Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Revenant and Youth

                          Survival of the Fittest, Physically and Emotionally
                                                     Reviews by Ken Burke
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                       The Revenant (Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu)
Hugh Glass, an early 19th-century frontiersman on a pelt-gathering mission is mauled by a bear, then left for dead by his companions, one of which is responsible for the decision even though he knows Glass is still alive; upon revival, Glass endures a series of hardships as he travels across miles of snow-bound country to find and avenge himself on this evil traitor.
What Happens: Back in the snow-covered-winter of 1823, in the northwest region of the vast Louisiana Purchase, a group of fur trappers led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) is attacked by a tribe of Arikara Indians, with several of the hunters killed or wounded (the flowing camerawork is magnificent from the beginning, slowly tracking through great vistas of open countryside; then in this first attack, the action becomes frantic but not the editing where wide shots are held throughout the action, forcing us to understand what it’s like to hopefully dodge arrows that seemingly come from nowhere).  Their chief scout, Hugh Glass (Leonardo Di Caprio)—along with his half-Pawnee son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck)—insists that they get away from the river (the Missouri, I think, but it matters not) by heading inland back to Fort Kiowa.  However, along the way Glass decides to shoot a couple of bear cubs, a huge mistake as their furious mother suddenly appears, mauling Glass within an inch of his life (no, despite silly reports to the contrary, the bear didn’t rape him—especially because it was a female bear, whom I don’t think was that interested in oral sex).  Glass is being carried on a stretcher but the terrain’s getting too difficult to take him any further so Capt. Henry agrees to pay 2 volunteers extra if they stay behind with their severely-wounded companion and his son, then give Glass a proper burial when he dies.  However, one of them, irascible John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), is impatient for that to happen so he digs the grave, attempts to kills Glass, is interrupted by Hawk whom he stabs to death then hides the body in the woods, tells gullible kid Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) that Glass is dead and Hawk has disappeared, tosses Glass into the grave with barely enough dirt to cover him, then heads off to the fort with Bridger, where they claim a natural death and decent burial for Glass then collect their pay.

 Eventually, Glass revives, drags himself through the wilderness until he regains enough strength to walk, uses some lit gunpowder to cauterize the open wounds on his neck, survives a tumble into an icy river and over a waterfall, eats a raw fish and the liver of a dead bison (shared with a Pawnee man he can converse with after a hunting party has left the beast behind; this man also tends to Glass’ wounds, although the Indian’s later killed by French trappers), then eventually makes his way back to the fort.  On the way, though, he manages to rescue an Indian woman held as a sex prisoner by those same Frenchmen; we eventually learn that she’s Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk’o) the lost daughter of the Arikara Chief (Anthony Starlight), who’s been looking for her all through the film in a parallel story to that of Glass (who has frequent flashbacks to when soldiers raided the camp where he lived with his Pawnee wife and son, killing and burning all but him and the boy).  As he regains his health, Glass forgives Bridger but sets out to find Fitzgerald, more furious with him for killing Hawk (which he was conscious enough to witness but was too damaged to talk when Bridger returned to the scene) than even for his own abandonment in the woods; they battle in hand-to-hand-combat until Fitzgerald’s wounded, then the Chief and his party (including Powaqa) happen by so Glass pushes his enemy into the river where he washes down the short distance to the Indians who finish him off.  (There’s a lot more on how this arduous journey finally comes to an end but it’s all just further extensions—including Hugh surviving a snow storm, after a band of Indians chase him off a cliff, by cutting open his dead horse, removing the entrails, then sleeping overnight in the somewhat-warm-carcass—of Glass’ desperate desire for survival and revenge, dragging us with him for 2 ½ hours.)

