

The way that the film encapsulates trees, water and snow is crucial to the construction of these locations in the film – with wide angle shots of forests and rivers that emphasise the vast space of this arctic wasteland. Inarritu uses clarity of water as a reflective tool often, keeping the film as close to and as tied in with nature as possible.

One interesting point to make about the cinematography was the way in which close ups are used in the film. When a character is framed in a close up of their face, and they breathe, the camera lens steams up. This technique is used in order to accentuate the freezing temperatures of the characters’ surroundings – but it also brings the audience out of the action by reminding them of the medium – you are watching a film and are asked to be aware of that. I believe this is a great way of engaging the audience with the medium by asking them to be aware of the films’ technicalities.

In ties with the cinematography, is the films’ use of sound. A tribal style is used, with drums and percussion making up the main bulk of the films’ score – which can also be linked to the sound used in Birdman. It fits perfectly here, though, as a subtle tool used to build tension – which is used particularly well in the films’ climactic ending.

It would be impossible to review this film without talking about the visual effects. The infamous grizzly bear scene has become a major talking point when referencing the film, even amongst those who have not yet seen the movie. The bear was made completely from CGI, and when shooting the scene Leonardo Di Caprio was harnessed up and yanked around by production crew members. The grizzly was added in during post-production, and the end result is brutal and hard to watch, as Di Caprio delivers a blood-curdling scream of pain as the digital bear rips at his skin.

The reason for creating the bear completely from CGI was due to bears of this day and age being too ‘fat’, as Inarritu stated, and that bears in the 1800’s looked much different to the bears that we see in captivity today. The bear created for the film is realistic in texture, appearance and the way that it moves, and its’ interaction with Di Caprio’s Hugh Glass is incredible in its’ believability despite the actor having nothing to interact with during filming. In addition to the bear, a model horse and buffalo, and make-up scars that Di Caprio wears  all stand out as incredibly realistic visual effects.

One of the films’ biggest flaws is it’s simplistic storyline, which features some decent-sized loopholes. The biggest example would be the complete indestructibility of Hugh Glass. He is mauled horrifically by a bear until he is unable to move and speak, however without any medical attention (bar some rough stitching under no anaesthetic) he somehow manages to get to his feet and survive weeks of trudging through -20 degree landscape. This is supposed to be an epic survival story, sure – the difficult and near-impossible experiences of a desperate man – however some of the films’ events are so wildly insane that they pull you out of the story to think ‘really?’.

The length of the film is difficult too, but instead of a flaw I found this to be one of the films’ merits. Nearing three hours of slow, long takes and repetitive action with limited dialogue finds you wishing for something exciting to happen, and willing for the plot to move ahead. This impatience that the audience feels is a great feature of the film, because it forces the audience to be patient and appreciate the small details and Glass’ struggle. The urgency you want the film to take gives Inarritu the power, and the audience is ultimately rewarded by a spur of intense action with quick cuts and action that leaves you gasping and hanging off the edge of your seat.

The cast were a credit to the film, with incredible performances from all. Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson give heartwarming, strong performances as the films’ ultimate good-guys, victims of circumstance with great senses of morality – which shines through in their performances. Leonardo Di Caprio may be faulted by others for his lack of dialogue – for most of the film he is alone and wounded, grunting his way through the film. To me, however, this is exactly the reason he should be given credit for the film. He relies solely on  body language, on emotion, and without the luxury of playing off another actor. You believe that he is in pain. You believe his sorrow for his losses. And in addition, he really did eat a real, raw bison liver, and the vomiting reaction you see is genuine – due to Di Caprio being a vegetarian. If that doesn’t scream dedication, I’m not sure what does.

Tom Hardy’s performance as John Fitzgerald, the films’ antagonist, is near flawless. In his best, well-recognised villain voice, Hardy portrays a nasty, calculating murderer – and so well that you can’t help but hate him. The films’ climactic last scene between Di Caprio and Hardy brings together the creme-de-la-creme of acting ability in an intense and heart-pounding few minutes of fast cut action, perfectly acted and brilliantly executed, leaving the audience dizzy from excitement and satisfied with the final outcome. A rollercoaster of emotions ranging from eager impatience to stunned silence to intense anticipation, The Revenant is not to be missed.

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The Hateful Eight (2016)

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****.5/*****

The Hateful Eight. The 8th film by cinematic artist Quentin Tarantino. Released on the 8th.

What poetry is this? Once again we are transported to a world of strong and resonant characters, unrelenting violence and perfectly poetic dialogue.

Where to begin with this film? The locations. Set in the deserted landscapes of Wyoming, America, post civil-war. Thick with snow, and just in time for a blizzard, the film opens with beautiful wide-angle shots of open space, panning slowly to accentuate the desolate landscape with only John Ruth’s (Kurt Russell) stagecoach in sight.

The four-seat stagecoach itself is intimate – a wonderful location to kick off the action and hold in the delicious tension that Bounty Hunters Ruth and Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) create and extend to criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and new Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) during their journey. As with many Tarantino movies, heavy dialogue plays its’ part in this film. Eloquent language that you as the audience get wrapped up in and taken away with, the stagecoach journey is wonderfully used as a devise of delving into these characters and learning important traits and historical information that becomes crucial as the plot thickens.

And of course, Minnie’s Haberdashery – the centre stage. One room that contains all of the action for the rest of the movie. A bold move on Tarantino’s part – at risk of boring the audience with a singular location, he masterfully blows this idea out of the water by using action and dialogue that keeps tension and excitement of the audience flowing throughout. The rich reds and deep mahoganies of the Cabin are a stark contrast to the blues and whites of the arctic exterior.

The cinematography of the film is masterful, with long and slow landscape shots to emphasise space and engulf the characters (as I have aforementioned), perfectly framed characters and intelligent use of Motion Blur, with pans and tracks that help to build tension and leave the audience on the edge of their seats. One of my favourite things about this movie is the way that each shot is individually motivated – planned so meticulously so that every little detail that you see is present for a reason.

It’s impossible to talk about Tarantino’s style without mentioning the lack of chronology and use of chapter titles in The Hateful Eight. Chaptered sections help to break up the action of the three hour epic into smaller, more digestible chunks, whilst also giving off a professional storytelling vibe. Not unlike his work in Pulp Fiction (1994), Tarantino tells this story partly out of sequence in order to heighten suspense and give a more rounded, juicy reveal of the films’ final twist.

As you will probably know by now, The Hateful Eight recently won itself a Golden Globe in the form of Best Score, which was written by Ennio Morricone. This was the first completely original score for a Tarantino film, which was composed, orchestrated and conducted by Morricone himself – and includes 50 minutes of original music. In my opinion, the choice to use original music gives a more personal and intimate feel, especially with a Western film.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a Tarantino film review if not to mention unconventional characters and unique acting styles. Samuel L. Jackson’s Warren is exactly as you would hope he would be, slick, confident and luxurious, with a quick-witted tongue and even quicker skill with a gun. Russell’s John Ruth is wonderfully arrogant and brash, spouting hilarious insults as he drags prisoner Domergue behind him. Tim Roth’s performance as English Hangman Oswaldo Mobray is wonderfully slimy, irritating and funny – which somehow brings Christoph Waltz to mind. Leigh’s performance as Domergue is applaudable – as an almost reptilian-like villain, constantly half-smiling through her bruised eyes and bloodied nose. In amongst these actors, there is an unexpected appearance from a very popular, typically un-Tarantino-esque actor which both shocked and excited the audience, which was kept very hushed from public promotion.

