Evan’s Reviews

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“The Revenant” leaves audiences stunned, unsettled by grizzly, authentic portrayal

Revenant (n. one who has returned, as if from the dead)

Icy water trickles gently over the rocks. All is quiet. As the camera tilts up and pans to the right, the barrel of a gun creeps out from behind a tree. Two armed hunters are now visible, moving with caution over the steady flow of the stream.

A nearby gunshot shatters the calm. The men stop. Another shot.

Screams of terror and fury fill the air as the two men return to their hunting party. Arikara Indians gallop around the camp of fur trappers. Their arrows whiz past the two men, piercing the skulls of others around them.

A small group of survivors flees the Arikara. Reaching a boat offshore, the remaining trappers drift down the Missouri River, battered and defeated, carrying only a fraction of the beaver furs they’d trapped over the past few months.

This opening scene from “The Revenant” captures the brutality exhibited in the true story of its protagonist Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a legendary frontiersman and fur trapper in the 1820s.

Following the slaughtering of trappers at the beginning of the film, Glass guides the surviving group back to its outpost, Fort Kiowa. As Glass is scouting ahead he is attacked by a grizzly bear and mauled to the edge of death.

Finding Glass underneath the dead beast, captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) leaves him in the care of his half-native son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), as it seems that Glass will succumb to his wounds.

After a failed attempt to smother Glass, Fitzgerald kills Hawk, buries Glass alive and deceives Bridger about his actions as they press on toward Fort Kiowa. Determined to find Fitzgerald, Glass uses his wit and skill to survive and sets out on a 200-mile path of vengeance across the Northern Plains of America, and you are with him every step of the way.

You squirm in your seat as Glass cauterizes his own wounds. You taste the blood and scales of the raw fish as Glass rips it open with his teeth. You lose your appetite for that next handful of popcorn as Glass guts a horse and uses its carcass as a sleeping bag.

The authenticity of “The Revenant” is not only the product of DiCaprio’s dedication, but also of the entire cast and crew. Director Alejandro G. Inarritu was unwavering about filming in strictly natural light, which gave the cast and crew a mere 90 minutes of shooting time each day.

Inarritu and his team journeyed for hours in minus 25 degree weather to locations in the Canadian and Argentinian mountains. The production ran five months over schedule and $35 million over budget, but the hell that the cast and crew endured was not in vain.

The cinematography is masterful. The close ups are so close at times that DiCaprio’s breath fogs up the lens, further intensifying the emotional impact of his performance. The landscape choices and use of all natural light result in breathtaking shots such as one scene when Fitzgerald and Bridger are keeping warm by the fire. As darkness falls, sparks dance upward off of the flames; the camera angle shows them gently float toward the heavens and vanish into the twinkling of the night sky.

“The Revenant” is nominated for 12 Academy Awards, the most at this year’s ceremony. Its direction is nearly flawless, its performances, unsettling. But above all, Inarritu paints a captivating portrait of human suffering and the incredible resiliency of a man with a heart of vengeance.

Some good reviews in here. Some of them tend to have a little too much summary of the plot and a few also have a little more explaining of the process of the movie and fun facts, which is fine, but the review should take up the most space and sometimes it feels like it all overlaps a little in and out of each other and personally I would like a little more structure. I do find the small-but-many paragraphs to be an interesting layout, but it also confuses a little and becomes a little fractured. A think longer but fewer paragraphs would be better and with each paragraph having its own focus. That's just my opinion of course.

Generally I do see potential in your reviews, so keep it up!

Some good reviews in here. Some of them tend to have a little too much summary of the plot and a few also have a little more explaining of the process of the movie and fun facts, which is fine, but the review should take up the most space and sometimes it feels like it all overlaps a little in and out of each other and personally I would like a little more structure. I do find the small-but-many paragraphs to be an interesting layout, but it also confuses a little and becomes a little fractured. A think longer but fewer paragraphs would be better and with each paragraph having its own focus. That's just my opinion of course.

Generally I do see potential in your reviews, so keep it up!
Thanks for the feedback! I appreciate you taking the time to read the reviews and for providing your thoughts on them. I can see where some of them may have too much plot description or more elements outside of the review itself than necessary.

With some of my earlier reviews, such as “Whiplash” and “Imitation Game,” I was still trying to find my style and how I wanted to approach reviews. I come from more of a feature writing background, and I now try to incorporate that approach in my reviews as well.

My goal with each review is to paint a picture of the film and my experience with it at the beginning to draw the reader in (similar to a “lead” in journalism), and to give my thoughts and additional details surrounding the film for added interest.

In terms of paragraph structure, I like to begin and end each one on a note that makes you want to keep reading, which may result in smaller paragraphs and less structure in the eyes of some.

