Month: May 2016

Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy in The Revenant (2015)

Brief thoughts on the film

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So I finally got about to watching this. I have been holding it off for months, because I really didn’t feel interested in this film at all. To me, it sounded like a major vanity project for all involved, especially during its not-very-subtle Oscar campaign. While they went on and on about how much the cast and crew had to endure and suffer during shooting, the cynical side of me wasn’t ready to be bought over by this. Frankly, like what many others say, I am always more interested in the final result than the preparation process. It might sound a bit unsympathetic, and while I am not denying the efforts of these people, it isn’t what I care about the most when I watch a movie.

On a positive note, I would say that the suffering was not in vain – Iñárritu created a gorgeously shot film, making the cinematography win one of the most deserved so far. He also managed to utilise the harshness of their shooting conditions to bring out the raw, brutal tension needed in this story. A major part of The Revenant is about Man vs Wild, and in this aspect, the film succeeds greatly. It is raw, gritty, suspenseful and realistic.

However, there was something that held me back from fully embracing this film. I feel that The Revenant is well-done, but it seems to lack a particular…oomph that would have made it the powerful, gut-wrenching, cinematic masterpieces it clearly strives to be. It was like watching a gorgeous painting, but unfortunately not having a lot of emotional connection to it. More on that later anyway.

The technical aspects are still the saving grace of this film, and at the end of the day,  I will concede that the shit everyone went through paid off. But that’s essentially what I feel about it in a nutshell. Iñárritu’s directing win is largely deserved, although I am equally in favour towards Tom McCarthy and George Miller. 4/5.

Leonardo DiCaprio

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I just don’t get the overwhelming love people have for Leo DiCaprio. From the almost embarrassing internet memes, the comparisons to Bob De Niro made by some (Oh REALLY?), I have to confess that I did try to feel the amount of love people have for him…but I just can’t hop onto that bandwagon. I am not saying he is overrated, I am just perfectly content with my own impression of him: a good actor, who has been consistently turning in good to great work, rightfully earning those nominations. I just cannot wrap my head around that “HE IS SO OVERDUE” thing that has been plaguing the internet (Glenn Close is more worthy of that, I feel). The only time where I thought he truly deserved the Oscar was for The Wolf of Wall Street – he was amazing in that, but that’s also in the face of equally deserving competition from Matthew McConaughey and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

One thing that Leo really nails here is the perseverance and fighting spirit of Hugh Glass. His portrayal of physical agony and pain is fantastic, and I wouldn’t even deny that he really made me cringe sometimes. He always remains truly committed with this aspect of the character, selling Glass’ determination to survive instead of going the Anne Hathaway “Look at me suffer for ART!” route. Hugh Glass is a fighter, and Leo does not fail in his portrayal of that. Even in that final fight scene with Hardy, which made me cringe harder than all of the SAW movies put together, I really admired how he perfected Glass’ desire for revenge.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all I can really rave about his performance. I liked that small tender moment where he briefly bonded with the Pawnee refugee Hikuc, and how they connected with their losses. But what was really lacking to me, which is also the main thing that’s holding me back from calling The Revenant a masterpiece, was the emotional weight needed in this performance. I will just state the obvious: I do not buy the father-son relationship between Glass and Hawk. To me, that is the greatest misstep of this performance. I am supposed to buy that Glass is soooo devastated by Hawk’s death that it set him on this bloody path of revenge, yet I just didn’t buy that Glass was extremely protective of Hawk, like when he tells him to remain “invisible”. Even Hawk’s death didn’t leave much of an impression – I mean, you see Leo screaming in devastation and all, but that’s pretty much it for me. There was this noticeable lack of chemistry between the two actors.

In fact, I would even go a step further and say that I don’t buy him as a father. I’m sorry, but when I think of Leo Dicaprio, I always picture him partying on a yacht full of VS models with his “wolf pack”, free of any familial responsibilities and commitment – I guess that’s why WoWS worked incredibly for me. Of course, that didn’t influence my opinion of his work here, but frankly, I wouldn’t even have noticed a difference if you removed the father-son relationship and called them colleagues/hunting buddies instead. I mean, if Brie Larson, who wasn’t a mother when shooting Room, could sell herself as a highly protective mother, then why can’t Leo?

