The Revenant

The Revenant is a tour de force. For Leonardo DiCaprio. And for director/co-writer Alejandro Inarritu. Awards are coming. Maybe, just maybe, a best actor nod for LD.

Leo’s character Hugh Glass is part of a group of hunter/trappers who, nearly two centuries ago, gather pelts in the wilderness of western America. Following a violent attack by Indians, the men escape downriver on a raft.

As they continue their journey on land, a bear attacks Glass. A big bear. The episode is brutally depicted. With help from his mixed race son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), Glass survives. Soon he is left to die by Glass’s partner John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who has killed Hawk. But he’s not quite dead.

Despite having limited movement and limited resources, Glass begins the long journey back to the fur company’s headquarters. His adventure is grueling, but the survival instinct is strong. A fortunate encounter with an Indian who provides food and temporary shelter provides hope. The goal is to stay alive and to extract revenge.

A revenant is one who returns after death or a long absence. Not long after company leader Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) is told by Fitzgerald that Glass has died, Henry is shocked to learn Glass is still alive. As is Fitzgerald!

Inarritu, who won the directing Oscar last year for Birdman, is a true cinematic artist. His visuals include gorgeous vistas of sky and unspoiled frontier, contrasted with horrifying images of physically damaged humans and animals. His lingering extreme close-ups are effective in revealing the pain of the central characters. His presentation of a dream Glass has about his son is heartbreaking.

And that soundtrack! It is stirring and relentless, utilizing drums that recall the Birdman soundtrack along with full orchestrations that underline the tense drama.

Because of its grisly content (including the grizzly content), The Revenant may not be for everyone. But if you can handle the violence and the gore, you’ll be rewarded with a memorable film experience. And you might even see an Oscar-winning acting performance from Leo!

 

 

 

Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is a loud, violent, angry film that assaults the senses with adrenaline-fueled vehicle chases, fiery crashes and painful death. It is a masterful piece of filmmaking.

In a future wasteland, the scenario is ripe for revolt. A tyrannical leader King Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rules a population that receives water only sparingly. Within the mountainside lair called the Citadel, where women produce breast milk to sustain the ruler and his minions, Max (Tom Hardy) is imprisoned.

Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is selected to pilot a tanker to Gastown along the straight and narrow Fury Road. When she heads off course into unpaved desert, King Joe and his convoy pursue, with Max secured to a lead truck like a human hood ornament. On one vehicle, a guitar player provides a rockin’ accompaniment to the mission (with a guitar that is a flame throwing weapon).

After Max escapes and joins forces with Furiosa, he finds that she is ferrying five gorgeous babes, the mountainside leader’s sex slaves, to her intended destination, a land of vegetation where she was born. The chase continues until… they all head back to the Citadel.

Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best action/adventure films I’ve ever seen. Because of its fantastic settings, its distinctive characters, its primal story, its savage spirit, its forceful soundtrack and its high energy level. The film starts at a sprint and doesn’t slow down until 30 minutes in.

Hardy is a brilliant choice to play a hero who saves his own skin first, then becomes part of a bigger effort to help others. Theron, in her non-glam buzz cut, is all business as her character asserts her own will and proves to be just as tough as any man.

Director Miller may be guilty of overkill, but the unrelenting intensity of Mad Max: Fury Road will satisfy audiences who are ready to have their minds blown. For action movie fans, Mad Max: Fury Road is a must-see!

The Drop

 

Bob Saganowski (Tom Hardy) is one of my favorite movie characters of 2014. He’s a bartender at Cousin Marv’s in the new film The Drop, a crime drama set in an Archie Bunker sort of neighborhood in Brooklyn. Marv, the bar’s former owner who still runs the place, is played by James Gandofini in his final film performance.

The bar is a place for money drops of ill-gotten gains. Various criminals throughout an evening hand over envelopes filled with cash. The cash is dropped into a safe. The story is kick started with an armed robbery of the bar.

Bob is a seemingly simple man. His life consists of tending bar, accepting the cash drops and going each day to mass, where he never takes communion. Bob’s rescue of an abused dog from a garbage can leads to his friendship with and attraction to Nadia (Noomi Rapace).

Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a small-time local hood who tells Bob the dog is his and makes threats against Bob and the dog. Deeds is in cahoots with Marv to pull an inside job and take all the money to be dropped at the bar on Super Bowl Sunday—a huge day for bookies.

Another key player is police detective Torres (John Ortiz) who investigates the first robbery and recognizes Bob from the daily mass. Torres appears to know what is going on with each of the characters, but chooses to let things happen.

