Revenant: “one that returns after death or a long absence.” – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
With a title like The Revenant, one would expect a ghost story along the lines of Oscar-nominated films like The Sixth Sense and The Exorcist. There are definitely scenes in The Revenant that rival horror movies, but this film is an epic equally filled with scenic beauty.
In the American Frontier during 1823, fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) has joined Captain Andrew Henry’s (Domhnall Gleeson) party. Glass mentors his son, a Native American named Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), much to the dismay of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a trapper who was scalped by an Indian tribe some years before.
After some quick character introductions, the party is attacked by an Indian tribe. When retreating by boat down the river, Glass and Captain Henry rationalize that the boat is more of a target than an escape. The party set off walking to find a safe haven in Fort Kiowa.
While on foot, Glass is viciously attacked by a bear. In an immobile state, Glass witnesses Fitzgerald’s cruelty and cowardice as he is left for dead. Glass, however, rises from his wounds to seek revenge upon his enemy.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) won the Best Picture Oscar and was directed by The Revenant’s director, Alejandro González Iñárritu. Both films are a study between contrasts – Birdman features urban self absorption, while The Revenant features rugged individualism in wide open spaces. Both stories are strongly told and Iñárritu deserves his accolades this awards season.
If the previous award presentations are any indicator, DiCaprio is due to receive his Best Actor Oscar. In all of his previous Oscar nominations, there was something “Movie Star” about his performances, like a manufactured Oscar nominee. In spite of grisly scenes of violence, DiCaprio gives an understated performance that is character appropriate. A bug-eyed brute with the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old, Tom Hardy steals the movie with a complete performance.
With 12 Oscar nominations, The Revenant is worth seeing on the big screen. Clocking in over two-and-a-half hours, the film feels longer in a good way. With natural lighting and minimal production techniques, this film is good storytelling based on snippets of history. When the film concludes, it is breathtakingly exhausting, which was the filmmaker’s intention, for the first line of dialogue is “If you can grab breath, you can keep fighting.”
Dough, an independent comedy that tackles serious themes of racism and capitalism. The situations are painful, but director John Goldschmidt sets a lighthearted tone that does not alienate the ticket buyer.
Nat (Jonathan Pryce) is an old Jewish baker who is trying to maintain his business in a financially depressed London neighborhood. With Sam Cotton (Phillip Davis) attempting to use Eminent Domain tactics upon Nat, the old man stubbornly maintains his discipline and focus.
Enter Ayyash (Jerome Holder), a Muslim refugee from Darfur who lives with his mother. Ayyash hangs with a bad crowd who sells drugs. When caught with his pants down, Ayyash comes under his mother’s wrath.
She works for Nat and convinces him to hire her son. Ayyash and Nat find similarities through their differences – both adhere to their respective faiths with disciplined prayer. However, they discover they have generational differences, too; Ayyash ends up using his drug connections to increase the sales revenue for Nat.
Unlike a Cheech & Chong comedy, Dough takes a sophisticated approach to the effects of narcotic usage, much more in line with the Craig Ferguson comedy from 16 years ago, Saving Grace, starring Brenda Blethyn. Jonathan Price and Jerome Holder forge a unique comedy team, and I would love to see these two actors work together again on a future project.
While most people celebrated Valentine’s Day at the Renaissance Festival or the Pioneer Days Festival, yours truly was busy screening Spotlight, a movie about the child sexual abuse scandal perpetrated by Catholic priests in Boston. While the subject matter is distasteful, Spotlight is a masterful film that has earned its accolades.
The film opens on Valentine’s Day in 1976. A child is abused by a priest who is detained by the Boston police. A representative from the Catholic Church is called in with a bundle of cash to give to the family. The film fast forwards to 25 years later when a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), takes the reins of the Boston Herald newspaper. A veteran of “a Miami paper” and The New York Times, Baron assigns the Spotlight team to investigate the subject of pedophilia in the Boston community.
“Spotlight” is the code name of the investigative team of veteran journalists from The Boston Herald. Walter “Robby” Robertson (Michael Keaton) is the editor of the Spotlight team who confronts some apathy from his past. Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) are investigative journalists who are lapsed Roman Catholics. As the team interviews victims of abuse, they are frustrated by a bureaucratic mentality that blocks their pursuit of evidence.