Again, thanks for posting your thoughts. I welcome constructive criticism and I value your opinion!

“Doctor Strange”: introducing a new era into the Marvel cinematic universe

“Doctor Strange,” in my opinion, is Marvel’s first step into the uncharted. Sure, “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a bold undertaking, but the concept of gods and aliens had already been explored in “Thor” and “The Avengers.” “Ant Man” may have given us a glimpse into the Quantum Realm, but at the end of the day, it was little more than a comedic heist film with a taste of “Honey I Shrunk the Kids.”

Helmed by horror director Scott Derrickson, “Doctor Strange” invites us into Marvel’s world of magic and mysticism. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Doctor Stephen Strange, an arrogant neurosurgeon acclaimed worldwide for his medical achievements. After losing the use of his hands in a car accident, Strange desperately searches the globe for anything that will give him back what made him great. Strange’s search leads him to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a sorcerer who introduces him to the mystic arts and sets him on the path to becoming the “Sorcerer Supreme.”

While magic itself is a new element in the Marvel cinematic universe, “Doctor Strange” is still, at its core, a superhero origin story, meaning that all of Marvel’s tropes are ever present. There are several attempts at humor. Some of them work; some of them don’t, and the villain, albeit portrayed very well by Mads Mikkelsen, is once again underdeveloped.

In spite of this, Marvel made an ambitious move with this film, one that I believe paid off in dividends.

The bizarre visuals, dialogue and character interactions of “Doctor Strange” would not work without strong performances, and for this film, Marvel was able to enlist a plethora of quality talent. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo – an experienced, collected, yet damaged sorcerer studying under the Ancient One – compliments the sarcastic and ambitious nature of Strange well. Benedict Wong and Rachel McAdams as Master Wong and Nurse Christine Palmer, respectively, also have some nice character moments and provide a few laughs along the way.

The “white-washing” controversy surrounding Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One (who, in the comics, was a man of Asian descent), left my mind the minute she stepped into the room with Strange. Swinton’s acting choices bring her character to life, and her expert delivery adds dramatic weight to certain lines of dialogue that may have otherwise come across as poorly written.

Cumberbatch’s performance is already being compared to Robert Downey Jr.’s in “Iron Man” because of the similarities between the origin stories of Stephen Strange and Tony Stark. However, what separates Strange and Stark from the beginning is the charisma and humanity that shine through Stark’s arrogance before becoming Iron Man. He was a likeable jerk. The same cannot be said for Strange.

In one scene, Strange tests his music knowledge with other hospital staff while performing surgery. He chooses his operations based on their level of difficulty, discarding ones that he deems unworthy of his time. Even after his accident, he pushes Nurse Palmer, the one person who truly cares for him, away as a result of his pride. The fact that Strange is so unlikeable at the beginning of the film makes it all the more satisfying to watch his transformation unfold on screen, and, as always, Cumberbatch brings his A-game to develop this character.

Scott Derrickson’s background in the horror genre benefits his direction immensely. From the villain’s makeup design to certain visual imagery in the final act, Derrickson’s touch is evident throughout “Doctor Strange,” and the work that he and his team put into the film’s special effects is impeccable, visually and conceptually.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Doctor Strange says to the Ancient One.

“Not everything does. Not everything has to.”

“Doctor Strange” could easily be viewed as typical Marvel fanfare. It takes a hotheaded protagonist and sends him to the darkest depths, only to have him rise from the ashes to claim his destiny. It sacrifices the villain’s character development to ensure a shorter runtime and throws away potentially impactful moments for the sake of comedy. Overshadowing the film’s shortcomings for me, however, are excellent performances, visual flair and a bit of magic.

“It’s a Wonderful Life”: Christmas and the blessings of life

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole doesn’t he?”

- Clarence, “It’s a Wonderful Life”

With a bleeding lip and a broken spirit, George Bailey stares longingly at the tossing and turning of the waves. The frigid wind bites his face as suicidal thoughts creep into his head.

Bailey steadies himself on the edge of the bridge. His eyes widen. He looks to his left, and then to his right. Preparing to jump, a single thought enters his mind…

“I wish I had never been born.”

No good deed goes unpunished. You hold a door open for someone, and you get the next one slammed in your face. You take over the family business to make a difference in others’ lives, and your Uncle Billy misplaces an $8,000 deposit that sends your business into bankruptcy.

Regardless of how small or large the good deed, gratitude for it can be hard to come by. Those trying to do good eventually get burned out, feeling that no one appreciates or cares about them; that the world would be no different had they never been in it.