So What? Nowhere in this film (that I recall) do we ever hear the use of the word “revenant,” which generally comes from European folklore about a corpse that returns form the grave to wreck havoc on the surrounding community.  Of course, Glass wasn’t actually dead when he was left for such back in the woods (reminding me a bit [probably because it’s hard to go a day now without some new update on the further-box-office-triumphs of … The Force Awakensof episodes III, IV, and V of the Star Wars series, the first where the younger Obi-Wan Kenobi [Ewan McGregor] thinks the now-Dark Side-controlled-Anakin Skywalker’s [Hayden Christensen] mortally wounded so he leaves him to die after their climatic-battle only to find his enemy survives and eventually, as the vicious Darth Vader, will cause his death much later in life [but with the roles reversed in The Revenant regarding hero and villain], just as Anakin’s son, Luke [Mark Hamill], will also survive a bitter night in the frozen elements of the ice-planet Hoth by means of rescuer Han Solo [Harrison Ford] slicing open his dead tauntaun steed, removing the innards, then the 2 of them sleeping off the wind [and smell of a freshly-dead-animal] in that carcass until a new day brings new command over the elements), but he sure as hell brings cunning and chaos to his final encounter with Fitzgerald (catching him by surprise by propping up the body of dead-companion-Capt. Henry [killed by Fitzgerald] on a horse so that when John shoots the corpse from afar with a rifle, then comes down to verify Hugh’s demise he’s caught off guard by Glass hiding under a blanket on the other horse, setting in motion their drawn-out-battle-to-the-death).  This all makes for exciting storytelling, just as Iñárritu’s no-compromise-filmmaking (minimum of special effects, maximum of real stunts—including DiCaprio’s consumption of raw liver) in actual locations under natural lighting forced an extended production schedule, shooting in northern Canada and southern Argentina to find such huge-snow-laden-vistas, as climate change (yes, deniers, it does exist) required moving to extreme locations nearer the poles.  

 Further, such accounts as we have of Glass’ life indicate that there was at least one more additionally-grotesque-incident that wasn’t shown, Glass voluntarily allowing maggots to eat the rotting flesh off his back, but that would have been impossible to show here anyway because all of the film’s story takes place in winter (when maggots aren’t crawling around on the outside of trees as Hugh found them) rather than the reality that Glass’ true ordeal began in the summer.

 In fact (as best we know the truth in this case), a lot of what’s presented in this yet-another-major-Hollywood-production-of 2015-inspired-by-true-events is inaccurate or at least questionable because while the basic bear-attack/struggle-to-return-to-civilization-misery of Hugh Glass did happen, very little of its details can be verified by historical record while various aspects of it seem to have been enhanced in the retellings (possibly including an 1823 dime novel, The Frontiersman, about these adventures that you can get acquire by scrolling down through the film’s official site, located far below as the first listing for The Revenant in my Related Links section of this posting), then found its way into a fictional work based on these stories by Michael Punke, The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge (2002) which serves as the basis for Iñárritu’s film.  I’m not saying that the various fabrications (including the reality that Glass had no son by his Pawnee wife, so there was no Hawk to kill nor that most vengeful reason for his conflict with Fitzgerald who was actually forgiven for his abandonment-actions—along with Bridger—by the real Hugh Glass; you can find more of this sort of debunking at the History vs Hollywood site) undermine the story as presented on screen; in fact, they enhance it, making it a very positively-embraced-film by critics and audiences.  It’s gotten 80% positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, 77 % from Metacritic plus a gross of about $41.3 million after just recently going wide to 3,375 theaters—of course it’s got a lot more to go to top its $135 million budget but after just winning the Golden Globe awards for Motion Picture, Drama as well as Director and Actor for Motion Picture, Drama I think its box-office-success will continue for quite awhile as little new product of any note usually makes its way into the market in January when most of the attention is given to catching up with 2015 releases that have benefitted from Globe trophies and/or Oscar nominations (due in the early morning of January 14, about 12 hours from when I’m now typing).  

 Based on what I’ve seen of the 2015 cinema-options so far, I’d even be easily convinced of Oscars for The Revenant in the categories of Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography (although I still hold out my Best Picture sympathies for Spotlight [Tom McCarthy; review in our November 19, 2015 posting]); however, it’s a bit of a disappointment to find that many of the most dramatic events of Glass’ story as shown here aren’t accurate, nor are we even sure how far he traveled back to Ft. Kiowa (the presumption is about 200 miles but earlier tellings of the tale imply more like 50).  Had this all been dreamed-up-fiction, I’d have no trouble with it as it’s a most compelling story, but when you learn how much it’s been enhanced, added to the narrative structure of the stretched-out-sense of “Let’s see how many adrenaline-rushes we can squeeze out of our audience," my Best Picture-enthusiasm (along with a normally-high-as-you-can-expect-from-me-4-star-rating) begins to wane.