To sum up, Quentin Tarantino’s eighth feature is masterful, intricate and keeps you on the edge of your seat, regardless to the 187-minute running time. Split into even Chapters, the audience is lead carefully through each scene on a journey that ultimately leads to the demise of at least one of the characters involved. If you are a fan of Tarantino movies, this film will not disappoint. It holds all of the typical features of a Tarantino film, but within a more intimate framework.

The Martian (2015)

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****/*****

When pitched a film about a man abandoned on Mars, with limited communication to Earth and limited chance of survival – the first things you think of are definitely not funny quips and 80s dance music.

Ridley Scott’s The Martian is definitely a success. With Matt Damon as the front runner, playing astronaut botanist Mark Watney in his struggle to get back to our home planet after being presumed dead on Mars and left behind. His performance is lively, comedic, passionate, and with every rise and fall that Watney faces, the audience faces with him. When watching this film, I took great pleasure in being swept up in Damon’s performance – feeling joy and sorrow as he enjoys the minuscule victories and huge failures in attempting to survive on a deserted planet. Surprisingly humorous, Watney’s quips cause a chuckle amongst the intense nature of the films’ subject, but it doesn’t feel out of place.

The Martian’s soundtrack is made up of 80s dance classics, from the music collection of Watney’s crew member, left behind on Mars with Watney. As the only music he has access to, it is also the only music we have access to. And it works. As he gets to work, doing tasks such as gardening to the beat of artists such as Donna Summer and Thelma Houston.

With a supporting cast made up of Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara and Sean Bean – The Martian showcases a variety of talented actors pushed to the edges of our universe in order to rescue one man trapped on a foreign planet.

The cinematography is of course, wonderful. Intricate shots of the vastness of space, but more stunning are the constructed shots of Mars. A vast, open desert landscape – caught perfectly on camera as a deadly and threateningly beautiful mystery. The tone of the film is set out through these landscapes, and the magnitude of Watney’s situation is driven home through the physical difference in size between one man and the desolate landscape that threatens to engulf him.

All in all, The Martian is a great success. Gripping, beautiful and emotionally charged, Scott’s latest space adventure is well deserving of it’s success – showing the world just what the digital age of cinema can show us about the world beyond our world.

Legend (2015)

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****/*****

Ah, The Kray Twins. Those legendary Gangster brothers that took over the East End of London with their gang during the 1950s and 60s. Brian Helgeland’s Legend tells the story of Ronald and Reginald Kray’s crimes during their active years, told by Reggie’s wife Frances (played by Emily Browning)… And who better to tackle the lead roles of the high-end biopic of the lethal duo than Tom Hardy?

A masterful film from its’ inception, cleverly told through the innocent eyes of 18-year-old Frances Shea as she falls in and out of love with Reggie Kray throughout the ups and downs of his criminal career with his beloved sibling. This film, with an age certificate of 18, promises gore and strong language, and it delivers. Both comically inspired and ruthlessly tense, Legend brings to life a gritty and secretive underbelly to the City of London.

Tom Hardy’s portrayal of each twin is to be credited – the unstable, hot-tempered Bane-voiced Ronnie is a lightyear away from his brother, calculating and reasonable, with a soft spot for his Frances. And of course it would be impossible to talk about the portrayal of the two brothers by one man without applauding the cinematography and editing teams for the completely faultless way that they created the illusion of two Hardy’s onscreen.

The supporting cast, made up of Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston, David Thewlis, Taron Egerton and Paul Bettany, amongst others, were all incredible in their performances, although were definitely overshone by the power of Hardy’s limelight. Having the film told by Frances is interesting in the way that she thoroughly explores the Krays from the outside, yet interestingly we are not given complete clarity into her character as the wife of a Kray. This underdevelopment of her character can be seen as one of the films faults, yet can be forgiven by the overpowering nature of the films’ closing scenes.

