Sean K. Cureton

Archive for January, 2016|Monthly archive page

The Revenant or (The Expected Virtue of Iñárritu)

In Movie Reviews: 2015 on January 23, 2016 at 12:17 pm
The Revenant

20th Century Fox

The Revenant
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
3 out of 4 stars

Like his last film of dramatic portentousness, director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest work is heavily poetic and mock spiritual to a fault, with many stunningly photographed vistas of snowbound alpines meant to stand in for some kind of abstract notion of human idealism that can prove hard to grasp. Where Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) took on its sub-titular notion of artistic pretention and pride, The Revenant explores revenge played out to its brutal end, a film that renders violence enacted upon one’s fellow man felt as an emotional wound that scars the psyche, and hollows out its victims seeking justice in all the wrong places. As real life American frontiersman and fur trapper of legend Hugh Glass, Leonardo DiCaprio pushes himself farther than might be deemed entirely necessary of what would otherwise be called fiction, and makes a film in dedication to the man as seen through the convoluted lens of Iñárritu’s poetic vision. There’s plenty of beauty and horror to be found throughout the film, and as such much of its seemingly ungraspable visuals become metaphoric intuitively, with the realistic filming technique undertaken by Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki resulting in an equally honest depiction of historical events. Iñárritu has perhaps created a mountain of self-involvement that other directors might find hard to surmount in the making of his latest film, and yet The Revenant manages to surpass all expectations, resulting in a work of contemporary cinema that needs to be seen by anyone who professes a love for the medium.

Of late, and following Iñárritu’s string of awards lauded onto Birdman and The Revenant in kind, a small minority of voices has come forward to voice their needling displeasure with much of the director’s grandiose pomposity. For some, Birdman was an entirely contrived affair meant to cater to the simpering intellect of the cinematic intelligentsia, while shutting out general audiences with its open degradation and condescension towards big budget Hollywood fare. To some, Riggan Thomson proved a thoroughly unlikeable character, whose Icarian flight towards the sun was scorching and without human insight, regardless of how minutely manifested his particular brilliance might otherwise have been seen by the assembled majority of otherwise captivated film critics. As a member of the latter party, it becomes difficult to assess just where some of this miniscule, albeit vocal, minority of dissent has its origin, though perhaps much of the film’s post-modern aestheticism is to blame, with Iñárritu often adopting the visual poetics of a Terrence Malick without any of the latter’s warmth or compassion. Birdman is a fast-paced, chess game of the mind that plays like a studio comedy, and The Revenant is a slow, spiritual ballet that moves with all of the speed of mortal folly in war, though neither ever truly feels as though it has earned either accolade when it comes to a feeling, deeply and emotionally, for any of the characters depicted on screen as characters of Iñárritu’s personal invention and insight.

But such a digressive discourse fails to get at what it is that makes a film like The Revenant such a compelling drama to begin with. Simply put, it’s breathtaking to watch the film, and discover the various paths that Glass must overcome in order to try and fail, and try and fail again, to come back from the brink of death, over and over again, and finally find his revenge lacking in any spiritual resolution. If our hero’s final words are to be believed as religious truth, then revenge is truly up to some great deity, and our own strivings towards justice may be deemed laughable and narcissistic in comparison to the former’s almighty power. Watching DiCaprio and his co-star Tom Hardy, who plays the film’s chief antagonist John Fitzgerald, come to blows with one another after just over two hours of grueling tension and physical torment is truly satisfying, and a dramatic achievement that viewers may never quiet recover from. The Revenant may cast aside human performance in the service of its photographically depicted realism that verges into the realm of sheer documentary filmmaking, but it is also one of the more gripping meditations on human spirituality and religion in the face of man’s inherently sinful nature to be seen on the big screen in a long time.

The Revenant, regardless of how you may feel about its high-minded intentions, is one of the best motion pictures of the year. Its ability to articulate some of the most deeply held, sub-conscious human truths is awe inspiring, and when coupled with Emmanuel Lubezki’s photographic poetry, the picture becomes about far more than revenge and God. Iñárritu has truly delivered something unimaginable in his latest film; even as his prior work threatened to define his entire career, it is his latest opus that may be far more cohesive in its meditation on another facet of man’s ego. The film is gut-wrenching and beautifully told, while simultaneously offering spiritual succor for those seeking answers to life’s most persistent existential questions and entertaining audiences with a thrilling tale of philosophical adventure to rival the works of Jack London. DiCaprio and Hardy pair well together under Iñárritu’s deliberate direction, and the dance they undertake in the film is one to see as set against the thematic tableaux of early nineteenth century American colonialism and greed, and stands as further proof of its director’s entirely expected virtue of dramatic cognizance.