Bottom Line Final Comments: As much as I admire the grit and determination that pushed the involved filmmakers to complete this difficult task (and feel empathy for those who quit or were fired in the process because of the demanding production conditions), along with my general applause for the elements of well-constructed-then-released-tension in the story, constantly-stunning-vistas of gorgeous landscape cinematography, and an iron will on the part of DiCaprio to rise above the “pretty boy” stigma that may have kept him from previously earning the full-thespian-respect he’s been due for a long, successful on-screen-career (although whatever disparagements may have been made about appearance over substance certainly haven’t diminished his salary offers nor the Oscar nominations and wins in other awards competitions that have come his way), I have to say that part of my response to The Revenant is the same as what I felt about Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller; review in our May 20, 2015 posting) and Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur (Peter Sohn; review in our December 10, 2015 posting): It just goes on and on with crisis-and-escape-scenarios that get tedious at times (although I’m clearly in the minority with … Fury Road as it’s getting all kinds of accolades on various critic’s lists that you can explore in the 2nd cluster of my Related Links section at the end of this posting)The Revenant has a lot of useful things to say about the unnecessary hatred and violence between one group of humans and another (as we acknowledge that many of the White hunters and settlers who came west were the ones who first attempted to slaughter the Native Americans already living there, but once the retaliation/counter-retaliation began there was apparently no hope for coexistence from either side except on a 1-to-1 basis as shown with Glass’ various hostile or humane Indian encounters), the unnecessary exploitation of natural resources (the trappers had plenty of pelts already so why did Glass think it would be useful—fun?—to shoot the cubs, even if he had been more aware of where protective mama was located? [She’s finally killed but when they both tumble over a shallow cliff with her landing on top of him it’s a wonder that he didn’t die from the impact of such a large, heavy animal]), but it hammers too much on one aspect of its storyline, possibly dictated by its written source material.  Too bad Hugh Glass couldn't see ABC’s Good Morning America back then or he might have watched this segment on surviving bear attacks (broadcast well before The Revenant opened, although they don’t say anything about shooting at cubs).

