THE REVENANT. Man in the wilderness left for dead.

The Revenant

Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a guide for a bunch of trappers earning ‘their living’ selling the furs they ‘harvest’ along the Missouri river in the earlier 1820’s. Before you realise it the film puts you in the middle of an attack by the local Arikara Native American tribe that has their minds set on the pelts as well.
In an impressive long single steadycam shot lasting for the entire battle from among the trees till the retreat on the boat (at least for those who were not slaughtered) director Alejandro González Iñárritu and his DoP Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki set out to prove that the technical bravoura they were able to pull off in an around a theater on Broadway for Birdman (2014) they can also accomplish in the wilderness in harsh conditions.
Glass manages to convince Henry (Domhall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and has a father called Brendan) the leader of the troop they stand a better chance outrunning the Arikara by leaving the boat and return to their fort on foot.
A little later Hugh gets attacked by a bear who’s protecting his cubs and is severley wounded. He’s being stitched up as good as you might expect under the circumstances but it’s evident to everybody Glass will not survive the injuries he’s sustained. Henry offers money to several volunteers to stay with Glass untill he dies and give him a proper burial. Fitzgerald (the omni-present Tom Hardy), Bridger and Hawk (Glass’s half-native son) stay behind.
Fitzgerald is more interested in the money than upholding his promise and starts his manoeuvres, determined to leave Glass behind for dead, as for him the entire operation is too risky and useless. However, there’s more life left in him than Fitzgerald expected and Glass will be looking for revenge.

The incredible real life survival story of Hugh Glass already resulted in an excellent film called Man in the Wilderness starring Richard Harris and John Huston, directed by Richard C. Sarafian, mostly known for Vanishing Point, both released in 1971. In case you’re interested I can recommend the french DVD edition by Wild Side Video (amazon.fr Richard-Sarafian Box Man in the wilderness + The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing) that also includes Sarafian’s The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973) starring Burt Reynolds.

This version is largely based the book by Michael Punke. Considering the previous credits of screenwriter Mark L. Smith that consists entirely of genre movies, this was initially probably conceived as a straightforward revenge flick. Once Iñárritu came aboard he appears to have introduced some mystical elements to the original source material. The subplot involving Glass’s son Hawk and the dreamsequences involving Glass’s Native American wife were added as the real life Hugh Glass was not married at that point of his life. Especially the scene set in the ruins of a church full of icon murals and a cast bronze bell swinging on it’s own while only half of the archway is still intact is clearly referencing Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (1966-69). You can spot plenty of homages to Tarkovsky in the film. I’ve singled out the ‘bird coming out of a chest’ scene which besides Tarkovsky holds a Alejandro Jodorowsky reference as well. Could even have included 2 clips from Jodorowsky’s Fando y Lis (1968) which also features two Egyptian culture inspired ‘soul leaving the body’ scenes.

From a technical point of view the film is flawless. Although most of the stories surrounding this production are probably exaggerated to say the least (no CGI: yeah right, Leo slept in a real animal carcasse: sure) the dedication of the entire cast and crew most have been absolute : the excellent production design by Jack Fisk, the wonderful use of (original and hard to reach) locations, the spectactular photography by Lubezki, …  .
The mystical elements (not my favorite part of the film) and the extremely violent and rough tone of the film may catch audiences expecting a more straightforward adventurous approach off guard.

Impressive (absolutely), violent (definitely) and somewhat pretentious (afraid so).

Jan Bollen

LEGEND. Tom Hardy incorporates the Kray twins.

Legend

After several documentaries and the Peter Medak film The Krays (1990), with the real-life brothers Gary and Martin Kemp (mostly known as the members of their former pop group Spandau Ballet) playing the notorious London based gangster twins Ronald and Reginald Kray the time was deemed ripe for another film depicting these ‘legends’. There’s even 2 more recent low-budget films, The Rise of the Krays (2015) and The Fall of the Krays (2016) by Zackary Adler, just going to show The Krays still very much appeal to the British imagination.

This time round the casting coup consists of having 1 actor, an excellent Tom Hardy, play the East-End gangsters twins. Where the 1990 version scripted by Philip Ridley (director of the excellent films The Reflecting Skin, 1990, The Passion of Darkly Noon, 1995 and Heartless, 2009) heavily centered on the determining role their mother Violet (an excellent Billie Whitelaw) played in the history of the Krays the Brian Helgeland (director of Payback, 1999, but mostly known for his scripts/adaptations of L.A. Confidential, 1997, and Mystic River, 2003) version is told from the point of view of the character Frances Shea, Reggie’s wife, sensetively played and narrated by Emily Browning.

The film deals with the rise and fall of the Krays and shows the well-known ‘highlights’ of their gangster career, including the violent outbursts, their association with celebrities and their own celebrity status during the London Swinging Sixties, Ronnie’s homosexual escapades (the MP Robert Lord Bootby affair) and the murders of George Cornell and Jack ‘the hat’ McVittie.
The film starts of flashy with a lot of popular tunes of the time, the photography by Dick Pope (Mike Leigh’s regular DoP) is great. There’s a particularly impressive long steadycam shot that follows Reggie and Frances into one of his nightclubs to their table, interrupted by a lot of greetings from the guests. Just when he’s about to sit down and relax with his girlfriend he’s obliged to deal with some urgent ‘business’, deals with it, then returns to Frances, sits down at their table and continue their conversation for quite some time, all in one single take, perfectly acted and choreographed. There might be a cut when Hardy sits down and an extra moves past the camera. This scene can be seen as a nod to a similar shot in Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), probably the best known steadycam shot of its sort in cinema history following Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco from outside the Copacobana through the back , and the kitchen and to a specially installed table close to the stage, Henry Hill introducing and impressing his future wife Karen Hill to his ‘life-style’.

The tone of the film is mostly bordering on absurdly funny which does not always work well towards the end when the story moves towards a more dramatic conclusion. The visual effects putting Tom Hardy on the screen as both Ronnie and Reggie Kray in the same frame is flawless and pushes the technical achievements of e.g. Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988, state of the art at the time for its the use of repeated pre-programmed camera moves to enable to have moving shots with the same actor for the first time in the same frame) to a whole other level.
Besides Hardy and Browning, there’s a large number of great British actors at display such as Christopher Eccleston, David Thewlis, Paul Bettany, Paul Anderson and Tara Fitzgerald. And Chazz Palminteri plays Angelo Bruno a representative of the famous US gangster Meyer Lansky in some of the films most hilarious scenes. The Krays proudly claim they own a casino, to which Angelo Bruno, trying to hide his amusment, states in an understated fashion that they own Las Vegas.
Was there really a necessity for yet another movie about the Krays? Perhaps not. At least this time there was no need for some controversy surrounding gangsters benefiting financially from their life of crime (they where still alive -jailed for life- at the time of the 1990 film and received a handsome sum for the film rights to their lifestory).

Jan Bollen

CREED. Rocky reboot by the talented Fruitvale Station team.

Creed

After 6 Rocky films and Grudge Match (basically Rocky vs. Raging Bull) the time was apparently ripe for yet another reboot. This film does for the Rocky franchise what The Force Awakens does for the Star Wars franchise: add new blood to a popular series but stay extremely loyal to the initial films and characters. Where The Force Awakens is (mainly) a clone of A New Hope, Creed is a clone of the first Rocky (1976) film.

Creed refers to the new main character Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate child of Apollo Creed, the former adversary and late friend (see Rocky IV) of Rocky Balboa. After his mother died he had a rough childhood untill Creed’s widow decides to take care of him. He wants to step into his father’s footsteps and become a professional boxer. Upto now he’s done some fighting in Mexico but has remained under the radar. He wants to make a name for himself (therefore his bloodline needs to remain a secret) and tries to enlist Rocky Balboa as his trainer.
The movie sticks to the succesfull elements that the audience loved from the original film: sentimentality and ‘uplifting’ fightscenes. There’s a love interest, illness, and a new adversary ‘pretty’ Ricky Conlan and off course training sequences.

