Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Revenant

Plot: The Revenant is the story of 1820's Montana fur trader Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who was mauled by a bear. The other traders are unable to carry him back to safety, and they are fearful of attacks from the Native American Ree (more properly called Arikara), so they leave Glass with Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and two boys. After a few days Glass is abandoned to die, the rest of the movie is about how he survived. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: The bear attack is incredible. I have never seen anything like it. Truly horrible.  I watched it with one eye through my fingers.

Life was hard for the trappers and Mountain men in Montana, especially for Hugh Glass. The movie is never boring because terrible things keep happening. The vast majority of the movie is stressful because of the suffering and death. So many things go wrong, that it seems like The Martian. It improves when Glass becomes ambulatory again.

There are a meteors, avalanches, buffalo stampedes, and prayerful chanting that director Inarritu uses to create a sense of magical reality. While it suggests that the native gods are watching, it is also how Inarritu is acknowledging larger-than-life exaggerations in Glass's legend.  (see Even More, below.) 

One great scene was when Hugh Glass is floating in the freezing river to avoid the Ree, and ends up in rapids and then going over a waterfall: great pictures and very tense.

The action scene that "jumped the shark" was when Hugh was being chased by the Ree though the forest on horseback. Suddenly the horse runs off a cliff, and they fall directly into a fir tree. The Ree can't follow, and the tree breaks Hugh's fall. It sets up another clever/outrageous scene about keeping warm at night that I'm not going to spoil.

I didn't find DiCaprio's performance engaging or interesting. No doubt DiCaprio's performance was technically difficult, but so what? I am not a fan of DiCaprio.

Tom Hardy's performance as the bad guy Fitzgerald is more interesting and realistic.

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnail Gleeson

Directed by:
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Based on the novel by: Michael Punke and inspired by the life of Hugh Glass

The Music
by Ryuichi Sakamoto was slow and discordant; it added a lot to the movie. 

The Visuals:
Generally dreary forest scenes befitting the mood, but there are some spectacular views of tree tops, mountains and river rapids. They did a nice job with the wounds on DiCaprio.

2.5 stars: There are a few good scenes -- like that bear scene. It was fun to watch in a horror movie way, but mostly it was hard to watch in a documentary way. The few highlights are too spread out. I was looking at my watch regularly. 


More: Revenant - means someone who returns, especially back from the dead, according to the dictionary.

Even More: Hugh Glass is a legendary folk hero whose story is certainly embellished, just like Paul Bunyan. He has other interesting chapters in his bio, for example he was a pirate.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

2014 Top Movies

2014 Top Movies

The Big Short

Plot: Prior to the 2008 crash, fund managers Michael Burry (Christian Bale), Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), and Mark Baum (Steve Carell) spotted the problems with mortgage bonds and tried to profit from it. The Big Short explains the reason for the 2008 financial crisis through the eyes of the three fund managers.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: The Big Short is a dramatization of the 2008 financial crash through the eyes of three investors who saw it coming. Because financial crime is immaterial, director McKay keeps it lively with rock music, odd venues, characters addressing the camera directly, and odd-ball vignettes, for example, Margot Robbie gives a profanity-filled explanation of bond trading in a bubble-bath while drinking champagne.

The best part was the educational value -- I left with a better understanding of the 2008 crisis, and some knowledge of the gaps in today's system. It was interesting because it was true.

I liked how McKay cleverly worked technical definitions into the movie withOUT making it sleepy. Now I know what a synthetic CDO is, for example.

There was a great scene where bond rating agency manager talks wearing dark glasses as if she were blind. I appreciated the ironic humor. There were several gaps like this, some funny.

Compared to a real drama however, The Big Short,  comes up short. Why? The characters: they are motivated only by getting rich. The writers decided these people were abnormal and dehumanized them rather than humanizing them. They are depicted as anti-social or maybe Aspergers sufferers: even if this was been historically true, everyone has feelings and needs. Fewer characters with deeper backstories would have been more engaging.

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell

Directed by:
Adam McKay

Written by:
Adam McKay and Charles Randolph; based on the book by Michael Lewis

The Music:
Great. The rock music and the regular soundtrack by Nicholas Britell. I especially liked the jazz piano in "Redemption at the Roulette Table." 

The Visuals:
The fast moving visual style is distinctive. Nothing breathtaking

3.0 stars: It is a two star movie that gets a 1/2 star bump because its educational, and another 1/2 star because of its social value and ambition. Am I being suckered by the Oscar buzz?

More: The Big Short shows the cause of the crisis was ignorance and greed at the banks. This fits with Hollywood tropes about evil corporations. The real cause was lax financial regulation, and privatization of bond rating among three for-profit rating agencies -- who were too dependent on their clients to be honest. Free market capitalism can only exist in a framework of well-known rules.

Even More: When someone tells you that a thing is too hard to understand, take the time to learn it. That is my take away from The Big Short. I remember a hundred stories on mortgage bond derivatives, and every one had a disclaimer about how hard it was to understand.