The Revenant is a huge, sprawling epic of a film.
Based in part on Michael Punke’s 2002 novel of the same name, it charts the story of frontiersman Hugh Glass, a member of a pelt (fur) trading expedition through the harsh, but beautiful American wilderness in the 1820s. As though the wild terrain of this unforgiving landscape is not obstacle enough to the expedition, it is made all the more difficult by the looming shadow of a relentless pursuit of its members by the Native American Arikara tribe, hell-bent on retribution for the kidnapping of the daughter of one of the tribe’s elders; something attributed, rightly or wrongly, to Glass’ expedition party.
Fleeing for their lives, their numbers decimated through ambush and combat, Glass’ party push on through the rapidly gathering winter weather in an attempt to reach the sanctuary of base camp.
Things however take a gruesome twist when Glass, whilst hunting alone, scares a female grizzly bear escorting her cubs through the forest, and is mercilessly attacked for his troubles.
Although still alive following his ordeal (barely – *pun alert*) this now presents a further, unwanted hindrance for the expedition party who must somehow carry him many miles back to safety. Understandably and considering his condition, it is deemed not worth the party’s effort and under orders of party leader, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), three men – one of whom is Glass’ native American son, Hawk – are left behind to ensure that, when the time surely arrives, Glass receives the appropriate burial and send off that he deserves.
That’s the idea at least, but this is a problem for one of the three men – his supposed confidant John Fitzgerald (the excellent Tom Hardy) – whose own plans differ significantly from the orders that he is meant to be following.
On committing the worst imaginable act, Fitzgerald departs, leaving Glass for dead. Glass however will not die and guided by the spirit of his murdered Native American wife and mother of his son, he begins the slow and physically agonising voyage back to base camp, with one thing only on his mind.
At times brutal and unforgiving, at other times inspiring and uplifting, The Revenant is a story of retribution and redemption; of the force of nature and the complexities of human nature, and in DiCaprio, it boasts an actor absolutely at the peak of his powers, producing an awe-inspiring performance of great distinction.
Stunning, sweeping shots of this most beautiful, almost mythical of landscapes contrast sharply with the raw fight for survival that plays out below within its snowy terrain.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has created, with much love and attention to detail in evidence, a big, beautiful, bold and grizzly (both figuratively and literally), non-stop sumptuous treat for the eyes, ears and imagination. A truly stunning piece of timeless cinema.
A solid awards contender – be in no doubt about that.
Ryan Coogler’s Creed is a mixed bag to say the least, extending the Rocky franchise to a seventh outing.
Whether that is a lucky or unlucky seventh is very much open to debate.
Ever since the Rocky motion picture hit the big screens in 1976, each subsequent sequel has wrestled to varying extents with attempting to emulate the key ingredients that made the original such a hit. Any gritty story of an underdog coming good will always be heading along the right tracks if it wants to sway an audience, it’s true, but very few, if any, have managed to produce anything remotely as genuine and whole-hearted as the original with Rocky II and Rocky Balboa arguably being the exceptions.
Creed on the other hand suffers, like each of the other sequels that preceded it, from wanting its cake and eating it; attempting on the one hand to tell a low-key, grass roots tale of a guy trying to discover his identity and path in life in spite of his lineage, whilst on the other hand, being seduced like all of the others into the irresistible temptation of the big-hitting, glamorous boxing showpiece event, and Creed really ought not to have resorted to the latter, even if that would have meant sacrificing the shameless Everton Football Club plug towards the end; centre stage for the film’s finale.
Yes, the big fight takes place at Goodison Park; and who said Robert Earl – the entrepreneur behind the Planet Hollywood chain – was just a name on Everton Football Club’s board of directors?!
Michael B. Jordan plays the film’s lead, Donnie Johnson, whose biological father, through an act of infidelity, was Apollo Creed, the late heavyweight champion of the world. Donnie never knew his father, but is tracked down at the young offenders institute that he calls home by Creed’s widow, Mary Anne – nice to see Phylicia Rashad of Cosby Show fame back on the screen again, and still looking gorgeous for that matter. She adopts Donnie (though why remains the pertinent question?), raising him to be a respectable young man with a respectable job and career path ahead of him.