Highlight of the film is beyond a doubt an amazing fight sequence shot in one incredible long continuous uninterrupted take, a perfect choreography between the actors and the steadycam operator.
There’s also a copy of (or nod to) the long steadycam shot from Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980) which starts in the dressing room and shows the end of the warm-up of Jake La Motta, follows him from the catacombs of the stadium up the stairs and into the arena through the spectators to the ring, La Motta goes one way, the camera the other and while De Niro enters the ring, the camera operator steps up a crane and cranes up. It’s not clear if the ‘copied’ shot in Creed is done in a single take as well as there might be a subliminal cut when they move from the dark catacomb into the arena (or via a flash of light).

Check-out this and another homage by watching the 2 below comparison clips:

I can understand the financial logic behind this reboot, but why writer-director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Johnson, the team that brought us the excellent Fruitvale Station (2013), needed to waste their time and talent on this type of predictable, sentimental, rehashed material is beyond me.

Jan Bollen

CAROL. (Too?) subtle depiction of a fifties gay love story.

Carol

New York in the fifties, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) works as a clerk in a toy shop of a Frankenberg department store where Carol Aird is doing some christmas shopping. After exchanging some fleeting parting glances Carol (Cate Blanchett) shows up at Therese’s counter. The doll she wanted to buy for her daughter is out of stock, so she ends up buying an electrical train set instead. Carol writes down her personal information on a salesslip for the trainset to be delivered to her residence in time for christmas. A little later Therese notices Carol’s hand gloves -which she left there (accidentally?)- on the counter.  Therese takes the gloves home and sends them privately via the post to Carol’s home address.

This is the start of the most subtle of love stories between 2 women of different ages and completely different social backgrounds. During a scene in the begining of the film Therese and some friends are watching Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) from a projection-booth. One of the young boys declares it is the sixth time he’s watching the film, this time he’ll be focusing on the correlation of what the characters are saying versus wath they are really feeling. This could be considered the verbalisation of the approach screenwriter Phillis Nagy had when adapting the Patricia Highsmith (writer of o.a. Strangers on a train, The Ripley novels and Two Faces of January) novel ‘The Price of Salt‘. The novel in which Highsmith used autobiographical elements was first published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan. Only in 1990 towards the end of her life the novel was rereleased under her own name, retitled as Carol.

The scenes in the toy store amidst the toy dolls could be seen as a reference to Haynes’ very own medium length film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988), a film that’s forbidden/illegal to be shown due to a lawsuit but which you can easily find on Youtube. Hayness used music from The Carpenters without permission but it is said that the real reason the film has been boycotted by the Carpenter family is due to the fact that the film portrays the brother Richard Carpenter as a homosexual. The film deals with Karen Carpenter’s battle with anorexia nervosa, a battle she lost in 1983. What makes the film special is that it is filmed using Ken and Barbie dolls. The idea of using Ken and Barbie dolls to tell a story about an anorexia patient is a particularly brilliant one.

CarolCarpenter

Director Todd Haynes and DoP Ed Lachman decided to shoot the film in 16 mm which leads to a colorful somewhat grainy look. For the visual look of the film they’ve declared they were influenced by photographers such as Saul Leiter, Vivian Maier, Esther Bubley, Ruth Orkin and Helen Levitt.

Saul Leiter:

Vivian Maier:

Esther Bubley:

Ruth Orkin:

Helen Levitt:


The framing device in which an annoying character interrupts an important emotional conversation is clearly a nod to David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945).

The film is so subtle and the period recreation so lavishing in all of its detail there’s a risk the underplaying of the passion and the emphasis on visual beauty may result in keeping the audience at a distance. There are a lot of minute details and unspoken emotions you’ll have to pick up on to be able to fully enjoy this film.

