The Revenant (January 17th, 2016)
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson
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Cinderella (January 17th, 2016)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, and Helena Bonham Carter
Disney has tried their hand at reimagining old animated classics as live action movies. Suffice it to say, they were not successful in any way to help build faith in future installments. So when this flick was announced with the director of Thor at the helm, I didn’t really care much at all. Probably just gonna be another shit show of misguided fantasy adult storytelling that doesn’t get it’s property at all. So imagine my surprise when all word said that this was actually a very faithful adaptation and it was good. Which took a weight off my chest when, in my dash to see all the Oscar nominated movies, I had to watch this to clear up the Costume section. And all the word I heard was true. This was a very faithful and enjoyable movie. It felt like Cinderella, which is sad that that is a feat for Disney. Branagh knocked it out of the park here, delivering his most sure footed directorial work in a while. It’s visually fucking sumptuous, from the award nominated costumes to the production design to the cinematography. Beauty is all over this thing and it is a stunner. The cast is all perfect here for the most part, the only real missteps being the annoying step sisters being relegated to comedic relief bullshit. Lily James is perfect as Cinderella, perfectly bringing this hyper positive girl to life. Richard Madden is always fun to have around, making a very worthy Prince. Cate Blanchett is having a ball playing the wicked stepmother with a slight tinge of humanity to her bullshit, her age and lot in life informing her shit heelery. There’s some slight changes to the story, but nothing so massive as to make it a different movie than it’s source material would dictate. Some cool stuff to fill in details and make the world feel a little richer and the romance a little more heartfelt. This was a nice little surprise for me, thawing my frozen black heart for a bit. And it gives me some hope that the upcoming The Jungle Book will be a good, faithful movie too.
Spotlight (January 18th, 2016)
Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Liev Schrieber
I’m a sucker for investigative journalism movies. I don’t know what it is, but seeing smart dudes doing their jobs right and uncovering some shit without resorting to violence is exciting to me. Maybe it’s the fact that there’s no crutch of violence to fall back on to make things easier, a blood drenched shortcut, is cool to me as a writer. And the low key nature of it allows the movie to be human and allow us to know the people we’re following. All The Presidents Men and Zodiac are two of my favorite movies, and I’m happy to say that Spotlight has earned a place near those two movies in my heart. It’s a very low key, human scale story with melodrama or histrionics. Just a group of investigators trying to uncover a story with no agenda. That lack of agenda is what got to me the most. It’s not a movie out to decry Catholicism or religion in any way. Our investigators are Bostonians, where the Catholic Church is ingrained in them. They don’t wanna hurt the church. Even if they are lapsed, they have no designs to take them down. When they realize how ingrained the sexual abuse they are investigating is in the Church hierarchy, it hurts. You can feel it in them, without any big scenes (mostly). And not only do we see the failure of the Church to handle this phenomenon correctly, we see that every institution has failed in this regard. Even the very newspaper that is handling the current investigation. The cast is uniformly fantastic in a subtle way. Awards aren’t necessarily in their futures because they aren’t very flashy and being an ensemble, it’s hard to really single out a single performance. McCarthy’s direction is superb and understated. He makes it feel like Boston without throwing over the top mangled speech patterns or Red Sox fundamentalism in our faces to hammer it home. He keeps it all subtle and paced perfectly, allowing every reveal to hit hard. And much like Room from last week, it doesn’t shy away from the nastiness of the subject with devolving into exploitation. Hearing the frank discussion about the acts these priests committed is very harrowing in a way. If it wasn’t for Mad Max: Fury Road (the consistent qualifier for cinema in 2015), this would be the Best movie in the Best Picture race.
Director: John Crowley
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, and Jim Broadbent
It’s nice to see a movie that was nominated for an Oscar and sounds like a cliche bait movie transcend it’s boring log line. What could have been another in a long line of boring romantic period piece indies, Brooklyn jukes out the bullshit by being totally human and honest. There’s not a false note in the whole thing and that goes a long way with these movies. If you can’t relate to or empathize with the people at the center of these flicks, the movie is up shit creek without a paddle. And this movie has some fantastic paddles. Ronan is the anchor of the movie and she does so superbly. I haven’t had an opinion on her one way or the other before this, but she has shown some true skills in this movie. Her role is one of a homebody being forced out of her home of Ireland, for her benefit but without any real choice on her part, and having to adapt to her new surroundings. She suffers a horrible case of home sickness, never having left her home town before and now has been thrown head first into New York living. But things start to change for her when she meets Emory Cohen, a good ole Italian boy. Falling in love with this man was the first thing she has done on her own and it starts to change her homeland for her. The yearning for Ireland has dissipated and the love for New York has grown. But when she has to go back to Ireland to visit her mother in a time of need, the pull is strong. Does she choose the home that made her, or the home that she made? It’s a really subtle, low key and beautiful movie that isn’t as stuffy as it sounds. There’s some nice humor in it, some crass stuff like shit and race humor. For a movie about the lower class immigrants in Brooklyn, it adds a sense of life to it. It’s light hearted but very emotional. You feel for Ronan and her plight. Cohen, who was terrible in The Place Beyond The Pines, shows off actual talent her at making this blue collar man a viable love interest for an intellectual Irish girl. Gleeson, who is probably in half the movies you saw in 2015, is a nice little diversion for her love with Cohen. He’s the alternative, the home brewed chance at love. But the movie subverts typical romantic movie tropes with this love triangle, never devolving into overwrought sentiments or forcing relationships that don’t feel natural. It all works and that makes for a movie that stands apart. I was pleasantly surprised by this movie and like to see that it’s another in a line of surprisingly good choices for best picture.