But you can’t fight genetics!
Donnie, already engaging in under-the-radar bouts in Mexico, wants to be a professional boxer and dispenses with the ‘respectable’ life style he’s carved out for himself in L.A, ups sticks and heads for the City of Brotherly Love to seek out Philadelphia’s finest, Rocky Balboa; now living the quiet life and understandably reluctant to accept Johnson’s request to train him.
Of course, as the narrative dictates, he’s talked around into doing so, and much like the circumstances behind Rocky’s own original shot at the title, Johnson (a.k.a Creed) is invited, as a PR exercise more than anything, to fight the reigning World Light Heavyweight Champion, ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan, (actual professional boxer, Liverpool’s own, Anthony Bellew).
Sadly, Creed is all rather straight forward from there, and not in a good way. For all the thought provoking questions regarding identity, age and our place in the world that the film threatens to raise and explore, it can’t resist culminating in an inevitable, glitzy showdown that’s sadly, right up there with the worst aspects of Rocky film legacy.
It’s not without its positives though. There’s a tender performance from Tessa Thompson – Johnson’s girlfriend, Bianca – lots of tips of the hat and nods of the head to Rocky references of yesteryear and a genuinely uplifting training scene cleverly bringing Rocky’s famous running scene through his native Philadelphia up to date, with Johnson, flanked by a posse of Philadelphia biker boys, racing through the streets as though his life depended upon it. Heart pounding stuff.
There is of course little doubt that the Rocky franchise would have been a short-lived footnote in history without the presence of Sylvester Stallone. The original Rocky was his screenplay and he lived and breathed that part. The world fell in love with the big galoot with a slight speech impediment and an enormous heart. His ability to almost single handedly drag sequels kicking and screaming through some of the most excruciatingly cheesy and contrived content imaginable, is a great testament to the man and the esteem in which the public hold him. Pretty much the sole reason, I’d wager, why crowds continue to come back for more.
It’s genuinely good to see him back, reprising his most famous and endearing role, but once again, it’s Stallone’s input, this time in Creed, that provides the true saving grace for what is, if truth be told, a rather confused and patchy sequel.
It pays sometimes to go into a film blind. Not literally, that would be ridiculous, but to deliberately shut oneself away from any pre-marketing talk or critical reviews.
Such was the case with Room.
The story unfolds: An apparently hard-up mother and young son make the most of their small and barely functional bedsit as best they can. A large portion of the film will concentrate solely upon their bleak and austere environment. Through terrific feats of imagination and creativity, young Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his doting mother (Brie Larsson) make the most of their dwelling and it’s restrictive confines; one dilapidated single room, illuminated only by a skylight in the ceiling.
It’s a sorry state of affairs, make no mistake.
So engaging and thus distracting (in a good way) are the performances of both Larsson and Tremblay, that if like me you were blissfully ignorant of the nuts and bolts of this story, it takes a little while to start noticing their real predicament and its tell tale signs. Cork and foam insulation line the walls and there are regular night time visits from ‘old Nick’ that you could set your watch by. Suddenly the gravity of their predicament becomes all too clear…
…for there is a sinister reason that mother and son never leave ‘room.’
Room works on so many levels. It’s a fine bit of work that’s been critically fawned over thus far, and deservedly so.
Director Lenny Abrahamson’s decision to base over half of this film in just one room, never once interspersing footage with cutaways to exterior locations, is a bold but critical one, bringing to mind the same technique employed in 2014’s excellent film, Locke. It brilliantly ramps up the claustrophobic sense of trapped helplessness felt by Jack’s mother.
Interestingly though, young Jack, with no frame of reference as to what ‘outside’ even is, remains oblivious to his current predicament. It’s only once his mother begins to fill his disbelieving head with the wonders of the outside world and then hatches plans to escape – shaking up the young lad’s entire world and sanctuary in the process – that Jack’s demeanour noticeably changes.
Room is a story of our psychological strength under the most extreme duress. Even when finally there is apparent hope, our need to cope with the long-term psychological impact of our ordeals remains ever-present. As is so often said, only by coming to terms with our past, can we have hope for our future.
