THE GOOD DINOSAUR - film review By Mark Geraghty. December 26, 2015
THE GOOD DINOSAUR is the second new Pixar film to be released in 2015, but if viewers are expecting another INSIDE OUT, they’ll be disappointed. There’s not a shred of high concept thinking to be found in THE GOOD DINOSAUR; just a lot of recycled ideas that have been matched with some of the most gorgeous outdoors animation that’s ever been seen in a film of this genre. If ever there was a case to answer of form winning out over substance, THE GOOD DINOSAUR would have a pretty good shot at the trophy. Anyone who follows Pixar Studios release slate will know that THE GOOD DINOSAUR was one of those projects that ran completely off the rails. Long-standing Pixar team man Bob Petersen championed the idea into the production phase, but was moved off it when it became clear the film had stalled. Peter Sohn took over the project and, in the process, completely rewrote the story and replaced the cast. The scope of the change meant that Pixar went without a 2014 release, as Sohn put his crew to work to get the project on track.
Despite best efforts, THE GOOD DINOSAUR never finds its feet in the way audiences have come to expect from the world’s preeminent animation studio. The story is reminiscent of The Lion King, but lacks the strength of the relationship between father and son of that film. Instead, Henry (Jeffrey Wright), the father dinosaur, takes pity on his son Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), who is the runt of the litter and struggles to “make his mark” no matter what. Arlo’s subsequent misadventures feel like second-hand versions of previous, great Disney movies. His encounter with a group of particularly nasty Pterodactyls, voiced by Steve Zahn, Mandy Freund & Steven Clay Hunter, once again, feel as though they were lifted straight out of The Lion King but with voice performances not nearly as memorable as Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin.
There’s also the question of how “age appropriate” THE GOOD DINOSAUR is for younger children. Pixar have never been shy about placing their characters in peril to create drama in their films, but the story has something of a mean streak that would surprise parents who take younger kids to see the film. Arlo is mercilessly goaded by his siblings Buck and Libby, the Peter Sohn voiced Forest Woodbush makes light of cognitive short-comings and even Henry goes out of his way to place Arlo in danger just to prove a point. Even Arlo himself is guilty of thoughtlessness when he prevents his human companion Spot (Jack Bright) from joining with an older human who calls to The young boy, opting instead to force him to continue on the dangerous journey back to the dinosaur’s home. Arlo’s actions bring into question whether in fact he is, in fact, a good dinosaur or just a scared kid who is unable to function without somebody else being always there to help him, whether it be his father or, later in the movie, Spot.
It’s so rare for Pixar to have a bad day at the office, but THE GOOD DINOSAUR is a victim of a tortured development and, without having any knowledge of that situation, the viewer will still sense that they have been told told this story many times before and with greater originality. Much of the story feels forced and it never finds a tone that allows for events to unfold organically, opting instead for a series of set-pieces that never meld together to create a flowing, continuous whole. It’s a great shame, as the Pixar animators have gone all out to imagine the landscape in which Arlo’s adventure takes place. Unfortunately, despite the film’s denouement, THE GOOD DINOSAUR never quite makes its mark.
THE REVENANT film review By Mark Geraghty December 7, 2015
Releasing in Australia on January 7, 2015
To refer to Alejandro Innaritu’s THE REVENANT as a “movie” or a “film” relative to the vast majority of what is released these days would be understating the power of what the Spanish filmmaker has delivered with his latest offering. Make no mistake, THE REVENANT does not flinch in its depiction of 18th Century frontier America and many may find Innaritu’s determination for authenticity too much. There are no real heroes and the villain, if one truly exists in such a compromised environment, is not a one note cardboard cutout. Once upon a time, John Ford’s films about the American frontier fell firmly on the side of favouring the “White Man” and the idea that Manifest Destiny should supplant all other established cultures as European settlers moved from America’s East Coast across the great plains of the country’s middle, up into the Rocky Mountains and eventually on to the lighter, brighter West Coast. Innaritu’s film presents a dark, grim view of this idea, depicting the European frontiersmen to be no more evolved than the American Indian cultures they went about displacing through a hundred years of “progress” across the United States of America.