 I will say, though, that The Revenant’s honest about the inherent brutality required to survive life in the harsh wilderness, especially for the guys ultimately from much further east who obviously come out west only to secure valuable commodities, not to live off the land like the Natives they were trying to eradicate or the true mountain men who just settled in.  But, even as impressive as all that is, this film’s still basically just a heal-from-the-beating-then-take-revenge-scenario, as perfected long ago by Clint Eastwood over the course of a career from A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964) to Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992).  It’s all well-crafted, superb in many areas, but ultimately gets a bit overlong and repetitious (even after he heals from the bear attack, Glass keeps getting injured in his various challenges, although not nearly as badly as at first, so it seems like he just keeps stumbling from one disaster to the next before a search party from the fort finally gets wind of who they think is Hawk, then rides out to find Glass instead).  Despite my reservations about certain aspects of this film, I do like it and feel that I’ve found an appropriate Musical Metaphor to speak to The Revenant’s situations with this intrepid-trapper, which in the process also offers a tiny memorial tribute to the just-departed David Bowie, a genius of contemporary music who’s now gone from our midst but will long be remembered; I’ve chosen the song he created with the group Queen, “Under Pressure” (originally recorded in 1981, found on Queen’s 1982 Hot Space album [and several others] along with the 2002 Best of Bowie album) at for the official music video (with a great number of traumatic and destructive scenes, including shots from many older films such as renown classics Nosferatu [F.W. Murnau, 1922] and The Battleship Potemkin [Sergei Eisenstein, 1925]; I don’t know if this letterbox-stretched-video-format is an intentional artistic choice or just a YouTube uploading problem) or here at com/watch?v=YoDh_gHDvkk for a live performance. Despite the roughly 150 years between Glass’ odyssey and this song I think he’d easily relate to lines like “Pressure pushing down on me,”  “It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about,”  “Pray tomorrow takes me higher,”  “Kick my brains round the floor These are the days It never rains but it pours,” but also  “Why can’t we give love that one more chance?” that at least the cinematic-version of long-ago-Hugh considers in forgiving Jim Bridger for the tragedy endured by Glass as he realizes that this kid knew nothing of how John Fitzgerald was conning him about Hugh’s unfinished-condition or his son Hawk’s terrible-fate.
                                                   Youth (Paolo Sorrentino)
A retired composer/conductor and an elderly-but-still-working film director have known each other for years, then meet up at an exquisite resort in Switzerland; the composer’s in a tiff with his daughter about his past life with his wife, even as he’s being pursued by agents of the Queen of England to perform his most famous work in return for a knighthood.
What Happens: Set in contemporary times, we find retired composer/conductor Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) at a luxury resort in Switzerland’s Alps (the actual Waldhaus Flims hotel there) where his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) has arranged for daily creature-comforts for him even as she wants a break from his presence because she’s angry with his past disregard for her mother when he was traveling so much during his famous career; she’s about to be further upset when her husband, Julian Boyle (Ed Stoppard), tells her he’s leaving to be with pop singer Paloma Faith (playing herself in a good-natured-manner, considering what an airhead she’s made out to be in this film; I know nothing of her career but apparently she’s quite famous and well-received in the U.K.).  Julian’s dad, Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel)—a famous film director—is also at the spa, working furiously on what he considers to his ultimate “film testament,” as he’s nearing 80, assuming that his career will soon be done, as is his long-time-friend, Fred’s (yet, Fred continues to find musical inspiration everywhere, including the rhythm of unwrapping a candy wrapper or “conducting” the sounds of wind and cows as he gazes out on the nearby countryside).  While Mick struggles to complete the script for his grand finale (he finally has the morbid title, Life’s Last Day), Fred obstinately refuses a request from Queen Elizabeth to once again conduct his famous “Simple Songs” at a performance on Prince Philip’s birthday in return for being granted a knighthood.  When both Lena and the Queen’s emissary (Alex Macqueen) are coincidently back at the hotel in Fred’s room, he finally blurts out that the soprano-singing of the “Songs” is intended only for his wife, who can no longer sing (implications are that she’s dead, but we find out at the end of the story that she fading away in dementia, so in a manner of speaking she’s almost dead to Fred anyway).  

 Various interesting images and evening performances at the hotel (along with other aspects of this film to be discussed below) evoke Federico Fellini’s famous (1963), as does the general flow of Youth which seems in no hurry to resolve itself in any direction, including what the odd masseuse (Luna Mijovic) is up to or what the role is that noted young actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) is there to research, as he periodically offers moral support to Fred while lamenting that he wants to be remembered as a significant actor not for his silly robot role in a series of successful pop movies.

 When Youth does come together, we find that Lena’s touched by Fred’s refusal to participate in a performance of her Dad’s “Simple Songs” in tribute to her not-actually-forgotten-about-Mom; Mick’s devastated because even after he’s resolved his script problems that his only choice for lead actress, Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda, aged greatly with makeup)—despite working with Mick on 11 of his previous movies—insists on turning him down both because she’s signed a 3-year-contract with a TV series (she needs the cash to pay for her impending divorce, a son who needs rehab, and a house she wants in Florida) and because she’s lost respect for his work; Jimmy’s mystery role is Adolph Hitler, whom he wants to present in a less-than-horrific-light (one scene where he strides into the hotel in full costume and mustache is very jarring because it seems to be another dream-sequence, as we had early on where Fred saw himself as alone and drowning in Venice, Italy’s St. Mark’s Square);  a couple (Heidi Maria Glössner, Helmut Förnbacher) who never talk at dinner end their meal one night when she viciously slaps him but when strolling the grounds the next day Fred and Mick see them having sex against a tree; a Buddhist monk (Dorji Wangchuk) Fred thinks is a charlatan finally does levitate, even though no one but us observes this; and Mick, in an unexpected moment of existential despair, commits suicide, which in turns leads to Fred finally visiting his long-lost-wife, Melanie (Sonia Gessner), in a Venice rest home then agreeing to the Queen’s request which ends the film with a mesmerizing rendition of "Simple Song #3".

