Saturday, January 9, 2016

“The Revenant” – Ringing in the new year with…eww, gross.

Every year, on January 1st, people swap out their old calendars featuring cats doing silly things with new calendars featuring dogs making silly faces. People make resolutions promising to better their lives like losing some weight, building the courage to finally talk to the cute bank teller, or to clean out that furry green mess in the back of the refrigerator that’s actively eating its aluminum wrapping. It’s the time when people have the most hope during the year because they’ve spent the previous week opening presents, eating Christmas treats, and drinking themselves stupid in the hopes of seeing someone naked one last time before the Earth completes its annual orbit. Sure, that naked someone is likely to be them and how did he lose his pants, anyway? But the point is hope. So, what better way to start off the hopeful new year than to watch a bunch of people try to kill each other in a snowed-in cabin in The Hateful Eight? Then, follow that up the next weekend by watching Leonardo DiCaprio get mauled by a bear, then try to survive the 1820’s American West after being left for dead? I hope you have some Christmas cookies left.

(A couple of mild SPOILERS ahead. Have another cookie.)

The Revenant is the loosely-based-on-real-events film about a trapper named Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) doing just that – surviving a bear mauling and being left for dead by his fellow trappers. Not knowing anything about the real events, I looked them up and that is the part of the movie that is true. The major parts that are completely made up are the side stories about the Arikara (Native-American tribe) who attack Glass’ hunting party looking for the Arikara chief’s daughter, and fellow trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) murdering Glass’ son. So, when you read that this movie is original (as I did in a couple of early reviews), throw the bullshit flag. Then, pick it up and throw it again because, not only was this movie based upon a novel by Michael Punke (The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge), it’s not even the first movie about this exact historical event, as that would be 1971’s Man in the Wilderness. And, if your arm isn’t tired yet, chuck that flag at the next person to complain about the unoriginality of Hollywood while simultaneously praising this film.

But, that’s not really what this film is about. It’s really about director Alejandro Gonzàlez Iñarritu torturing his cast and crew by filming the entire movie in snow-filled locations, refusing to use any CGI besides the bear, because FILM©. According to production notes, many of the crew members either quit or were fired due to the difficult and freezing conditions. Of course, this couldn’t possibly be Iñarritu’s fault, stating “as a director, if I identify a violin that is out of tune, I have to take that from the orchestra.” Wow – that guy must be a hoot to work for. Apparently, it’s the violinist’s fault that the violin was “out of tune” and not that the violinist couldn’t tune the violin because of frostbite and hypothermia. But what’s a few fingers and toes lost when you can get that perfect lighting?

Besides the gorgeous scenery, the movie is also about getting DiCaprio that elusive Best Actor Oscar. Over the next few days, weeks, and months, you’re going to hear how spectacular his performance was as Glass. The grittiness of the performance, the desperation, the groaning, the spittle, the mucus – all of it adds up to a surefire Oscar nomination, if not the win. But, was is it really that hard? I mean, if you were freezing your ass off and your boss asked you to climb into a horse carcass, you’d look pissed and desperate and you’d have spit and mucus flying off your beard too. It’s not exactly a stretch to act that way when you literally are that way and you’d have murder in your eyes too if someone handed you a raw liver and said “eat this.” Yes, that all happens in this movie.

If you can look past the obvious FILM©-iness of this movie, it is rather good. Having just invented a new category in my year in movies review – The Squirmers, I’ve already got my first 2016 entry, as this movie will have you cringing during several scenes, none more so than the bear attack scene. I could have sworn that at least part of that scene was done with a real bear, but according to those production notes, that was all CGI. And speaking of which, they could have used a little more CGI or editing or something because every scene involving Glass’ floating dead wife looks really bad. In one scene, you could see the wires holding up her feet and they spent $135 million dollars to make this film. But, man that lighting was awesome.

The day of this screening, a friend of mine asked if I had to choose between The Revenant and The Hateful Eight, which one would I recommend? Now, having seen both, I can say without hesitation that I will never watch either of them again. The Revenant is a good movie, but it’s the kind of good where you have trouble sleeping that night because you’ve been camping before, and that’s where bears live. (If you’re wondering about The Hateful Eight, that movie is a straight-up B-movie that’s easily an hour too long and thirteen gallons of blood too wet. In other words, exactly what Quentin Tarantino fans want.) I’m sure the movie will get nominated for all kinds of stuff and I’m fine with that. Now, where is that last cookie?

Rating: Ask for a dollar back. It’s good, but it’s not “take my wallet” good.

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