Meewella | Critic

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Tag: Leonardo DiCaprio

QuickView: Don’t Look Up (2021)

“You guys, the truth is way more depressing. They are not even smart enough to be as evil as you’re giving them credit for.”

Kate Dibiaski

Written pre-pandemic as a satire of human inaction in the face of climate change, Don’t Look Up‘s commentary on scientists and experts being ignored in favour of entertainment and maintaining the status quo feels even more relevant in the COVID era, but relevance does not automatically equate to success. Don’t Look Up is Adam McKay’s bleakest work to date and features fewer creative flourishes, unfolding in a rather straightforward and heavy-handed fashion. Its satirical tone is wry rather than biting, which seems oddly insufficient for its end-of-the-world subject matter; by the end it has shifted more toward farce than insightful social commentary. The failure to skewer its targets more decisively may be necessary to reach the broad audience it desires, its “both sides” approach peaking with the wilful ignorance of a crowd chanting “don’t look up” paralleled with another crowd showering adoration on a pop star singing a vapidly meaningless “just look up” power ballad. The stellar cast produces dramatically and comedically compelling performances, and name-recognition alone should allow the film to meet Netflix’s success metrics, but they are not written with any emotional depth or sympathy. Don’t Look Up is arguably most effective when it broadens its scope to target media obsessed by “engagement” and tech industry billionaires’ self-aggrandisement and control over a political system hopelessly corrupted by wealth and self-interest. Its meandering focus is exacerbated by poor editing that allows the film to run over two and a half hours, when its ideas might have been more effectively communicated in a tighter 90-minute cut. As for reflection on how individuals respond to an apocalyptic crisis, McKay’s perspective is painfully shallow by comparison to existing efforts like Von Trier’s Melancholia or Scafario’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.


QuickView: Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood (2019)

Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood poster

“It’s official old buddy, I’m a has-been.”

Rick Dalton

Set in the late 1960s, as Hollywood’s heydey is already drawing to a close, it is easy to see washed-up actor Rick Dalton as a vehicle for Tarantino’s anxiety about his own continuing relevance. The interwoven tapestry of stories combines real and fictional characters, allowing Tarantino to revel in the filmmaking process and insert his characters into classic movies. The introduction of Sharon Tate is intended to cast a shadow over the story and Tarantino deftly fills an extended sequence at the Manson family’s ranch with a sense of unease and dread, but he also makes a conscious decision to assume knowledge on the part of the audience. I suspect Tate’s story plays far better in the USA (where the Manson family murders are deeply ingrained in the public consciousness) than elsewhere in the world. Once Upon A Time‘s alternate reality is telegraphed early when a stuntman played by Brad Pitt bests Bruce Lee in a fight. Some may view this as disrespectful but Tarantino is obviously a fan of Lee and the entire point is the ridiculousness of this outcome. It leaves the audience guessing at how Tarantino will treat Tate’s brutal murder, particularly given Inglourious Basterds‘ loose adherence to historic fact. Although staples like chapter headings are gone, Tarantino still gets in his own way. Multiple foot shots break the immersion, feeling perfunctory and self-indulgent, and — as with The Hateful Eight — the most irritating tool is an out-of-place single-use voiceover, deployed here to summarise the events of a six-month time jump, all of which could have been communicated effectively on screen instead. Ultimately this is as much a languid movie for film lovers as it is for Tarantino fans — his ninth film sits solidly in the middle of his catalogue but, for a director appearing to question his relevance, that is no small feat.


The Revenant (2015)

The Revenantdirector: Alejandro González Iñárritu
writer: Mark L Smith, Alejandro González Iñárritu
starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter
running time: 156 mins
certificate: 15

As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight.
You breathe. Keep breathing.

The Revenant is arguably more for those who love the film making process than those who love to watch film.

In 1820s America, a party of trappers heads home through unforgiving territory after a savage attack by the native population.  When Hugh Glass [Leonard DiCaprio] survives being mauled by a bear, two of the party agree to stay behind with Glass and his son. John Fitzgerald [Tom Hardy] convinces the impressionable young Bridger [Will Poulter]  that to survive the pair should leave Glass for dead. Glass refuses to die and battles both nature and man to seek his revenge.

Hugh GlassIt is unsurprising that a gulf has emerged between The Revenant’s warm critical reception and the decidedly mixed view of filmgoers. The creation of this film, shot on location in the wilds of Canada and Argentina using only natural light, is a clearly arduous endeavour. This reliance on natural light captures images that are at times almost otherworldly, but required long, unbroken takes out of necessity due to the limited available time rather than as an artificial conceit in Iñárritu’s last endeavour, the Oscar-winning Birdman. Tricks learned then, allowing for flowing camera movement, are at play here with the camera often circling characters to allow us a 360-degree view of their environment.

The harshness of that environment is very real and Iñárritu clearly put his actors through a great deal. However, the response to this is mixed with the film being derided by some as simply “pain porn”, finding entertainment in that discomfort. Iñárritu has stated that he wanted to take on the challenge of such environments to give people a reason to come to the cinema, and the reality of the experience was crucial to achieve something worthy of this. He has, for example, been coy about how the visceral sequence in which DiCaprio is mauled by a bear was actually shot. Whilst such verisimilitude may seem a noble ideal, it somewhat misses the point of cinema which is, at its core, a lie. Moreover, it does not explain the dream sequences that recur throughout the film.

BridgerThe real issue is what the film achieves beyond the authenticity of its depiction of wilderness survival. The chief complaint is that there is little story or indeed content at all beyond throwing one hardship after another at the protagonist. The most basic of revenge setups is essentially the entire story. The relentlessness traversal is reminiscent of Apocalyptico’s incredible final act, a 45-minute chase through the jungle. However, Apocalyptico earned its audience’s attention through first constructing a tense situation with characters to whom we could relate. Perhaps the only fully realised character in The Revenant is the conflicted Bridger, taking Poulter a long way from his School of Comedy roots. DiCaprio and Hardy both turn in solid performances, but there is limited depth available for them to draw upon. Whilst DiCaprio may deserve an Oscar for his body of work, The Revenant does not showcase his range.

Of particular note is a close-quarters fight scene towards the end of the film. I do not think we have ever seen so brutal a fight shot up close in a continuous take in a mainstream film. Even martial arts films tend to choreograph around a corridor with one fighter taking on a string of enemies who drop out of frame. Even this late in the film The Revenant is capable of presenting something visceral, fresh and new.

I am conflicted in assessing the film, since I am indeed a fan of the film making process. The impressive technical marvels achieved are fascinating along with the clearly arduous process to which the cast and crew subjected themselves. However, taken as a whole, the point of this endeavour remains exasperatingly intangible.

rating: 2.5/4

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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