Monthly recap January

The Revenant (2015) (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)
An entertaining and harsh adventure story. Set in the 1820s. Very ambitious production, the crew and actors spent an extended period in the freezing cold, fighting the elements. Oscar baity production values and performances. Not so daring in terms of substance. The way the Indians are portrayed is stereotypical, the land taken from them. We only get to know the main characters on a surface level, how they deal with the outdoor conditions. Sydney Pollack’s western Jeremiah Johnson (1972) starring Robert Redford, which Iñárritu may have been influenced by, is more nuanced in how it depicts the interaction between the Indians and the white man.
If you just want a simple survival in the wild story, then The Revenant delivers, but the film doesn’t leave you with anything to chew on except visually striking moments. As a depiction of the 1800s, it’s a way for the audience to be taken back to another era and experience life first hand, and that is what the film does well.
The Revenant wows and there are several jaw-dropping scenes(the bear attack, the river scene, the cliff and horse scene). A primal, uncomplicated story anyone can understand. The shallowness of the screenplay is the weakness.
I read an article where a Native American professor argues the film is a game-changer in how it depicts kidnapping, trafficking, and violating Indian women as a crime, and the violation of nature by the white man with the scene of a mountain of buffalo skulls.
I remember from history lessons at school. The American Indians had the reputation of using the entire buffalo and only killing what they needed. The white man on the other hand killed for sport and for the furs, and when that was no longer popular they killed the animal simply for the tongue which was a delicacy, leaving the rest of the creature to rot. This financially motivated behavior led to a massive drop in the number of buffalo's in America. This is turn made it increasingly harder for the Indians to find the Buffalo.
Rating 7.5/10

The Hateful Eight (2015) (Quentin Tarantino)
It felt like Tarantino had written a play. A realistic, dialogue-driven western. Pays homage to such films as Rio Bravo (1959), which opted for dialogue over action, and of course the snowy mountains are reminiscent of The Great Silence (1968). Brings back memories of Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Tarantino compared it to The Thing (1982) with the characters gathered in a confined space.
Has its moments, such as the story Sam Jackson tells about the man he asks to strip naked in the snow, but I felt Tarantino overdid the expositional dialogue and didn’t trust his audience to figure things out for themselves. An important rule of storytelling is show don’t tell, and the script does a lot of telling, for example the voice-over part. The screenplay is too self-indulgent and in need of an editor. Once you’ve heard them reference the Lincoln letter and nail the door shut multiple times, those aspects begin to feel repetitive. The second half raises the stakes and was more entertaining, but despite his desire to tackle racial issues, I don’t think it’s the directors best work. The last 45 minutes with Tatum felt redundant.
I sporadically liked some of the dialogue(which I shared below), unfortunately I didn’t really care who lived or died. The award-winning Morricone score is excellent.
Favorite quotes:
“Real trusting fellow. “Not so much”
”Waiting for an opportunity and knowing it’s the right one, isn’t so easy.”
”I feel kind of naked without it (gun)”
” He’s a nigger, and that’s all I need to know”
”I know I’m the only black son-of-a-bitch you’ve ever conversed with, so I’m going to cut you some slack. But you’ve got no idea what it’s like being a black man facing down America. The only time black folks are safe, is when white folks are disarmed”
Rating 6/10

Beasts of No Nation (2015) (Cary Joji Fukunaga)
The first 30 minutes when we get to know the family in the village was my favorite part and there were some touching moments. Once the story becomes about child soldiers I felt I didn’t want to see the brutality so up close. Especially a scene with a man begging for his life in the road and the boy asked to kill him was especially unpleasant. The middle of the film is not as compelling and drags in some places. The scene with the prostitutes is memorable but for reasons other than you expect. The young boy gives a great performance, but a painful film to watch because you know this violence is happening in real life. A difficult film to recommend.
Rating 6/10