So What? Youth does a very fine job of quietly exploring how what might look like easy-to-solve-problems from one person’s perspective aren’t at all that smoothly-resolvable for the person who’s actually experiencing the problem, even if the outsider in the case of this film is Fred’s daughter (where visiting his wife is concerned) or Fred himself (where his friend Mick’s creative strivings are concerned).  When we first hear Lena berating Fred for his absence from her mother it feels to me (based on other comments within the film until its very end) that she’s already dead so the chastisement sounds like it’s about not making a journey to her grave (I couldn’t join in with Lena's agitation, though, considering that my mother died in 2008 but I’ve yet to return from California to her small-town-cemetery in west Texas just to see her name carved on a small stone monument).  His absence from his spouse becomes much more poignant when we understand that she’s still alive, living out her lost days completely lost to Fred in a heavy fog of dementia (harsh as it may sound, I can’t really blame him much for that either, as she’s now only a shell of the woman he so deeply loved when she could share her consciousness with him; I recall how hard it was for my father to travel the couple of hundred miles needed to visit his mother at a rest home in Austin, TX where she spent her final 5 years after a series of strokes that left her totally incapacitated—when I’d occasionally make that trip [same distance, different starting point] it was horrible for me to see this formerly loving, content woman just lying in a fetal position in a bed, tubes in her body to insert and extract liquids, just waiting silently [with who knows what level of awareness] for the long-needed-opportunity to die).  These sad family experiences give me some insight into Fred’s unwillingness to come back to his wife’s room for years—a cognitively-sterile-location looking out onto her (possible) incomprehension of the beautiful city that surrounds her.

 Similarly, Fred can’t truly know how devastated Mick is when Brenda refuses to participate in his magnum opus, a film that he’s intended to be the culmination of his long-cinematic-career that needs her presence in order to function as conceived; nevertheless, she rejects his offer, belittling him with the news both that the income from the TV series is more important to her and she doesn’t feel that Mick’s last few films were any good anyway.  Mick tries to convince himself (or, at least, Fred) that he can continue, even at his advanced age, to move on to something else filmically-relevant, but either that’s bluster that he suddenly decides he can no longer maintain or it’s just a melodramatic event needed to hurry this film along to its climax (with the narrative function of encouraging Fred to finally see his wife again while he still can); either way, Mick's bravado changes direction in a flash as he jumps to his death from a balcony right in front of Fred, surprising his colleague and us with such a seemingly-rash-act-of-finality.  As for the film’s finality, it ends on a very tranquil note, after the previous scenes of sorrow, with that stirring performance of one of Fred’s “Simple Songs,” given great presence by vocalist Sumi Jo, featured violinist Viktoria Mullova, the BBC Concert Orchestra, and the Berlin Radio Choir.  Whatever shortcomings I may feel about Youth, I can’t helped but be moved by this lovely piece of music even though I’m no great fan of operatic-presentation (for a novice [yokel?] like me it helps that the clip provided for you above also contains the direct—but emotionally-touching—lyrics which I often times have trouble comprehending even when an opera singer’s trying to help me out with English rather than some other language which immediately forces me into the realm of subtitles).

Bottom Line Final Comments: When the Oscars for 2013 films were given out I was quite happy to see Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty (review in our December 12, 2013 posting) take the gold for Best Foreign Language Film because I was mesmerized by its exquisite visuals and haunting score—including "My Heart's in the Highlands" (my music-loving-wife, Nina, was so taken by the soundtrack that she ordered the CD [all 29 cuts of it] straight from Italy; no bargain but that’s the only way it was available at the time though now you can get it from Amazon or iTunes for a much more reasonable price)—however, I noted then that the film borrows noticeably at times from Fellini, especially La Dolce Vita (1960).  With Youth, Sorrentino’s delving into Fellini territory again, but this time instead of just evoking the master’s overall attitudes and themes he’s blatantly taken considerable detail from another of the great classics of modern cinema, (the odd title comes from the fact that it was Fellini’s “eight and a half-th” film, counting a few short segments he did for anthology compilations; like La Dolce Vita, winner of the 1960 Palme d’Or top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, is well-known, highly-celebrated, winner of the 1963 Foreign Language Film Oscar): a struggling artist visits an exquisite spa while trying to take command of his elusive new project only to find himself confronting a significant woman from his past along with visions of others from his previous films (like Mick in Youth); tracking shots across the grounds of the spa reveal an odd but intriguing clientele; in one version of the ending the troubled artist takes his own life but in another he survives to embrace his art (in Youth this is spilt into the 2 protagonists, with Mick successful in his suicide—but done so suddenly as to imply a quick assumption of this being a surreal-imaginary-scene just as we’re encouraged to interpret as unreal the sudden appearance of the nude Miss Universe [Madalina Ghenea] in the pool with Fred and Mick [a trick by the director on his male actors in order to capture their spontaneous fascination with her fetching body; as we elder gentlemen always say, “I may be old but I ain’t dead yet!”]—and Fred reclaiming command of his music by conducting his song for the Queen); the gaggle of fellow-filmmakers contributing little to Mick’s creative block just as ’s Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) has a pesky producer who does little to help him find the resolutions he needs for his stalled project; the sense of failure with past female relationships by Guido is mirrored with the sad outcomes of Fred and his wife, as well as Mick and Brenda in Youth.