Brie Larsson is superb as ‘Ma’ but in young Jacob Tremblay, there has arguably never been a better child actor’s performance on the big screen, at least in my eyes. It’s a bold statement, but barring a Hollywood-induced, drug-fuelled, spiraling descent into oblivion and madness, a big star of the future is well and truly born.
Remember the name folks…
Welcome to the third, annual Wayward Wolf film review of the year; an opportunity to recall and reflect upon the cinematic hits and misses of 2015.
Which brings us on to the Wayward Wolf Annual Film Awards, better known as (I’ve just made them up) The WWAFAS – what do you mean you’ve never heard of them? – a self-indulgent selection of self-congratulatory nonsense which, as far as I’m aware, nobody has ever successfully been able to summon up the resolve to read through from start to finish.
What a year it’s been! In fairness, that line is trotted out each and every year, but in light of the fact that I can barely remember what happened this morning, let alone anything prior to that, 2015 does indeed seem to have been a particularly strong year in the world of film.
The WWAFAS are very much in the spirit of supporting the cinema-going experience, and as ever, only take into consideration films that a) had a UK release date in 2015 and b) I managed to see on the big screen in 2015.
It’s been a year in which I’ve finally broken the 50 film barrier, with a staggering – yes, staggering – 56 films viewed between January 1st and December 31st, 2015*
*Actually, two of those films were watched on the 1st and 2nd of January, 2016, but I’m including them in the 2015 run through for the sake of continuity.
Can’t handle that? Speak to my lawyer.
So, without further ado, strap on your incontinence pants in case it all gets a little too much, and let’s just see exactly what unfolded in the remarkable year that was 2015 because… here come The WWAFAS!
The Best Male Performance (Lead or Support) WWAFA goes to:
Winner: Michael Keaton – (Birdman)
Runner-up: J.K Simmons – (Whiplash)
Best of the rest: Michael Shannon – (99 Homes)
Best Female Performance (Lead or Support) WWAFA goes to:
Winner: Maggie Smith – (The Lady In The Van)
Runner-up: Cate Blanchett – (Carol)
Best of the rest: Charlotte Rampling – (45 Years)
Best Music score WWAFA goes to:
Winner: Johann Johannsson – (Sicario) – Johannsson’s soundtrack is gritty and raw but relatively sparse adding both impact and drive where necessary, yet leaving adequate space for the film to breathe. A really powerful, affecting soundtrack.
Runner-up: Atticus Ross – (Love and Mercy) – Granted, this was not an entirely original soundtrack, but the inventiveness of Atticus Ross’s re-imagining and ‘affecting’ of Brian Wilson’s music fits perfectly here. A wonderfully inventive, ‘kind of’ original soundtrack.
The Wayward Wolf Annual Film Awards: Worst Film of the year, 2015:
In all honesty, of the fifty-six films watched, I can honestly say that not a single film absolutely stunk the gaff out. Yes, some were forgettable, but none were truly awful which ether tells you a lot about the quality of films released in 2015, or maybe something about my own impeccable viewing habits?! You decide.
If I must single one or two out under duress, then it’s probably the following (in reverse order):
It all looked so good on paper and this is one that I went out of my way to track down a little while after its initial run had ended in London. Wish I hadn’t bothered. All rather self-indulgent, overly stylised and above all way too drawn out. It’s also barely funny at all which, considering the key to dark comedy is usually laughter of some description, is probably a bit problematic I’d say.
Easily the worst of the Terminator franchise to date. Unconvincing on most levels and all rather dumbed down for the 12A generation. Not terrible, but as I mentioned in the full review, a bit of a slap in the face for the die-hard Terminator fan base.
And the WWAFA for the WORST FILM OF 2015… Goes to:
A bit of an easy target admittedly, but not nearly as bad as I had feared. Forgettable nonsense which drastically held back on the explicit sexual content – the one thing that of course could possibly have saved it or at least made it slightly more interesting – but it’s quite a slick and well put together effort overall if the truth be told, if utterly throwaway, and surprisingly, there were just a handful of evacuees bolting for the exit during the particular screening that I attended.
There’s a sequel planned too. Oh joy…
So, that’s the worst dealt with, but what about the cream of the 2015 crop?
