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The Revenant didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar, but it damn well should have.

Leonardo DiCaprio won a much-deserved Oscar for playing the legendary Hugh Glass, a real man who actually survived a bear attack and sought revenge from the men who left him to die.

Director Alejandro G. Inarritu (winner of the Best Director Oscar two years in a row) made a film that doesn’t stick to Glass’s actual storyline all that much. (The real life guy was actually too tired to do anything to the guys when he eventually found them.) His script works in a Native American son (Forrest Goodluck) and a deranged trapper (Tom Hardy, also nominated) along with Glass’ insatiable revenge lust. DiCaprio doesn’t say much with his mouth in the movie, but he says an awful lot with those eyes. His performance is a masterwork.

Equally good is Hardy, who portrays John Fitzgerald as a man operating under what turns out to be a rather naïve sense of justice. It’s his best work to date. Other supporting performances worth noting are Domhnall Gleeson as the leader of Glass’ expedition, and Will Poulter as a fellow trapper with a good heart who winds up getting into a lot of trouble.

It’ll be interesting to see what DiCaprio does next. This is a hard act to follow.

Special Features: The Blu-ray includes a near 45-minute documentary containing behind-the-scenes footage and great interviews with DiCaprio, Inarritu and others.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

For the second year in a row, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has delivered the year’s best film.

Inarritu was responsible for last year’s Birdman, and the best movie of 2015 is The Revenant, an eye-popping Western thriller that gives Leonardo DiCaprio the role that should finally score him his first Oscar.

DiCaprio gives it everything he’s got as Hugh Glass, a scout working with fur traders on the American frontier in the early 19th century. Glass, while doing his job, gets a little too close to a couple of bear cubs—and mama grizzly is not happy about such an occurrence.

What follows is a lengthy and vicious bear attack during which Glass tangles with the nasty mother not once, but twice. Inarritu, DiCaprio and some amazing visual technicians put you right in the middle of that bear attack—minus the searing pain of actually having a bear’s claws and teeth rip through your flesh. It’s an unforgettably visceral moment when that bear steps on Glass’ head.

With Glass seemingly at death’s door, the remaining party—including a conniving, paranoid trapper named John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy)—is left to decide what to do with him. Fitzgerald wants to put him out of his misery, much to the chagrin of Glass’ Native American son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and the expedition’s leader, Capt. Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson).

Henry decides to soldier on without Glass, leaving him behind to die with Fitzgerald, Hawk and young Bridger (an excellent Will Poulter). Fitzgerald takes matters into his own hands, with Glass eventually buried alive and left for dead. This doesn’t set well with Glass, who slowly recovers from his wounds and sets out to exact revenge.

Yes, this is a revenge tale—and a rather simple one at that. Those looking for a spiritual and psychological examination of revenge containing long monologues need not see this. The Revenant is about the forces of nature, stunningly photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki, trying to take down one man as he sets out on a killing mission. An uncaring wilderness throws everything it can at Glass to stop him in his tracks.

Some of what Inarritu does in the film’s few quieter, more-meditative moments reminds of the work of Terrence Malick, and that’s a good thing. For the most part, the movie is less about beautiful running rivers and more about surviving neck wounds while fending off attacking Native Americans and antsy fur trappers. What Inarritu and company achieve during these attack sequences is monumental: No movie has ever looked or felt like this. Throw in that bear attack, and you have a movie that will forever dent your skull.

DiCaprio doesn’t have much spoken dialogue. The majority of his performance consists of grunting, contorting his face and crawling on the ground (something he did memorably in The Wolf of Wall Street). His character has very few moments to smile, but when he does, it’s like having a warm blanket and hot cocoa after a week in sub-zero temperatures: It’s a major relief from the torment. 

Hardy and Gleeson, two of the hardest-working men in Hollywood right now, are magnificent in the film. Given the notoriously long and nasty shooting schedule they had to endure for The Revenant, I have no idea how they managed to appear in those other films. (They both appeared in four major 2015 movies.) They have truly mastered the art of scheduling events and tasks on their iPhones.

The Revenant is a masterpiece, and I suspect DiCaprio will finally get his Oscar. I also suspect camping numbers will take a plummet in the next year, while bear-repellent sales spike.

The Revenant is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

An amazing cast, led by Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, turn Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) into an instant classic—a film like no other.

Pulling out all of the technological stops, director and co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams) made this movie as if it were one seamless shot. The movie doesn’t happen in real time; it passes through locations, with hours and even days going by between the tricky transitions. For example, the camera will track forward from a hallway to a backstage area, and while mere seconds go by, 12 hours in the film’s world will pass. It’s extraordinary.

Keaton plays Riggan, an actor on his last legs. In his heyday, Riggan made millions as the title character in the superhero blockbuster Birdman and its sequels. At the height of his popularity, he walked away in hopes of finding more creatively fulfilling projects.

However, his other film pursuits have not panned out, and he finds himself in previews of a Broadway play—a stage adaptation of a Raymond Carver story that he is financing, directing and starring in. The stakes are high, and Riggan is showing signs of mentally coming apart.

When one of his actors takes a falling stage light to the head (in what may or may not have been an accident), Riggan casts hotshot actor Mike (Norton) in a crucial leading role beside him. Mike is certified box-office gold, and his addition should help make the play a hit. Problem is, Mike is also a method actor who uses real booze onstage, and isn’t afraid to break character and challenge Riggan before an audience.

The whole situation causes Riggan to take breaks from reality. He converses with his superhero alter ego (also played by Keaton), who is not at all pleased with the state of Riggan’s existence. The ego has taken some hits; the money has dried up; the place in which he currently resides “smells like balls.” Riggan has moments when he believes he may have telekinetic powers, but in reality, he’s probably just throwing crap around his dressing room.

The moments in which Keaton and Norton square off are most likely the best-acted scenes you will see in a movie this year. Obviously, Keaton’s role is semi-autobiographical, in that he was once Batman and ruler of the box office. Norton’s role seems to be somewhat based in his own history, in that he is a notorious perfectionist. These realities help make their clashes seem quite authentic, and even a little scary. You get a true sense that Keaton and Norton are really pissed at each another, and any punches thrown are the real thing. Both actors should be solid contenders in the Oscar race.

As Riggan’s rehabbing drug-addict daughter, Emma Stone makes her own bid for Oscar contention with her compelling, intense work. She has a speech in this movie in which she eviscerates Keaton’s character, and it’s a real stunner.

Zach Galifianakis has shown dramatic chops in the past, and as Riggan’s agent and lawyer, he again shows that he is far more than a laugh-getter. Also worth noting are Naomi Watts and Amy Ryan in small but important roles. This is basically the best cast of 2014.

The movie works on so many levels. It’s an intense drama, but it’s very funny and satiric. It’s also an interesting take on a man’s decent into insanity, while being a scathing indictment of celebrity. It’s even a pitch-perfect depiction of the rigors of putting on a play.

You have never seen anything like Birdman, and I doubt you will ever see anything like it again.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is now playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342), the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342) and the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews