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Thursday, 4 February 2016



In this film Leo di Caprio plays Hugh Glass, the man who will not die.

The film is set in the American West, in the 1820s. Glass is a guide in the wilderness, charged with leading a group of trackers around the brutal landscape of Montana.

He is attacked by a bear, gravely injured, and eventually left for dead by the people charged with taking care of him. He spends the rest of the film simply staying alive, kept that way by thoughts of revenge.

In fact, pretty much all Glass does throughout the film is not die. There is no real substantive story, apart from that. He finds many ways to avoid dying, has adventures and meets people along the way, but in essence this is a story of bare survival.

The landscape is another character in the tale, the brutal, snow-battered country in the mountains of the American West is the backdrop for Glass’s feats of staying alive. It was apparently filmed in all natural light, and does look impressive, at times breathtaking.

And yet, the film is a tale of a superhuman feat of survival, a story of an ordeal. And at times watching the film itself is a bit of an ordeal, it is intense, bloody and violent, and after a while a little tedious. The unremitting misery and danger that Di Caprio’s character goes through is impressive at first, but soon becomes repetitive. One near-death experience runs into the next, until it all seems a little samey.

Makes an impression, but all the snow and ice and not dying gets old quickly.


Room, on the other hand, is remarkable. It is a gruesome story too, a tale of horror and fear and survival. But it is so much more than that.

A young woman is kidnapped by a man when she is seventeen, and imprisoned in the shed in his garden. He has a security system set up so that only he can get in and out.

After two years she is impregnated by her captor (who she calls Old Nick), and has a son. And this son, Jack, grows into a little boy, whose whole world is Room.

The first half of the film is set in Room, and is as claustrophobic and anxiety-producing as you would imagine. Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack’s whole world is in that five metre by five metre space, they have no contact with the outside world. The sense of threat and imminent violence builds with each visit by Old Nick to their room, and Ma is on the verge of cracking.

And then, through small acts of heroism by both of Ma and Jack, things change. And when they change they change utterly. The captured girl who Jack knows as Ma now has her identity returned to her, and is called Joy again by parents and friends. And this is where the movie expands and grows, just as Joy and Jack’s world expands

The whole experience of watching this film is extremely powerful, just as the experiences portrayed are so profound and effecting. It is impossible to be unengaged watching these two people dealing with massive trauma and then the world opening up.

The story itself is extraordinary, but the treatment of it, by Irish director Lenny Abrahamson, is careful and subtle and, in the end, massively powerful. An engrossing, overwhelming film.

The Revanant will win Best Picture at the Oscars, there is nothing more predictable than the Academy recognising something as grandiose as Iñarritu’s film. But Room is the movie of the year, streets ahead of Di Caprio and his stubborn insistence on staying alive.

Thursday, 14 January 2016


Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, comic creation of journalist Paul Howard, has a son who has been involved in various nefarious dealings. The son, Ronan, has a friend from the Dublin underworld known only as “Buckets o’ Blood”.

“Buckets o’ Blood” could easily be Quentin Tarantino’s nom-de-plume. Inevitably towards the end of his latest film, The Hateful Eight, the set and all the characters are bathed in spurts, floods, puddles, marshes and swathes of the stuff.

It is a pity that he seems to think that now has to stick to some kind of formula. Lots of talk, shady characters with dark pasts, more talk, some action, more talk, insults, conflict, action, then gunfire, stabbings, poisonings, blood, gore, blood and more blood, and then some more blood.

It was shocking and thrilling twenty years ago with Reservoir Dogs, now it’s just predictable and tedious. And it is a pity, because Tarantino is a masterful filmmaker in so many ways, and The Hateful Eight is intriguing and compelling and impossible to ignore until the scarlet denouement.

It is a number of years after the American Civil War and bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russel) is taking his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, fantastic in this, just nominated for an Oscar) back to Red Rock to collect his bounty. On the way he picks up a couple of strays, including Tarantino regular, Samuel L. Jackson, as Major Warren, also a bounty hunter.

They all end up lodging in Minnie’s haberdashery, an inn in the Wyoming wildlands. A blizzard starts up and they are shut in to the inn, along with another four suspect characters, including one who claims to be the hangman of Red Rock, the one charged with the execution of the bounty hunter’s prisoner.

And this is where the film really gets going, as Samuel L. Jackson’s former Yankee Major confronts a Confederate General who was responsible for the massacre of a battalion of black troops during the war. We soon see that pretty much all of the characters, as the film’s title suggests, are violent and suspect in their own way, all with their own brand of dark secrets.

The action develops, and picks up speed as a poisoner gets to work. From then on it is death and mayhem, double-crossing and quick-drawing, until there is almost no-one untouched by the bloodletting.

What Tarantino writes well above all are these long scenes full of tension and suspense, dialogues that go on and on and on, well past where most other directors would cut. He is not afraid to let a scene develop, to build the intrigue and then let the tension rise, subside, and then finally reach a crescendo. Much of the film is masterful, fascinating, impossible to look away from.

But inevitably, he gives in to his instincts, and turns the massacre dial up to 11. The subtleties of the previous two hours are mostly forgotten in the barrage of gunfire and gore.

It is worth imagining what kind of movie Tarantino could make if his budget for fake blood was slashed, and he was forced to work out his plots without resorting to killing practically all of his characters. It could be something really special, like Pulp Fiction was. But right now, there doesn’t seem to be anyone willing to tell him that less is more when it comes to spraying the set with crimson. It is a pity.

Yet despite this, The Hateful Eight is worth seeing, like everything Tarantino does is worth seeing. No-one else makes films like him, his is a particular kind of bloody genius.