The Big Short (2015) (Adam McKay)
Christian Bale's character was who I gravitated towards the most, he and Steve Carell were given the meatiest roles with the most back story. The other characters spoke their lines but didn't truly become real people to me. Not as great as The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), but has its high points such as when celebs explain in layman's terms complicated banking ideas. The way the film is told is actually the most interesting thing going on. Attempts to balance comedic scenes and emotional distress, and that combination worked better than I expected. I wouldn't label it best of the year, and it feels like an awards season film, but it's entertaining enough and worth a look.
Rating 7/10

Girlhood (2014) (Céline Sciamma)
French coming of age drama. While it is about a girl gang in the housing projects in Paris, the focus remains on the main character throughout. Showing us a pivotal time in this girl's adolescence with many changes. I admire the filmmakers for keeping it real and honest. The characters do unlikeable things and the film is better off for it. The story has the fingerprints of a female writer/director all over it, every scene feels like it could happen in real life. The only sugar-coating is the score(which I admittedly like) 
Rating 8/10

Life in a Fishbowl/Vonarstræti/De Små Ting (2014) (Baldvin Zophoníasson)
The Icelandic Academy Award submission for Foreign Language Film. Three intersecting stories telling us of the pressures of contemporary life.
You might want to avoid the IMDb description which spoils the ending. 20something Hera Hilmar anchors the film, she is a young mother and lives with her 5-year-old daughter, struggling to make ends meet, she finds herself opting to prostitute herself. Another thread follows an alcoholic writer who is given a new lease of life by his publisher. The third story is about a business man who is struggling to come to terms with work and expectations from co-workers. It won't be in my top 10 of the year, but is quite powerful and I wanted to find out what would become of them. A melancholic film which also has moments of joy.
Rating 7/10

Cocktail (1988) (Roger Donaldson)
The drink making at the bar is impressive, Bryan Brown and Tom Cruise clearly put in the work to make it look real. What doesn’t work is Cruise miraculously able to recite poetry in front of a crowd which seemed contrived. Another questionable scene is when Elisabeth Shue runs for help because her friend has passed out on the beach, and Cruise is the only one who has any sense to ask for an ambulance. I just couldn’t believe Shue would be so helpless, but I guess in the 80s women were portrayed differently than today. I felt the dialogue is a bit too scripted, yet despite these flaws, it's still a fun summer movie, with characters I cared about. The soundtrack sold 4 million copies, including enjoyable hits such as "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrinand  "Kokomo" by the Beach Boys.
Rating 6.5/10

The Meaning of Life (1983)
This was the last of the official Monty Python films and it definitely is the weakest of the three. Holy Grail (1975) and Life of Brian (1979) have more cohesive scripts. The Meaning of Life has scenes that are funny and scenes that don't work. My favorite part is near the end when Mr. Creosote eats at the restaurant, it's quite gross, yet I was laughing out loud. A few of the songs are classics, which elevate good sequences into great sequences, such as  "Every Sperm Is Sacred", which mocks the Catholic Church. The Meaning of Life song is great too.
Rating 6/10

January blind spot: Weird Science (1985) (John Hughes)
Rating 6.5/10

Career Opportunities (1991) (written by John Hughes)
Most people can identify with the issues these two young adults face, trying to break free from mum and dad, find a career. It’s not great, but a fun movie and quite underrated. Perhaps it isn’t as loved as other films in John Hughes filmography because the two leads do objectionable things such as lie and shoplift, and the last third is lazily written. That said, I felt empathy towards them despite everything. There’s a lot of talk of them locked in and yet suddenly they can get out of the Target store, which is odd. While there are fun parts with rollerskates and props in the department store, my favorite scenes are actually when the two of them are just talking about their problems. Jennifer Connelly was hot when she was 21 and pretty much everyone is attracted to her in the movie. There’s a memorable scene when she is riding on an electronic horse which will appeal to the male audience.
Favorite quotes: ”You have freedom and you’re not using it. That makes me sad”
”I can’t tell my father go to hell, because I don’t want to be alone”
Rating 6.5/10

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) (John Hughes)
Rewatch. Considered among the best comedies of the 80s, and rightfully so. The actors are very funny in a slapstick kind of way. Steve Martin and John Candy have great chemistry as comedians. While it may go into over-the-top contrived territory, there's also a humanity to these characters. Probably the best Thanksgiving film of all-time.
Rating 9/10

Sixteen Candles (1984) (John Hughes)
Rewatch. Can you imagine your family forgetting your birthday? That is what Samantha (Molly Ringwald) has to deal with. The most heart-warming ending I have watched in a while, thanks to the song If You Were Here by The Thompson Twins. Now I will be dreaming of a pizza spinning on a record player. The weakness, if you can call it that, is the part with the Rolls Royce, I could not believe Jake (unless he was drunk) would give the keys to his dad's car to a geek he barely knows and who doesn't even have a license. Surely Jake was not that immature?
Favorite quote: “If it’s any conciliation I love you, and if this guy can’t see in you all the beautiful and wonderful things that I see, then he’s got the problem”
Rating 7.5/10

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) (written by John Hughes)
Similar to the director's previous film Pretty in Pink (1986), just with a girl as the best friend instead, so it didn't feel particularly original. There’s a scene at a party when some guys show up at just the right moment which was too contrived. Despite these quibbles, it was entertaining and I was rooting for the characters.
Favorite quote: ”Don’t go mistaking paradise for a pair of long legs”
Rating 7/10

Raven's End (Kvarteret Korpen) (1963) (Bo Widerberg)
Swedish classic nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Included in the Danish edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
Set in the 1930s, a family yearns for a better life. The husband misuses their funds on gambling and alcohol so they have fallen behind with the rent. His son still lives at home and wants to be a writer but is constantly interrupted. The filmmakers show solidarity towards the less fortunate, yet also depict the father as someone who is keeping them stuck in this rut. I cared about the characters, even though the themes of poverty and birth control are a bit dated and would probably appeal to my grandparents generation.
The aspect that has aged the best is the budding author trying to make a mark, and the changing relationship you have towards your parents as the years go by. The most powerful scene is about 70 minutes into the film when the son cries when confronting his father. A film that gets better the more I think about it. Great performances and the film feels ahead of its time.
Favorite quote: ”Sometimes you need to feel that you are not the strongest one”
Rating 8.5/10

Thoughts on the Golden Globes: 

The 73rd Golden Globes came and went on January 10 with Ricky Gervais hosting for the fourth time. I usually think he is the best part of the evening, but his opening monolgue was a bit underwhelming and not as funny as previous times. He is no longer as shocking or surprising because people know what to expect. I liked the part with Mel Gibson, too bad it got muted during the actual broadcast. Gervais' joke about Ben Affleck made Matt Damon lose it which was funny. What Andy Samberg said about Patrick Stewart and the guitar player from Mad Max was amusing. Nice to see Christian Slater finally win a big award, he looked happy, and his new wife is cute. Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt had a fun little exchange while presenting. Stallone thanked his imaginary friend Rocky which seemed very appropriate with Inside Out winning the same night. Speaking of, Inside Out director revealed a personal comment which was quite moving in his winner speech. Tarantino sounded big-headed and managed to give misinformation, although his speech did make me want to listen to Ennio Morricone soundtracks.
As usual the speeches were a mixed bag of boring name dropping and entertaining, heartfelt moments. Say what you will about Jennifer Lawrence's self-promotion, her tribute to David O. Russell felt genuine, even if the critics had mixed feelings about Joy (2015).
I realize they have a lot to get through and have to keep the running time down, but it's a pity the nominee mentions are so incredilbily brief. For example foreign film, it was far too rushed, you just got two seconds of the title and then they hurried on to the next film. That said, I did get a few tips and may try a couple of the award winners such as the TV-shows Mr Robot and Mozart in the Jungle. I also plan to eventually see Son of Saul and The Martian.