When this aspect is lacking, it really takes away what could have been an amazing performance and reduces it to merely a “good” one. Sure, he effectively portrays his determination and anger, but it would have been absolutely amazing to me if I could actually, you know, feel the grief and emotional pain from losing his wife and son, with all the “he killed ma booooy” and voice-overs. I wasn’t sure what went wrong here – maybe it is all so subtle that I missed it in the first viewing, but even the “deep” glances and “mysterious” expressions didn’t provoke me as much as I wanted, like the ending scene. I wouldn’t say I am very disappointed since this is still a solid turn from a solid performer, but it is still a missed opportunity to me. 3.5/5.

Tom Hardy *mild spoiler ahead*

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Tom Hardy is the man. Tom hardy is a badass. Tom Hardy is the cool motherfucker. Only Tom Hardy can show up at his movie event gangsta-style in shirt and jeans, and still own it, making Leo look overdressed even. Tom Hardy was awesome in Inception. Tom Hardy was freaking cool in Mad Max: Fury Road. Tom Hardy in Legend was…haven’t watched that. Oh, but Tom Hardy loves dogs, which just increases his cool factor.

Embarrassingly, I admit I sound like a little boy going crazy over Iron Man, but that’s pretty much how I feel about Tom Hardy these days. He’s da man. 

Even so, if I am being objective about this, Tom Hardy was the mvp for The Revenant for me. He gives a very mannered and loud performance in contrast to Leo, and yet it works brilliantly for me. Like what I said about Jennifer Jason Leigh, he isn’t the most complex supporting character around but he has a one-of-a-hell presence and is just freaking entertaining. John Fitzgerald is one evil bastard, and Hardy nails this (“Maybe you should have raised a man instead of a girlie little bitch” – Ouch!). He switches from sympathetic to chilling in just a blink of an eye – one moment, you can be talking to him like some regular friend and the next moment he can be aiming his rifle at you and threatening to blow your head off. That whole “God is a squirrel” speech was fantastic – he delivers it in such a matter-of-a-fact way, and yet you could really understand where Fitzgerald is coming from – he simply has no more fucks to give.

Hardy actually makes Fitzgerald a very sympathetic character. There are even times where I thought he had a point, even though everybody else was quick to dismiss him. The best part was, I actually felt sorry for him when he died. He could have turned Fitzgerald into a caricature villain, and yet he transforms him into a believable, flawed and at times frightening person instead. As a whole, I really, really enjoyed Hardy’s performance here. He is also entertaining as hell to watch, never having a single dull moment. And not to mention that physical transformation! Honestly, I wouldn’t have recognised that it was Hardy in my first viewing. 5/5

 

2015 Supporting Actress Thoughts

Hey hey it is one of the few times where I have watched all of the best supporting actress nominees! I didn’t even intend to cover this category, mind you, it just so happened that all of these women appeared in films that I was curious in/had performances that I wanted to watch. Still, I thought I should quickly write this post before these performances fade from my memory.

Reason being, I found most of these performances not particularly memorable or refreshing. That being said. I found this year better than last year, where I literally struggle to even recall who the nominees are. My number 1 is the clear winner, and had she won, she might have been one of my favourite winners this decade. I am going to be honest and say that my number 2 got her ranking because I was largely influenced by the overwhelming love everybody has for her. Objectively speaking, she gives a great performance, but I always felt that she was overshadowed by her co-star and also, she’s not really a favourite actress of mine. 3 and 4 are pretty equal, although I prefer 3 because she added more with how little she had, while 4 is just consistently good. 5 gives a perfectly fine performance, but nothing overly special in my opinion. As a celebrity, I love her the most out of all 5 nominees though – I happen to enjoy the glorious cheesiness of The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Regina George is one awesome bitch.

5. Rachel Mcadams in Spotlight – 3/5

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Regina George is now an Oscar nominee! Hurray! That being said, I have to admit I struggle to find things to really rave about McAdams work here. Don’t get me wrong, I love subtle and realistic acting, but McAdam’s Sacha Pfeiffer is merely a piece of the overall masterpiece that Spotlight is. I have nothing to fault with her acting here, and I actually think she fared better than Ruffalo’s scenery chewing, but like I said in my post, why nominate her out of the entire cast? Some nice moments with her nana and Ruffalo’s Rezendes, but nothing outstanding.

Favourite scene: We are going to tell this story

4. Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl – 4/5

Alicia Vikander
She is the best part of her boring film, and there are a lot of nice emotional moments she gets to play. She manages to successfully convey the pain of losing her husband, her struggles as an artist, and her journey in recovering. That being said, I felt like, it could have been, I don’t know, more? I appreciate it from a technical standpoint.

