Rarely, if ever, have I been so perplexed by a film’s critical accolades as I am by those bestowed upon Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. In step with the central protagonist’s self-indulgent quest for amorous fulfillment, Fellini slogs through a seemingly interminable sequence of disjointed episodes, drily recycling hackneyed interpretations of love, God, and death that never gel into a coherent story—let alone come close to deserving the film’s hallowed “work-of-art” reputation.
Like his previous films Winter Light and The Silence, Ingmar Bergman’s haunting—if sometimes pretentiously abstruse—film Persona superficially appears to reject the idea that God has a hand in human affairs. At this point in his career, the great Swedish director seems to be inclining instead toward an atheistic worldview in which his characters attempt to make sense of the harshness of reality, including death, mental illness, and the presence of evil. But Persona, a story of identity crisis from the perspectives of two women whose paths in life are temporarily intertwined, is much more than an exercise in such nihilistic futility.
The title of Hardcore Henry is likely to mislead and disappoint smut junkies. Very little porno content here, fleeting glimpses of a Russian brothel aside. Oh well, you can’t please everyone. The movie may have been born in Russia, but it seems tailor-made for America, where violence is happy to enter the fray when sex stops selling. Yes, fans of adrenaline-pumping shoot-em’-ups are sure to find this bullet-ejaculating orgasm of a film more stimulating than even a good ol’ pump-and-thrust picture ever could be. So intense is the action that even a ceaseless carper about gratuitous thrills like yours truly found himself liking it far more than he should.
Rehash. Recycle. Revisit. Repackage. Reboot. The English language has a veritable plethora of words suggesting the traversal of familiar terrain, perhaps because there are so many aesthetic products that do little else. The latest permutation in the Star Wars franchise is no different despite its absurdly bloated critical acclaim, having precious few qualities to recommend it other than, I suppose, its comforting predictability.
Few films have more hauntingly portrayed Mother Nature’s simultaneous beauty and brutality than The Revenant, an austere man-versus-nature saga set in the untamed wintry wilderness of early-nineteenth-century America. With grit, finesse, and a fine eye for photographic detail, director Alejandro Iñárritu brings to life a survival story whose blood-drenched imagery indelibly imprints itself in the imagination, its visceral realism rarely failing to get beneath our skin despite a few far-fetched plot elements and, at a little under three hours, a somewhat-too-leisurely running time.
Spotlight, a bland chronicling of the uncovering of the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church by an investigative team at the Boston Globe around the turn of the millennium, is so dim in its perception that it could more aptly have been titled Nightlight. Suffering in particular from an obtusely linear script, this mediocre piece of documentary-like storytelling illuminates few aspects of the seamy affair that we couldn’t have discovered ourselves through a bit of Internet detective work.