Books finished:

Macbeth by William Shakespeare 

The Blair Witch Project (non fiction) by Peter Turner (2014)


  1. YES I'm glad you love Girlhood as much as I did, Chris! Sounds like you're not in love w/ The Revenant as others, I haven't seen it yet, too gory for me to see on the big screen. As for The Hateful Eight, my friend Ted just reviewed it recently, he's a bit QT fan so naturally he loved it, that's one I haven't seen yet either. Btw, I just posted my monthly recap too, I was wondering if you've seen CONTROL which was about the lead singer of Joy Division Ian Curtis. I'm in love w/ Sam Riley now so I want to check out more of his work! ;)

    1. @Ruth: Don’t get me wrong, I was wowed by The Revenant, just overall I felt the characters and story lacked substance. For that reason I can’t give it more than 7½/10
      I was impressed by Girlhood and it’s great a film about women was made by a woman. Cool you want to do the #52FilmsByWomen project, female directors have a lot to offer in terms of understanding relationship dynamics, and what not, and they can do what men directors do as well.
      I’ll check your recap soon.

  2. I watched Career Opportunities when it came to video and it was definitely for Jennifer Connelly. And yes, I remember the horse ride.

    I laughed my ass off at Planes Trains and Automobiles. Another one Martin did around the same time that I also laughed a lot at was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, if you haven't seen it.

    In regards to the Golden Globes I saw another awards show host joke afterwards that Gervais is the only person that could make people feel sorry for Mel Gibson. :-)

    1. @Chip: Yep, I’m not going to lie, Jennifer Connelly is attractive in the movie.
      I should give Dirty Rotten Scoundrels a rewatch, I remember thinking it was amusing back in the day.
      I hadn’t heard that joke you mention, don’t know if people have forgiven Mel Gibson. There was actually a bonus joke about Mel in the end credits of the Golden Globes.

  3. I know what you mean about Beasts of NN being hard to recommend. It's harrowing, but I thought it was brilliant. That main kid deserves an Oscar. And so does his little friend.

    Also, I must catch Girlhood and thanks for giving the book another mention!!!

    1. @Pete Turner: I agree Beasts of No Nation is well-acted and the film does a good job of casting light upon issues with child soldiers, but I found it tough to watch. Girlhood is also realistic but not disturbing.

      No problem, happy to spread the word about your book!

  4. Do you think Dicaprio would win that Oscar this year? I am hesitant to watch Revenant considering people say that it is a stressful movie to watch and I don't know if I'm in the mood.

    Seeing The Big Short's cast and the story summary it does seem like an Oscar bait movie, but soon we would forget about it.

    I intend to watch Girlhood too!

    1. @Andina: I think Leo is the favorite to win the Oscar, there’s always a chance of a surprise. The Revenant is a visually spectacular film, maybe better for you to see it later.

      The Big Short is forgettable but does have 2-3 fun scenes which explain in a simple way reasons for the financial crisis.

      Will look out for your thoughts on Girlhood!

  5. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is so dear to me. Never fails to lift me up. And I'll still remember that one time I worked at an IT Consultancy firm and the film, and many scenes from it, was used as an example of how to work within a team. LOL.

    On the topic of Mr. Robot - definitely check this show out. One of my favourites from last year. The first season is short, but incredible. One of those, less you know the more you'll enjoy it sort of shows.

    Mozart in the Jungle is okay - it has its moments. However, I've not been quite so willing to pick up it's 2nd season after the 1st. Not a show I feel I can stick with.

    1. @Jaina: Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a great comedy which still holds up. Fun story you shared, I wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall to witness the firm presenting those clips :)

      Of the two TV-shows, I’m most intrigued by Mr Robot. Thanks for the heads up, hopefully I’ll get to see it soon. Mozart in the Jungle sounded interesting to me for the music aspect, the fact it won an award or two is secondary.

  6. I can't wait to revisit The Hateful Eight. Though I have problems with it, I did enjoy most of it on a first watch. I've been in the mood for some 80's/90's films, so maybe I'll give Career Opportunities and Some Kind of Wonderful a look.

    1. @Josh: The Hateful Eight had surprises, but to me the dialogue was unmemorable and long-winded. I remember Tarantino praised Rio Bravo and that film also had restrained action and plenty of conversations. I guess he wanted to make "his Rio Bravo".


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