The Wayward Wolf Annual Film Awards: Top Ten Best Films Of The Year, 2015 – (In reverse order):
Grizzly goings on exposed in long, drawn-out takes that really ramp up the suspense levels. Emily Blunt is excellent in the lead role and together with the equally excellent Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, it all comes together to give Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario real impact.
An emotionally poignant documentary superbly realised, sympathetically handling both Amy’s joy and hardships, but ultimately giving us all food for thought.
8. Ex Machina:
One of the very finest science fiction films since Spielberg’s A.I. Oscar Isaac is tremendous and Alicia Vikander is spellbinding as Isaac’s very own A.I.
7. 45 Years:
Never has the adage that there’s no fool like an old fool been so true. Charlotte Rampling, playing alongside Tom Courtenay, is simply superb as Kate, somehow remaining stoic in the face of historical revelations and emotional upheaval.
6. Force Majeure:
Truly excellent Swedish film that poses the question: “How would you react if…?” A Swedish family on a hard-earned skiing trip is about to discover the answer to that very question exposing the fragility of their domestic situation.
5. The Tribe:
Brutal, savage, gritty and relentlessly bleak and all achieved almost entirely without dialogue. An incredibly powerful piece from director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky. Seems to have been totally overlooked which is quite frankly outrageous.
Michael Keaton, once flying high as a popular actor, is now desperately seeking credibility in New York’s unforgiving theatre land. Brilliant.
3. 99 Homes:
With the building trade hit by the 2008 U.S recession, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) needs to make some tough decisions to support his soon to be evicted family. Ramin Bahrani’s absolutely superb, low-key indie gem almost sneaked under the radar. To miss this would be a crime.
Maggie Smith is absolutely sensational in Nicholas Hytner’s wonderful, mostly true tale of the eccentric homeless Madam that parked up on Alan Bennett’s driveway.
And the Wayward Wolf: FILM OF THE YEAR, 2015, WWAFA goes to:
- Whiplash: I suspected that Damien Chazelle’s enormously excellent Whiplash would be hard to beat as this year’s film of the year when I saw it. There have been some tremendous films this year, but nothing has quite gripped me and had me right on the edge of my seat the way this did. Ultimately, we all go to the cinema for entertainment and to feel totally engaged in the film that we’re watching, and to find ourselves asking just where the time went once it’s over. Whiplash is almost over before it’s begun and there is not a single moment when it wasn’t completely enthralling. For that reason and umpteen more, it just had to be my film of the year. Ruddy, bloody great.
Here is the complete Wayward Wolf run down, of each and every film seen in 2015 – (in order of preference):
- Whiplash: (See top ten summary above)
2. The Lady In The Van: (See top ten summary above)
3. 99 Homes: (See top ten summary above)
4. Birdman: (See top ten summary above)
5. The Tribe: (See top ten summary above)
6. Force Majeure: (See top ten summary above)
7. 45 Years: (See top ten summary above)
8. Ex Machina: (See top ten summary above)
9. Amy: (See top ten summary above)
10. Sicario: (See top ten summary above)
11. The Look of Silence: The follow up to 2014’s The Act of Killing is no less devastating in dealing with similar, blood-chilling subject matter.
12. Grandma: An excellent slice of life indie offering. Quirky, amusing and crucially, refuses to preach.
13. Me & Earl and the Dying Girl: Amusing, but above all whole-hearted tale of teen angst in trying circumstances.
14. Carol: Blanchett and Mara are absolutely breath taking in this stylish adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel.
15. Brooklyn: A stand out performance from Saoirse Ronan in this fantastic tale of love, loss and hard decisions.
16. Mommy: More hard hitting cinema from brilliant young director, Xavier Dolan.
17. Love and Mercy: Surprisingly good Brian Wilson biopic with stand out performances and a superbly re-imagined Beach Boys soundtrack.
