Monday, February 01, 2016

The Revenant

Year: 2015
Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter

Plot: A frontiersman fights to survive after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by his own hunting crew in 1820s Louisiana.

Review: The Revenant has received a huge number of nominations for the upcoming Oscars, and after viewing it, I have little reason to argue with that.

The story takes place circa 1823 in the Louisiana woods where a group of fur trappers are suddenly attacked by the Arikara natives, forcing them to flee. On the way back, Hugh Glass, the man in charge of directing the men home, is mauled by a bear. Severely injured and possibly facing death, the captain orders two men, Fitzgerald and Bridger to keep Glass and his half native son company till he passes, then bury him properly. Fitzgerald, greedy and fearful for his own life, kills Glass' son, lies to Bridger and heads back to camp, leaving Glass to die in a shallow grave. However, the man survives, slowly heals up and makes his way back through the cold winter to get even with Fitzgerald.

The first thing you'll notice about The Revenant is how beautiful it looks. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki puts in amazing work in capturing the adventure and scenery here. It is so good it puts the viewer right there with the actors, which is no small feat. Credit also goes to Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto for their awesome score and Jack Fisk for stupendous set design work. But truly, everything comes together thanks to director Alejandro G. Inarritu, who successfully translates a partly true story to the silver screen. The opening natives attack is pretty intense and violent, which is almost reminiscent of the Normandy attack in Saving Private Ryan. The bear attack scene is brutal as well, followed by Glass' harrowing and painful journey towards revenge. Inarritu has obviously put himself and his cast and crew through hell to bring this film to life, and it's worth every dollar spent.

Leonardo DiCaprio, still hunting for his elusive first Oscar, may very well earn it here. His approach to playing Hugh Glass is almost like how Daniel Day Lewis would inhabit a role, though he stops short at adopting exact mannerisms and whatnot. DiCaprio is as convincing and intense as he's ever been, and it shows. Tom Hardy is equally good as Fitzgerald, playing a man who is greedy and desperate, but not totally deplorable. Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter also put in solid work too as Captain Henry and Bridger respectively, but this film is mostly DiCaprio's shining achievement.

The film's main flaw is the editing, as there are too many draggy scenes involving still shots of trees or the sky, or dream sequences involving Glass' late wife and son. This does cause the film to be less compelling than it could have been, but not too much. Thanks to DiCaprio and Hardy, The Revenant manages to keep the audience mostly focused till the end.

One could say that The Revenant is a film that will be one of its kind for many years to come, simply because of how magnificent it is to behold. Recommended. (8/10) 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Big Short

Year: 2015
Director: Adam McKay
Cast: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock

Plot: Based on the true story of the financial meltdown in 2007-2008, seen through the eyes of a few men who saw it coming.

Review: One look at The Big Short and you might think the subject matter isn't very interesting to explore. But if you allow yourself some time to sit through this, there's a high chance you will be entertained and educated at the same time.

The latest film from Adam McKay focuses on the financial meltdown in the U.S. in 2007-2008. We start in 2005, where hedge fund manager Michael Burry crunches some numbers and predicts that the housing market is due to crash in a couple of years. So he uses his investors' money and bets against the banks in order to make a profit. The banks, all confident that the market is perfectly stable, willingly meet his request. This gets the attention of Jared Vennett, a banker who also sees an opportunity to get rich and makes a deal with another hedge fund manager, Mark Baum. At the same time, two young investors, Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley get wind of this news and also attempt to profit from it, with some help from retired banker Ben Rickert.

McKay guides the audience through the eyes of these six men as they try to make sense of the impending collapse and gain from it. Knowing that the audience might be clueless with all the financial jargon being thrown around, McKay wisely inserts definitions wherever necessary and even ropes in celebrities like Selena Gomez, Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain to explain things. He also gets a few members of his cast to break the fourth wall and narrate the proceedings, especially Ryan Gosling who plays Vennett.

The cast all perform splendidly, with Christian Bale successfully presenting Burry as an eccentric man who listens to heavy metal, plays drums and dresses casually at the office, but a financial genius without a doubt. Though Bale is impressive, earning an Oscar nomination for his role, it is Steve Carell whom I thought should have been nominated instead as Mark Baum. Baum is a man with a strong moral compass, an angry man who feels the intense need to right every wrong in the world, and his reaction to the impending meltdown caused by dishonest banks is very genuine. It is his character the audience will connect with the most. Brad Pitt's role is minimal here as Rickert; it is the two young men played by John Magaro and Finn Wittrock who shine more. Geller and Shipley simply want to build their future and are damn excited to have stumbled upon something huge. Credit also goes to Melissa Leo and Marisa Tomei who make minor appearances here.

