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.

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The Martian

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

And I’m really not sure if it’s worth me going through the trouble of writing this review. I mean…this is for The Martian. THE MARTIAN! Everyone loves this film–critics, audiences, even me. I just feel like, whatever I end up saying, it’ll already have been said before. Whatever thoughts, or opinions I might have on the picture, they’ll probably just sound redundant.

But, then again, when have I ever been one to not share my thoughts or opinions on a subject? Never. That’s when. And I’m not going to make an exception here. So, with all that out of the way, here are my thoughts, both good and bad, on The Martian.

Let’s start off with the good. First of all, this movie has a lot of great humor in it. Yeah, the story of an astronaut getting stranded on Mars might not sound like a particularly laugh out loud situation, but there are actually several extremely hilarious moments in this film. This is due, in no small part, to Matt Damon’s portrayal of Mark Watney, the astronaut trapped on Mars. He brings an energy and a wit to the role that are just brilliant. The second thing that’s great about this movie is the acting, period. Everyone in this film–from the people back on Earth, to Matt Damon’s old crew–deliver terrific performances. And, in case you didn’t know already, this movie has a completely star-studded cast. Sean Bean, Chiwatel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastane, Kristen Wig, Michael Pena, Benedict Wong, Donald Glover–these are just a few of the familiar faces that pop up in this movie, and that do terrific jobs. The third thing that’s great about this film is the effects. There were points in this movie where I legitimately thought that the crew had gone to Mars to shoot. In reality, they shot everything on a sound stage in Hungary, and a desert in Jordan, but that’s not the point. The point is that the filmmakers were able to successfully craft, and sustain, an illusion, and for that, I think they deserve praise.

Now let’s go for the bad. What? There are actually things that I don’t like a bout this movie? Yes, believe it or not, there are. For starters, other than the decision to set this film on Mars, there’s nothing particularly original about it. It’s a generic “stranded man in shark infested waters” story that’s been told a million times before, in Films like Cast Away, Life Of Pi, and Gravity. In addition, as much as I liked seeing all these stars in one movie, it did get a little overwhelming at points. I lost track of who was supposed to be who, and it honestly felt like the filmmakers were trying to squeeze in as many celebrities as possible, and without giving any real thought as to what these people should be doing. But perhaps the greatest problem I have with this picture is something that most people–or at least, people who aren’t as sensitive to issues of race as me–would be able to pick up on. That is the fact that the story revolves around an entire planet, Earth, working to save the life of a White man, Damon. I hate to say this, but, had Damon’s character been any other race–had he been Black, Latino, or especially Asian–the studio would never have green lit this project. And that infuriates me. Why is it that, in media, the lives of Whites are seen as more important than others? Why is it that Hollywood deems Mark Watney more worthy of saving than Mark Wong, Mark Sanchez, or Mark Patel? Why is it that, in a movie with so many talented non-White actors–Chiwatel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, Naomi Scott–all the focus is placed on a White star? Have Hollywood executives never read online comments? Have they never seen the countless posts, blogs, and videos lampooning them for their racism?

(Pauses and takes a breath.)

But, all that aside, I did still enjoy The Martian, and I would still recommend you go see it. I’ve come to learn that most people just don’t care as much about originality or racial sensitivity as me, so, odds are, if you watch the Martian, you won’t be put off by those things. And, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really that put off by them either when I was watching the film. It’s still very enjoyable. It’s an 8 out of 10. Give it a look.