Favourite scene: Saying she wants her husband bacl

3. Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs – 4/5

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She actually gives the kind of supporting performance that I enjoy even though people usually dismiss it as underwhelming. Her material is thin, and yet she manages to develop Joanna fully as a person, allowing us to fully understand what goes through her head. The main highlight of her performance is her relationship with Fassbender’s Steve Jobs. She shows so many sides of the character – the friend, the partner, the assistant, the moral compass.

Favourite scene: The big emotional moment, which she managed to pull off although it was awkwardly written imo. So sudden?

2. Rooney Mara in Carol – 4.5/5 

rooney mara carolI usually find Rooney Mara’s “understated” acting style more boring and vacuous than anything, but over here it fits the role of Therese Belivet perfectly. I admit she handles the character’s development beautifully, and it was great to watch Therese finding herself. That being said, I never really felt…I don’t know, supportive of the character? Like I ended up feeling so damn sorry for Carol throughout this whole movie that I kinda forget about Therese a little. I may sound critical, but I assure you, I am not. At the end of the day, I still think this is a beautiful performance with many wonderfully acted moments, but I just don’t love it as much as so many do.

Favourite moment: The breakdown in the car with Carol, where she expresses her guilt.

1 Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight – 5/5

JJL Hateful 8

I love The Hateful Eight. It’s not perfect, and I know people often complain about it being slow and boring but I was thoroughly hooked from beginning to end. I might even go as far to say that I prefer this to Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds. I also thought Samuel L. Jackson should have been nominated and won for best actor, and a few of the supporting casts are equally deserving of noms as well, like Kurt Russell. The funny thing is, I have the least impression of what the film actually won for – its score. Like, I really can’t remember it. I feel Carol should have taken that one.

At the end of the day, Jennifer Jason Leigh gives the kind of supporting performance that I love and haven’t seen in a while in this category. I can only compare her to Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby and Dianne Wiest in Bullets Over Broadway. Is it the most complex and important role in the entire film? No. But she is entertaining as hell with a one-of-a-kind presence, and you cannot take your eyes off her the moment she is on screen. I wouldn’t even say it is easy…I mean look at how JLaw tried in American Hustle and…oh wait, many people love her there.

Jennifer Jason Leigh doesn’t have that many lines in the beginning, but she always captures your attention with small, distinct mannerisms to suggest something “off” about Daisy. And then when it comes to the final “negotiation” scene, you really get to see her sink her teeth into this role and show all the different sides of the character – menacing, authoritative, frightening and pathetic at the same time. She was like a crazy dog (bitch, haha) without any dignity or shame, and it is bloody (literally) awesome! It is the kind of performance this category needs more, and I really miss them. Sighs.

Favourite moment: The negotiation scene, and “when you get to hell John, tell them Daisy sent ya”

Spotlight (2015)

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Ok firstly, I feel like I need to explain why I haven’t been blogging that much about films and performances – simply put, no mood. I assure you, it is not that I have lost interest in films (Never!!) but if you know me, my interest in things tend to come in…phases. And for the past few weeks, I have been well…gaming. Nothing new there. Anyway, my gaming phase is going to be over (I can feel it) so I am probably going to resume blogging about films.

I am so glad that I finally got around to watching this year’s best picture winner Spotlight. To be honest, I actually wasn’t in the mood for movies, because I wanted to watch Olive Kitteridge on tv but my family suddenly went “hey let’s watch a movie together!” and I was like “Urgh, ok”. The reason why I have been putting off Spotlight was simply because I just didn’t feel compelled to watch it, despite its best picture status.

I am beginning to realise that 2015 was a better year for films then most people would give credit for. After that drought in 2014, 2015 felt particularly refreshing. I thought Mad Max: Fury Road was pretty damn amazing, Room was haunting, The Martian was fun, Bridge of Spies was decent and…haven’t seen the rest. But I really enjoyed what I have seen so far, and in my opinion, The Hateful Eight and Carol would have been worthy additions to this already strong lineup too.

What I first noticed about Spotlight was the way it got me hooked right from the start. It is arguably the most low-key and least flashy out of all the nominated films that I have seen so far, and yet I daresay it captured my attention the most. No doubt, it is an emotional story but it never feels exploitative of the events it is based on. To me, the screenplay was pitch-perfect, nailing the necessary realism behind the story while still having a strong emotional undercurrent that is never in your face. The direction is so brilliant that I thought Tom McCarthy was robbed of the Oscar, but then again, I haven’t seen The Revenant so I can’t comment. Taut is the first word that comes in mind when describing this film. Watching the systemic and seamless way the spotlight team ceaselessly covered the story is almost like watching a highly efficient machine at work, and it was pure fascination.