I will admit that this film isn't exactly for everyone, especially for people who don't like dialogue heavy stuff or jargon filled scripts. But I gotta give credit to McKay for making his film as accessible as possible, and dare I say it, entertaining too despite the potentially depressing subject matter.

If you're looking for something different to sink your teeth into, give this one a try. (8/10)

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Year: 2015
Director: Justin Kurzel
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Sean Harris, Paddy Considine, Jack Reynor, David Thewlis

Plot: Based on the play by William Shakespeare. After receiving a prophecy by three witches that he will become King of Scotland, Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, decides to kill the king and take the throne for himself. However, following his actions, he is consumed by guilt and paranoia, which leads to more blood and death.

Review: There have been many of Shakespeare's work adapted for the big screen, some of the more significant ones being Baz Luhrmann's version of Romeo and Juliet, 10 Things I Hate About You starring the late Heath Ledger adapted from The Taming Of The Shrew, Hamlet starring Mel Gibson, and O, a modern day version of Othello starring Josh Hartnett. There are many more, but these are just a few to begin with.

This writer isn't well-versed with Shakespeare, so he'll do his best telling you what he sees in this version of Macbeth. The story is set during a civil war in Scotland around the 11th century. Macbeth, a trusted general of King Duncan, receives a prophecy from three witches that he will soon become King of Scotland, and his friend Banquo will father future kings of Scotland, though he won't be king himself. Overwrought with ambition and encouraged by his wife, Macbeth kills the king and takes the crown. But after that, he starts to feel paranoid, and slowly he grows mad day after day, which drives him to take further extreme measures to hang on to his crown, including killing his own friend Banquo.

First off, let me inform you that if you're not familiar with Shakespeare, then understanding his words will be a huge challenge. Thankfully, this writer had assistance from subtitles provided, though it still is quite daunting to follow. Nevertheless, Macbeth manages to thrill and astound thanks to outstanding performances from its cast and great direction from Justin Kurzel.

While the supporting cast made up of Paddy Considine, Sean Harris and David Thewlis among others, put in solid work, it is lead actors Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard who shine the brightest here. Fassbender is stunning as Macbeth, who slowly grows mad with ambition and guilt, and Cotillard is equally brilliant as Lady Macbeth, who starts off being cold and zealous but then is consumed by the weight of her own actions as well. The duo make a fine team here, and I can't wait to see how they fare in Assassin's Creed later this year.

Kurzel is splendid in translating the play onscreen, allowing his actors to carry the story while utilizing great cinematography by Adam Arkapaw and macabre music by Jed Kurzel to his advantage. The words might confuse you at times but the essence of the story comes across beautifully. It would benefit those of you who are non-Shakespearean moviegoers to have one who is translate for you, though it's not entirely essential.

The film may drag here and there, and some scenes might puzzle you if you don't know the story beforehand, but overall I quite liked this film. There's a great sense of realism and brutality to the film, which is further enhanced by two battle scenes that bookend the movie. The final fight, bathed in crimson red fire and fog, is my favorite scene.

While I do agree that Macbeth isn't for everyone due to its convoluted language, it's a film worth checking out. (7/10)

Sunday, January 03, 2016

The 33

Year: 2015
Director: Patricia Riggen
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips, Gabriel Byrne, Bob Gunton, Mario Casas, Juan Pablo Raba

Plot: Based on the true story of 33 miners trapped for 69 days after their mine collapsed in Chile in August 2010.

Review: The well-known mine collapse in Chile back in 2010 has finally been made into a film. After watching this, I can imagine how hard it must have been to translate this story to celluloid and make it different from every other true story that has come before it.

The 33 starts out with a small introduction to our miners, which are pretty much your regular guys trying to make a living. A loving family man, a man whose wife has a baby coming soon, a senior miner on his last 2 weeks, an Elvis impersonator, a homeless drunk trying to earn some wages, and a Bolivian immigrant, among others. The miner in charge of safety notices the mine starting to destabilize, but the company ignores his warning. The 33 miners go down, the mine caves in, andthe men have to survive in the dark while the Minister of Mining does his best to plan a rescue attempt as the miners' worried families start to camp outside the mine.

On paper, the film might actually work. But the script doesn't quite measure up. To be fair, Mexican director Patricia Riggen keeps the film moving along briskly enough for at least the first two-thirds. She was at least able to balance enough time spent between the miners' ordeal underground and the situation outside where Minister of Mining Laurence Golborne tries to handle the families and the rescuers' attempts.