Jan Bollen

Er ist wieder da. Look Who’s Back. Some people seem to know when the time is ripe.

er ist wieder da

Just when Mein Kampf has been reissued in Germany on 08jan16 (in a critically annotated edition by the Munich Institute for Contemporary History) as the copyright expired and thus became part of the public domain and Turkish prime minister Erdoğan seemed to praise Adolf Hitler’s effective form of government the extremely popular German comedy Er ist wieder da (Look Who’s Back) hits the Belgian screens.

If you leave Ernst Lubitsch out of the equation Germany is not exactly universally praised for their wonderful sense of humor. A German comedy about Adolf Hitler awakening In Berlin 70 years after his demise in 1945 near the former site where once stood his famous bunker, to be honest my expectations were not that high. All the more pleasant was the surprise that the film was not bad at all. The film is based upon the bestseller of the same name by Timur Vermes which was sold at the symbolic price of € 19,33 (a deliberant hint towards the year Hitler rose to power) and draws parallels with the current reaction to Europe beeing flooded with refugees and judging by some message boards seems to piss off the right-wing.
Via newspapers and magazines and the wonderful new inventions called television and the internet slowly but surely Hitler comes to realise things did not work out as he intended and that Germany underwent a few changes in the past seventy years. He’s not a big fan of actors that have portrayed him, of commercial television (cooking) programmes nor of the current ultra right wing NPD, they’re too soft, he’s more in favour of Die Grünen (The Green Party) as they at least show some love for the German soil. In this perspective there’s a funny scene where Hitler looks at a mountain range, marvels at its beauty and then throws an empty styrofoam coffee cup into the grass.
Hitler is first seen by a down and out freelance journalist/reporter/documentarian. He and the rest of Germany is convinced they’re being confronted by a method actor gone to the extremes, never going out of character, that of the führer Adolf Hitler. He quickly goes viral via the help of social media and thus becomes a popular comedian, the new media sensation. Only a demented jewish old lady sees him for what he really is.

The film opens with aerial images of Berlin seen through clouds, a clear reference to the opening of Leni Riefensthals Triumph des Willens (1934). Some more nods to nazi-propaganda films can be found when sortly after Hitler awakens a football is kicked in his direction and rolls next to him, one of the kids playing football is wearing a Ronaldo shirt, hence he’s being addressed as Hitlerjunge Ronaldo after Hitlerjunge Quex (1933).
In some of the best scenes the filmmakers adopt to the Sacha Baron Cohen style of guerilla filmmaking and drop the actor Oliver Masucci ‘in character’ as Hitler near the Brandenburger Tor or an NPD (the far-right Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands) rally to see how a contempary german public would react to his presence.
In another scene the filmmakers are goofing around with Der Untergang (Downfall, 2004), a TV producer is being told they’ve run out of options and he reacts in a manner copying Bruno Ganz’s performance in the Oliver Hirschbiegel film in a similar scene. By the way, next week Hirschbiegel is returning to the subject of Adolf Hitler with his film Elser (international title 13 Minutes) about the attempt of Georg Elser in 1939 to assassinate the Führer (not to be confused with the von Stauffenberg case as portrayed in the Tom Cruise vehicle Valkyrie, 2008)
And as it’s also a bit of a timetravel movie you may spot some Back to the Future references: there’s a German poster (Zurück in die Zukunft) hanging in the reporter’s house plus he’s often wearing a red jacket not unlike that of Marty McFly (see picture below).
When the reporter first studies the footage in which he accidentially captured the return of Hitler you will notice it happens in a way similar to the return of that other famous Aussie Arnold Schwarzenegger in (yet another eighties timetravel film) The Terminator , in a circular flash of light.

er ist wieder da1

Jan Bollen

 

 

The Hateful Eight. A lot of wordplay, gunplay fans be patient (& references galore).

Wyoming, some time after the Civil War. A stagecoach -the ‘Last Stage to Red Rock’ (I guess Crimson Peak and Black Rock were already taken) as the first of 6 chapters reads- with a bountyhunter and his bounty (reluctantly) pick up a couple of stranded, soon to be fellow travelers (another bountyhunter and a ‘Son of a Gun’, the alleged new sheriff of Red Rock, Chapter 2), before a snowstorm locks them in a lodge called ‘Minnie’s Haberdashery’ (Chapter 3) where they find the remaining ‘hateful’ bunch (the local hangman, a cowpuncher, a confederate general and a Mexican help called Bob) the title refers to but not Minnie.