This film lived up to my fairly high expectations through it’s beautifully (although sometimes slightly too pristine) captured scenes, stunning acting and intricate plot and character developments. The ‘calm after the storm’ elegance of the final scene in the film is effective in leaving me as an audience member satisfied with what I have witnessed, as the film fades from Reggie at rock bottom into titles explaining the ultimate imprisonment and demise of the once dazzlingly dangerous and powerful brothers. A must-see for any crime and thriller fan.

Inside Out (2015)

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****/*****

Have you ever wanted to read somebody’s mind?

The latest animated adventure release from Pixar takes us into the mind of 11 year old Riley, who struggles with the fact that her family has uprooted to a new city. The main characters are the emotions that control Riley’s everyday responses to the world around her. These come in the form of Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness.

Funny and witty, this film delves into the girls unconscious, making it a sort of hyper-real universe with a screen into what Riley is seeing. The way that the brains functions and how memories are contained is very clever – in the form of crystal balls of different colours which indicate the emotion that captured each memory. In addition to this, other parts of the conscious are explored such as children’s imagination and abstract thought.

Directed by Pete Docter, With an all-star voice cast lead by comedienne Amy Poehler as Joy, known for her happy, bouncy personality makes her perfect for this role. Poehler is supported by Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader and Phyllis Smith, which all are perfectly appropriate for their respective characters.

Finishing off the star cast is Richard Kind as imaginary friend Bing Bong, Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan as Riley’s parents, and of course Kaitlyn Dias voices Riley herself.

The soundtrack is melodic and sweet, perfectly complimenting the wonder and magic of the imagination, whilst also leading the audience into the melancholic anguish when Joy is faced with despair.

The way that comedy was presented in the form of day-to-day occurrences really stood out to me and has made this film very special. For example, a little exchange between Riley’s parents at the dinner table, in which the audience are invited into their individual ‘mind control rooms’. The male fathers’ emotions cannot understand what the mothers’ female emotions are trying to hint at, whilst the female emotions tut and hiss that the male emotions are useless. In addition, the panic of unnamed teenage boys’ emotions as his mind control room goes into meltdown because Riley (A girl!) has spoken to him.

A very interesting concept that is thorough in its’ approach and its’ delivery, Inside Out is in my mind a stunning success. Beautifully colourful and gripping from start to finish with an array of funny and well thought out characters, a must see for audience members of any age.

Ted 2 (2015)

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***.5/*****

Here we go again! The sequel to Seth McFarlane‘s hysterically funny 2012 hit, about a crude teddy bear that comes to life.

The film takes place 6 months after John (played by Mark Whalberg) has divorced from fiancee of the first film, Lori. Ted (voiced by McFarlane) is marrying Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) and all is near-enough well. Flash forward to three years later, and amids the couples’ arguing and aggressiveness, they decide to have a baby. In order to qualify as an adoptive parent, Ted is then forced to prove that he is a person within the court of law – with the help of new love interest and trainee lawyer Samantha (played by Amanda Seyfried), and even a small part to play by the one and only Morgan Freeman.

The first laugh-out-loud moment comes fairly early on when Ted and John go to a sperm bank in order to deposit a sample for Teds’ baby, and the duo get caught up in the sample room.

Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) makes an appearance, now working for Hasbro, the toy company, and once again makes trouble for the pair as he tries desperately to grab the bear that he has always wanted.

With ups and downs, and even a trip to Comic-Con with a hilarious encounter with a model of the Starship Enterprise, the film flows well, and the ridiculous adventures that ensue almost seem believable and obvious in the way that the chain of events are presented to the audience. With slight chuckles at some moments, and a couple of decent belly-laughs, Ted 2 lived up to the hype that surrounds it. With references to the first film, with Thunder Buddies and Flash Gordon alike, we are taken along the next stage of Teds’ life gladly – and the films’ ending promises to leave you shaking your head with a smile on your face as you leave the theatre.

Life After Beth (2014)

**.5/*****

The concept is simple.

Girlfriend dies, boyfriend is distraught. But what happens when girlfriend rises from the dead, with no explanation, not knowing that she died in the first place?

