My Month in Film: September 2019

The Hole in the Ground and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

I am happy to say that, after a couple years of real-life chaos, I’ve returned to the world of amateur cinematic critiquing. Plus, TV Good Sleep Bad has returned for another run of cult TV randomness. All of this and more, if only I can get the hang of WordPress’s so-called “improved editing experience.” Feh!

September Content Recap

This month’s full-length reviews:

TV Good Sleep Bad: Episode 32 — Gravity Falls and Liquid Television

Other podcast appearances: The LAMBCast #496: It Chapter Two

Capsule Reviews

The Hole in the Ground

I reckon one of the upsides to not having children is that I never have to spend sleepless nights worrying that they’ve been abducted and replaced with physically exact duplicates possessing inhuman strength and a sudden taste for spiders.

Thus, I cannot relate to predicament Sarah, the young single mother played by Seána Kerslake in The Hole in the Ground, finds herself in after she and her young son discover the titular ginormous Hole in the Ground (which looks like a cross between a giant’s eye and the Sarlacc Pit from Return of the Jedi) in the immense, dense woods behind their new house. Which they’ve just moved into after fleeing Sarah’s abusive ex.

I hope you like your horror movies blatantly, unsubtly metaphorical, because so much of this movie fails to make sense if taken literally. (“How has no one other than Sarah and her son managed to notice this god damn huge sinkhole, even though it’s clearly been there since the ’80s at least?” is only one question that that film will not even attempt to address.) Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, until about half-way through, when director/co-writer Lee Cronin shifts gears and decided he wants to spice the pot up with the sort of kick-ass motherhood that was all the rage in early 2010s horror movies.

It has quite a few lovely scenes, and also James Cosmo, who always seems to be at hand when Irish children are menaced by the supernatural (see also: Citadel). And it’s very pretty. Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t seem to have any ambition beyond “The Babadook, but Irish” which ultimately ends up letting the end product down.

Starring Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen, James Cosmo. Directed by Lee Cronin. 90 minutes.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Nobody loves Hollywood more than Quentin Tartantino. So I was more than a little surprised when Tarantino’s latest turned out not to be a work of symbolic fellatio. His fairytale of L.A. proves to be quite compelling, largely through its meticulous recreation of the collective American folk-memory of Tinseltown in the first half of 1969, late enough in the ’60s for hippies and Vanilla Fudge’s cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” but before Manson and Altamont. (Considered in this light, the film’s much-maligned ending makes perfect thematic sense.)

Key to this is Margot Robbie, a talent whom, like Tarantino, I find myself often adopting a cynical attitude towards even if I’m impressed with her body of work overall. Much has been made of Robbie’s lack of lines in the film, but unusually for QT, her performance works not on the basis of her ability to recite stylized dialog but her ability to embody Sharon Tate, or at least Tate as we collectively fantasize her to have been, not as she actually was. (Which isn’t to say the portrayal isn’t accurate; I don’t know enough about her to judge.) Leo and Brad may get all the QT dialog (although my favorite line of the film, “I’m as real as a donut,” is uttered by someone named Austin Butler), but it’s Margot we’re all going to walk out of the theater remembering.

As with most fairytales, it’s somewhat on the shallow side. Which is fine; Hollywood is not a particularly deep place, or at least, it won’t be until, in the words of Bill Hicks, “L.A. falls in the fuckin’ ocean and is flushed away” and leaves “nothing but a cool, beautiful serenity called Arizona Bay.”

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie. Directed by Quentin Tarantino. 161 minutes.

Lackey vs. the 88th Academy Awards

It’s time to get ready for Hollywood’s whitest night—I mean brightest night—with yet another list of Oscar predictions!

Can Mad Max: Fury Road buck the odds and sweep the slate? Will AMPAS award the white people involved in Creed and Straight Outta Compton and then congratulate itself for being liberal and celebrating diversity? Can Leonardo DiCaprio ever forget Mercy Humppe and win an Academy Award? Find out on Saturday night!

Continue reading “Lackey vs. the 88th Academy Awards”

The Revenant

Iñárritu transplants the viewer to an awesome, brutal environment to witness an epic tale of human willpower and survival.

United States. Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 2015. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck. 153 minutes. 9/10

Alejandro G. Iñárritu picked an unlikely project to succeed his quirky black comedy Birdman. Set in 1823 and based on a novel by Michael Punke, The Revenant tells the true tale of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who served as a tracker for Capt. Andrew Henry’s (Domhnall Gleeson) expedition of the Louisiana Purchase. Glass suffers life-threatening wounds during a bear attack; the party does not expect him to survive his injuries. The effort of moving him slows the party down too much, so Henry assigns John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) to stay behind with Glass and his adopted Native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). Seeing this as a fool’s errand, Fitzgerald unsuccessfully attempts to murder Glass, ends up accidentally kills Hawk, and rejoins the expedition, telling a lie about Glass and his son’s fate.

Glass not only survives but recovers to the point where he can walk. Struggling against the brutal Western winter, and stalked by hostile members of the Arikara tribe (whose chief searches for his daughter, kidnapped by white fur trades), he pursues a seemingly impossible goal: to make it back to the expedition’s outpost and take revenge on Fitzgerald.

The word that repeatedly comes to mind when reflecting upon The Revenant is “awesome.” To paraphrase webcomic artist John Allison, we’ve deviated from the traditional definition of the word, and now use it to describe how we feel when our bread is toasted exactly right. That’s not what this is. This is the original meaning of “awesome”: the sense of being overwhelmed by something that is huger than us and almost entirely beyond our comprehension. In this case, that’s nature in all of its majesty and brutality, and while The Revenant evokes a time when humans seemed to be a bit tougher, we’re still puny, weak bags of meat and water in comparison to a defensive bear or a torrential blizzard.

Filmed entirely on location–none of yer green-screens or digital backlots here, mate–The Revenant oozes authenticity from every pixel. Iñárritu’s familiar hand-held cinematographical style was the source of much mirth in Birdman, but here he deploys it to a vastly different, devestating effect. By keeping the camera low to the ground, the scenery looms over the characters and the audience, and when the grizzly attacks, the shaky-cam proves essential. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to be eaten by a bear, watch The Revenant.

That sense of cinematic truth extends to the performances. I have a limited amount of respect for actors in physically-punishing roles, but DiCaprio inhabits the role of Glass in a way that goes beyond merely crawling across tundra and grunting for the entire second act of the film. To me, he actually became Hugh Glass, in a way I would have thought impossible. I’ve been watching him in movies for twenty years and while I’ve enjoyed many of his films, I’ve never seen him disappear into a role like he does here. And he’s not the only one! Hardy becomes barely recognizable for the second time this year, and it’s easy to forget The Revenant is the fourth film we’ve seen Gleeson in this year.

The Revenant is one of the most impressive cinematic achievements of 2015, not just in terms of how it was made (which is nothing to sneeze at), but the effect it has on the audience. It takes you out of the comfort of your environment and transplants you to a hostile wasteland to be part of an epic tale of human survival. Genuine movie magic, right here.

THE REVENANT poster.