 I can’t blame Sorrentino for being influenced by his famous countryman in now 2 of his own notable works, but unlike with The Great Beauty where it was just the spirit of Fellini’s former film that found new life and expression in another critical look at the spoiled rich of Rome, with Youth I feel there’s just too much of an unacknowledged-remake of (which at times feels way too much like imitation rather than homage) that makes it hard for me to fully appreciate what this current director’s attempting to do with well-established-themes-and-approaches from a monument of world cinema.  This is not to say that Youth is a failure because it still contains a wealth of exquisite images (landscapes and water-based-visuals at the hotel), hauntingly-engaging music, and fine acting that draws you in (some speculate that it may lead to a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Caine, although Keitel, Weisz, Dano, and Fonda—a Best Supporting Actress possibility herself—add a lot to the enjoyment of Youth).  It’s just the nagging fact that it feels like he’s taking too much from Fellini while still keeping up the illusion that he’s got his own concept brewing here; I wish he’d either made this film more ambiguous and disturbing in full-blown mode (although there’s a good bit of weirdness here already; admittedly, Fellini’s triumph is one of my favorites, so it’s hard to disengage myself from the too-frequent-connections Youth makes to this masterpiece) or found another narrative structure entirely to explore the theme of declining years of once-lauded-artists.
This photo's from Youth, not Stardust Memories; it's meant to
connect satirically with the "Young World" song just as it does
 with the Youth film content
(and it's just too indicative of Youth
and its odd visualizations to not find a use for it in this review)
 For a film that’s inspired by but doesn’t overly-embed itself with references and allusions (except for the hilarious opening sequence parodying how Fellini began his work), I’d offer Woody Allen’s fabulous Stardust Memories (1980)—also about a well-known-director haunted by the success of his past work—plus you get some sensual scenes with fabulous Charlotte Rampling, herself a possible current Best Actress nominee for 45 Years (Andrew Haigh, 2015), which I hope to see soon.  Casting about for a Musical Metaphor to complete my comments on Youth, I’m drawn to Ricky Nelson’s “Young World” (a 1962 hit single that can be found on his 1985 All My Best album) at watch?v=9j9Zk8DFt5w where the lyrics of “All of the world is a treasure When you have someone to care Promise me your love forever We’ll have the whole world to share” in their hopeful simplicity cast a melancholy light on how difficult it’s been for Fred, Mick, Lena, Brenda, and probably even Jimmy to achieve that elusive dream that Sorrentino so-close-to-successfully evokes in his curious film.