Given that Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) is involved, Spotlight feels like a generational sequel to All the President’s Men, given Ben Bradlee Sr.’s involvement with that White House scandal. The methods of journalistic investigation are similar. Both films reveal what successful journalistic investigations used to be.
Spotlight has a conscience. As the team (and the audience) get closer to the truth, each character is given a moment of confession. This film is full of dialogue, but the pace does not drag and the story is strong. Spotlight is a must-see.
Truly Deadpool is in a universe far different from The Witch, which is a welcome relief.
It opens with the Chicago song “You’re my Inspiration” as we watch a slow motion car wreck. During this montage, a roster of fake credits roll, creating the first belly laughs for the film, which last right through the post-credit teaser inspired by Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
So who is Deadpool, besides being another mutant superhero who wears a shabby Spider-Man costume found in a Salvation Army store? He is Wade (Ryan Reynolds), a con artist mercenary who finds the love of his life, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) but discovers he has terminal cancer. He learns of an experimental drug that may cure his disease, but, of course, the drug is administered by a certified mad scientist who turns Wade into a mercenary mutant.
Under Director Tim Miller’s firm direction, Deadpool takes all the clichés of a successful comic book movie and makes them feel fresh. There are ties to the eight X-Men movies with a few Easter eggs tossed in from the Disney Marvel comic universe. The fourth wall is broken with Reynolds being the perfect conduit.
While Deadpool dominated last weekend’s box office, both independent movies Risen and The Witch: A New England Folktake (printed on posters as “The VVitch”) were moderately successful, given their modest production budgets. Both films could not be more different forms of entertainment. According to Rotten Tomatoes, [the Biblical tale] Risen was well-received by the public, but was not certified “fresh” by the mainstream critics. In contrast, The Witch was not warmly received by the public, but was embraced by mainstream critics.
The Witch is an art house horror movie that was obviously influenced by The Blair Witch Project and Val Lewton’s The Seventh Victim and I Married a Zombie. The Witch is what Rob Zombie tried to do with his home movie, The Lords of Salem. With shades of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, The Witch is pure rural horror with great attention to detail.
It opens with a religious family of seven being exiled from a New England plantation. While Tomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy, a South Florida native) plays peek-a-boo with her infant sibling, the baby disappears into the black forest. Things get far worse for the exiled family.
For horror fans suckled on the slice and dice horror of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, this film will feel slow.
Director Robert Eggers puts the viewer into another world. The language is 17th Century English with the generous use of the pronoun “Thou.” Visually, this film echoes the nightmare paintings of Francisco Goya and the contemporary (to the timeframe) work of Johannes Vermeer.
This is not a happy film, but this motion picture is pure horror, much like the cult film Se7en. It will be talked about in film school for years to come.
Another awards season has come to an end, with only the Super Tuesday Primaries and March Madness to distract us until the next major mass media conflict on March 25, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
While Amy took the Best Documentary Oscar, the most fan favorite documentary (according to www.rotten tomatoes.com) is Embrace of the Serpent, which makes its South Florida debut on March 11. Mad Max Fury Road garnered the most awards for its well-deserved visual and technical feats, but it was Spotlight that earned the Best Original Screenplay, which led to Best Motion Picture Award.
While Chris Rock lampooned the lack of diversity for the Academy Awards, there is a box office success story that is being ignored by Hollywood: Risen. Produced on a relatively small budget of $20 million, Risen has already earned its investors a return on their investment. Directed by Hollywood veteran Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld, Rapa Nui), Risen is a thriller about an event that happened nearly 2000 years ago.
Roman Tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is assigned to oversee the execution of a political insurgent named Jesus. By the time Clavius arrives, Jesus has died on the cross during crucifixion. While two other crucified men are tossed in a common burial pit at Golgotha, Joseph of Arimathea asks of Clavius that Jesus be interred in a family tomb. Clavius agrees.
After meeting with his supervisor Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth), Clavius is told to assign two men to guard the tomb for fear that the body of Jesus would be stolen to create a new religious movement. Despite following every forensic procedure, after three days, the body disappears.
