Friday, February 5, 2016

No. 1: FEB. 5, 2016

By David Elliott

A movie menu, retro­-rooted but fresh for noshing each Friday.


Nominated for 12 Oscars, The Revenant relies on an old trick of expensive movie­making: the landscape framing, the sheer spectacle of terrain and weather, attempts to camouflage the generic banality of this almost prehistoric Western. The big, lavish vistas make the human actions and motives seem puny.

Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu (Amores Perros, Birdman) and luxuriantly photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki in Montana, Canada and Argentina, the film has cinematic ancestry (Northwest Passage, Black Robe, the grim Richard Harris hits Man in the Wilderness and A Man Called Horse). Inarritu uses another old trick: Sergio Leone’s crafty, picturesque balancing of sadism and masochism, marinated in blood.

The hero is rather mythically based on an actual man in the early 1800s. As Glass, a scout for fur trappers, Leonardo DiCaprio isn't made of glass. After you've seen him survive a double mauling by a grizzly, plunge wounded down a frigid waterfall, eat the raw vitals of a buffalo, and crawl inside a gutted horse after falling from a cliff, a question fidgets: How come Leo didn't survive in Titanic?

The doomed, desperate Indians are often as cruel as the greedy whites. This brutal world is so verbally limited that Britain's Tom Hardy, despite a frontier accent that is often barely intelligible, comes off as the most intelligent of the crude yokels. After viciously burying Glass alive (DiCaprio almost always looks buried in furs, rags, wounds and scabs), he sparks the revenge motor that drives the long, punishing story from one nightmare to another. The result, while not boring, is a thundering migraine of misfortune.

DiCaprio suffers bravely, yet his feral grunts and gnarly snarls lack the often witty humanity of Tom Hanks in Cast Away or the backwoods sexiness of Daniel Day-Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans. The gore and the glorious scenery may leave us dumbfounded, though we are not too dumb to wonder: Wasn't the furious grizzly defending her cubs? In this visceral die-orama, that makes her one of the most human beings on screen.   

SALAD (A List)

Here it is, so eagerly awaited by so few: my luscious Top Twelve movies from the 2015 harvest. In order of personal favor: Joy, Trumbo, The Martian, Jimmy's Hall, Turner, Carol, Clouds of Sils Maria, Brooklyn, Spotlight, Slow West, Meru, Mississippi Grind (the last, with Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds as Dixie gamblers, would make a swell double with Robert Altman's 1974 casino classic California Split). Worst experience: San Andreas, the final crushing splat of the disaster film. Chief letdown: Paolo Sorrentino's Youth, an elegantly drifting dirge with Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as wistful old bores. 

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Welles)
Citizen Orson’s early, 1930s love life was often more courtship than consummation, as actress Geraldine Fitzgerald recalled: “One Saturday night after the show, we were going to elope. He’d hired a car and we were going to New Jersey to a motel, and then we kissed in the back­seat and I realized it was the kiss of a brother and not a lover, and so the car turned around ... Orson came up to the room with me where Eddy (her husband) was asleep, and Orson patted his foot and said, ‘Everything’s alright, old fellow. Nothing to worry about.’ And then he left.” But Welles never lacked for women, one of the many truths discerned in Patrick McGilligan’s vivid, juicy and superbly researched new book, Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane.

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)

“Just over a decade before Funny Face, Audrey Hepburn served in the Resistance. As a teen courier she survived Holland’s grim Hongerwinter at the end of Nazi occupation, and suffered serious malnutrition. So starring a dozen years later with Fred Astaire in a Hollywood musical – and in her beloved Paris! – was a massive bliss bit. In this film Hepburn showed that her stardom was truly meant to last, and that she could carry a big American musical, with Fred’s bracing help. Funny Face is one of those rare pictures that justifies the epigraph at the start of Red Garters: “Many people have said: ‘The movies should be more like life,’ and a wise man answered: ‘Life should be more like the movies.” (From the Audrey/Funny Face chapter in Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies by David Elliott, soon to be published by the Luminare Press. Stay tuned, and spread the word.)

DESSERT (An Image!
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, 1957 (Paramount; director Stanley Donen; cinematographer Ray June)


  1. Congrats on your new blog! It's fun and informative and so well written.

    1. Thanks for sharing your excellent taste!

  2. Welcome to the blogging world! Looking forward to future posts and sharing some movie experiences as well.

    1. Bob,being a "print man" of almost archeological vintage (I started my Chicago journalism in 1969),I resisted blogging (neither do I tweet, nor podcast, and my only selfie is a mirror, when I can stand to look). It is worth blogging for support like yours. Stay onboard!