The Drop is filled with strong performances from the actors playing each of the main characters. But it is Tom Hardy as Bob who soars. With his odd version of a Brooklyn accent and his slow, deliberate manner, Bob is revealed to have more going on than is initially obvious. Expect Hardy to be mentioned during awards season for his work here.

The script is by Dennis Lehane who wrote Mystic River, Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone. Belgian Michael Roskam directed. The story here is good, but it’s the characters—and the actors filling those roles—who provide the best reason to see and appreciate The Drop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dark Knight Rises

This is one of the all-time great films. The story, the screenplay, the soundtrack, the acting, the directing, the stunts, the effects—all winners!

It’s the story and its telling that give TDKR a specialness that the other Christopher Nolan Bat movies didn’t have. The others had bombast and standout performances, but TDKR has more heart and soul. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman is heroic, to be sure, but is presented here as more human and more vulnerable (in numerous ways). His transition from a limping, Howard Hughes type recluse back to Bat mode sets the film in motion.

Nolan and Nolan (director and co-writer Christopher and his co-writer brother Jonathan) give memorable lines to several of the key players. Michael Caine as Alfred is in tears as he advises Wayne not to go back into the Bat suit. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as police officer John Blake, a longtime Wayne admirer, tells Wayne his emotional story of life in an orphanage. Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon hesitates to tell the truth about Batman, lest he mar the legacy of Harvey Dent.

The ladies are better in this Bat movie. Anne Hathaway as Selina Kay/Catwoman is a beguiling mix of evil and good. Plus, she looks terrific in the leather jumpsuit. Marion Cotillard as Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate shares a romantic interlude with Bruce Wayne and is a key character in significant plot points.

Tom Hardy is evil incarnate as Bane, the terrorist who brings fear and havoc to Gotham. His mask and haunting voice bring to mind classic bad guy Darth Vader. Bane’s violent acts will prompt recollections of NYC’s 9/11 terrorist attacks. His band of thugs commandeers certain defense assets to do harm to Gotham and its defenders.

If this is a movie you plan to see, get into your movie house sooner rather than later. TDKR has content you want to enjoy on the big screen (IMAX, preferably) instead of a small screen. This review contains no spoilers, but others will. Be careful monitoring online forums and social media feeds, so as not to be burned by those who tell too much.

“The Dark Knight Rises” has iconic scenes and dialogue that will endure in my personal movie memory scrapbook for a long time. Expect multiple awards nominations and wins at year’s end. The movie adds another notch to Christopher Nolan’s reputation as one of our great movie storytellers. Like his “Inception,” TDKR is a movie to be enjoyed many times over. But don’t wait for the DVD or Blu-Ray. Witness true greatness at a theater near you ASAP.

This Means War—(Reese Piece)

Ever had a food item that was good but made better by some special sauce or seasoning? In “This Means War,” Chelsea Handler provides the spice that makes this good movie better.

“This Means War” is a romantic action comedy. All three of those genres get their due. Reese Witherspoon meets two guys—one through an online dating service; the other via video store flirting. She ends up going out with both. Here’s the kicker: The two guys work together as CIA operatives! Plus they are best friends!

Personal anecdote that relates: When I moved to the Twin Cities a few decades ago, the first two women I dated—one via an arranged blind date; the other from a chance meeting at the state fair—both worked at the Three Sisters retail clothing store at Rosedale Mall! (I am now happily married to one of them.)

Back to TMW: Reese’s two guys are Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, two good-looking, likeable guys who realize early on that they’re dating the same woman. But Reese doesn’t know they know each other. Classic sitcom plotting, but handled well here.

Reese gets romantic advice from her married friend, played by Chelsea Handler. Handler is hilarious in this movie. Reportedly, “This Means War” was originally rated R, but some of Handler’s saucier language was clipped to get the rating knocked down to PG-13. I generally ignore “unrated” version DVD ‘s, but might look for this one when it comes out this spring or summer.

In addition to the romance and comedy, there’s action. The film kicks off with a battle in Hong Kong between our two CIA guys and some really mean bad guys. The fight involves gun play, hand-to-hand combat, helicopters and a fall from a tall building. The movie’s climax comes with a well-executed chase scene. The CIA aspect comes into play as each guy monitors the other guy’s wooing of Reese.

If I had to rank the movie’s three elements, I’d put comedy first, followed by action, then romance. My wife—you may remember her from Three Sisters in Rosedale Mall—ranks them exactly the same.

“This Means War” is not a movie to love, but is one to like. Have some fun with it.