Halloween (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My game.

40 years ago, on Halloween night, Michael Myers murdered five people. He was caught, and taken back to the asylum in chains, but Laurie Strode, the only one to survive his rampage, knew that he’d be back. And so, every waking hour of the last 40 years, she trained, hardening her body and mind for the eventual return of “The Shape.”  Her obsession was so deep that it drove her daughter, and even her granddaughter away. But that desire to keep her family safe will be proven right, as, this Halloween, Michael’s back in town, and he’s coming for everyone.

On paper, Halloween (2018) is a film I should hate. It’s the eleventh sequel to a long-running horror franchise, with a less than original plot, and lots of violence against women. But, my god, if it isn’t a ton of fun. This is an old-fashioned, “shout at the screen” horror film that we don’t really get anymore; the kind of movie you have to see in a theater, with an audience that’s talking, and reacting to, the story in real-time. It’s fast-paced, got some superb cinematography and music, and does something that most sequels to long-running horror franchises fail to do; make the villain scary. Michael Myers is such an iconic character now that it’s very hard to make him intimidating, since whatever mystique he might have had has long since been stripped away. But, my God, the director found a way to do just that. And, like I said, the filmmaking on display is top notch. There’s one sequence, done in a long, unbroken tracking shot, where we see Michael break into a house, kill someone, steal their knife, and then walk on the street full of trick-or-treaters who don’t look twice at him because, hey, it’s Halloween, that is excellent! The movie’s also very funny in places, and not in a way that feels tonally inconsistent. And, unlike a lot of other slasher movies, this film actually manages to make you care about the victims. There’s one sequence in a house, with a babysitter and the kid she’s looking after, which you just know is going to end with Michael Myers bursting in and killing these people, but, for the 5 or 6 minutes we’re with these characters, we grow to like them. So, for all these reasons, the quick pace, the suspenseful cinematography, the fact that it makes a horror icon terrifying again, I say you should give it a look.

I’d be lying, though, if I told you this film is perfect. When I said it was an old-fashioned horror movie, I meant it. Characters do stupid things that get them killed, there’s some painfully awkward, expository dialogue, and some of the acting, particularly from Judy Greer, whom plays Laurie’s daughter, is wooden. Bad Times At The El Royale may have been slow, but at least its acting and dialogue were more consistent. I also don’t understand why Laurie had to have a granddaughter. It feels like they just threw her in to appeal to a younger demographic. There is a fascinating story in here about PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and how assault can effect the relatives of the victim as well, but fart too much time is dedicated to the granddaughter’s romantic troubles and friends that the intriguing themes kind of get lost in the shuffle. Still, all of these problems are pretty minor, and shouldn’t hurt your viewing experience if you know what you’re getting into. If you want a good horror film for the Halloween season, this movie is definitely it.

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Hold The Dark (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

In the remote town of Keelut, Alaska, children are being taken. Not by humans, but by wolves. Two Yupik youngsters have already gone missing. And now, it seems, a little White boy has as well. As such, his mother, Riley Keough, summons Jeffrey Wright, an expert on the animals, to come and find the pack that killed her son. When Wright gets there, however, he finds that all is not as it seems to be. For starters, Keough seems slightly crazy. (In one scene, she climbs into bed with him, and tries to get him to strangle her). And when Wright looks in the basement, he finds that wolves didn’t eat the boy. Keough, his own mother, killed him. This revelation, coupled with Keough’s disappearance, sends her husband, Alexander Skarsgård, an unhinged Iraq War vet, on a killing spree to find her, and leaves Wright, and local sheriff James Badge Dale, completely in the dark as to what the hell’s happening. Or maybe that’s just the audience.

Guys, I like weird movies. If you’ve read my blog, particularly my analyses of Gozu, Only God Forgives, and Valhalla Rising, you know that. But that doesn’t mean I like all weird movies. I like weird movies where its clear that the filmmakers had intentions, and chose to convey those intentions visually, or with metaphor, as opposed to just telling us. As violent and surreal as Only God Forgives is, its meaning of “this is a man who feels guilty about past sins, and wants to be forgiven” is clear when you look at the imagery. The frequent shots of hands, for instance, particularly the shot of Gosling hallucinating blood on them, relates to his guilt over having killed his father with “his own hands,” as his mother explains. And him getting his hands chopped off at the end by Chang, who represents God, conveys him receiving forgiveness from a higher power. All the imagery is consistent, and supports a theme. This is as opposed to Hold The Dark, where there is surreal imagery, and strange, violent things occur, but none of it is consistent, or coherent enough, to suggest any kind of deeper meaning. And that’s frustrating, because this movie is directed by Jeremy Saulnier, the man behind Green Room, one of the best, most intense thrillers I’ve ever seen. I was hoping this movie would be great. But I realize I’m not making sense. Let me explain.

