The Revenant

“No one told me that the red line was running shuttle buses every weekend in January, or I wouldn’t have spent so much time on that morning’s failed hair experiment. Then I maybe would have gotten to the movie on time. Instead, I picked up my ticket just after the cutoff where they don’t give you a real ticket, but say that you’re late. The ticket taker guy pretty much knows me by now, so he let me in. I missed the first five or so minutes, so it took me a while to piece together all the context. I was also relegated to the front section of the theater, which turned out to be a bit of a blessing in disguise. I was at least fortunate enough to get a very center seat in the dreaded second row, and the angle was perfect for leaning my head back without neck strain (and the experimental hair wouldn’t have been conducive to that, so another win). That wasn’t the great part of it. The great part was that being so close up gave me a full size widescreen view that fit exactly into my line of vision, so it was like having my own private IMAX without paying stupid fees for the supposed upcharge. That was the win. Especially for such a beautifully done piece of visual cinematic art like this film.

Directed by Birdman helmer Alejandro González Iñárritu , Leonardo DiCaprio (having found yet another Academy Award winning director to work with) stars as Hugh Glass, a man from the early 19th century guiding a fur trapping expedition. He’s viciously mauled by a bear, and subsequently sees his son murdered in front of him before being left for dead himself. With an unshakable newfound will to live and a steady eye on vengeance, he undertakes the 200 mile journey on foot in his weakened state to rejoin his men and see his justice carried out.

Before I start waxing poetic about Iñárritu, DiCaprio, and this beautiful film, I have one small disclaimer to throw out there. Most of the time, I tend to focus on the entertainment value of a film. This is not one of those. Yes, it’s an utterly captivating film and impeccably done at that, but this isn’t the movie you go see when you just wanna hang with the guys/girls after grabbing a burger and a beer. It’s long and slow moving, and therefore not to be undertaken lightly. However, if you are looking for a film to have a deeper experience with, carry on then.

Regardless of how it all came together, this film is a marvel simply for the giant undertaking that it was. The entire thing was filmed on location in some of the coldest parts of the planet. Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (also coming off an Oscar win for Birdman and Gravity before that) insisted on only using natural light. This meant that there were only a few precious hours every day where filming was even possible. Thankfully Iñárritu is no stranger to the high pressure around getting the perfect shot (again, see Birdman).

For the majority of the film, Leo is the only person on screen. The boy practically vanished from Hollywood for 9 months to shoot this, enduring many physical trials. Seriously, the boy has never put himself thru anything remotely like this. Throughout, I kept on cheering in my head “”Go Leo! Win that Oscar!”” because really, what else is it gonna take? As much as I love him as an internet meme, the boy is due, but I’m sure we’ll be expanding on this conversation in a few weeks.

But he’s not the only one in the movie. Tom Hardy is winning Oscar buzz as the baddie that is not a grizzly bear. I never thought I’d find myself hating Hardy (his character, still love the man), but I just felt rage throughout towards him. Also featured were a couple guys who have been on the rise lately: Will Poulter and Domnhall Gleeson. Their ascent can only be helped by the strong work turned in from both.

So ultimately it was a filmmaking gamble that paid off in the best possible way. You will not find another movie like this, and it should be experienced and approached with reverence and respect. I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more about this movie in the next couple weeks as awards season kicks into high gear

The Revenant – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Carol

“There’s always one. Every awards season there’s the one movie that just doesn’t quite do it for me. And I feel like some sort of ignoramus for not getting it because the whole rest of the world is raving. It appears on many year end best of lists, and earns nominations and accolades across the globe. Meanwhile, I just sit there yawning. This year, Carol was that movie for me.

Carol is based on “”The Price of Salt”” by Patricia Highsmith. I haven’t read that, but I have read all the books in her Talent Mr Ripley series as well as one off Strangers on a Train. Clearly, I didn’t expect another Mr Ripley, but I certainly had a high expectation set. Cate Blanchet and Rooney Mara star in this adaptation about two women in the 50’s who become intimately involved. See the thing for me, is I don’t typically go for romantic films, and that’s pretty much all this was. Sure, I loved Brooklyn, another awards season favorite this year that is billed as a romance, but there was so much more going on there. Carol strictly revolved around the relationship.