But the script doesn't give enough sense of urgency to the proceedings, especially once the miners are discovered to be alive. The script also seems to focus on only half a dozen miners and not more. Granted, it would be hard to address all 33 of them, but acknowledging a few more wouldn't hurt. There are also a few unintentionally funny elements here, like a scene where they hallucinate being served their favorite meal by their families, and the subplot about one of the miners having a wife and a mistress who lives just next door, which is supposed to be funny but doesn't quite fit into the overall story. The subplot about the Bolivian miner being picked on by the others was interesting though.

The cast do well enough overall. Antonio Banderas performs the best as lead miner Mario, who manages to keep his men in order and ration their supplies as best he can. Rodrigo Santoro is alright as Golborne, but doesn't quite have the screen presence required to convincingly portray a minister. I'll give him credit for trying though. Juliette Binoche also stands out as Maria, the estranged sister to one of the miners, and Gabriel Byrne is good too as the lead rescuer.

The best part of the film comes at the end when Riggen introduces the audience to the real 33 miners as they are today. At the very least, she ended the film well.

The 33 is overall a serviceable true account film, but it's only halfway decent. It follows all the beats of most true stories told on film but doesn't quite achieve the dramatic impact it was aiming for. (6/10)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Ip Man 3

Year: 2015
Director: Wilson Yip
Cast: Donnie Yen, Zhang Jin, Lynn Hung, Mike Tyson

Plot: In 1959 Hong Kong, Wing Chun master Ip Man faces a handful of challenges, from a foreign crime lord to a rival Wing Chun martial artist, and an unexpected tragedy.

Review: Donnie Yen teams up with director Wilson Yip once again to bring another chapter of kungfu master Ip Man to the big screen.

In this film, Ip Man (Yen) is living peacefully in Hong Kong with his wife (Lynn Hung) and younger son while his older son studies in Foshan. The local gangsters, led by foreign crime boss Frank (Mike Tyson) want to take over the children's school for the land, and Ip Man volunteers to protect the school when the local police find their hands tied due to corruption. Ip Man also finds a potential friend/rival in the form of Cheung Tin-Chi (Zhang Jin), a rickshaw puller who also happens to be a Wing Chun master. However, none of these prove more challenging to Ip Man than the knowledge that his wife has been diagnosed with cancer.

In the first Ip Man film, the theme was patriotism. The second film was honor and pride for Chinese kungfu. This third film focuses on family. Ip Man's battle with the gangsters turns personal when they threaten his son, and you get to see what the master is willing to do to protect him. Then there is his sick wife, whom Ip Man spends more time with once he learns about her illness, forgoing other matters such as a challenge from Tin-Chi. In fact, Tin-Chi's actions is also motivated by family as he seeks a better life for himself and his son.

Thanks to Yen, Yip and action choreographer Yuen Woo Ping, audiences are treated to a handful of solid action sequences, though to be fair, the one-on-one fights were better filmed than the one-on-many brawls. While most would figure the Yen vs Tyson fight to be the best duel, I felt that it comes a close second to the duel between Yen and Thai exponent Sarut Khanwilai, that takes place within close quarters. Though the Thai fighter is hardly a match for Ip Man, the scene was filmed well. As for the Yen vs Tyson fight, the latter is to be commended for convincingly being a match for the former. As it turns out, Tyson is the only one that truly takes Yen to the limit here.

Acting wise though, Tyson doesn't fare too well, but it is forgivable since he's not an actor per se. Yen once again plays Ip Man solidly, as an honorable man who tries his best to impart good values on others and hopes they follow suit. Lynn Hung plays his wife again, who tries to be a good spouse and support her husband whenever possible. Their relationship becomes the focus of the second half of the film, and it is rather touching to see this side of the master for a change.

However, the film comes up short in certain areas, particularly a proper villain. One could say that the main villain here is Mrs. Ip's disease, and it is one the master can't overcome so easily. Tyson only appears for a short period here, and his character, while essentially a crime boss, proves to be a family man and a man of his word. That leaves Zhang Jin as Yen's main rival, but unfortunately Zhang's acting isn't good enough. Zhang's Tin-Chi is shown as a man not that much different from Ip Man, more like the other side of the same coin. Tin-Chi is also motivated by family, but he wants to win and be the best, forgoing the humble approach Ip Man usually takes. Had Zhang been a better actor, this conflict would have been properly presented, but he isn't, thereby making his final duel with Yen at the end seem anti-climactic.

To be honest, the Ip Man franchise may finally be starting to overstay its welcome, but at the same time I wouldn't mind seeing Yen have another go at it, as long as they give him a formidable opponent. For now, Ip Man 3 is a good way to end things, if it is the end. (7/10)


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