As I said, Hold The Dark has a lot of interesting imagery and motifs, which suggest a deeper meaning, but are used so inconsistently that whatever meaning Saulmier might have wanted to impart just vanishes. For instance, the film makes frequent reference to wolves. Wright is a wolf expert, Keough claims her son was taken by wolves, and both she and Skarsgård wear a traditional Yupik wolf mask when they’re going crazy. What this would seem to suggest is that wolves are malevolent entities, which have, somehow, infected this couple. A Yupik character claims that they’re possessed, Wright notes how Keough’s killing of her own son is like the wolf practice of “savaging,” wherein a pack will eat its young to survive, and Keough stops Skarsgård from killing her at the end by removing the mask, and seemingly ending the curse. But this theory of “the wolves have infected this town” falls apart when you go back and realize that most of the murders in this film occur when the characters aren’t wearing the mask, and the movie explicitly states that Skarsgård was always violent. In a flashback to his time in Iraq, we see him shooting a car full of insurgents, well past the point of them being dead, and in another flashback, we see him telling his son that killing isn’t wrong. So he was always crazy, which makes Keogh’s removal of the wolf mask at the end feel like a cop out, and also makes his actions throughout the rest of the movie feel random and inconsistent. See, he kills a lot of people to get to her. He kills the cops who were trying to find her for him, the Yupik neighbor woman, his friend, and basically everyone he comes across. Initially, the filmmakers give the justification that he wants to take revenge on Keough for killing their child, but if that were true, why would her taking off his mask stop that? He’d still want to kill her, regardless of what he has on his face. So the only explanation left is that he’s possessed, and that her removing the mask breaks the curse. But, again, the movie contradicts this theory by showing us that he was always a violent asshole. And none of this, none of it, explains why so many other, random ideas are tossed in.

In addition to wanting to be a supernatural mystery, Hold The Dark also strives, and fails, to say things about American society, particularly the American police force and military. In Skarsgård’s Iraq flashback, we see him kill a fellow soldier who’s raping an Iraqi woman. Does this ever factor into the narrative? Nope. It never gets mentioned, and when Skarsgård arrives in Alaska, he doesn’t seem to be bothered by it at all. So, other than to show us something horrible, and potentially comment on how savage the American military is, there’s absolutely no reason to include this scene at all. I, being someone who never, ever, ever likes seeing rape in movies, think that anyway, but even if you don’t mind seeing it, the scene has nothing to do with the overall story, and could easily be removed. Something else that the movie tries to comment on is how cops in the US care more about crimes committed against White people. Keough mentions that two other Yupik children have already gone missing, and Cheeon, her neighbor, and Skarsgård’s best friend, chastises James Badge Dale for not doing anything to help him when his child went missing. This is an idea that could be interesting, but it’s mentioned, in passing, so rarely that it doesn’t register. I literally forgot that other children had gone missing until I read the Wikipedia synopsis, which reminded me of that fact. That’s bad. And speaking of bad things, a lot of people get killed in this movie, seemingly for no reason. At one point, Cheeon, again, seemingly out of nowhere, whips out a machine gun and starts mowing down police officers in an excessively long, if well-staged, shootout. As I mentioned earlier, Skarsgård kills a lot of people, supposedly to stop them from getting in the way of him taking revenge on Keogh, but in the end, he doesn’t do that, making their deaths totally pointless. I’m not saying that there should never be violence in movies. What I’m saying is, violence should serve a purpose. It should convey character, reiterate themes, or, at the very least, be built up to. None of that can be found in this movie.

Guys, I realize this review has gone on for a long time, and that I probably haven’t left you with the best impression of this film, but, the truth is, as frustrating as this picture is, I can’t unequivocally call it bad. I was never, ever bored while watching it, and it’s too well directed from an audio and visual standpoint. There are some shots in here, particularly of Wright walking across the tundra, that are breathtaking, and the use of negative space is superb. The performances, particularly from Wright and Badge Dale, are great. There is enjoyment to be found in this flick, and it’s available on Netflix. So, in a weird way, I am recommending you go see it. But do so knowing that it doesn’t make sense, and that it will frustrate and disappoint you.