Now I get that one of the biggest reasons this is getting praised is that the subject is treated like any other romance, without making special concessions for the same sex nature of it. Yes, there’s obstacles because of how taboo this was back then, but they’re not differentiated for it with some big drama. And I do appreciate the normalcy of that, but then we’re just left with a genre that I’ve never particularly cared for.

Our leading ladies are both getting heaps of praise and talk of awards. Personally, I’ve got other picks I’d place higher for best actress (oh we’ll get there in my future Oscar thoughts post after nominees are out). There’s also the debate of is Mara co-lead or support. She’s very much a lead, maybe even more so than Blanchett. Blanchett has more action around her, but the emotional journey seems to be more on Mara’s side. Much more is seen thru her eyes.

Bringing it all back together, many people are heralding how beautiful and moving this film is. I don’t disagree, it’s just not my thing.

Carol – \m/ \m/ \n”

Joy

“In the weeks leading up to Joy’s release, I really could not get a handle on the film. Clearly, it was on my must list given that it’s directed by David O. Russell and has a cast that includes Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert DeNiro, but what was the film about? I’d considered proposing this as the potential Christmas movie with Mom that never happened, but I never really decided how I’d describe the movie to her. The trailer showed a bunch of images of an interesting looking character, but who was she? I’d heard synopsis that said it was the bio of the woman who invented the wonder mop (random much?) and others that said it was a look thru decades of the life of a entrepreneurial mother (yawn much?).

Okay, let’s try and get that first question settled then. Drawing mostly from the life of Joy Mangano, the film amalgamated the stories of several women to create Joy *Last name never revealed*. There’s some timeline jumping early on that was a little confusing, but once things settle, the thru-story is about this young-ish (to be assumed given Lawrence’s casting, but she still seemed way too young) single mother. She’s put her life on hold for her family, and in a stroke of inspiration, returns to her childhood passion of inventing. She attempts to go into business selling a revolutionary mop that she’s created, and she finds the struggle to be far more than she bargained for.

Does that make it sound a bit more interesting? The truth is, the story was engaging, once it got a grounded. There were some art-y detours, especially early on, but it worked when it was focused. However, something always felt superficial about it. Maybe it was hard to suspend disbelief given the disparate age of our lead actress and her role. Maybe there were too many artistic flourishes that distracted. Maybe no one ever really knew what the point was of what they were doing (other than the obvious J-Law is awesome, so let’s have her lead a movie that calls for a strong female protagonist). I don’t know, I still can’t get a handle on it, even though I’ve at least got the story down.

Yes all the A-listers littered about the cast delivered, although I was most happy to see non-A-lister Elizabeth Rohm emerge from the shadows with a role she could really bite into as Joy’s halfway antagonistic half sister. I’ve heard criticism that Bradley Cooper was underutilized, and it’s true that the role seemed a little overly simplistic for his talents, giving the illusion that he may have been phoning it in. And J-Law, well again she’s fantastic and she did her best, delivering an expectedly solid performance, but ultimately not being enough to really save the movie from vapid mediocrity. Heh, good thing I created a new “”Most Mediocre”” category for my year end wrap up, because it looks like we’ve got a front runner from day one.

Joy – \m/ \m/ \m/”

The Big Short

“I’ll cut right to the chase, I don’t think I’ve ever been as confused by a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. Kind of a weird feeling.

With a ridiculous ensemble cast that includes Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, and Ryan Gosling, this movie (helmed by Anchorman director Adam McKay) follows a couple different parties that predicted the housing market crash that would eventually drive our country to a recession. They each took gambles to bet against the markets, in the hopes of taking down the big banks and earning a windfall for themselves.