From the start of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we see the kind heart of its protagonist George Bailey (James Stewart). At the age of 12, he saves his brother Harry from the icy waters of a frozen pond, causing Bailey to permanently lose hearing in one of his ears. Rarely does he put himself first, and this is evident in his actions throughout the film.

After tragedy strikes his family, Bailey gives up his life dream to stay behind and run his father’s company in Bedford Falls, New York, to ensure that it stays out of the greedy clutches of banker Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore).

Bailey makes several sacrifices throughout the film; often oblivious to the lasting impact these choices have on the lives of others in Bedford Falls. Twice he gives up the opportunity of a college education. Instead of going on his honeymoon with his wife, he stays behind after their wedding to keep his Building and Loan Company afloat. He even turns down a sizable job offer from Mr. Potter himself to uphold his values.

And yet, despite all of this, one mistake by his uncle leads to a moment of panic and despair for Bailey. Facing bankruptcy and imprisonment, that terrible thought first surfaces…

“I wish I had never been born.”

James Stewart brings warmth and humanity to the character of George Bailey. He steals every scene he is in, and each word, facial expression and movement of Stewart contributes to the timeless message of the story.

Frank Capra’s vision and direction drive the actors’ performances. Despite it being in black and white, the quality and special effects hold up surprisingly well to this day. The film even won an Academy Award for developing a new method of simulating falling snow on a motion picture set.

It received five other nominations from the Academy, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. It has had an impact on today’s entertainment as well, with popular TV shows such as “The Fairly Odd Parents” creating episodes based on the film’s third act.

“I wish I had never been born.”

As this thought rings out in Bailey’s head, he rears back, ready to leap into the waters below. The splash he hears is not his own, however. Another man jumped, and he is drowning.

“Help me! Help me!” the man cries.

In another selfless act, Bailey takes off his coat and dives into the water to save him. The man turns out to be Clarence – Bailey’s guardian angel sent from heaven to help Bailey realize his purpose in life.

Bailey tells Clarence that he wishes he had never been born, that everyone including his wife and kids would be better off without him. Clarence grants his wish, and right away it becomes clear that without George Bailey in their lives, the people of Bedford Falls are not the same, and their circumstances are considerably worse.

“You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” This saying can be applied to Bailey in the film and often for us in our everyday lives. Regardless of what you’re going through, your life has meaning, and you have touched others’ lives in ways that you may never know. Count your many blessings this Christmas, and when times of hardship or self-loathing arrive, remember the enduring words of Clarence, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

“It’s a Wonderful Life”: Christmas and the blessings of life
I have never liked this movie, but I enjoyed reading your review.
Thank you! What are your thoughts on the film?

“Home” not just for kids
This sounds interesting, why is this the first I'm hearing of this movie?
I really enjoyed it! However, if my girlfriend had not recommended it at the time I would not have heard of it/went to see it either.

Trouble with a capital "T"
Evan, Nice review on It’s a Wonderful Life, good job..

I love that film and even rated it higher than you, I gave it a solid

I have it on Blu Ray and the HD scan of the original negative looks amazing. There's also a colorized version on the DVD set, which I watched only once. It actually looked pretty good but the color took away from the story, IMO. I haven't seen it in awhile, maybe this Christmas I'll watch it.

Evan, Nice review on It’s a Wonderful Life, good job..

I love that film and even rated it higher than you, I gave it a solid

I have it on Blu Ray and the HD scan of the original negative looks amazing. There's also a colorized version on the DVD set, which I watched only once. It actually looked pretty good but the color took away from the story, IMO. I haven't seen it in awhile, maybe this Christmas I'll watch it.
Thank you, Citizen Rules! I’ll have to check out your review later tonight.

I bet it looks fantastic on Blu Ray. I should invest in my own copy sometime soon. I haven’t seen the film since last year. I updated this review and tightened my writing on it so I could run it in our school’s paper. Thanks for taking the time to read it!

‘Logan,’ a fitting sendoff for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine

“Let’s go see the new ‘X-Men’ movie,” your girlfriend suggests as you pull up to your local movie theater. While at first surprised that she wants to see a comic book movie, you take full advantage of this rare opportunity, grab some popcorn and make your way to your seat.

Excitement and anticipation sink in as the 20th Century Fox fanfare floods your ears and the “Marvel” comics logo flips down the screen. After enjoying the action fest of “X-Men: Apocalypse” almost a year prior, you wonder what grand cinematic spectacle awaits in “Logan.”

From the opening shots, however, you realize that something is off.

The film begins with the introduction of a weathered, lethargic and washed up Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) passed out drunk in the front of a limo, an antithesis to his usual sarcastic, feral state. Awoken by outside commotion, he swears, and limps out to find a few lowlifes attempting to steal lugs from the wheels of his vehicle. He tries to settle the matter peacefully, but is quickly shot in the chest and beaten repeatedly by the thugs.

