The life of a workaholic critic with hands in many pies is spent toiling by day and then relaxing at night, either at a screening or at home, critiquing away like a happy madman. It always helps when the fare being reviewed is of a lighter-hearted nature, comical is always welcome, although that did not happen this week, I swear to God! From the new releases to the oscar predictions (this week looking at the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Documentary Feature categories), the four films reviewed below are sometimes riveting, sometimes profound, and incredibly well done…all of them. Let’s get started.
The Revenant. A couple of weeks ago, I said that this film will be a most definite choice to win the Best Picture Oscar…if Spotlight doesn’t take it instead. This film might also very well make its star, Leonardo DiCaprio, an Oscar winner…finally! The Revenant tells the 'true' story of real-life trapper Hugh Glass and his 1823 experience of being mauled by a bear and left for dead by his fellow frontiersmen. For one, the story, while riveting, does seem rather daunting in its task. What it does, however, is take a very particular scene (which is terrifying and impressive) and then stretch it into a film of epic proportions and an amazing survival tale. Co-starring Oscar nominee Tom Hardy, little Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson, Glass’ story is, of course, sensationalised by Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñarritu, but it certainly draws us, the viewers, in without any recourse. The story seems like it would be a boring tale, hundreds of miles traversed by a man left for dead, but the character telling by DiCaprio, the additional character of the wilderness and the immensity of the fact that this actually happened, leaves you breathless and absolutely riveted. A stunning work of cinematic art. ####-1/2
I think Cate Blanchett could play a Latina or a Jamaican, and she would be able to do it well; she is an actress of Australian background and impeccable acting abilities and credentials. The fact that she is also a beauty and somewhat regal in her manner just makes her that much more desirable to watch on the big screen or stage. Her latest film, which has just opened in cinemas across the region, is called Carol and along with her co-star Rooney Mara, she is again up for an Oscar, this time for Best Actress and Mara for Supporting Actress. The grainy, 16mm nature of the film gives a nod to the Fifties and it is impossible not to be enchanted by the mere look of the film and its depiction of life for WASPs in middle America at the time. What it brings to the table, which is not the norm for a film set then, is the subject of divorce, lesbianism and heartbreak, followed by acceptance. When Carol (Blanchett) meets Therese (Mara) who is a budding photographer also working in a department store during the Christmas holiday, their meeting and follow-up chats give us more than suggestion of a spark between them. Still, it’s always within mind’s distance that we’re dealing with the Fifties here. Director Todd Haynes has brought the subject up before, dealing with a gay dad in the Fifties in his fourth film Far From Heaven, which won him an Oscar as a writer nearly 15 years ago. Now, with this look at women in love, Haynes has found the two perfect actresses to unite a sense of wonder. I must say the film’s essence and feel is rather sad, even quite melancholic at times…and that fact does not truly leave throughout the film. Still, what it lacks in wow impact, it more than makes up for in its social consciousness, impeccable beauty and acting of its amazing actresses. ###-1/2
At last week’s press screening for Oscar-nominated film Mustang, there was a 'journalist' who made a loud ruckus after the film ended, yelling obscenities about the film’s subject matter and being rather disgusting and loud in his tone and manner. His loud reaction was somewhat terrifying, and it made me wonder if he had been a victim of religious authoritarianism and family sexual abuse as a child. It certainly left the audience, already with heavy hearts after this intense story, in a state of bewilderment. The Turkish-French production by director Deniz Gamze Erguven, tells the story of four, beautiful sisters who were orphaned when their parents died but raised by their uncle and grandmother near a shore-lined village in Turkey. After a fond farewell to a fave teacher moving to the big city, the girls make an afternoon of it by swimming and playing around with some male mates, and then get beat for it by their family when they get home. From then on, they are forced into a subservient, conservative life, bound to wear drab clothing and one-by-one basically married off. This obviously separates the sisters and here the story begins to open up and show us things that were always kept in secret. The film brings up topics that make it impossible not to be affected. What it also does is make us aware of the necessity of sisterhood, the lies males hide, often of a sexual nature, and the fact that religiosity is quite likely a symptom of mental disorder, be it a cause or effect. Powerful! ###-1/2
As one watches the impeccably realised documentary Amy, it feels as if not only is it just slightly incomplete, but you almost expect Amy to come out at the end to enchant you as if she’d never left. As the credits begin, I recall people sitting in the audience transfixed, some crying, almost no one leaving the cinema. It’s hard not to tear up…truly, truly she was a gift to music. She was also a tortured soul, and it didn’t come necessarily from upbringing but by the age in which we live and extreme heartbreak. Perhaps it’s that visceral notion as you see these clips (many never before seen on celluloid) that makes you long for her presence. When she speaks, it’s like a dear mate talking as if she couldn’t be bothered by anything, and it made me wince inside. She is gone. Certain scenes of the film that touched me were her clips of burgeoning days and inclusions of her holiday in Mallorca with a friend…oh and when she sings ‘Moon River’—that gave me some damn good chills. If you haven’t seen this piece of celluloid genius, please take a moment to watch it. Some theatres are re-releasing the film due to Oscar season, so make sure you check it out. Stellar! ####