Does that sound potentially confusing yet? If you’re not hip to financial news and lingo, it very much is. Thankfully, they found clever ways to work around that, adding in explanations and expositions in some very unique and resourceful ways. Seriously, brilliant. I don’t wanna spoil the surprise or I’d explain more. I still didn’t quite get everything that was happening, but I knew enough to feel the correct things (surprise, anger, amusement) at the right times.

There was much concern around this film that such a known comic director was tackling such a weighty subject, but I thought he was a perfect fit. This story could have been very dry and dull, but there was this humor and life infused into it. So much of what happened really is stranger than fiction, which makes the lighter almost incredulous approach incredibly appropriate. Actually, here’s a good analogy, it’s a lot like watching Last Week Tonight. It always leaves me feeling equally entertained, educated, and enraged.

The Big Short – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

2015 Recap

“Well, there goes another year. And for me, that means there goes a whole lotta movies. Like a lot! Record breaking year yet again with a total of 127 hours, err I mean times that I sat in front of a movie at the theater. Usual disclaimer that I measure the year by date I saw the movie, not release date. So, for example, American Sniper technically released in 2014, I saw it in Jan. Likewise Joy released in 2015, but I also saw it this Jan.

First the list (in the order viewed), then the breakdown. Here’s hoping my Excel skills didn’t fail me in putting this together:

The Interview, Birdman, The Penguins of Madagascar, Taken 3, Selma, Inherent vice, The Wedding Ringer, American sniper, A Most Violent year, Blackhat, Paddington, Cake, Still Alice, Two Days One Night, Black Sea, Project Almanac, Mr Turner, Jupiter Ascending, Spongebob Squarepants: Sponge Out of Water, Fifty Shades of Grey, Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Imitation Game, Boyhood, The Theory of Everything, Birdman, Selma, American sniper, The Imitation Game, Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Focus, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Chappie, Unfinished Business, Cinderella, Insurgent, Get Hard, It Follows, Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter, Home, Furious Seven, While We’re Young, Woman in Gold, True Story, Ex Machina, Unfriended, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Hot Pursuit, The D Train, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 2, Tomorrowland, Poltergeist, San Andreas, Spy, Entourage, Jurassic World, Inside Out, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Ted 2, Magic Mike XXL, Terminator Genisys, Minions, Self/Less, Ant Man, Infinitely Polar Bear, Trainwreck, Southpaw, Pixels, Tangerine, Paper Towns, Vacation, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Ricki and the Flash, The Gift, Fantastic Four, Shaun the Sheep Movie, The End of the Tour, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., American Ultra, Repo: The Genetic Opera, We Are Your Friends, No Escape, The Transporter: Refueled, Hitman Agent 47, The Visit, Sleeping With Other People, Doctor Who, Black Mass, The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, Everest, The Green Inferno, The Martian, The Walk, 99 Homes, Sicario, The Intern, The Martian, Pan, Steve Jobs, Bridge of Spies, Crimson Peak, The Last Witch Hunter, Room, Burnt, Our Brand is Crisis, Spectre, Suffragette, Spotlight, Brooklyn, The 33, The Secret In Their Eyes, The Night Before, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Trumbo, Creed, Legend, Victor Frankenstein, The Good Dinosaur, Krampus, The Danish Girl, In the Heart of the Sea, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Sisters, Concussion, The Hateful Eight

Dang. Okay, here are things by the numbers!
127 times movies were seen, minus 11 repeats, means 116 distinct movies seen, minus 2 special screenings, means 114 distinct new movies seen. So while my overall total is higher than last year, I had more distinct new movies in 2014. The repeats and the dates (getting to that) are both gonna have some more inflated numbers than usual from the best picture marathon in February. That added 8 repeats on a single day.