Mandy (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Deep in the wilderness of the Pacific North-West, Red, a humble woodcutter, lives a quiet, peaceful existence with his wife, Mandy. Their days consist of work, watching old sci-fi movies, and reading trashy fantasy novels while they snuggle in bed. In short, all the best things in life. But one day, as Mandy is walking home, she catches the eye of Jeremiah, a failed folk singer turned cult leader, who, thanks to his twisted interpretation of the gospel, believes that God has created everything on this Earth for his pleasure, including women, and so summons a gang of demonic bikers to bring her into his fold. When he tries to seduce her, however, she laughs at him, and, in a rage, burns her to death before Red’s own eyes. This destroys the man, who, now having nothing to lose, gathers weapons, and sets out to take vengeance upon the ones who murdered his love.

On paper, Mandy sounds like a B movie; like a film that was released in the 70s as part of a double bill, only to be forgotten, and then re-discovered many years later on late-night television. And, in a sense, it is. It certainly has the dressings of an exploitation flick–cults, drugs, over-the-top violence–but this film is made with far too much maturity and craft to be written off as simple sleaze. The first 40 minutes or so have no blood, or narcotics, and consist of many scenes where we watch Red and Mandy living their lives. There’s very little dialogue, and much of the mood is established through music and visual allegory. And when horrible stuff starts happening, it’s not presented in a cathartic or glorious fashion. Red is shown as a broken man, whose single-minded quest for revenge is driving him insane. Many other revenge flicks flirt with that idea–the notion that violence psychologically destroys its perpetrators–but very few actually convey that message. Mandy is one of them. A large part of this has to do with Nicolas Cage’s absolutely stellar performance as Red. He’s an actor whose become something of a joke in recent years, due to his many over-the-top performances in bad VOD releases and blockbusters. But what we often forget is that he is an artist of considerable nuance, as can be seen in such acclaimed films as Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, and Joe. In Mandy, he does scream and flail about, but only after we watch him go through absolute hell. For the first 40 minutes, he’s quiet and restrained. It’s only after we see his life literally get burned to the ground that he starts to wail, and, even then, it’s not funny. There were a few people in my audience who chuckled a little in one particular scene where Cage is howling in his bathroom, but that laughter quickly subsided when the realization hit that what we were watching wasn’t funny. It’s heartbreaking. This is a man who just watched his wife get burned to a crisp. Of course he’d be crying. And that’s what I loved about this movie, the fact that, as heightened as the violence and situations got in the second half, the filmmakers played things razor straight, and took pains to portray the effects that these events would have on people’s psyches realistically. And that’s not even getting into the craftsmanship on display.

This is a hauntingly beautiful movie. The term “nightmarish” gets tossed about a lot when describing horror films, but Mandy really does feel that way. The deep red filter over everything, the pulsing synth score, the weird effects the director uses on people’s voices to make them sound like they’re under water, it all creates the mood of a fever dream one can’t escape. There’s also a lot of trippy imagery, like one scene where Jeremiah is talking to Mandy, and their faces start to meld together, that just gets under your skin. As I said before, Cage’s work in this film is top notch, but the rest of the cast, which consists of Law & Order’s Linus Roache, and Birdman’s Andrea Riseborough, hold their own as well. This movie certainly has much better acting than the grind house fare it so clearly draws inspiration from. But what I really loved about this film was its atmosphere. Even though it’s set in, and clearly draws from, the 1980s, there’s something weirdly timeless about this story. The imagery and sound effects are so heightened, and the characters are drawn in such broad strokes that the film, at times, feels like a fairy tale, almost like an adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood on Acid, with Cage as the Wood Cutter, Riseborough as Red Riding Hood, and the cult as the Big Bad Wolf. I’ll bet you anything that this was deliberate. In fact, I know it is, because the movie actually wants you to think that supernatural events are occurring, just so it can subvert your expectations later on. And in case you’re a gore hound who doesn’t care about artistic merit, this flick has some of the bloodiest deaths ever put to film. So there’s something in here for you to.