Jeff Baena’s comedy horror Life After Beth tells the story of how Zach (Dane Dehaan) deals with the sudden death of his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) after she is resurrected slightly differently to how he remembers her.

With a supporting cast of John C. Riley and Anna Kendrick, this film promised laughs and heartbreak through the romantic tension built by the couple pulled apart by fate. With this in mind, however, I feel like the film falls short in places.

The film opens with Zach shopping for black napkins before the funeral of his beloved Beth. His mourning process is highlighted in the early scenes, and Dehaan’s portrayal of heartbreak is believable, which makes us eager for Beths’ revival.

She is resurrected shortly after Zach and Beths’ father (played by Riley) bond over smoking weed whilst playing chess – with no explanation of how this miracle could have occurred.

The comedy timing portrayed between Beths’ father and Beth’s ignorance to her situation and lust for Zach is effective in its’ approach, with Riley’s awkward father reactions to the sexual advances of her daughter to her boyfriend; and the refusal to tell her what has happened to her.

The early scenes between Dehaan and Plaza are beautifully done – making the audience believe in their love and the carefree nature of their romance. Zach is delighted to have his girlfriend back and we are delighted for him, but not for long.

As she begins to decay, her personality changes and she becomes more and more angry and frustrated, lashing out and attacking potential new love interest Erica (Anna Kendrick). The confusion that Beth feels is portrayed well by Plaza, with her need to be close to Zach in this scary place in which she is unsure if she is dead or alive.

At this point, the film loses its’ grip on my emotions with how out of hand it becomes within a matter of scenes. All of a sudden all the dead people in the whole neighbourhood are resurrected, spurring a miniature community-wide apocalypse whereby the old owners of Zach’s house and his deceased grandfather enter the home.

As the film draws to a close, we are invited into the intimacy of Zach and Beth’s relationship one last time in her final moments and his goodbye. A spark of recognition by the now completely overtaken Beth creates one last potential heartfelt moment, which draws to a close the feelings of love and hurt that these characters feel – however it is undermined by the ridiculousness of the comedic aftermath of her death – as she rolls down the hill dragged by an oven like a rag doll in a washing machine.

The end scene of Zach placing Beths’ scarf and her fathers’ chess piece on their respective graves is a nice touch, however the end just sets up for his next relationship as he gets into the car and asks Erica on a date. As the film finishes, the plot is also still unresolved. We never find out how the towns’ deceased came back to life for a period of two days and then vanished again, or why.

Perhaps this film is just slapstick and silly from start to finish, as the plot suggests, yet I feel that as a viewer that is invited into the romantic aspects of the story and connections between characters, this was not fulfilled throughout and perhaps lacks the clarity that was needed for me to feel satisfied as the end credits began to roll.

Whiplash (2014)

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*****/*****

The hiss of a snare. The boom of a bass drum. The harsh rattle of a symbol. What more could you expect from a film about Jazz music and drums than to have a faultless score?

With an intricate soundtrack, and carefully selected cinematography, held together by perfectly woven editing, Whiplash is hard to criticise.

Directed by Damien Chazelle, a drummer in his own right, Whiplash surrounds a young aspiring drummer, who has hopes of becoming one of the best musicians in the world. Enrolled in the top music school in New York, and the world, Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller) is taught under the terrifyingly brutal instructor Terence Fletcher (played by J. K. Simmons), known for his short temper and cruel methods of teaching. The film follows Neiman’s journey to despair from Fletchers’ determination to find the next Charlie Parker.

Amongst this films’ many merits, is the acting skill displayed. J K Simmons brings a harsh and unwavering air to his character, making the audience feel tense as soon as Fletcher enters a room. A complete and absolute control over the other characters in the film, including Neiman, with an intensity that holds the films’ most climactic scenes in place. Matching this, is Teller’s characters determination to be the best, and to please Fletcher. A character you can’t help but feel sorry for, Teller’s initial muted performance of Andrew is effective in the way that pressure builds within his character. The importance of this is the development of character and confidence, and so forth the development of tension that comes to an explosive blow in the films’ final scene.