Innaritu and Mark L. Smith’s screenplay opens with an extended battle sequences that establishes their political viewpoint up front and demonstrates the cultural clash in the most violent way imaginable. Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his half-Pawnee Indian son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) are hunting food away from their fur-trapping expedition when a group of Arikara Indians attack the main party in search of an abducted girl, Powaqa (Melwa Nakehk’o). The intensity of this sequence, which lasts for several minutes, has already been compared by other critics who have reviewed the film as comparable to the Western cinema genre’s equivalent of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN’s opening, and it’s a very good comparison. Innaritu’s sequence is more confronting, as he and his wonderfully-talented cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki opt for more close-up shots and point the camera up from the ground or at eye level to capture the mayhem that unravels as arrows, tomahawks and rifles tear apart the two combating groups. Glass, Hawk, Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Bridger (Will Poulter), along with a small group of other survivors escape via their river boat, but soon realise the Arikara will cut them off further down the river and decide to abandon ship and head over the mountains to get back to the safety of Fort Kiowa.
Soon after, Glass, while scouting ahead, inadvertently crosses the path of several bear cubs. He realises all too late that the mother bear is behind him and is unable to fire his rifle before she attacks him. The sheer brutality of this scene will leave many viewers reeling, as there has never been anything like this sequence seen in a film. Not only is the sequence brutal, it’s long. Innaritu deliberately protracts the bear attack out, as the massive creature attacks Glass twice.over the course of several minutes. Glass suffers extensive injuries to his throat, back and legs, but recovers his rifle momentarily and gets a shot off, hitting the bear in the neck. Enraged, the monster attacks again, determined to finish the job, but Glass with all of his remaining strength manages to unsheath his hunting knife and land enough blows to halts the animal’s attack. Matters are made worse as the giant creature knocks Glass off the edge of the embankment into the gully below, but, mortally wounded itself, comes crashing down upon him, crushing one of his legs as the giant beast comes to rest on top of him. The other members of the Rocky Mountain Trading Company’s party happen upon Glass and provide medical attention, but no one is convinced he’ll survive. Captain Henry has a makeshift stretcher made and the men take turns at carrying Glass until they reach the base of the Rocky Mountains. Realising it will be impossible to carry him over the mountains, Henry asks for volunteers to stay with Glass and Hawk until a rescue party can be sent. Fitzgerald and Bridger volunteer, but only after Henry makes it financially beneficial for them to do so. This proves to be a mistake on Henry’s part, as Fitzgerald proves to be totally unreliable and his lack of humanity comes to the fore as he murders Hawk, lies to Bridger about seeing the Arikara on the river bank and leaves Glass for dead after trying to bury him alive!
THE REVENANT is a stunning film and Innaritu does not swerve around difficult subject matter. He simply crashes through it and, along the way, drags the viewer with him. The performances are just about as physical as they come, as the character’s reactions to their environment are extremely primal and, in most instances, are borne out of a need to just survive; regardless of whether it’s the attacking Indians, Bear or harsh weather. There’s no doubt it was a difficult film to shoot and most of the main players don’t appear to be acting; they look as though they are simply worn out from the conditions. There’s blazing intensity from both DiCaprio and Hardy and the latter (although at times in unintelligible in terms of dialogue) captures the off-beat internal logic of his character to turn in yet another strong 2015 performance. The film will, no doubt, be considered favourably in the 2015 Award season, but its grim subject matter and oblique stab at spirituality requires too much contemplation on the part of the viewer at a time when the world finds itself confronted with these all too familiar concepts streaming through the daily news channels from other parts of the globe. THE REVENANT only serves to reinforce that the struggle for survival is one that has always been with humanity and will continue, always...
Welcome to "Not quite Fantastique", where I use my blog space to review movies that don't quite fit into the Science Fiction, Fantasy, Comic Book, Horror and Action genre focus of the Screen Fantastique website. I take my commitments to reviewing movies seriously, despite my reviewing and this site being primarily for non-commercial purposes. I'm lucky to be invited by local film distributors to so many wonderful films and the blog space on my site is the best way to create a home for movies that I see and want to share my view with a broader audience (whoever may be reading; if anyone at all...) I hope you enjoy the reviews that I post here and they help to inform your movie-going choices.