Breakdowns by ratings:
\m/ \n 7
\m/ \m/ 7
\m/ \m/ \n 10
\m/ \m/ \m/ 36
\m/ \m/ \m/ \n 22
\m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ 32
Repeats 11 – Oscar marathon plus Birdman (again besides the marathon), The Martian, and Magic Mike XXL
special 2 – Repo: The Genetic Opera (with shadow cast) and a Dr Who thing (two episodes is movie length, so I’m counting it)

Not quite the bell curve I keep expecting to see, but a heavily positive year. On the one hand, I did try to be a little more selective about skipping ones I knew would be bad. On the other, I love film too much to give too much negative criticism. I always find some redeeming qualities, hence higher skewed scores.

Now, where did I see these things:
81 at AMC Loews Boston Common, 9 at AMC Assembly Row (including the 8 for the marathon), 7 at Landmark Kendal Square, 7 at Somerville Theater Davis Square, 5 at Apple Cinemas Alewife, 4 at Regal Fenway, 3 at AMC in Chicago, 2 at Alamo Drafthouse Laredo, 2 at Jordan’s Imax Redding, 1 each at AMC City Walk Orlando, NYC Regal Times Square, NYC AMC Lincoln Center, Regal LA, Chinese Theaters LA, Jordans IMAX Natick, Music Box Chicago.
So by location, that’s 4 in Chicago, 2 each in NYC, Laredo, and LA, and 1 in Orlando. The rest were Boston area. It’ll be interesting to see these numbers spread out this year as I head to the west coast.

When did I see things? 16 in January, 15 in February, 8 in March, 7 in April, 8 in May, 6 in June, 9 in July, 13 in August, 9 in September, 14 in October, 13 in November, 7 in December.
June seems crazy low to me, but I do remember it being a slow going summer blockbuster season. Only one big release or so a week that was worthwhile.

Let’s look at the rankings, keeping in mind that done a day sooner or later I may have completely switched around the numbers. This is a very in the moment opinion. Repeat viewings in the future may further alter rankings, though I won’t actually come back here and update them.

Top 10:
1-The Martian – I knew as soon as I saw it that this would be my favorite movie of the year, likely making it onto my top 100 next time I look at it. Such a perfect mix of drama, levity, and science with brilliant dialog and a perfect cast. It’s one of those movies that just feels like it was made specifically for me.
2-Spotlight – If The Martian was the perfect film for entertainment, Spotlight was the best film for quality. Films like this are why I obsess over awards season. Such a compelling story in a brilliantly crafted film with an unbeatable cast. Sheer perfection.
3-Mad Max: Fury Road – This movie was a dream for an action junkie like me. Incredible (practical!) stunts and effects, simple but moving story line, and one of the best representations of females in the genre, both for Imperator Furiosa and the multidimensional ensemble of ladies. But no really, those stunts were killer.
4-Furious 7 – The impossibly rare franchise that actually improves with each outing. The action stepped up in unimaginable ways, and the moving tribute to Paul Walker brought me to tears.
5-Room – Ever since I first read a summary of the novel on its initial release, I knew I had to know this story. Experiencing it on film was intense. Such a dark and unique story with such interesting shifts in perspective.
6-Creed – Rocky Balboa has always been the underdog with heart, and this movie reminds me why I fell in love with him in the first place. It does the impossible in honoring the original and setting up a fresh new chapter that feels organic, not forced.
7-Magic Mike XXL – The guilty pleasure entry on the list. It didn’t even make a full 4 when I first rated it, but it remains as the single most fun movie of the year. It knows that it’s cheesy, and it’s not afraid to embrace that wholeheartedly.
8-It Follows – It’s hard to be original with horror, but by flipping one of the most common tropes of the genre, it did just that. Plus, it was skillfully crafted, creating a truly terrifying experience that really does follow you.
9-The Stanford Prison Experiment – Didn’t expect to see this on the list, but the truth is that no other film this year has stayed in my head the way that this has. I know I often describe movies as intense experiences, but this one is unsettling and has the potential to change your perspective in a major way.
10-The Gift – Probably the most surprising film of the year. On the surface it didn’t look like much, but it created such a visceral reaction in me that I’ve only felt from a handful of movies before.