Being the middle of the Lenten Season, many Christians are counting down to Easter Sunday on March 27. Risen opens as if it were another television version of CSI and appears to offer another series of Christian clichés. Yet, unlike many New Testament epics that focus on Jesus’ final days, Risen presents a different perspective, the afterlife of Jesus Christ.
This film provides a fresh perspective to the Independent Christian genre born12 years ago with the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. While he does not strive for Gibson’s artistic intentions, Reynolds’s low key direction enhances the narrative. The film begins with violence and despair, but grows into a peaceful resolution that does not feel dull or forced.
While Risen is not likely to be mentioned in next year’s Academy Awards, a story about Jesus’ life after death is too good to pass over.
Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Motion Picture, Embrace of the Serpent is the first time the country of Colombia has been so honored. Shot in black and white with English subtitles, this film is a unique piece of digital imagery.
It deals with the loss of the indigenous people of the Amazon. We see two stories told decades apart. The first deals with an ill German, Theo (Jan Bijvoet), who is taken to safety by the Cohiuano tribe. The second features Evan (Brionne Davis), an American biologist whose specialty is botany. Both the German and the American are in search of the yakruna, a sacred healing plant. The central character of both stories is Karamakate, a shaman who sadly watches the extinction of his tribe from colonization.
For all the dire circumstances, this film provides some life-affirming moments. Director Ciro Guerra utilizes some cinematography magic to make Embrace of the Serpent an important motion picture.
Colliding Dreams and Embrace of the Serpent are two serious motion pictures that open tomorrow. Both films are thought-provoking and could lead to some serious discussion after viewing.
According to director Oren Rudavsky, the original title for Colliding Dreams was going to be “The Zionist Idea.” This two-hour documentary begins with the Roman repression of the Jews, which sets the stage for nearly 2000 years of persecuted history. The theme of finding a homeland is almost permanently dashed due to Hitler’s genocidal madness.
This film offers a new perspective on the Middle East, a few years before Hitler’s rise to power. We learn about the rise of anti-Semitism in the early 20th Century. Under the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British Empire promised the Jewish People a homeland. Almost 20 years later under the Arab Revolt, the ever-changing British government bowed to Middle Eastern political pressure and ended their support of a Jewish state.
With generous use of archival footage, the producers interview a wide variety of people — young, old, Jewish and Palestinian. Colliding Dreams is a film for the historically responsible individual.
The mysterious 10 Cloverfield Lane opened last week, exceeding box office expectations. Categorized as a horror movie, this film places emphasis on three characters with varied motivations.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) breaks up with her boyfriend (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and drives into a car accident. When she awakes, she has received medical care from Howard (John Goodman), a man with personality quirks. Howard informs Michelle that they have a roommate, Emmett (John Gallagher), who also has an injury. Howard claims he is protecting his guests from the enemies outside his bunker.
Unpredictable is what 10 Cloverfield Lane is all about. Clichés and red herrings are hinted at, but the narrative meanders from scares to light comedy and some sweet moments involving some pathetic people.
This film is producer J.J. Abram’s follow up to Cloverfield, a monster movie he produced eight years ago. Abrams has created his own Twilight Zone anthology for the big screen under the auspices of Cloverfield. Hopefully, he won’t wait another eight years to reveal his next one.
While Mother’s Day may be the best time to release this documentary, Look at Us Now, Mother! opens tomorrow in local theaters. With recent footage shot in Boca Raton, this film features writer/director Gayle Kirschenbaum’s strained relationship with her mother. Using family photos and Super 8mm home movies, one sees how similar mother and daughter Kirschenbaum really are. We learn that both generations of Kirschenbaums have fiery tempers. There are skeletons in the family closet that are exhumed during the course of this documentary.
Look at Us Now, Mother! is a documentary about forgiveness, and Gayle Kirschenbaum succeeds with her thesis. Through the fights and catty remarks, this film provides humor about family foibles.
The most fun movie on the big screen this weekend is Hello, My Name is Doris. As the title character, Sally Field is getting her best notices as a leading lady since the 1980s. We have all met someone like “Doris” before, but Field adds depth to create a well-rounded character. Only an actress of Field’s caliber can balance the broad and subtle nuances of a truthful performance.