IN THE HEART OF THE SEA - film review
IN THE HEART OF THE SEA is one of 2015’s more unusual mainstream film releases. It’s big budget, period drama with a cast of well known actors from Ron Howard, one of Hollywood’s better Directors. In spite of these positives, IN THE HEART OF THE SEA does not in any way fall into the category of “feelgood”. The film, based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, tells the story of the Whaleship Essex and its crew, whose encounter with a white whale in 1820 saw the ship destroyed and crew lost at sea for 90 days. Screenwriter Chris Leavitt takes the book’s most dramatic sequences and turns them into a reasonably tight story that is focussed more upon the characters than their encounter with the white whale. This proves to be a good move, as it becomes clear the longer the film plays, there’s only so much dramatic tension to be had from the encounter with the white whale.
The story is told in flashback, as young author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) tracks down Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the last survivor of the Essex. Melville (who, in real life, would base MOBY DICK upon the story of the Essex) wants to find out the truth of the matter before there is no one left alive to recount what actually happened and whether the legend of the white whale is true. Nickerson is reluctant, but his wife (Michelle Fairley) forces him to recount the story in an effort to have her husband exorcise a lifetime of personal demons. Nickerson tells Melville that the story of Essex is really the story of two men, the ship’s Captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and the First Mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). Pollard is a third generation whaler from Nantucket, whose family is well established and controls much of what happens in the town because of their whale oil interests. Chase is from the lower classes and has something of a chip on his shoulder about not being made a Captain of his own whaling vessel.
Pollard and Chase are reluctantly paired together aboard the Essex and it becomes clear that their differing approach to seamanship are incompatible. Early in their journey, Pollard nearly sinks the Essex with his determination to test the crew during a storm. The ship is badly damaged and Pollard contemplates returning to Nantucket, but Chase argues that it would be ill-advised to return to shore without a single barrel of the precious whale oil they have been charged to collect. Pollard relents, setting in motion a train of events that see the Essex head as far south as any ship ever in search of whales. Their search culminates in the discovery of the largest whale pod any of the men aboard the Essex has ever seen, but it comes with a terrible price, as they encounter a white whale who seems to possess an almost human-like desire for vengeance.
The first half of IN THE HEART OF THE SEA is all about the build-up to the encounter with the white whale and the Second Act culminates with the Essex under siege from the mighty beast. The final Act of the movie looks at the aftermath of the encounter and how men, regardless of their station, deal with adversity. The flashback narrative allows Ron Howard to frame each challenge of the final Act with an ongoing emotional commentary from Gleeson and Wishaw’s characters, as the crew of the Essex become more desperate and their ability just to exist becomes more compromised. The story becomes quite grim as the elements take their toll and several more encounters with the White whale result in serious injuries and death. Howard never succumbs to gratuity but the decisions the remaining crew of the Essex take to survive reduce them to the most basic level of humanity; forcing them into acts that fly in the face of Pollard’s Darwinistic view of his place in the world. The film comes out much more on the side of Chase, whose rugged, hands-on approach to life and appreciation of the world around him is an affirmation of the movie’s “Green” theme philosophy.
Despite the film’s attempts to examine both the young Nickerson (Tom Holland) and the older Nickerson’s painful survival story, IN THE HEART OF THE SEA never quite hits the nail on the head. It’s an extremely well made film and both leads (Hemsworth and Walker) turn in solid performances, as do Wishaw and Gleeson along with Cillian Murphy as Hemsworth brother-in-arms Matthew and young Frank Dillane as Pollard’s cousin Owen Coffin. Technically, the film is solid, although the editing by Howard’s regular team of Dan Hanley and Mike Hill is hard to follow during key sequences involving the Essex being battered, either by storms or white whales. The cuts feel too fast and it’s extremely difficult to follow the various characters as they fight for survival. IN THE HEART OF THE SEA is a film won’t make viewers feel as though they have been treated to an outstanding piece of cinema, but it may help to bring a greater level of understanding of a small sliver of history that helped to inspire one of the great novels in MOBY DICK.