“The Revenant”

I’m disappointed that Alejandro Inarritu’s (“Birdman”) “The Revenant” wasn’t released before 2015 ended. Why? Because this would have easily made my top 10 list of the year!

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as legendary frontier man, Hugh Glass. Glass was the survivor of a vicious bear attack and left for dead by his men, but he survived and tracked his former comrades down for revenge. The frontier member he wanted the most retribution against was the scarred John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a self-aware psychopath who murdered Glass’s son in cold blood.

SPOILER ALERT

This is more of a fictionalized take on the events and we watch Glass suffer through grisly wounds, ride a horse off a cliff, slide uncontrollably down a stream, evade a vengeful Arikara tribe, and eventually engage in a gory knife fight with Fitzgerald.

“The Revenant” is an epic, beautiful, and overwhelmingly intense adventure that contains elements of some of the best blockbuster movies like “Gladiator” and some more artistic period films like “There Will Be Blood”. Every shot in this movie is filled with great attention to detail.

DiCaprio gives his most expressive and quiet performance to date, acting with painful expressions. There were reports of him suffering through this shoot and we can almost see his pain in his performance. Tom Hardy is just as good, sometimes stealing Leo’s thunder as the philosophical villain.

“The Revenant” is quite different from “Birdman”, due to the lack of dialogue, the setting, and dark tone, but it’s still just as energetic and as much of a great experience. It’s loaded with long takes that occur during a harrowing battle sequence and an unforgettably violent bear attack.

The violence and heavy handed dream sequences might turn some viewers off, but this is a movie I’d strongly suggest all film lovers to give a shot.

Grade: A

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“The Hateful Eight”

Restraint has been quite popular this year for a few filmmakers who had seemed to forgotten the meaning of the word. Quentin Tarantino is the latest with “The Hateful Eight”.

“The Hateful Eight” is Tarantino’s second Western film, and it’s set in a violent blizzard in Wyoming. Colonel Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) sits on a pile of dead bounties and a stage coach featuring fellow bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and convict Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) offer him a ride.

Along the way, they pick up a dimwitted sheriff named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), and the four find themselves in a lodge with four other strangers – retired confederate general Smithers (Bruce Dern), cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), British hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), and lodge owner Bob (Demian Bichir).

It’s when the eight characters meet each other that “The Hateful Eight” turns into a bloody Western play with elements of dark comedy, murder mystery, and even a brief moment of body horror. This is not “Django Unchained” (which is good, but not his best) or “Inglourious Basterds” (which I loved). This is a glimpse of what Tarantino’s future looks like as a playwright/novelist.

Tarantino uses 70mm film stock to beautifully photograph exterior landscapes and pay close attention to detail within the elaborate lodge set-piece. His script is cleverly written since he’s restrained his humor and ego. I mean that we hear Tarantino’s character’s talk; not Tarantino.

The characters are by far the best part of “Eight”. Jackson’s Warren is a menacing vengeful sociopath who takes pride in bounty hunting and his role in the civil war. Russell’s Ruth is an arrogant and misogynistic bounty hunter who respects his hardened allies. Leigh’s Daisy starts as a foul and quirky convict who gets increasingly psychotic throughout the film. Goggins’ Mannix is the most dynamic character, seeing he’s a bigoted-yet-noble sheriff.

The first half of “The Hateful Eight” is all about mystery and tension, which is masterfully built and paced, thanks to Ennio Morricone’s mesmerizing score, eerie shots reminiscent of John Carptenter’s “The Thing,” and interactions between the characters. The second half gets meta and over-the-top with loads of blood splatter and revelations.

I love Tarantino and I was greatly impressed with his execution in “The Hateful Eight”. It was less of a film tribute and more of an actual film. Even with the trademark heads blowing off, the racial slurs, and the similarities to “Reservoir Dogs,” it’s one damn innovative Western.

Grade: A