The story centers around the captive Daisy Domergue (an excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh who finally gets another center stage role) who’s to be trialed and hanged in Red Rock, but some are perhaps trying to prevent this from happening.
She’s a tough lady to say the least, who gets handled equally tough by John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell reteaming with Tarantino after their highly underrated Grindhouse Deathproof segment). It’s almost like she provokes him to get beaten so she can have another taste of her own blood. Misogyny? I don’t thing so. If you’re offended  by this or the way she addresses the Major Marquis Warren character (Samuel L. Jackson excellent as he is in every Tarantino film that he shows up in) with ‘Howdy nigger’ and don’t see the humor in it, well then this is probably not the movie for you.

Tarantino takes his times to introduce all his characters with groovy backstories and gives his actors the time to shine. He is visibly enjoying his troop of actors doing their (or his) thing. Is he taking too much time? Perhaps (and certainly for some), but can you blame him for having fun? Maybe Tarantino is one of the few directors with the power to have his films play out longer than the average director is allowed to.

He’s certainly one of the few directors (with P.T. Anderson) who can afford to continue shooting on actual film in an era when digital cinema has become the norm. He’s not only shooting on film but in 70 mm and for The Hateful Eight he’s even used the extremely rare (this is only the 11th film to use) Ultra Panavision 70 MM process last used for Khartoum in 1966 resulting an in aspect ratio of 2.76:1 . In Belgium you won’t be able to see the film in 70 MM. When you see it digitally you’ll notice there’s some space left on the bottom and top of the screen as cinema screens are made for projecting the usual 2.35:1 widescreen ratio. The fact that most of the film takes place indoors ( a stage coach and the lodge) seems a bit perverse since cinemascope is known to be effective when filming vast landscapes and vistas and not necessarily for shooting indoor dialogue scenes. The photography (maestro Robert Richardson) is fantasic, look out for the detail of the snow that’s subtly constantly visible inside the lodge as well as the stagecoach, it’s as if the film is shot inside a snowglobe.

Once the introductions are over the film turns into a mix of an Agatha Christie whodunnit kind of story echoing films like Death by Murder (1976) starring Truman Capote (!?!?) as the host or René Clair’s And Then There Were None (1945, fitting title by the way) to name but a few, and horror films like Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and John Carpenter’s version of The Thing (off course also starring Kurt Russell, even some of the Morricone score is used) and Tarantino’s very own Reservoir Dogs is not far away either.
Great westerns like André De Toth’s Day of the Outlaw (1959) and Henry Hathaway’s Rawhide (1951, not to be confused with the TV series starring Clint Eastwood) must have sprung up in his mind as well.

Mentioning all the references or nods to other movies or tv shows would be a sheer endless task as is always the case with filmbuff Tarantino’s movies but here are some none the less:
Budd Boetticher’s The Tall T (1957): bodies that are dumpted in a well.
Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992): the predominant featuring of a an outdoor toilet in the distance.
The Coen brother’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000): 3 characters chained to each other and falling of a train wagon when one of them has fallen (2 in The Hateful Eight falling of the stagecoach).
Samuel Fuller’s Merrill’s Marauders (1962) and The Big Red One (1980): Mannix’s Marauders is mentioned several times in relation to the character of sheriff Chris Mannix played by Walton Waggons (of The Shield fame and also starring Tarantino’s previous film Django Unchained) whereas the crucifix statue in the snow in the opening shot brings to mind a similar statue in the prologue of The Big Red One.
Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966): the torture scene where a character is beaten severely inside a small lodge of a Fort while outside a band is playing music to somewhat cover the screams is echoed in the scene where ‘Silent Night’ is being played on the piano while the Sam Jackson character is provoking ‘a reaction’ from the General character played by Bruce Dern by telling what he did with his son.
John Boorman: Was Tarantino trying to top “the squeal like a pig” scene from John Boorman’s Deliverance (1970) with his “forced fellatio” scene? He certainly used music from Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), yet another Ennio Morricone score. (For the first time he’s used an original score not surprisingly by Ennio Morricone)
And last but not least, Brian De Palma, another one of Tarantino’s favorite directors: the face of Daisy Domergue covered with blood mirrors that of Sissy Spacek covered in pigs blood in Carrie (1976) (in this respect Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974 could be a reference as well).
Tarantino uses a least one split diopter shot in each of his films as an homage to De Palma, in The Hateful Eight he used more than he ever did before.
The color palette of the final shot of The Hateful Eight (no spoiler) is definitely a nod to the color palette De Palma (and his DoP, the great Vilmos Zsigmond, who coincidentally died earlier this week) used throughout the entire film Blow Out (1981), namely Red, White and Blue refering to the colors of the American flag.