Guys, what can I say? I loved this movie. It’s wonderfully-acted, superbly scored, and possesses a look and atmosphere that’s both stylish and functional. It’s extremely violent, and understands that this violence is harmful. It’s got cross bows, chainsaws, and true emotional weight. It’s a classic in the making. Please, please, please go see it if you can.

Underrated Directors Who Should Totally Helm A Blockbuster

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Directors; to many casual film goers, they are the driving force behind all aspects of a movie. And while those of us who actually work in film, writing scripts, editing footage, mixing sound and so on, know that this isn’t true, it is true that directors can have a huge influence on a picture’s look, tone, and style. And that look and style can attract audiences, and make the pictures better as a whole. Now there are certain directors whose look and style have become well known to the public–the Spielbergs, the Burtons, the Tarantinos–but there are others whose talent is clear when you watch their films but, for whatever reason, they and their work have remained out of the spotlight. I’d like to remedy that today. Here is my list of awesome, underrated directors who should totally helm a blockbuster. Why a blockbuster? Because that’s what most people see, and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s the only way most of us will ever hear about these artists.

1. Bong Joon-Ho.

  • What They’ve Done: The Host, Snowpiercer, Okja.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Star Wars Movie.

Perhaps the best-known filmmaker on this list, Bong Joon-Ho is one of my all-time favorite directors, and a household name back in his native Korea. And yet, despite all his critical and commercial success in Asia, he remains relatively unknown in the West. Film nerds have probably watched a few of his flicks, but the vast majority of audiences aren’t familiar with his sumptuous visuals, dark humor, sudden shifts in tone, and biting social commentary, all of which make him ideal to helm a Star Wars movie. Just watch The Host, see how he shoots action, writes villainous characters, and uses creature effects, and tell me you couldn’t see him directing an episode in a galaxy far, far away.

2. Jaume Collet-Serra.

  • What They’ve Done: Non-Stop, The Shallows, Orphan.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A MIssion Impossible Movie.

Best known for his many collaborations with Liam Neeson, Spanish director Jaume Collet Serra has a habit of taking silly genre scripts, and turning them into much better films than they have any right to be. Seriously. If you take a hard look at the plots of any of his features–Unknown, Non-Stop, Orphan–they don’t really hold up. But the films themselves are so well-acted, so beautifully shot, and so viscerally entertaining that you don’t really care. Which makes him an ideal match for the Mission Impossible franchise, which, let’s be honest, isn’t  really famous for having the most believable story lines, but whose insane action set pieces more than make up for that. And let’s not forget, several of Collet-Serra’s flicks, like Unknown, have espionage elements to them. So it’s not altogether out of his wheelhouse.

3. Wes Ball.

  • What They’ve Done: The Maze Runner Trilogy.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Fast & Furious Movie.

Say what you like about the Maze Runner films–I, personally, am not a huge fan–they have amazing action sequences. Even these movies’ harshest critics agree that the chases, the fight scenes, and the stunt work are incredible, and that the director, Wes Ball, has a good eye for action. So what better franchise to put him in than the Fast & Furious, which we all can agree is extremely light on story, but very heavy on amazing set pieces? I have no doubt whatsoever that Mr. Ball could concoct some truly bonkers action scenes, and give this series’ fans the high octane thrills they crave.

4. Mike Flanagan.

  • What They’ve Done: Oculus, Hush, Gerald’s Game.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Batman Movie.

One of this generations true horror masters, Mike Flanagan’s films work, not just because they’re beautifully shot, and possess ghosts and serial killers, but because of their fascinating explorations of their characters’ pasts and psyches. Gerald’s Game and Oculus are all about people revisiting childhood trauma, and trying to work through it. And if there’s one blockbuster franchise that relishes horror, and childhood trauma, it’s Batman. He’s a tormented character, who just can’t let his past go, and several of his rogues, the Joker, Scarecrow, Two Face, are horrifying manifestations of various mental illnesses. So who better to helm a Batman film than a horror master with an interest in dissecting the minds of damaged people? Well, okay, I’m sure there are loads of filmmakers who’d be totally great for Batman, but Mike Flanagan is at the top of my list.

5. Takashi Miike.

  • What They’ve Done: 13 Assassins, Audition, Ichi The Killer.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Predator Movie.