Honorable Mentions in no particular order: The Hateful Eight, American Sniper, Inside Out, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

But in order to call some things the best, you also identify the worst. These are those:
1-The D Train – Sloppy and insensitive, I’m surprised I didn’t rate it lower. Not even two leading men who I typically adore could rescue this trainwreck.
2-Unfinished Business – The movie that will forever remain in infamy as the one so dull and boring, my fitness tracker thought I slept thru it all. Vince Vaughn needs to find some new shtick and not take down any more good actors with him.
3-Tomorrowland – A total snooze. It’s like they only thought as far as the setting and forgot that you also need a plot.
4-Vacation – Dumb and completely unfunny. While I like the way it tied in to the original Griswald family road trip, it was completely wasted potential.
5-Get Hard – Speaking of wasted potential, what should have been an epic comedic pairing felt like it was barely trying. Plus it was kinda offensive.
Dishonorable Mentions: Pan, Mr Turner, Hitman: Agent 47

And a new category I’m creating this year, Most Mediocre! I just felt like there were so many movies this year that were neither bad nor good, and un-memorably so. At least a bad film gives you viable discussion points, but a mid-level one can’t even sustain a sentence of conversation. You might as well have never wasted your time. Here are the inaugural (non)winners
1-Burnt – Decent premise, good cast, yet utterly forgettable. Hardly anyone saw it, and few probably even know it happened. Very much the poster child for why this category now exists.
2-True Story – If two known comedians who have successfully dabbled in drama decide to go dramatic together, but nobody sees it, did it really happen? I was excited to see Jonah Hill and James Franco team up for a drama, but I don’t remember a single thing about it other than “”meh””
3-We Are Your Friends – Okay so Zac Efron is pretty, but why else is this movie a thing? Did any of the two people who saw it not completely predict every turn?
4-The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials – Seriously, nothing at all happened. All of the mystery and questions raised in the first film didn’t go anywhere.
5-Focus – Cool cast, decent premise, went nowhere interesting. You’ve prolly forgotten all about this by now, huh?

Semi-honorable mentions: Krampus, In the Heart of the Sea, Ted 2, Victor Frankenstein

And there we have it, the year of wasted potential. Or maybe I’m just in a cynical mood because I ended the post with the negatives. There were some pretty great movies, but even Oscar is having trouble finding worthy contenders, and there are no clear frontrunners anywhere. Guess we’ll just hafta wait and see what 2016 has in store for us!”

The Hateful Eight

“Let’s be real. I have a very hard time being critical of my favorite filmmakers, and Quentin Tarantino is at the top of that list. Watching a new film by a favorite is like binging on candy, I’m so happy to eat it all up, I don’t pay much attention to the quality or the nutritional value. I love recognizing their signature styles, being taken by surprise by clever dialog, or absorbing moments of general awesome. When it’s all said and done, I can’t objectively say whether or not the film was good, but I can certainly say I enjoyed it.

It killed me that I was going to have to wait about a week since the film’s release to be able to see it. My hometown, while now just cool enough to have an Alamo Drafthouse, is not yet cool enough to get limited release films, especially since I was intent on going to one of the Roadshow screenings. Even if we did get the Christmas release, I still wouldn’t be able to go for a few days. I can often manage to get my Mom to come with me to the movies on Christmas (was unsuccessful this year), but there’s no way I’d take her to a Tarantino. She’d hate it for all the reasons I’d love it. So I had to wait until the day I got back, kicking off my New Year’s Eve festivities.

For those keeping score at home, this is Quentin’s 8th movie (Kill Bill counts as 1 not 2). Set in a similar universe as Django Unchained, this actually most closely resembles Reservoir Dogs as a band of nefarious characters are caught waiting out a blizzard in a small cabin (Minnie’s Haberdashery), not too long after the end of the civil war.