Photo of the most important items in
this paragraph, #1 and #4
 In closing, now that President Obama has given his State of the Union address I’ll offer my own brief state of the Two Guys in the Dark blog with updates on a few personal things that I’ve noted over the past year:  (1) Our new (but settling in nicely since last February 15) cat, Bella, seems to finally be over her initial-feral-days-inducted-maladies (after about $4,000 spent, 10 teeth pulled, and warding off the very dangerous [to her and us] Bartonella-disease) so, as of today at least, she seems to be healthy, rash-free, and enjoying life in her new home; (2) The quest goes on at San Leandro, CA’s Englander Sports Pub and Restaurant to taste every one of their on-tap-beers (begun on October 8, 2014 but, sadly, not done every week because of various insidious interruptions) as we've had 68 so far with about 15 to go (plus they keep rotating in some new ones so the treasure-hunt’s long from done), but I have to admit that so far for the darker, heavier ales I still prefer Guinness Stout and for the lighter lagers I’m still most impressed with Kona Long Board (from Hawaii’s Big Island, where we’ve visited the brewery; for that matter, we had a pint at the Guinness brewery in Dublin a few years ago as well), which was the case when we started this venture but this is definitely a situation where it’s all about the journey; (3) Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams, 2015; review in our  December 31, 2015 posting) continues to rack up success at the global box-office, now standing as both the income champ for domestic (U.S. and Canada) 2015 and the All-Time Domestic leader ($819.7 million at my “press” time), plus #3 ($1.8 billion) in the All-Time Worldwide tallies (behind only James Cameron’s powerhouses of Avatar [2009] and Titanic [1997], with roughly $2.8 and $2.2 billion respectively)—this new Star Wars episode also helped push the 2015 global box-office-take to an all-time-annual-high of $38 billion, with plenty of contributions from others such as Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow; review in our June 17, 2015 posting), Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon; review in our May 7, 2015 posting), Furious 7 (James Wan; review in our April 15, 2015 posting), and Minions (Pierre Coffin; no review from us—snobs that we are—despite its success), even with all of the worldwide economic difficulties last year that might have impeded ticket sales, and (4) My marvelous wife, Nina, may finally be getting some relief to her right hip from a 3-weeks-ago-cortisone shot, giving her a bit better mobility as we wait patiently for hip-replacement-surgery sometime this coming spring.  

 Well, that’s all for 2015 updates except for commentary-to-come on the soon-to-be-released Oscar nominations for the films of last year (that announcement coming not very long at all after I get these rambling reviews posted) so I know I’ll be offering various tidbits, predictions, and chatter about personal favorites over the next month prior to the awards ceremony on February 28, 2016.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.  Other overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2015’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 28, 2016 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2015 films made various individual critic’s  Top 10 lists and which ones have been nominated for and/or received various awards.  You may find the diversity among the various critics and the various awards competitions hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competition-award-winners (which usually pales in comparison to the even-more-noticeable-gap between box-office-success that you might want to monitor here, and the actual award-winners)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices are as valid as any of these others, especially if you can offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe winners for films and TV from 2015.

Here’s more information about The Revenant: (14:03 discussion with director Alejandro González Iñárritu, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, writer Mark L. Smith, supervising sound editor Randy Thom, visual effects supervisor Richard McBride, and costume designer Jacqueline West) and (10 things you don’t know about The Relevant, including early plans to have either Samuel L. Jackson or Christian Bale in the lead)

Here’s more information about Youth: (the film's entire soundtrack [1:05:50], an audiovisual experience that you can best get a sense of from looking at the photos linked to the review above and listening to this music rather than watching filmmakers and actors attempt to transform Sorrentino’s visions into words, which he wasn't always that successful with either)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. Nice reviews and, as usual, you point out details that I had missed, particularly the "somewhat true" backstory of The Revenant. Clearly excellent acting and engaging story even though it seemed too exaggerated and repetitive, as you also indicated above.

    Overall I liked Youth more than The Revenant. Youth seemed fresh to my eyes as I did not recognize the references to the classic film 8 1/2. Both reviewed works are excellent movie going experiences as is the current 70mm version of The Hateful Eight.

    I found significant differences in the projected image quality and movie going experience between The Revenant (digital with excellent cinematography) and The Hateful Eight (available in Ultra Panavision 70mm Film and very good cinematography). Both are engaging three hour "westerns" shot in frozen winter landscapes complete with shimmering mountain streams and forbidding environments. However, to me The Hateful Eight presentation in 70mm was superior and certainly worth the price of admission where available in it's roadshow format (complete with initial overture and an intermission). A digital copy is playing on most screens so look for 70mm projection, usually at one theater and one screen per city.