If you’re a fan of Tarantino’s wordplay you’ll have a ball with this movie. If you’ve always been more interested in his gunplay and his toying with chronology you’ll have to be patient. The film gives you everything you’ve come to expect from a Tarantino movie, his love for his characters to take on a role prentending to be something they’re not (“let’s get into character” as Jules and Vince would call it in Pulp Fiction; perhaps the most reoccuring theme in all of his movies), his great use of pre-existing music, e.g. the use of Roy Orbinson’s “There Won’t Be Many Coming Home” couldn’t be more suitable, but perhaps not in this dose.

Jan Bollen

Pablo Larraín’s EL CLUB, where ‘troublesome’ priests are put in hiding.

El Club

The Chilean director Pablo Larraín is know mostly for his trilogy set during the Pinochet dictatorship Tony Manero (2008), Post Mortem (2010) and the Oscar nominated No (2012).
The tone of El Club (The Club) is more reminiscent of the at times extremely grimm Tony Manero and Post Mortem than of the more enjoyable No which is no wonder since his most recent film deals with pedophile priest who -instead of publicly addressing the issue- are being put in hiding by the Catholic Church in remote and secluded houses.

The trouble starts with the arrival of the most recent ‘guest’ in such a secret house referred to as ‘The Club’ situated in the coastal village of La Boca Navidad.  When shortly afterwards one of his former victims (role for Roberto Farías a Larraín regular) shows up and starts yelling drunkenly -for all the neighbours to hear- what has happened to him, including the sexual abuse he has undergone, the other ‘guests’ urge the situation to be dealt with which leads to a dramatic event.
When another modern day priest ( Marcelo Alonso, another frequent Larraín collaborator including his HBO Latin America series Prófugos) arrives to investigate the incident, or rather tries to have the priests confess to what has really happened, they all have difficulty telling the truth as self deception is the order of the day.

Visually Pablo Larraín has chosen to depict the self deception by using extremely wide-angle lenses which have a distorting effect, especially when faces are filmed up close. But even in the opening shots of the film, where one of the priests is training a greyhound on the beach which he has taking part in dograces to earn a little extra money, Larraín uses the wide-angle lenses to introduce one of the excommunicated priests.
The effect is most apparent in the confession/interrogation scenes. When the young priest asks a question he’s being photographed ‘normally’ and each time we cut back to the priests replying they are filmed with the dissorting effect.
The fact that theses lenses are being used to visualise the self deceptive or lying nature of the interviewees becomes extremely clear when the during one of the interrogations sessions the nun who takes care of the priests but who has a somewhat shady past of her own, suddenly starts talking ‘frankly’. The moment she threatens to go to the media and bring the affair to the public eye and basically calls the interrogator’s bluff she’s suddenly filmed with ‘normal’ lenses as well.

Due to the subject matter and the grimm tone this film will definitely not be everybody’s cup of tea. The film does not have any images depicting the sexual child abuse but the dialogues pull no punches.

Jan Bollen