The cinematography is wonderful in the way that each singular shot looks as though it has been carefully hand-picked to have the perfect motivation. Each shot has its’ own purpose which can be singled out and picked apart. With extreme close ups of hands and drums in a blur of metal and flesh as Neiman’s hands are ripped to shreds by sheer force of will to be the best drummer. Match cuts of eyes as Teller and Simmons stare intently at each other, unwavering in their power struggle. And of course, framing that helps to capture everything inside the frame, excluding the outside world from this intense world of music and pain and struggle and reward.

It is hard to find fault in a film that covers all bases so beautifully and captures a kind of tension that has the audience on the edge of their seats from the very first beat of a drum right until the very last. There is something quite magical about a film that can manage to do this not just after the first viewing – but after every viewing.

The Paperboy (2012)

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**.5/*****

The film opens in an interview style. Talking to Anita, an ex-maid for the Janson family, about the murder of the town Sheriff. She explains who she is, and the interview is intercut with images of Zac Efron, who is introduced to us as Jack Janson, the younger of two brothers.

Directed by Lee Daniels, this black comedy noir is based on the 1995 novel of the same name by Pete Dexter. The Paperboy is set in 1960’s Florida in the heat of summer, complete with period soundtrack and colourful costumes and interiors. It has a distinctly humid feel, sweat and grime pasted on each of the characters and building the sense that something big is constantly about to happen.

The Paperboy is narrated to us in part by Anita (played by Macy Gray). She is an all-seeing, all-being character, as the story is told from her perspective. As the audience’s friend (as well as Jack’s seemingly only friend), she dictates to us what parts of the story we are allowed access to, and which we are not; for example during a steamy scene between Jack and Nicole Kidman’s character Charlotte, she intervenes with “I think you’ve seen enough”, immediately followed by a fade to black and change of scene.

The film is very inventive with its’ use of cinematography, with extreme pans, slow zooms and use of split screen, in addition to overlaying shots of Jack and the clear blue sky, connoting the blissfulness of his infatuation with Charlotte.

The biggest issue I found with this film is the way that it constantly deviates from the main plot, which can often cause the audience to lose attention. It is pitched to the audience as a film about two brothers attempting to crack a murder case, but in actuality very minimal time is spent trying to locate the actual murderer or discover the truth behind the Sheriff’s demise.

In addition to this, it feels as if horrific and startling scenes are placed randomly in the film with lack of clarity and limited plot development – for example a scene in which Efron is stung by jellyfish and Kidman urinates all over his face, or the double rape of McConaughey’s character, Ward. The only development these scenes have is for a story to be leaked by the local newspaper and to reveal that Ward is a homosexual, both complete deviants from the original plot.

As much as this film is trashy and has many flaws, it also has it’s good points. The acting is as a whole well-rounded and skilfully achieved. Kidman’s character, Charlotte Bless, is a twist on the typical Southern Belle, equipped with a peroxide blonde wig and huge, spider-like eyelashes. Obsessive, crazy and sexually explicit, she is the perfect strong and vulnerable counter-part to the hormone-unbalanced college dropout that is Jack Janson. She is, however, hopelessly in love with the accused Hillary Van Wetter, played by John Cusack. A psychopath in his own right, they are seemingly well matched, especially during a rather uncomfortable scene in which they mutually masturbate during a prison visit. This is, however, short-lived, as he is released from prison and treats Charlotte without respect and visciousness. During a drawn-out montage of sexual aggression, Daniels intercuts images of pigs, alligators and a dead possum. This serves to accentuate his animalistic tendencies and ugly personality.

Of all the ups and downs that this film contains, all of this could be said to be made up by the intensity of it’s final scenes, and the elegance of it’s ending.