18. Bridge of Spies: Spielberg and Hanks on form with this tense, Berlin cold war saga.
19. Sherpa: Strong Himalayan documentary highlighting the hardships of these Nepalese mountaineering saviours.
20. Suffragette: Powerful dramatisation of the Suffragette struggles. A film crucially with mass appeal.
21. The Theory of Everything: Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are wonderful in this biopic of the scientific genius, Stephen Hawking
22. The Lobster: Bizarre, off the wall concept of a Big Brother society that frowns upon those of single status. Loses its way a little in the latter stages, but very few films will boast as tense a finale.
23. X + Y: Rafe Spall provides the standout performance as dry witted, laugh-out-loud funny maths tutor Martin in Morgan Matthews’ sweet tale of a young reluctant maths prodigy’s rise to prominence.
24. Still Alice: Predictably strong performance from Julianne Moore, a woman suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
25. Legend: Tom Hardy ‘doubles up’ to portray both Ronald and Reggie Kray in this rather reverential biopic of London’s favourite gangsters
26. Jurassic World: Could have been awful, but a surprisingly strong reboot of the much loved dinosaur franchise.
27. A Most Violent Year: Oscar Isaac convinces in this scaled down gangster flick set in early 1980s New York City.
28. Spectre: Sam Mendes’ reign as Bond director continues to be fruitful with a strong follow up to 2014’s excellent Skyfall.
29. While We’re Young: Ben Stiller here puts in arguably a career best performance in Noah Baumbach’s excellent middle age crisis comedy.
30. Mississippi Grind: Two gamblers head south along with their considerable emotional baggage.
31. Everest: A respectable attempt to shoe-horn the entire 1996 Everest disaster story into two hours of cinema.
32. American Sniper: Clint Eastwood’s patriotic, chest-thumping biopic of America’s finest ever military marksman.
33. An Irrational Man: Joaquin Phoenix impresses in Woody Allen’s existential tale.
34. Star Wars (The Force Awakens): J.J. Abrams manages to salvage some respect for everyone’s? favourite sic-fi franchise. One to please both die-hard and newbie fans, alike.
36. Sunset Song: Terence Davies’ adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel is an exquisitely shot, wistful tale of love and hardship in the beautiful Scottish countryside.
37. Danny Collins: Al Pacino turns on the charm in this warm-hearted tale of a washed-up old pop star.
38. Black Mass: Straight froward gangster ‘epic’. Nicely enough put together but nothing genre-defining.
39. Alive Inside: Thought provoking documentary which should serve, as much as anything, as a governmental call to action.
40. Dark Horse: Engaging tale of unlikely rags to riches for a Welsh community.
41. Mistress America: Typically acerbic Baumbach piece but a little too self congratulatory at times.
42. Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation: Tom Cruise on top form. High action nonsense. Good fun.
43. American Ultra: A surprisingly fun, darkly comedic offering with loose MK Ultra overtones.
44. Southpaw: Overhyped and ultimately a little too formulaic to stand out, though still powerful in places.
45. Blood Cells: Ethereal and gritty tale of a loner, wandering aimlessly through broken Britain.
46. A Walk In The Woods: Lightweight adaptation of Bill Bryson’s best seller, but still amusing to those of a certain vintage.
47. Phoenix: A Jewish lady in post-war Berlin seeks to be reunited with her husband with emotional consequences.
48. Selma: A tremendous performance from David Oleyowo in a film that crucially seems to lack a little of that ‘something special.’
49. Mad Max Fury Road: Reboot of the obscure 80s franchise. High octane entertainment.
50. The Martian: An interesting concept with a great lead performance from Matt Damon in a film that ultimately is chalked up as a missed opportunity for Ridley Scott.
51. Steve Jobs: Danny Boyle’s intelligent telling of the impressive Steve Jobs’ story, is very dialogue heavy – too heavy in fact.
52. Palio: A well put together documentary chronicling the yearly Palio horse race in Siena, Italy. Hard to care too much about silly tribal boys’ games, however.
53. The Falling: Interesting concept, but overly long and tiresome. Mark Kermode, film critic has real passion for this film and it makes me feel that I’ve maybe missed a trick here? Deserves a second viewing, if ultimately only for an impressive performance from the excellent Maisie Williams.
54. Listen Up Philip: (See Worst films section above)
55. Terminator Genisys: (See Worst films section above)
56. Fifty Shades of Grey: (See Worst films section above)
Until next year folks…