Now what’s the deal with this whole Roadshow business? In an attempt to make his film more of an event, as movie going was way back in the day, select cities held roadshow screenings. They were basically the movie with a few extras, in theaters that still had their old school equipment instead of just the recent digital ones. There was an added Overture, Intermission, and Entr’act. Programs were given out. A few additional minutes of film were included that took advantage of the 70MM format. Reading the program, I learned a bit about 70MM. It’s an even wider shot, and a format that hasn’t been used in about 50 years since the likes of films like Ben Hur. Personally, I don’t really notice much difference in the use of special film, but I can appreciate the attention to detail.

Okay, thanks for the history lesson, but now how was the movie? Again, not the most objective opinion here, but I loved it. As previously mentioned, this most closely resembled Reservoir Dogs, which is probably my favorite of Tarantino’s films (toss up with Kill Bill, but I strongly prefer part 1, and 2 drags it down). The minimal cast included mostly Tarantino alums, in roles written specifically for them: Samuel L Jackson, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russel. They’re joined by newbies Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demián Bichir, and Channing Tatum (his inclusion alone should be intriguing enough to at least have your curiosity, if not your attention.) The regulars especially chewed up all the wordy but sharp dialog.

It definitely felt familiar yet new. I got so caught up in all the sharp tongues darting thru the film, I almost forgot about Tarantino’s affinity for violence. When the first spurts of blood showed up, I was taken by surprise, but not at all disappointed. It didn’t really let up once it started, a warning for those who may not be into such things. I also really just loved and appreciated his attention to detail. So many pieces and clues were laid out, often without you even realizing they were clues until their significance was later revealed. Not a single shot was wasted. Sure, for some, the 3 hour run time may seem like overkill, but for me it passed quickly.

I think I was most impressed with Jennifer Jason Leigh and her character Daisy Domergue. Wanted for murder, she’s being brought to justice by bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell). She spends a good portion of the movie handcuffed to him, but never ceases to make her presence known. Tarantino doesn’t write too many female characters, but the ones he does write are often fantastic tough as nails bad ass chicks. She was no Bride, Shoshanna, or Jackie Brown, but she’s still def up there. And Leigh has always underwhelmed me with her sleepy style, but this kitty had claws, and she really surprised me with her sassy firecracker of a performance. It’s no wonder she’s considered one of the stand outs of this ensemble.

So I at least ended the New Year with a bloody bang. If it really is true that Tarantino only intends to make two more films, at least he managed to turn in yet another solid addition to his portfolio.

The Hateful Eight – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Concussion

“Didn’t get as much movie time as I would have liked while in Texas, so I ended up taking an unintended hiatus thru the holidays. I did, however, manage to make it back to my beloved Alamo Drafthouse for one more movie. This time, I did things right, arriving early to catch some of the preshow and ordering a light snack of fried pickles and a Bantha blue coconut milkshake that was brought to my seat. Oh man, just one full service screening, and already I’m spoiled.

In a move I hadn’t really seen coming, Concussion set itself apart as the highest priority (well besides Hateful Eight, but we’ll get there next time) Christmas release for me. I’d originally thought it’d be Joy, but mixed reviews there and general intrigue here swapped them. To me, it just sounded like a fascinating story and it really was very interesting.

Will Smith stars as pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who in performing puzzling autopsies on former NFL players discovers a link between their injuries sustained on the field and their seemingly premature deaths. The first half of the film follows Dr Omalu as he sleuths out the mystery of the cause of death. The second half deals with him trying to warn the NFL, who are trying their best to ignore and/or shut him up. Admittedly, the science nerd in me was far more into the first half. But that doesn’t mean it lost me for the second half. By that point, things were far more about the characters, which were plenty to hold my interest.

This is easily Will Smith’s best performance in a good while. Yes, it’s a little Oscar bait-y, which explains some hesitation towards the film early on. Still, it’s a strong character, mostly stripped of the signature Will Smith charm (a power that is possibly held in his ears, which he pinned back this time), and a very thick but consistent accent. Overall, I say bravo. Might not be enough to get that nomination he’s after, as he seems to be fighting about 3 other guys for the final and most contested spot, but it’s certainly a good effort. And who knows, it may pay off. Either way, job well done.

Concussion – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”