Doris is a frumpy gal who has lived too many years with her mother, who has recently departed. While taking an elevator ride to the office, she bumps up against artist John Fremont (Max Greenfield). Despite being three times John’s age, Doris feels a stirring in her womanhood. With subtle shades of Harold and Maude, My Name is Doris contains broad comedy in dream sequences.
Like a good episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, this film acknowledges pain. Screenwriters Laura Terruso and Michael Showalter (who also directed) use the pain to set up the punch line, which acts as a cathartic release. One golden moment features the nerdy Doris trying to dance to modern music. At first, she is stiff and awkward; but, by the end of the scene, Doris finds her beat and her mojo.
The Palm Beach International Film Festival (PBiFF) concludes this evening at the Cinemark 20 Palace in Boca Raton with the screening of Silver Skies, a film which premiered in South Florida six months ago at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. As a member of the ensemble cast, Florida’s suntanned ambassador George Hamilton appeared at the screening.
Having played Hank Williams in the MGM production of Your Cheatin’ Heart in 1964, I asked Hamilton that night about the buzz related to Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of the Alabama Legend in the now-released biopic I Saw the Light. Hamilton was very complimentary to Hiddleston and said, “This will be a different film. Being an independent film, they will be able to show things that we were unable to show with a big studio.”
To the producer’s credit, the new Hank Williams film does not get as down and dirty as it could in retelling the life of this country music legend. During the opening credits, the immaculately dressed Hank Williams sings a signature tune, as if he were giving a concert from heaven.
The film flashes back to 1944 when Hank is married to Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) by a justice of the peace in a gas station on a rainy night. The next scene features him in a performance that is interrupted by a jealous husband, upset with Hank’s song lyrics. These two abutted scenes best describe the final nine years of Hank Williams’ rollercoaster life.
With the deaths of John Belushi, Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse we’ve all witnessed the tragedy of talented artists slain by personal demons.
Hank Williams was no exception. Given his medical ailment (Spina bifida), professional demands (touring 11 months of the year) and shattered domestic life (Audrey’s singing ambition marred by a total lack of talent), a sensitive man like Williams was doomed to fail.
The saying goes, “country music is three chords and the truth.” British Actor Tom Hiddleston’s performance serves this country music principle. The womanizing charm and alcoholic despair is given a unique vulnerability by Hiddleston’s dignified performance. He is matched every step in the way by Olsen’s balanced performance as Audrey, who is part lover, part shrew.
George Hamilton’s You’re Cheatin’ Heart was produced with Audrey Williams’ supervision. I Saw the Light is based on the book, Hank Williams: The Biography by Colin Escott, George Merritt and William (Bill) MacEwen in an effort to cite objective sources.
While Hank Williams III (the singer’s grandson) has denounced the film and Hiddleston’s performance, I Saw the Light provides a fine introduction to music that has stood the test of nearly seven decades.
Despite the phenomenal box office, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will not stand the test of time. While not hating the movie as much as mainstream critics, viewers of Batman v. Superman are not as exuberant leaving the big screen as they were leaving Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Miracles from Heaven.
A direct sequel to Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice deals with the destruction created by the invaders from Superman’s home planet. Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) lost employees who were collateral damage when General Zod (Michael Shannon) and Superman (Henry Cavill) flew through the Wayne Enterprise Building.
In the guise of his secret identity — intrepid reporter Clark Kent — Superman is concerned about the vigilante behavior of this Batman, Bruce Wayne’s covert identity. Lurking in the passive-aggressive background like a Siamese fighting fish is Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg), whose jealousy of Bruce Wayne and Superman plants the seeds for more mutual destruction.
Batman v Superman has some golden character moments portrayed by a strong supporting cast, most notably Diane Lane, the adorable Amy Adams, Larry Fishburne and Kevin Costner. The big letdown in this film is the showdown between the Dark Night and the Man of Steel.
The emotional connection one feels earlier in the film is lost amid the overblown special effects, which might have looked great on a giant IMAX screen. When released on DVD, Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice’s dullness will abound due to distracting technical flaws.
