Thursday, January 21, 2016

2015 Movie Picks: The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl showcases the substantial acting talents of Eddie Redmayne, who plays Einar Wegener, a dashing young man in a loving relationship with Gerda, his charming wife, portrayed with passion and depth by Alicia Vikander. Both are aspiring artists, but Gerda is especially frustrated because her portrait paintings are rejected and she's not making it in the competitive European art world of the early twentieth century. Einar's artistic efforts focus on the same unfinished picture -- a dark, moody landscape from his childhood. In the scene, five or six tall, wispy trees stand apart against a backdrop of sea and mountains. 

See the trailer: The Danish Girl

When the scheming couple decides to play a joke on friends, and dress Einar as a woman for an elegant art event, the incident leads to a devastating discovery that fractures what appears to be a perfectly matched, romantic pair. Gerda happens upon Einar kissing a man at the soiree, and is visibly shocked. Einar later confesses he has always known there was a woman inside him. Torn by his love for Gerda, he tries to be the man he was, but can no longer deny the female who wants to come out. As Lily, she acquires clothes, makeup, and gestures to express her new personality. 

Distraught, Gerda yearns for the loving relationship she had with her supportive spouse and pleads with Lily to bring her husband back. Lily replies she can't. Gerda's loss of Einar and her marriage, their struggle to find help for him, and Lily's eventual decision to undergo sex reassignment surgery create the powerful arc of the storyline, loosely based on the Dutch artist who was one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery. While the film stops short of exploring the complex personal, family, and social challenges faced by Eddie Redmayne's transgender character, the tragic blow Lily's awakening renders on Gerda is delivered in full force. The fictional tale provides context for appreciating the history and evolution of today's transgender community. The Danish Girl shines -- a work of art crafted with lush photography and heartfelt depictions of love, courage, and loss. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

2015 Movie Picks: The Revenant

The Revenant, an Alejandro Iñarritu film with Leonardo diCaprio and Tom Hardy in lead roles, is an unquestionable saga of the season. The survival story tracks the treacherous journey of a fur trader in the early 1800s named Hugh Glass (diCaprio), who joins an expedition in the American plains as a scout. He's accompanied by his teen son, Hawk, half Pawnee, whose mother died at the hands of white men when Hawk was very young.

See the trailer: The Revenant

True to the harsh realities of the day, Glass and Hawk have to run for their lives when an Indian tribe attacks the traders' camp in a brutal, arrow-piercing, gun-slinging spree that leaves a trail of dead bodies on both sides. The survivors jump on their boat with only the furs they can carry on their backs. They escape the invaders, but troubles travel in tow, to render a film that won't let go. 

First, Glass is mauled by a giant grizzly bear. The tortured fight, raw and cumbersome with the bear having the upper hand, sends chills down the spine and leaves the victim gushing blood from arteries cut loose in his neck and body. In a turnabout, the son is now the caretaker of the father, after he's sewn and patched to stop the loss of blood and flesh. Carrying Glass up and over mountain ranges on a makeshift gurney proves too demanding for the men, who are battling the elements when they decide to leave him behind and press onward to the fort, their destination as snow falls and weather sets in. 

The threat of more attacks hovers like dark clouds overhead. Rendered speechless and paralyzed by his injuries, Glass is at the mercy of his son, another young man who stays behind to help, and a hardcore, crusty trader (Hardy) who volunteers to keep them company for extra pay, until Glass passes on. The challenges ahead are relentless in scope and nature -- man against man, evil, the elements, and his own limited ability to fight back. Everything that can go wrong does, in grand splendor, to shock the senses in sweeping landscape scenes of mountains, plains, earth, sky, and clouds. The flicker of fire at night, a round of sky framed by tree canopies, a raging river with cascading falls, and an unexpected buffalo stampede are but a few of the cinematic moments to dominate muted but magical photography. From start to finish, shades of gray set the mood for pending gloom. But Glass does not give up, reminding us of the nature of the human spirit that settled this country. His fight becomes our fight, and his setbacks are ours, until they no longer are. 

DiCaprio's performance takes nothing less than gutsy forbearance, strength, and stamina. The extreme conditions surely tested the entire cast and crew. Some have called the film pretentious and overdone. Others say it employs superfluous spiritual elements, which seem fitting to me -- the revenant refers to a person who returns from the dead, according to my online dictionary. I'm a fan of magical realism in literature and film, and feel those scenes work well for mood and back story,  providing the inner motivation for Glass' heroic resolve at every turn. I went along for the ride, even if I had to look away. 

The rush of accolades, awards, and nominations for The Revenant speak for themselves. 


Saturday, January 16, 2016

2015 Movie Picks: Sisters

Sisters is a romp of a chick flick with all the belly laughs of Bridesmaids and the x-rated material of Trainwreck. And who does it better than Tina Fey and Amy Poehler? Diane Wiest and Barbra’s James Brolin deliver sympathetic performances as the parents who’ve had it up to here with the antics of their two adult daughters, one more steady and responsible (Poehler as Maura Ellis) than the other (Fey as Kate Ellis), but both geared up for a grand hullabaloo and a nod to the good ole days when they were teen stars of their very own "Ellis Island" parties. 

See the trailer: Sisters

The parents' vacant house, ready for the new owners to move in, provides the perfect backdrop for the rip-roaring booze and rock bonanza that features a roundup of guests from the neighborhood and one unwelcome intruder, the former high-school bitch, Brinda (Maya Rudolph), unchanged. Risky Business- and Spring Break-inspired scenes are hilarious with Fey hiking up a stone fireplace and Poehler falling through the attic floor into the downstairs free-for-all. 

But Sisters wins big because director Jason Moore brings this one in with a heart. The poignant close-ups and quiet moments take us back to the tortured days of adolescent awkwardness, flirtations, and bad choices, before maturity and the realities of life demand more. Worth a girls night out. Nominations, perhaps. As long as taste is not a prerequisite.