The Magnificent Seven Revisited

In Movies on VOD: Reviews and Recommendations on January 16, 2016 at 1:31 pm
The Ridiculous 6

Netflix

The Ridiculous 6 (2015)
Directed by Frank Coraci
Netflix Rating: Liked It

Perhaps more notorious by now for reportedly being the most streamed Netflix title in the history of the popular online movie rental service, the latest Happy Madison Productions opus from former Saturday Night Live alumnus Adam Sandler, The Ridiculous 6, came out at the end of last year to a certain kind of fanfare particular to its featured star. Seemingly, Sandler can only do wrong in the eyes of most film critics, who see the drek that he consistently churns out every year as an indication of the apparent devolution of the expectations of high minded movie going viewership. And his latest film is nothing if not lacking in originality, depth, and subtlety, as the film borrows its title and heritage from its immediate association with director Quentin Tarantino’s similarly themed Western genre picture of the same year, The Hateful Eight, only in Sandler’s hands the material is more appropriately handled in the making of something far more hateful and ignorant than Tarantino’s correspondingly low-brow violent fantasy. It’s easy list the litany of cinema sins that Sandler continues to make in his latest film with frequent director Frank Coraci, but then where would be the point in that? Why rage against the Happy Madison machine, that continues to trade in the same, tired sex, dick, and fart jokes that has made Sandler a bankable star for some thirty-odd years now?

The simple fact of the matter is that for however offended some cultural commentators might want to get about the continued success of Sandler and his crew, and despite their films receiving consistently poor marks from the most respected film critics working today, The Ridiculous 6 is amusing. It’s entertaining, albeit not in a groundbreaking way, but it does cow tail the same melodramatically cathartic comedy of errors that has made Sandler’s humor work in the past, and will likely continue to serve him well going into the new year. Like Tarantino’s oeuvre, Happy Madison films have become synonymous over the years with a certain frat boy mentality that is co-dependently fulfilling precisely because of how immature and rude it appears on the outside. In rehashing old gags and poorly conceived narrative set pieces again and again, Sandler, alongside frequent co-writer Tim Herlihy, play at a sense of ritual bonding that has made them such a formidable force within the realm of the blockbuster studio comedy. Their latest effort plays into that, and by doing so succeeds not on the worth of its individual merits, but by association with past successes and a general familiarity that viewers of Sandler’s films over the years have come to associate with past successes, and sometime better films, like Billy Madison and Big Daddy.

In his new film, Sandler stars as a white man raised by American Indians in an intensely sensationalized Western genre set-piece that calls back to the John Sturges film upon which his comedy, and Tarantino’s aforementioned fantasy, are both based in part. Where The Magnificent Seven made mainstream dramatic fare out of the Western film genre, Sandler and Tarantino playfully satirize the former film for all of its presumed self-importance, and have developed their own films to echo their namesake’s pompous arrogance in kind. Neither The Hateful Eight or The Ridiculous 6 make for entirely compelling pieces of cinematic narrative that are coherent or cohesive in their own right, but as signifiers of well worn dramatic tropes and genre set pieces they evoke ideas and general plot points that the viewer can attribute to them while watching each film respectively. Neither Sandler or Tarantino are entirely capable in terms of original storytelling in the two films, but then again they don’t have to be, as each of them are deconstructing a time honored story according to their own creative proclivities, for better and for worse. The Ridiculous 6 is funny, and The Hateful Eight is thrilling, though you’d be hard pressed to find anything specific to each film that would make them citable over the course of the next years as anything worthy of further thought or attention, critical or otherwise.

In short, The Ridiculous 6 is bad studio comedy, and The Hateful Eight is a self-indulgent fantasy, and both films suffer form their status as low-brow entertainment in kind. But each film is also immediately enjoyable for viewers who know what they’re getting in for, and don’t come to either film with outstanding expectations of greatness or ingenuity. Like any Tarantino film, Sandler delivers a consistent kind of mainstream humor that has become inextricably linked with his person, and can be counted upon by his fans and erstwhile viewers alike. The Ridiculous 6 never sets out to break from this expected pattern, and as such may find its way into entertaining those viewers willing to engage in sophomoric antics otherwise cast aside in day to day life. Sandler might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but his humor can still make those enamored of him crack a smile, and his latest film does so in spades, even if its is of objectively poor quality.

The Ridiculous 6 is available on Netflix Instant View, and is My Movies on Netflix Review of the week.