Nailing the realism of Spotlight would be its strong cast of actors. That being said, I will be frank when I say that I don’t quite comprehend the two acting nominations. I love Rachel Mcadams, and I am glad she is finally an Oscar nominee (FYI, in my world, she should have been nominated for Mean Girls, and yes, I am serious), but the way the acting works in Spotlight is such that everybody is complementing each other to form the final result. Yes, her performance is really good and I like the subtle emotional touches she added in several scenes, but my point is, if she is nominated, why isn’t Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci and everyone else nominated? I know it sounds bizarre but everyone here adds a little something special to their roles, which is why I think the SAG award for outstanding performance by a cast is one of the most deserved in years.

And yes, like everyone else, I thought Mark Ruffalo did stick out in a wrong way. Not as bad as people say, just a bit too much for my tastes.It is quite weird to see him chewing scenery and being so mannered when everyone’s acting is so realistic. I feel like his explosive speech really disrupted the realistic tone of the movie for a while, and to be honest, I kinda cringed a little. Which is strange, cause I thought Keaton and Schreiber did more with how little they had.

Still, out of all the best picture winners of this decade so far, I consider Spotlight the most worthy and deserving winner. Maybe its because I have been craving for a low-key, realistic drama, but I really enjoyed how the film told its story without trying to manipulate its audience. It is hard for me to articulate my feelings in word – not a flashy film, but so damn brilliant anyway. 5/5.

 

Cate Blanchett in Carol (2015)

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Note: I watched this many weeks ago, so I am basing this post entirely on memory.

Just to put it out there: I consider Cate Blanchett the best actress of her generation. I really love her style of acting, mainly because of it is so obviously influenced by acting legends such as Judy Davis and Glenda Jackson. I know many people have issues with the slight theatricality of it, but I just love it when these theatre actors (Geraldine Page!!!) bring their craft to the screen. I am always in awe of the total control, technique, and “aura” these performers have, and like I said before, watching them perform is like going for an acting class. Of course, the down side to it is that it sometimes distances me from their characters, which I have experienced with all the actresses I mentioned, but it is definitely satisfying to watch them perform their craft.

Carol is a great film, and in my opinion, better than Todd Haynes’ other film Far From Heaven. It is less “obvious” and heavy-handed than the former, which is still a good film mind you, but over here I could feel the sincerity and meticulousness from Haynes in crafting the film. The costumes, cinematography and acting are all wonderful, although I feel like I need to re-watch to really feel the love most people have for Rooney Mara’s performance.

To me, Cate is the star of the show. Right from her entrance into the departmental store, she steals your attention at every frame, wonderfully capturing that “aura” of a rich, diva-ish housewife from the 50s (over here, we call them “tai-tais”). I mentioned earlier about how I sometimes feel distanced from Blanchett’s performance, and that was what I felt about her Oscar-winning work in Blue Jasmine. Mind you, I am not denying that that performance is technical perfection (I am still a Bullock voter for that year), but I never felt for it as much as I should. Over here though, Blanchett beautifully captures the layers of Carol’s personalities in her acting, and the result is simply mesmerizing.

Carol is essentially an unhappy housewife who is undergoing a messy divorce and fighting for custody of her only daughter. What Blanchett does incredibly well is the way she constantly explores the different aspects of Carol’s unhappiness. I especially loved her first lunch (or dinner?) with Therese. I really felt Carol’s desperate need for companionship, even though she never explicitly shows it, choosing to conceal it beneath an artificial facade of happiness.

As the movie progressed, it was great watching Blanchett peel these “layers” of artificial happiness away, and we get to see the desperate and depressed side of Carol more and more, especially when she realises that reality is against her. The thing about Blanchett’s work is how in control and in a way, “quiet” it is. There is still that distinctive element of theatricality in her mannered style of acting, but it just feels real all the time. She chooses to capture moments and layers of Carol’s personality in small, distinctive moments and acting choices. My absolute favourite moment was when she translated the pain of losing her daughter into that simple  heartbreaking line, “We’re not ugly people Harge”. Just magnificent.

She doesn’t have any distinctive “baity scenes” to her advantage (and I don’t think they were going to give her a third Oscar so soon too), but Blanchett’s performance here is a magnificent character study. And that final smile…fantastic. 5/5.