A prolific and controversial director, whose work I’ve written about before, Takashi Miike is perfectly suited for the Predator franchise. Why? Because just like John McTiernan’s 1987 classic, which began as action, and ended as horror, many of Miike’s films blend genres and tones. Several of his features, like Yakuza Apocalypse and Ichi The Killer, synthesize elements of thrillers and horror. Many more, like Fudoh: The New Generation, Blade Of The Immortal, and Terra Formers, include insane, stylized characters with insane, stylized weapons i.e. the exact kind of fighters that the Predators would want to hunt. And, as if this needs mentioning, Miike is superb at crafting creative, bloody fight sequences, which are precisely what this franchise thrives off of.

Blade Of The Immortal (2017)

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When her parents are slaughtered by a ruthless group of swordsmen, teenaged Rin seeks out a ronin named Manji, who, rumor has it, cannot be killed. This gossip turns out to be true, as we see Manji being able to recover from what should be fatal injuries, including several instances where he re-attaches severed limbs to his body. Manji is reluctant to help her at first, knowing, all too well, what the price of vengeance is, but eventually agrees, seeing in Rin a shot at redemption. So the two set out in search of the wicked swordsmen, and what follows is 151 minutes of spraying blood and flashing steel.

Anyone who’s read my blog knows that I’m a huge fan of Takashi Miike, a highly prolific and controversial Japanese filmmaker. For while he’s sickened many people, including myself, with perverse and bizarre films like Ichi The Killer, I’ve always been a fan of his ability to switch between genres, and his uncanny knack for churning out relatively high quality flicks in a very short amount of time. Between 2001 and 2002 alone, he directed no less than 15 features. And this movie, Blade Of The Immortal, is his 100th motion picture. I was honestly astonished when I saw this in the movie’s tagline, and I knew, right away, that I just had to see it. And lucky for me, a theater close by where I live just happened to be playing it. So, hey. I had no choice.

But how, you ask, is the flick itself? Well, as far as simple filmmaking is concerned–acting, cinematography, costumes, music–I have no complaints. This is a gorgeous looking, and sounding, movie. And everyone in the film, even people who are only in one or two scenes, give good performances. Something Miike is known for is cramming his films with tons of A-list actors and pop stars, none of whom usually get enough screen time, and this flick is no exception. Another thing I liked about this movie were the battle sequences. Every character has a very distinct look and fighting style, and when you see them tearing into each other, it’s a ton of fun. If you’re a fan of Miike, samurai cinema, or are just looking for a break from the bland Hollywood fare that comes out around this time of year, give this flick a look. You won’t be disappointed. But if you’re the sort of person who can’t stand a ton of violence, or prefers your films to have well-written scripts, this might not be for you. Blade Of The Immortal is extremely bloody, and highly episodic in structure, with most of the film being Rin and Manji finding one of the swordsman, fighting him, and then moving on. And while the action is cool, every battle is so big and frenetic that, after a certain point,  they all start to feel the same. Still, the movie is well-made, and refreshingly off-kilter when compared to all the other films I’ve seen over the past two months. So, for that reason, I think you all should go see it. Treat yourself to something different.

The Hateful Eight

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Have you ever been to a murder mystery party before? In case you haven’t, it’s when you and your friends get together, and are given a scenario; “We are these people, at the so and so mansion, for this reason.” Each person is assigned a character, and then gets told that there’s a killer in their midst. You spend the rest of the game trying to figure out who said killer is, hopefully before he or she gets to you. It’s silly, but very fun, and gives people the chance to get creative and show off their improv chops. Plus, who doesn’t love hanging out with their friends?

Now, imagine that you’re at a murder mystery party, but things are a little different. You don’t know anyone there, and when you do get to know them, you realize that they’re all bigots, rapists, and murderers. There’s no fun involved with the discovery of the killer, only necessity and petty jealousy. On top of that, certain people keep repeating the same lines over and over again, and it’s really starting to grate on your nerves. If you can imagine what that party would be like, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect with The Hateful Eight, the latest film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino.

