Monthly Archives: January 2016

Review – Creed (15) [2016]

Creed - Title banner

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station

Cast:

  • Sylvester Stallone – Rocky I-VI, Judge Dread, Escape Plan, The Expendables I-IV
  • Michael B. Jordan – Chronicle, Fruitvale Station, That Awkward Moment, Fantastic Four
  • Tessa Thompson – Heroes, Periphery, Selma, Salt Water
  • Phylicia Rashad – Cosby, Just Wright, The Cleveland Show, Gods Behaving Badly
  • Graham McTavish – Secretariat, Colombiana, The Hobbit I, II & III, The Finest Hours
  • Tony Bellew

Music Composer:

  • Ludwig Göransson – Fruitvale Station, Community, We’re The Millers, New Girl

In recent weeks, there has been much controversy about the lack of diversity regarding the OSCAR nominations. Other than Alejandro Iñarritu (who is Mexican), not a single non-white person has been nominated for any of the major awards for the second year running. How was this possible when some fantastic work has been done by non-white people over the course of the last year? Creed is an excellent example of how wrong the OSCARs have got it this year.

Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, right), giving his pupil, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, left), some advice on how to defeat a foe in the ring.

Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, right), giving his pupil, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, left), some advice on how to defeat a foe in the ring.

Creed is the seventh film in the Rocky franchise and centres round Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan). Adonis is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, who died in Rocky IV. After having a good education and holding down a solid job in the financial sector, Adonis wants a career change. He decides to take up professional boxing and follow in his illustrious father’s footsteps.

To reach those heights, Adonis needs a coach. So he turns to his father’s former rival-cum-friend, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), to train him. Despite being in his late-sixties and having quit boxing, Rocky agrees.

Creed is a very engaging film. It has nostalgic borrowings from previous Rocky films, but more importantly it is a thriller and a drama in its own right. Thus, it does not matter if one has watched the other Rocky films or not. One can greatly enjoy the movie due to the quality of the (often humorous) script, as well as the depth of the characters and the chemistry between them; principally, Rocky (Stallone), Adonis Creed (Jordan) and Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Adonis Creed out with Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Adonis Creed out with Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Stallone plays his joint-most iconic role (with Rambo) with tremendous nuance, charm and realism. He fully justifies his OSCAR nomination. This is not the egotistical Stallone/Rocky in his pomp, trying to take down all his foes to be the all-American hero. (Watch The Expendables franchise for that ludicrous nonsense.) No, time (and life) has taken its toll on Rocky and one feels this in every line he delivers (even when he is being funny). It remains to be seen if this performance is enough to win Stallone the OSCAR for Best Supporting Actor. But having won the Golden Globe for it, he stands a good chance.

Whether he wins it or not, at least Stallone has received OSCAR recognition for his efforts. The same cannot be said for Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and director Ryan Coogler. Jordan is terrific as the titular Creed and it is scandalous that he has not been nominated. His role is so demanding; yet, he handles it with aplomb, whether it is in the (gruelling) boxing ring, or in his relationships with his mentor or his love interest, Bianca. And in fairness to Bianca/Tessa Thompson, she holds her own against Creed/Jordan. She is not merely in the film for eye-candy or to advance Creed’s plot arc. Rather, Bianca exists in her own right, as a three-dimensional character and with a promising career to match, both of which make her very interesting to watch.

For all this, Ryan Coogler must be credited. He has done a superb job in reinvigorating a tired franchise and his directing is outstanding. He captures the upper- and lower-class areas from where boxers come from with class, and has managed to turn a (bog-standard) boxing training montage into something serious and amusing at the same time. Nevertheless, it is how Coogler has handled the boxing fights that highlight his skill as a director. He adopts close-up, continuous shots with no cuts, enabling viewers to feel as if they are part of the fights. That the fights are raw and brutal amplify this sensation.

Adonis Creed in the ring, still standing, despite having taken a battering from his opponent.

Adonis Creed in the ring, still standing, despite having taken a battering from his opponent.

If Coogler can be criticised at all for Creed, it is that the film has some predictable and cliché scenes. Some of these scenes, the movie would have been (marginally) better off without because they are a mixture of rehashing of old Rocky territory and because other boxing films (such as The Fighter, Warrior and Southpaw to name three) have covered similar ground. Then again, if these are the only problems with Creed, they should be mostly overlooked.

All-in-all, Creed is a fantastic boxing thriller and drama. It has a great and funny script, some brutal boxing fights, and some OSCAR-worthy performances. Stallone is a joy to watch in this older, more-nuanced version of his familiar character. He is deserving of his OSCAR-nomination and it would not be a shock if he were to win the OSCAR next month. No, the real shock is that Stallone is the only person nominated from this film. For their parts, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Ryan Coogler should also have been nominated, if not at the head of the queue to win OSCARs themselves. One can only hope that it was not because of the colour of their skins that they did not make the shortlist.

PG’s Tips

Advertisements

Review – The Revenant (15) [2016]

The Revenant - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alejandro Iñárritu – 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, Birdman

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Carsten Nicolai
  • Ryuichi Sakamoto – The Last Emperor, Snake Eyes

With the awards season under way and, in particular, with the OSCARs coming up, one invariably asks: what does it take to win the most prestigious award in the film industry? An exceptional performance is unquestionably a prerequisite. But what differentiates one exceptional performance from another? Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant gives a compelling answer.

Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) being mauled by a bear during the expedition.

Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) being mauled by a bear during the expedition.

The Revenant is (loosely) inspired by the real-life story of Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). While on a hunting expedition in midwest America in the 1820s, Glass is mauled by a bear. Injured and, after having watched the murder of his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), Glass is left for dead by his fellow expeditioners. Thirsty for revenge, Glass treks through the wilderness to get back to his base to seek his vengeance.

The Revenant is an astonishing tale of survival. The film cuts no corners and shows mother-nature in all her brutal severity. From the grisly effects of an attack by a wild animal, to putting men in situations wherein their worst personality traits thrive, to fearsome wintry weather, to harsh and seemingly endless terrain, to hunting for food without strength, The Revenant makes one suffer and tests a one’s endurance to the limit.

Certainly, our central protagonist, Hugh Glass/Leonardo Dicaprio, is tested to the limit and made to suffer. He suffers unimaginable physical and emotional pain throughout the movie, and it is for this that DiCaprio is the front-runner to win the OSCAR for Best Actor in a Leading Role. If there is a formula to win an OSCAR, it is that an actor/actress must suffer. In 2011, Natalie Portman, Colin Firth and Christian Bale won their respective OSCARs by suffering; in 2013, Anne Hathaway won hers for suffering; and, in 2014, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won their OSCARs for the same reason in Dallas Buyer’s Club. Now that DiCaprio has (sufficiently) suffered, he will almost certainly win his first OSCAR; especially, as he has suffered years of being over-looked (Saving Gilbert Grapes, The Aviator, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street to name but five), and because none of his rivals for the fabled prize (Bryan Cranston, Michael Fassbender, Matt Damon and Eddie Redmayne) appear to have suffered much (if at all) in their respective roles, despite their respective performances.

John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), on the expedition with Hugh Glass.

John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), on the expedition with Hugh Glass.

DiCaprio undoubtedly suffers considerably in his role in The Revenant and will deserve his OSCAR if he wins it. Ironically, though, he is outshone by his co-star Tom Hardy; yet, it is not a given that Hardy will win the OSCAR for the Best Supporting Actor. Hardy, as John Fitzgerald, has a much meatier role than DiCaprio. DiCaprio spends much of his screen-time grunting, walking, falling or crawling (oh, and surviving); while Hardy devours the screen with his (incomprehensible) southern accent and his amoral nature. Even if one disagrees with Fitzgerald’s sociopathy, one can understand why he behaves in the manner he does under the circumstances. This is testament to Hardy’s ability to convey Fitzgerald as a human being. Whether it will be enough for Hardy to win the OSCAR, though, is another matter.

DiCaprio and Hardy are not the only ones nominated for OSCARs for this film. Director Alejandro Iñárritu has been nominated in the Best Director category. No-one will argue if he wins that OSCAR for the second year running, following Birdman. The directing in The Revenant is spectacular. The opening melee is filmed so well, viewers feel part of the skirmish. Similarly, the way the bear attack is shot is so well (and raw) it induces tension into the audience; plus, the way the landscapes and the north American winter are captured, shows their beauty and brutality in equal measure (even if the filming was done in Canada and Argentina).

Glass trekking through the stunning (and unforgiving) terrain in order to make it back to base and get his revenge.

Glass trekking through the stunning (and unforgiving) terrain in order to make it back to base and get his revenge.

Nevertheless, the fact that one spends much of The Revenant admiring the cinematography highlights one of its problems. One, the film is not particularly engaging. It lacks humour and a character to root for (or against). Two, at 156 minutes, it is a long movie. Maybe that is the film’s point: to make audiences feel as if they are trekking across the endless wilderness with Glass/DiCaprio. If so, it succeeds. But the movie also makes for tedious and repetitive viewing.

Over-all, The Revenant is a masterfully-designed examination of endurance. It may not be the most enjoyable film to sit through. Yet, the acting, the directing and the cinematography are outstanding and worth the watch in and of themselves. They give one a true appreciation for how tough it must be to survive the harshest of conditions, and hints at the types of characters required to survive them. Seeing actors/actresses go through such conditions and suffering is what sways OSCAR judges into handing out the much-coveted award. Leonardo DiCaprio: you have suffered; you have earned your OSCAR.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Danish Girl (15) [2016]

The Danish Girl - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

2015 was the year that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) movement took on global significance. Thanks to Bruce Jenner’s successful transition into Caitlyn, the world took note of the LGBT movement and the problems that many transgender people sadly face. The release of Director Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, therefore, could not have come at a more opportune moment. But does the film grab the moment with both hands?

Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), before his transformation, painting a view of his small hometown area.

Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), before his transformation, painting a view of his small hometown area.

The Danish Girl is a biopic based on a true story about Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne). Einar is a talented artist living with his artist wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), in Copenhagen in 1926. One day, Gerda asks Einar to put on women’s shoes and a dress so she can paint him as a woman called Lili Elbe. This awakens another side of Einar. Within five years, Einar decides to be the first known man to undergo transgender surgery.

The Danish Girl begins in engaging fashion. Eddie Redmayne’s and Alicia Vikander’s characters have excellent on-screen chemistry. They enjoy witty, provocative conversations that show how much they are in love with one another. Indeed, the dialogue throughout the first thirty minutes of the film is filled with sexually tantalising lines that will enable audiences to warm to the characters.

However, the rest of the film’s two-hour runtime is not half as engaging. Tom Hooper does not have much story to work with and (unbelievably) it is when Redmayne/Einar starts to cross-dress that the problems with the movie begin. Problem one is that the provocative dialogue comes to an abrupt halt. This means that everything one came to love about the characters ends at once. That the dialogue turns soppy makes one want to cry with despair. (Some of what is said in the film is allegedly true, but it is still awfully slushy. Also, Hooper adjusts the story to suit his ends, so couldn’t he have at least kept the provocative dialogue?)

Einar holding a dress as his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), draws him as a woman. Holding the dress, however, awakens Lili.

Einar holding a dress as his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), draws him as a woman. Holding the dress, however, awakens Lili.

Problem two with the movie is that Eddie Redmayne starts over-acting. This makes it look like lunacy is taking hold of him; yet, this same over-acting also makes him look noticeably wooden, especially when he transforms into Lili.

And problem three is that Redmayne’s Lili is not a particularly likeable or sympathetic person. She becomes totally self-absorbed, selfish and utterly uncaring for the hurt she causes Gerda, despite having been married to her for many years. Lili’s behaviour has the effect of pushing viewers away from her and the issues she embodies. (Seriously, if a normal man behaved as Lili does, he would be deemed a selfish prick and rightly so; and if a normal woman behaved like that, she would be called a horrible bitch and rightly so. Just because Lili is a transgender person does not exempt her from behaving in a considerate manner.) At a time when the LGBT movement is trying to gain steam to diminish the discrimination and violence that transgender people unfortunately suffer, Lili’s behaviour could be detrimental to the movement’s cause.

Lili’s behaviour also raises another matter unwittingly: the effect that changing gender can have on those whom the transgender person loves. Whether it be a parent or sibling (as was the case for Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner), or a partner (as it was for Gerda), the effects can be emotionally tough, if not crushing. For Gerda, as portrayed in the movie, it is heart-breaking as she loses the man she loves. Alicia Vikander portrays the hurt that Gerda must have felt with raw force. Surprisingly, it is her and Gerda who come out with the most credit from this movie. Thanks to Vikander, Gerda’s pain is real and understandable; whereas Redmayne cannot convincingly convey Lili’s pain, since her emotional pain seems contrived and unnecessary by comparison, like the stroppiness of an adolescent youth.

On the left, Eddie Redmayne's Lili as seen in the film; and on the right, the real Lili Elbe.

On the left, Eddie Redmayne’s Lili as seen in the film; and on the right, the real Lili Elbe.

How much one can blame Redmayne for this is debatable. He is, after-all, being directed by Tom Hooper and this is not Hooper’s finest film. Yes, it is shot decently, but the stance the film takes toward Lili is confusing. Is The Danish Girl supposed to be a sympathetic, objective, positive or critical portrayal of Lili (and of transgender people on the whole by extension)? If it is trying to achieve all four, Hooper can claim mediocre success at best and a mediocre mawkish muddle at worst.

Over-all, The Danish Girl is a disappointing film. Alicia Vikander is brilliant and the movie starts off in promising fashion with exceptional dialogue. But before long, the film loses its way and turns into a pitiful sop story; one that is enough to test the patience of even the most tolerant of viewers.

Central to the testing nature of the film is the titular Danish girl, herself: Lili Elbe. She might have been the first man to undergo transgender surgery and she might be a pioneer for the LGBT movement today. But she was neither a nice nor considerate person in real life. It can only be hoped that most transgender people are not like her. Otherwise, the momentum that Caitlyn Jenner and the LGBT movement have gathered over the last year will be undone and smothered for a generation.

PG’s Tips