Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2015: The Revenant (dir by Alejandro G Inarritu)


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Before I continue to catch up with reviewing the films of 2015 by taking a look at The Revenant, I want to ask a question and I request that you give this some serious thought.  Is Jeff Wells just a troll or is he seriously a moron?  Or maybe he’s both, that’s another possibility.  For those of you who stay out of the darker parts of the internet, Jeff Wells is a film blogger who thinks that, because he voted for Obama, he’s earned the right to regularly use his column to disparage women.  (Wells is the one who publicly complained that the lead of Diary of a Teenage Girl wasn’t, in his eyes, fuckable enough to be a compelling 15 year-old protagonist.)  Jeff Wells tweeted the following about The Revenant:

And Jeff Wells hasn’t been alone in claiming that only men can truly appreciate The Revenant.  On Overland, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas has an excellent post about this line of male critical thought.  Now, speaking for myself, I liked The Revenant a lot more than Heller-Nicholas apparently did.  But, at the same time, she hits the nail on the head when it comes to this idea that The Revenant is a film so intense and so full of agony that only men could possibly enjoy it.  Much like her, I felt as if “critics” like Jeff Wells and Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers were personally challenging me, as a woman, to actually sit through The Revenant without running from the theater in disgust or hiding my eyes in terror.

And, quite frankly, that’s bullshit.  Yes, The Revenant is intense and yes, I did have a bit of a hard time watching that bear maul Leonardo DiCaprio but, at the same time, how would Jeff Wells or Peter Travers handle being mauled by a bear?  For that matter, how would either one of them handle being in a high-speed chase or being shot at?  Would either one of them be able to outrun an explosion or do any of the other stuff that regularly happens in films that supposedly only appeal to men?

(For that matter, how would Jeff Wells or Peter Travers handle monthly menstrual cramps or giving birth or anything else that women have to deal with in the real world?  I imagine they’d probably end up begging the bear to finish them off.)

And really, the whole point of The Revenant is that most human beings (regardless of gender) would not have survived being mauled by a bear or being buried alive or spending months exposed to the harsh wilderness or having pieces of their body start to decay.  These are all things that happen to hunter Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) over the course of The Revenant and the film suggests that the only reason he survives is because he’s driven by a desire for revenge.  When Glass’s fellow hunter, the gruff Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), decided to abandon Glass, he also murdered Glass’s son, Hawk.  Still immobilized by his wounds, Glass could only watch as Hawk was brutally killed.

(Interestingly enough, Fitzgerald is like Glass in that he has also survived a terrible injury.  Fitzgerald regularly wears a skullcap to hide the fact that he was scalped in the past.  In many ways, Fitzgerald is almost a shadow of Glass.  Glass has his son to remind him of what it means to be human but Fitzgerald has no one.  And after Hawk is murdered, neither does Glass.)

Though the film focused on Glass’s struggle to survive until he could again track down the men who abandoned him, I have to admit that my main concern was with the character of Jim Bridger (Will Poulter).  Bridger, after all, agreed to stay behind with Glass and Fitzgerald and to make sure that Glass received a proper burial after succumbing to his wounds.  Bridger was not present when Fitzgeralnd killed Hawk and buried Glass alive and expressed remorse after being falsely told that Glass was dead.  Still, The Revenant is a revenge flick and, as I watched, I found myself wondering if Glass would forgive Bridger or if he would take vengeance even on someone who was merely misguided.  (If you’ve ever seen a 70s revenge flick, you know that even sincere remorse is usually not enough to avoid being punished.)  Since the film continually asks whether or not Glass can survive without sacrificing his humanity, how he handles Bridger is one of the most important scenes in the film.

The Revenant opens with an absolutely terrifying sequence in which a group of hunters is slaughtered by a Native American tribe and it maintains that intensity through the entire film.  DiCaprio, Hardy, and Poulter all give excellent performances and special mention should also be made of Domhnall Gleeson, who plays the upright but ineffectual leader of the hunting party and for whom 2015 was a helluva year.  (Along with appearing in The Revenant, Gleeson also appeared in Brooklyn, Ex Machina, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. )  It’s not always an easy film to watch (though, for me, the close-up of a wound oozing puss was a lot more unsettling than that bear mauling Glass) and there’s a few scenes where director Alejandro Inarritu gives in to his more pretentious tendencies but, for the most part, The Revenant is never less than watchable.

The Revenant is currently an Oscar front-runner.  Last night, it beat the highly hyped Spotlight at the Golden Globes.  Personally, as good as the film is, I think there are a lot of films that deserve a best picture nomination more than The Revenant.  It’s been a great year for film, after all.  That said, I do think The Revenant is definitely an improvement on Inarritu’s previous Oscar winner, Birdman.

The Revenant is an intense and harrowing film that can be seen and appreciated (or, for that matter, disliked) by anyone.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently!

Film Review: Black Mass (dir by Scott Cooper)


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You know how sometimes you watch a movie and you’re happy because you know it’s a good movie but, at the same time, you end up feeling slightly disappointed because, as good as it may be, it never quite becomes the great movie that you were hoping for?

That was kind of my reaction to Black Mass.

Black Mass tells the true story of James “Whitey” Bulger, the gangster who controlled the Boston underworld from the late 70s to the mid-90s.  Bulger was both famous and feared for his ruthless brutality and his willingness to murder just about anyone.  Bulger was also famous for being the brother of Billy Bulger, a powerful Democratic politician.  When it appeared that Whitey was finally on the verge of being indicted, he vanished into thin air and, for 2 decades, remained missing until he was finally captured in Florida.  Whitey Bulger is now serving two life sentences.