The story of two bounty hunters, Samuel L Jackson and Kurt Russel, trying to bring a woman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, into hang, The Hateful Eight is a straightforward, contained thriller. 90% of the film takes place inside a single room, and, as with most Tarantino pictures, it synthesizes long, drawn-out scenes of dialogue with occasional outbursts of intense violence. Oh, and racial slurs. Lots and lots of racial slurs. I actually took the liberty of counting, and the n word is used 59 times in this movie. Yeah. 59 times. Look, I realize that Tarantino always uses that word in his films, and that his justification is that there was a lot of racism back in the 1800s, but, I’m sorry, there were other words in the English language back then. You don’t have to use it to such excess, Quentin. You’re not being edgy or provocative when you do so. You’re just coming off as an annoying little kid, screaming for attention.

But, I digress. Concerning the movie itself, I’m going to come right out and say that I didn’t like it. And before anyone says anything, it’s not because Tarantino directed it. I actually do like some of his films. I’ve seen Pulp Fiction many times, and I think Jackie Brown is enjoyable. However, ever since Kill Bill, his works have consistently managed to either enrage, or simply baffle me. And I think I can confidently say that The Hateful Eight is his worst film yet. For starters, certain things that you just expect to be good in a Quentin Tarantino movie, like the dialogue and the acting, aren’t good here. There are numerous scenes where characters will repeat themselves, like one where Kurt Russell says “You really only need to hang mean bastards, but mean bastards you need to hang,” and another where Walton Goggins asks Samuel Jackson three times in a row, “You have a letter from Abraham Lincoln?” There’s absolutely no reason to repeat the same lines over and over again. It just gets annoying. We heard you the first time, Quentin. Move on. And as for the acting, Tim Roth gives an atrociously over-the-top performance in this movie. Every now and then, like in the scene where he says, “the n***er in the stable has a letter from Abraham Lincoln?” his voice will get super high and cartoonish sounding. And while I’m aware that he actually is British in real life, there are points in this film where he sounds more like Nicolas Cage doing a parody of a British person.

So, the acting and the dialogue aren’t much to write home about. But what about the filmmaking? The cinematography? The music? Well, when promoting this film, Tarantino kept bringing up the fact that he was using ultra-wide, 70 mm lens cameras, like the ones they used on Lawrence of Arabia. Problem is, those lenses are more or less wasted in this picture, because, as I said before, 90% of the movie takes place inside a tiny room. Lawrence Of Arabia took place outside, in a gorgeous, rugged landscape, where the huge lenses helped capture the full scope and beauty of the environment. The Hateful Eight takes place in a cramped, dimly lit room. There’s absolutely no reason to be using these big, and expensive, lenses if all you’re going to do is stay inside one location. It honestly just comes off to me as Quentin Tarantino wanting to stroke his own ego by saying “hey! I’m just as great a filmmaker as Cecil B DeMille or David Lean! My shitty little western is on par with The Ten Commandments and Lawrence Of Arabia.” And lest you think I exaggerate with that statement, Tarantino also had the movie be over three hours long, decided to include an overture, and an intermission. That stuff hasn’t been used in movies since the 1960s. If that isn’t self-indulgent, I don’t know what is.

But by far the biggest problem I had with this movie were the characters. It’s not that they weren’t well-rounded or fleshed out. It’s just that they were all such complete and utter assholes, that I really didn’t care if they lived or died. I know that Tarantino likes to write about morally ambiguous, or even downright evil people, but, usually, he tries to give them some redeeming qualities. Samuel L Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction becomes a kinder, less violent person by the end of the movie, and Bruce Willis’s character, as selfish and proud as he is, does go back to save Ving Rhames. None of the characters in The Hateful Eight have redeeming qualities. Kurt Russell is a misogynist who repeatedly hits Jennifer Jason-Leigh, who is a racist and a murderer. Samuel L Jackson is a rapist, and a murderer. Bruce Dern is a genocidal bigot and, well, you get the idea. No one is worth caring about in this movie, and that’s sad. Why have we become so determined to not write kind, decent, or generous characters anymore? Why do we hate seeing good people in our entertainment? Hell, even Superman, the quintessential boy scout, has gotten turned into an asshole in recent years. Why, I ask you? Why?

But, yeah, as you can probably tell, I wasn’t a big fan of The Hateful Eight. It’s got everything you’d expect from a Quentin Tarantino joint, just not done very well. It’s a 5 out of 10, in my opinion. If you’re a fan of his, whatever. You’ll probably love this anyway. But if you want good quality entertainment, avoid this picture.

The Revenant

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, ANd Views Are My Game.