    The following excerpt is from a blog by Bill Desowitz:
    How Quentin Tarantino Resurrected Ultra Panavision 70 for 'The Hateful Eight'
    "The Hateful Eight" also pits three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson ("Hugo," "The Aviator," "JFK") in a shoot-out with Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki, who's going for a third Oscar in a row for his own frozen wilderness adventure, "The Revenant," from "Birdman" director Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

    An excerpt describing Hateful Eight in Digital versus 70mm:
    What it's like to be a Hateful Eight 70mm Projectionist with Quentin Tarantino Watching
    ""The Hateful Eight" looks incredible projected in 70mm, and the difference between the print and the DCP are striking. The print’s colors are more saturated, the blacks are blacker, the whites are whiter, and the entire thing is much crisper and, for lack of a better term, deeper. The DCP looks flat and washed out. "

    See them all. By the way, the Bill Desowitz above link has an embedded "Star Wars" tidbit.

    1. Second Link:
      An excerpt describing Hateful Eight in Digital versus 70mm:
      What it's like to be a Hateful Eight 70mm Projectionist with Quentin Tarantino Watching
      ""The Hateful Eight" looks incredible projected in 70mm, and the difference between the print and the DCP are striking. The print’s colors are more saturated, the blacks are blacker, the whites are whiter, and the entire thing is much crisper and, for lack of a better term, deeper. The DCP looks flat and washed out. "

  2. Hi rj, Thanks for all of your excellent contributions here, very useful and informative. However, when I tried to access the second link it didn't work--at least at my end--so maybe you could try it again because I can't fix it without the original URL or maybe send that to me and I'll see if I can get it to connect. Ken

  3. Hi again, OK this second posting of yours (1/14/16, 6:44pm) just above my 4:39pm comments has a link that's working just fine (the one in the original 3:20pm comment still doesn't connect, just FYI). Thanks for the fix and for making available both of these very useful, appropriate articles which I enjoyed reading quite a bit. Now, more than ever, I've got to find a 70mm theater for this film. Ken

  4. Since it's award season, here's a Top 10 Best Movies for Grownups list which includes the only animated movie I saw this year along with a solid selection of great movies.

  5. Hi rj, Another very useful link from you; I agree it's a solid selection and of the ones they mention I really wish that Carol, The Danish Girl, and Love and Mercy had been nominated for Oscar's Best Picture (along with Steve Jobs that they didn't include). At this point I'm still pushing for Spotlight to take the top prize but there may be more momentum with the Academy voters in favor of The Revenant. Ken

  6. Very glad you cleared up that bear-rape thing! You enjoyed the cinematography as much as I did too - Inarritu really knows how to use a camera...or more, work with his DoP to achieve such a neat, flowing effect. And...Star Wars references too Ken! This review covers everything!

    1. Hi Jason, Thanks for reading and commenting. It's always good good to hear from you. Ken

  7. Since we were talking about film versus digital (my current pet peeve), this article points out an issue with 3D lenses used on 2D content that is "illuminating".

  8. Hi rj, Even though this article's written in 2011 it's still very relevant today both from your experience of seeing murky projection from supposedly-state-of-the-art-digital-machines in San Antonio and Mick LaSalle in San Francisco constantly complaining about the murky quality of 3-D projection (which I understand better the reason for now after having read this article). All of this does make The Hateful Eight literally look even better in its spectacular 3-D version. Ken

  9. the revenant solarmovie is one of the most beautifully-shot films on losmovies I have ever seen. I lost count of how many scenes I sat there in utter amazement, which is undoubtedly due to the brilliant directing and spectacular cinematography: there's no shaky-cam, no quick-cut editing, and a lot of incredibly complex shots which appear to have been completed in a single take. If all films were shot similarly to how the Revenant is, then the movie industry would drastically improve.
    See more
    free movies online
    watch movies 2k
    hd movies online free

    1. Hi Jerry Venus, Sorry I’ve been so long in getting your comment published and replying to it, but there was some kind of glitch so I wasn’t even notified you’d sent it in. In the future, I’ll go into my Blogspot mailbox once a week to make sure I’m aware of any submitted comments. For me, the cinematography was the best aspect of The Revenant; I just wish I'd been as fascinated by the rest of it, but thanks for your reply. Ken Burke