Black Mass is a solid gangster film.  We watch as Whitey (Johnny Depp) takes over Boston and essentially murders anyone who gets on his nerves.  Helping Whitey out is a local FBI Agent, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who grew up in South Boston with the Bulger brothers.  While Connolly originally only appears to be using Whitey as an informant to help take down the Italian mob, it quickly becomes obvious that Connolly envies the power and influence of both Whitey and Billy (played by Benedict Cumberbatch).  Soon, Connolly has become something of a Bulger groupie and is protecting Whitey from prosecution and even leaking him the names of anyone who attempts to inform on Bulger’s crime.

Indeed, the film’s best scenes are the ones in which it is shown how the FBI’s determination to take down the Mafia allowed the far more violent Bulger to move into their place.  Bulger was a criminal who worked for and was protected by the U.S. government and, as such, his story serves as a metaphor for a lot of what is currently messed up about America.  While I appreciated the time that Black Mass devoted to exploring Whitey’s relationship with the FBI, I do wish it had spent more time exploring his relationship with his brother, Billy.  The film places most of the blame for Whitey’s reign of terror on the FBI but it defies common sense not to assume that Whitey was also protected by his well-connected, politically powerful brother.

Black Mass contains all of the usual gangster film tropes.  There are sudden and violent executions.  There are drug addicted criminals who turn out to be less than trustworthy.  (Poor Peter Sarsgaard.)  There’s the usual talk of honor and respect.  Beefy men with pockmarked faces stand in the shadows and shout random insults at each other until someone finally snaps.  And, of course, we get the countless scenes where Bulger’s demeanor goes from friendly to threatening and we’re left wondering if he’s going to smile or if he’s going to kill someone.  It may all be a little bit familiar but director Scott Cooper handles it all well and keeps things watchable.

In this 122-minute film, there are exactly two scenes in which Whitey is in any way sympathetic.  In one scene, he breaks down after the death of his son and, in the other, he deals with the death of his mother.  These are the only two scenes in which Whitey shows any hint of humanity.  Otherwise, Bulger is presented as being almost pure evil.  He’s no Michael Corleone, trying to go straight and making excuses for the family business.  Nor does he possess the enjoyable flamboyance of Scareface‘s Tony Montana or The Departed‘s Frank Costello.  Instead, he’s a pure sociopath and  the film’s most effective shots are the ones that focus on Whitey’s expressionless gaze.  They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul and one only has to look into Bulger’s to see that they are windows without a view.

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Johnny Depp deserves all the credit in the world for making Whitey into a compelling character.  Wisely, Depp underplays Whitey’s most threatening scenes.  He rarely raises his voice and the only time he loses control of his emotions is when he’s confronted with something — like the death of his son — that even he can’t change.  Otherwise, Depp plays Whitey as always being in control.  (It’s mentioned, at one point, that Whitey was the subject of 50 LSD experiments while serving time in prison and Depp plays Whitey as if he’s always staring at something that nobody else can see.)  It’s his confidence that makes Whitey Bulger an interesting character.  You may not like him but you can’t look away because you know that he’s literally capable of anything.  Ever since the trailer for Black Mass was first released, Depp has been at the center of awards speculation.  Having seen the film, I can say that the Oscar talk is more than deserved.  He’s even better than people like me thought he would be.

Depp is so good that he overshadows the rest of the cast.  There’s a lot of good actors in this film, including Kevin Bacon, James Russo, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll, Jesse Plemons, and Rory Cochrane.  But few of them get as much of a chance to make an impression as Johnny Depp.  Much as Whitey dominated Boston, Depp dominates this film.  Joel Edgerton has several great moments as the not-as-smart-as-he-thinks-he-is Connolly but even he is thoroughly overshadowed by Depp’s performance.  (That said, I did appreciate the fact that Edgerton’s too-eager-to-please Connolly came across like he might be a cousin to The Gift‘s Gordo the Weirdo.)

As I said at the beginning of this review, Black Mass is good but it was never quite as great as I was hoping it would be.  There’s a few too many scenes where you get the feeling that Scott Cooper woke up the day of shooting and said, “Let’s Scorsese the shit out of this scene.”  As a result, Black Mass sometimes struggles to escape from the shadow cast by Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed, American Gangster, and the countless other mob films that have been released over the past few decades.  Black Mass is well-made and will forever be remembered for Johnny Depp’s amazing lead performance but it never quite reaches the status of a classic.

Finally, on a personal note, I did enjoy the fact that Black Mass dealt with the Irish mob.  I’m a little bit torn in my loyalties because I’m Irish-Italian but, if I ever had to pick a mob to which to serve as a cheerleader, I would go Irish Mafia all the way!

Sláinte!

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Trailer #2: Black Mass


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One of this year’s most-anticipated films (well, at least when it comes to award season) has a new trailer.

Black Mass stars Johnny Depp in the role of the infamous gangster Whitey Bulger who, as the film’s tagline states, became the most notorious gansgter in U.S. history. This is bold claim considering other gangsters in U.S. history such as Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, Vito Genovese and Meyer Lansky to name a few.

What makes this film so interesting is the fact that we finally get to see Depp return to acting real, complex characters instead of just acting like a character these past decade. Plus, have you seen this cast supporting Depp: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Joel Edgerton, Corey Stoll and Jesse Plemons just for starters.

Black Mass is set for a September 18, 2015 release date.