Within seconds, Logan becomes the Wolverine we know and love, except this time director James Mangold pulls no punches. One of the thugs loses his arm. Another is stabbed repeatedly in the stomach, and two have Wolverine’s claws thrust through their heads in spectacular bloody fashion.

You and your girlfriend look at each other in shock, realizing you are in for much more than a typical superhero movie.

In my article, “Dummy’s guide to the Marvel cinematic universe,” I said that it is the age of the cinematic superhero, and this is still very much the case. For some, this is the time to be alive, while others have been bogged down by superhero stories since the first “Avengers” film.

Like it or not, superhero blockbusters are here to stay, which is why small-scale, R-rated films like “Logan” are so refreshing.

The story picks up a mere six years after “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which saw a dark, post-apocalyptic timeline and the poorly received events of “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” rewritten in favor of a new, bright future. In “Logan,” however, Wolverine’s healing factor is wearing off, causing him to age and weaken rapidly. He drives a limo in Texas for funerals, businessmen and partiers alike to pay for medication to treat the neurodegenerative dementia of Professor Charles Xavier (Sir. Patrick Stewart). The X-Men have disbanded, and no new mutant has been born in 25 years.

So, what happened?

The answer, which is revealed in pieces throughout the film, is heartbreaking, yet realistic, much like the film that it’s in. And as stated previously, Mangold’s writing and direction are unhinged. The dialogue is profane, the violence is brutal and the narrative effectively portrays the humanity of its characters.

Jackman and Stewart’s performances are equal contributors. Seventeen years after the first “X-Men” film, and Jackman has never been better as Wolverine. This is partially due to a story element found only in this film: Logan’s mortality. The adamantium that made him into a weapon is slowly poisoning him from the inside out. Both he and Xavier recognize that their days are numbered, which is why when they encounter Laura (Dafne Keen), a young mutant being pursued by the government, it is of the utmost importance to ensure for her a more hopeful future.

In addition to the film’s compelling story and gripping portrayals, its soundtrack – which features the likes of Brooke Eden and Johnny Cash – and original score by Marco Beltrami are impeccable. His compositions are modern, yet simple and eerie. This is exemplified well in the film’s opening moments following Logan’s violent encounter. A lone, desolate piano track can be heard faintly in the background as he wipes the blood from his knuckles and eases the shotgun shells out of his chest and arms.

“You are dying. You want to die,” Laura tells Logan.

“How do you know?” Logan asks.

“Charles told me.”

“What else did he tell you?”

“To not let you.”

As an emotionally-charged conclusion to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and a brilliant introduction for Dafne Keen as an actress, “Logan” is a triumph on all fronts. Its success, and the success of its predecessor, “Deadpool” (2016), have paved the way for future down-to-earth narratives in this genre. And in the age of the cinematic superhero, these stories are more than welcome.

"'Guardians 2' succeeds as small, character-driven story"

Baby Groot. A young CGI Kurt Russell. And a soundtrack that will transport your parents back to the good ole' days. What more could you ask for in a summer blockbuster?

Aside from hits like "The Dark Knight," "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" and "The Empire Strikes Back," most sequels fail to capture the ingenuity, wit or sheer awe of their predecessors. However, as Norman Vincent Peale once said, "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." In that vein, "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2" shines brightly.

The film continues the story of Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and his mangy band of criminals, warriors and assassins, who must once again save the galaxy from certain destruction. While James Gunn's first film masterfully introduced us to Marvel's cosmic realm and the quirky individuals that inhabit it, "Guardians 2" foregoes a conventional superhero narrative arc in favor of a more personal, character-driven story.

From Gamora and Nebula's disdain for their father, Thanos, to the Guardians' fluctuating relationships with one another, the story largely focuses on family. Many critics were put off by Karen Gillan's portrayal of Nebula during the more impactful, heartfelt scenes. For me, however, humanity and sincerity shone through her acting and in the small details of her damaged history with Thanos and Gamora.

The Guardians themselves, as always, exude confidence and chemistry, with much of the film's humor stemming from Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista).

Gunn's visual direction is impeccable, characterized by vibrant colors and grand set pieces. And the soundtrack, "Awesome Mix Vol. 2," while less recognizable as the first volume, compliments the film's themes to near perfection.

"Guardians 2" isn't groundbreaking. Not all of the jokes land, the secondary villains are, at times, annoying and it does little to further the overarching narrative if the Marvel cinematic universe. Overshadowing these nitpicks, however, is a glimpse into the souls of the characters we know and love, several gut-wrenching laughs and Baby Groot.