Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Two winter westerns on a frigid night

What better way to spend a cold night than to watch two films set in bitterly cold environs back to back at Tuesday’s cheap night at the theatre. First up was Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant (2015) starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Next was Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Both are set in the frontier west, the first in the 1820s, the second about 50 years later. Both take place in winter in the stark North American wilderness…..The Revenant is the better film,
by far. It’s actually one of the most eerily breathtaking films I’ve seen, set in an environment that while stunningly beautiful is seemingly malevolent. Almost everything about this movie is impeccably done – the hundreds of virgin sets in the snowy wilds (how did the film crew not make tracks! and Iñárritu said he didn’t want computer-generated imagery), the gorgeous cinematography, the astounding score, and the acting, especially that of DiCaprio (Golden Globe winner as was the film for drama). The next time you think that acting can’t be all that hard just take a look at DiCaprio’s performance here. The plot, based in part on a novel, is about a crew of trappers employed by the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and one in particular, Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), an actual historical figure. The movie opens with a group of trappers tanning and gathering hides but are soon set upon by Arikara Indians. Many of the trappers are killed and the rest escape to a raft but must eventually abandon it for fear of being tracked. Heading overland they camp one night and Glass, separated, is attacked twice by a grizzly bear, which severely mauls him. (Don’t put faith in reports that he was “raped.”) He’s left for dead by his crew, led by a selfish John Fitzgerald (Hardy). Glass manages to survive and slowly, through numerous travails in the bitterly cold frontier, make his way back to the fur company's fort-like outpost, to Fitzgerald’s shock.....The Hateful Eight has the Tarantino stamp right from the start, with 1960's movie fonts (Tarantino, if nothing else, loves the glory days of 1960's and 70's imagery), playfully ominously titled story chapters, and a humorous undertone to almost ever scene. But essentially and disappointingly this is a stage play. And even some of the acting seems stilted, particularly the halting conversations in the first chapter. Most of the story takes place in a large log cabin/store (Minnie's Haberdashery), located en route to the town of Red Rock, where the stage coach travelers seek refuge from a Wyoming blizzard. The plot, almost like in an Agatha Christie mystery, unfolds accordingly. At first, some of this seems plodding and besides the point. But eventually the storylines pick up, more tension ensues, culminating in Tarantino’s other trademark, buckets-of-blood killings. Samuel L. Jackson is very good in the film. And Tim Roth as British dandy Oswaldo Mobray is a delight. Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue, the character around whom the story turns, has the perfect pitch as an outlaw queen, at least early in the film. And Walton Goggins’s Sheriff Chris Mannix is a prissy boisterous delight. But at two hours and 37 minutes Tarantino is a little too full of himself to command such screen time for a rather not so remarkable story.

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