Two decades before Edgar Rice Burroughs created Tarzan, an orphan raised by apes, Rudyard Kipling created Mowgli, an orphan raised by wolves. While Tarzan headlined his own series of African adventures in 25 novels, Mowgli is the main human character from an ensemble of characters featured in Kipling’s The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, which is set in the mysterious jungles of India.
Released in 1967, Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book was the last animated film influenced by a dying Walt Disney. The film is best remembered for its bouncy tunes (“Bare Necessities”) and optimism, which Disney insisted upon. However, Kipling’s original tales contain stark lessons about jungle law, mortality and dark truths.
Director John Favreau manages to balance the scary and the humor in the newest incarnation of The Jungle Book. From the breathtaking opening scenes to the final closing credits, this 105-minute family film needs to be seen on the big screen.
Kipling’s original The Jungle Book is a series of short stories in which Mowgli’s rite of passage is the narrative core. From alpha wolf Akela (voiced in the movie by Giancarlo Espositio), we learn the Law of the Jungle. From Baloo the sloth bear (Bill Murray), we learn the importance of letting the bare necessities of life come to you. For Mowgli (Nell Sethi), each encounter prepares this feral boy for his showdown with Shere Kahn (Idris Elba), the lame tiger who killed Mowgli’s parents.
The character animation is superb and expertly matches the vocal talent. Baloo the bear shares DNA with Murray’s lackadaisical Ghostbusters character. Elba’s voice is suitable for the villainous menace of Shere Kahn. In a cameo role, Scarlett Johansson’s vocal intonations provide slippery seduction as Kaa the Snake.
During the 2017 awards season, expect The Jungle Book to achieve many awards for visualization.
Pay the extra couple of bucks and see this film in 3-D, and the bigger the screen the better. The Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science IMAX Theater will screen this film through Thursday, April 28.
Breathe deep, dear readers, the Summer Blockbuster Season has begun. Before Captain America Civil Wars, X-Men Apocalypse and Independence Day Resurgence start crowding each other, go see The Jungle Book on the big screen.
As I prepared for my screening of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, I had to compliment Carmike Cinema’s management [Broward 18 in Pompano] for their bustling box office and concession sales. Over the concession bar were two television screens dedicated to sports channels, so I was able to keep track of the Heat, Panthers and Marlins. Cinemas are becoming more timely and intimate. This concept really hit home when the manager informed me that he was redoing the weekend schedule to insert special screenings of Purple Rain, starring the late singer Prince [like many other national theaters].
Modern technology has made mass entertainment more impulsive. While tonight is supposed to present the final screenings of Purple Rain, if box office is good, one can predict this film being held over until Captain America: Civil War opens next week (May 6).
While The Jungle Book dominated the latest box office figures, the much maligned The Huntsman: Winter’s War opened with a respectable box office sum of $20 million. A prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, which starred Kristen Stewart as Snow White, this new film focuses on the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and the supposedly dead evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron).
It has been a Leap Year since Snow White and the Huntsman was last seen on the big screen. In that time, television shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time have provided much reinterpretation of the ancient fairy tales. Given the cultural and financial success of Disney’s version of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, (Frozen), it was only a matter of time before Freya (Emily Blunt) replaced the mythology of Snow White.
We learn that Freya and Ravenna were sisters. With her nasty disposition concealed by her two-faced charm, Ravenna manages to cook Freya’s child.
Heartbroken, Freya goes north, freezes her heart and wages war on all mankind.
As Freya assembles her military and develops her military academy for orphans, we meet the Young Huntsman, who is infatuated with a red-headed archer named Sara (who grows up to look like Jessica Chastain). The Huntsman and Sara share swashbuckling adventures together and eventually get caught in the snare of the evil queens. Will anyone live to be happily ever after?
Based on the poor rating on RottenTomatoes.com, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is likely to be nominated for multiple Razzy Awards. However, there is a sense of fun about this movie and the actors appear to be having a good time swashbuckling. While this film is too dark to take impressionable children to, the crowd really warmed up to the action sequence in which the Huntsman, Sara and some dwarfs steal the magic mirror from a Minotaur guardian. The Huntsman: Winter’s War will be a bigger hit on DVD.