If you’ve ever read any works of literary or cinematic criticism, you’ve probably noticed that the phrase “style over substance” gets tossed around a lot. Most of the time, the expression is used to describe sci-fi, action, or fantasy films that are more interested in looking nice than having coherent stories, or likable, well-rounded characters. Well, having just seen The Revenant, the latest film from writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu, I can assure you, the same principle holds true for artsy movies.

Set in the 1820s, on the Missouri River, The Revenant is a very loose re-telling of an actual event concerning the famous Mountain Man, Hugh Glass. In both the movie and real-life, Glass gets mauled by a bear, left for dead by his men, and then sets out on a path of vengeance. That, however, is where the similarities end, because this movie takes SO MANY liberties with history, it’s not even funny. In real life, Glass constructed a raft, floated downstream until he reached his men’s fort, and then FORGAVE them for leaving him behind. In the movie, by contrast, Glass not only gets left behind, but he’s also forced to watch one of his men, Fitzgerald, murder his son. This causes him to embark on a deranged, blood-soaked voyage, which involves him killing more or less everyone and everything he comes into contact with, and ends with a climactic battle between him and Fitzgerald by a riverside. Now, to my knowledge, the murder, and existence, of Glass’s son, as well as the battle between him and Fitzgerald at the end, are all completely fictional. But, as many of you will no doubt point out, this movie is not a documentary. It is a work of fiction. It is, therefore, not obligated to tell the whole truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth. So, historical inaccuracies aside, is it any good?

Well, on the one hand, yes it is. The acting in this film is beyond superb. Leonardo DiCaprio, whom plays Glass, does an absolutely astounding job in this movie. There’s so much dangerous, physically-demanding stuff that he has to do–including getting mauled by a bear, thrown off a cliff, tossed through rapids, and sleeping inside the carcass of a dead horse–that I’m honestly kind of shocked he’s still alive. In addition to this, the cinematography is astounding. Much like his last film, Birdman, González Iñárritu includes a lot of long takes in this movie, where he moves the camera around the whole location so you can see everything, instead of just cutting to different objects or characters. Finally, and I cannot emphasize this enough, this film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Shot on location in British Columbia and Southern Argentina, the film contains some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever laid eyes upon. What makes it even better is that none of the images are artificial. The director stated that he wanted to make this movie seem as natural as possible, and so they didn’t use any CGI or artificial lighting. They used sunlight, moonlight, firelight, and the wilderness around them to tell the story, and that level of ambition from a mainstream Hollywood director is extremely impressive. Watching this movie reminded me of the early works of Werner Herzog, like Aguirre: The Wrath Of God, where the director really demanded a lot from his cast and crew, and basically put them through hell to get the best possible product. It’s both good, and frightening, to know that there are still some artists out there willing to sacrifice anything for their craft.

But, all it’s artistic ambition and visual tricks aside, The Revenant still suffers from an excessive amount of violence, overly simplistic characters, and a lack of a clear moral center. Lajos Egri, author of The Art Of Dramatic Writing, wrote that all great stories must contain a premise, a theme or hypothesis that the author has to prove with his or her narrative. Romeo and Juliet’s premise is “Great Love Conquers Death.” Macbeth’s premise is “Violent Ambition Leads To Its Own Destruction.” Without a premise, Egri asserted, stories lose focus, and it becomes harder to get invested in them. Keeping this in mind, it becomes easy to understand why I never felt fully interested in The Revenant. Yeah, it looks pretty, but I don’t learn anything from it. I just watch a guy get screwed over, do everything in his power to get revenge, and that’s it. No themes are ever established, or touched upon throughout the story. You also don’t learn anything about any of the characters besides Glass. They’re just kind of there, and so you don’t really care when they die or get hurt. And it’s not like I can write this movie off as idiotic, “turn your brain off” entertainment, because when you watch the movie, it’s clear that the filmmakers are too smart and too ambitious to make a picture like that. The fact that they used all these complicated shots, the fact that they chose not to use CGI or studio lights, and the fact that they include a lot of really surreal imagery–like a bird rising from a dead woman’s chest, and Renaissance paintings on the walls of caves–make it clear that they wanted to create something meaningful and lasting with this. I just don’t think they did.

So, in the end, should you go see The Revenant? Honestly, I think you should. The camera work, the performances,and the imagery are all amazing. Just don’t expect great writing, and be prepared to see a lot of really disturbing violence. It’s a 7 out of 10.