Jeremiah Johnson (January 23rd, 2016)
Director: Sydney Pollack
Starring: Robert Redford
Robert Redford made The Revenant 40 years ago, so let’s just get over the praise everyone is throwing at that movie for having such courage to shoot outdoors. And not only did he do the same damn thing 40 years ago, he made a better movie in the actual film. This doesn’t get praise because Redford might have gotten a cold being outdoors or that Pollack is a mad genius for shooting near snow. It gets praise for being a well written movie with a good performance and an emotional journey that is honest and believable in the actual movie. Not the movie telling us at the end this is what we were apparently watching, when in actuality that stuff isn’t there. Sydney Pollack may not have some of the strengths Innaritu has, but he also doesn’t have the litany of weaknesses he has. And when you have a script by John Milius, you’re already in a better spot than most movies. Telling the story of a man who would become a myth, this has more emotional depth than it really should have. That’s thanks to Milius’ one of a kind strength as a storyteller of masculine ideals. Redford is a young man who wants to become a mountain man, going off to live on his own by living off the land. The idea is to be alone. But in his Odyssey like journey through the mountains of Colorado, he gains himself a makeshift family. And all this stuff is built perfectly, showing Johnson learn the lay of the land and make the relationships that would shape him and set up the emotional groundwork to make the eventual fate of Johnson all the more wrenching. Honestly, the only weaknesses in the movie is on Pollack. Not in the same way Innaritu sabotages The Revenant, but it’s just that his filmmaking style isn’t as muscular or testosterone fueled as others from the 70s. Apparently Sam Peckinpah was to direct this and that is such a massive miss for cinema. There’s a slaughter in the movie that Pollacks does well enough, but is missing a certain savagery that would have made it all the more horrifying. Redford and Milius make the movie work, even though Pollack isn’t really that bad. Just a tad out of place. Redford is doing a well written version of Leo’s role in The Revenant, showcasing the isolation and craftiness and the wounded soul of the man. This is a nice sort of alternative western to shake things up.
Streets of Fire (January 23rd, 2016)
Director: Walter Hill
Starring: Michael Pare, Diane Lane, Amy Madigan, and Rick Moranis
This is a weird little movie. Coming from a director where economy and subtlety are the name of the game, this is easily the most flashy movie he’s ever done. Watching this for the first time, it felt like a knockoff of Grease was happening until all of a sudden a Walter Hill movie broke out during it, making it a weird little mismash of clashing cinematic styles. But somehow, it works. That flashy, musical style of old school greaser pictures works well Hills tough as nails style. Diane Lane plays a Pat Bentar-esque singer who is kidnapped by a local biker gang headed up by Willem Dafoe. So local diner waitress Reva calls in her brother Pare to return to the town he long abandoned to rescue the woman he loves. Pare is a soldier out of a war and is looking to become a soldier of fortune and uses his skills to get Lane back. Their relationship drama becomes a crux of the movie basically, with their diverging paths interfering with their feelings. But for a movie that’s 90 minutes long, nothing is given too much time to feel overlong. It goes from one thing to the next and it is very propulsive for it. Pare is fine in the lead role, although it feels like they decided James Remar was too gruff to be in a love story so they got his less charismatic younger brother for the role. Lane is fine in her role too. Madigan is great as the tom boy sidekick to Pare. Moranis is surprisingly good at playing a shit heel music manager. Dafoe is typically creepy Dafoe. Nothing is absolutely next level great, but it all hums at an enjoyable pace. Probably the best scene in the movie is when Pare attacks a group of bikers and just blows up all of their bikes with a rifle. It’s fun and shot like a pro by Hill. The biggest surprise in the movie is that Hill is very well equipped to make this kind of movie. It’s shot like a music video in many of the musical numbers, and he does it quite well. It’s shocking that the guy who makes movies like 48 Hours or Southern Comfort could drop something this colorful and flashy. I had a blast with this movie, even though it’s got it’s flaws. Some stiff acting and a script that rushes through some stuff. But it’s fun and it’s got personality, which goes a long way.