Friday, January 29, 2016

Guest Review! The Call of the Wild: The Revenant shows the human heart in all its aching rawness

  Alejandro G. Iñárritu directs a tense moment with Tom Hardy & Leo
Every once in awhile, I like to encourage other voices to contribute to this blog because it is always fascinating to get a fresh perspective on what other cinephiles take away from the magic that is a well-crafted motion picture, especially one so majestic as The Revenant. My friend Debbie Blinder, owner of Full Circle Candles and self-professed "movie freak" spoke so passionately to me about seeing this film (currently nominated for 12 Oscars, including Best Picture), that I encouraged her to write about it. She even agreed to have her Russian Blue, Jackaroo, give Toby a break and rate the picture at the bottom. Without further ado, here is her review!

What does "revenant" even mean? many people have asked. It matches the story perfectly.

rev·e·nant: a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.

Walking into the theatre after being warned that I might not be able to take the gruesome parts of the
movie, I found myself hesitant. However, being a longtime fan of Leonardo DiCaprio and knowing what he went through in this role, I still decided to brave the film as the intrigue and support outweighed the concern.

This movie was no doubt raw, but no part of it ran me off. It is a simple story of family love, survival and ultimate revenge mixed into the incredibly rough wilderness. What captured me right from the beginning was the way it was artistically filmed. Camera angles, natural lighting mixed with incredible acting, were in my opinion, the heroes from the start. It is a work of art.

Debbie with her daughter Autumn 
The scenery is impeccable. Beautiful and harsh all at the same time. I noticed scenes in which there were no footprints, not a hint of any human presence in these deep, snowy areas. Just the actors taking the first steps in uncharted territory. I knew going into the film that the choice was made to film not using artificial lighting. Genius! Evening scenes, lit from fire, stars, or the Aurora Borealis, illuminated the actors and landscapes beautifully. From morning till dusk the suns angles permeated the forest trees taking the audience on an eye-catching adventure. The senses were indeed awakened.

With all this said, the parts I was warned about were indeed intense. There is no going around that, but it is so well directed, filmed and acted that through the story I found myself intrigued by what would happen next and an understanding that the basic techniques for survival is a necessity. There are some slower moments, but they allow you, the viewer, to soak in the beauty before your eyes. Also, the Native American energy intertwined in this story made the intensity all the more sacred. I have great admiration for what the actors had to endure. (The Insatiable Critic's note: The Revenant was filmed in Canada, Argentina, Mexico, and Arizona. According to Entertainment Weekly, some of the crew complained about having to travel 12 hours to film 90 minutes of the movie, as well as being limited to the time constraints of natural lighting). Braving the environment seemed to be impossible and yet it was realistic. The Revenant is very much worth seeing and again, especially (if you still can) on the big screen to get the full experience of the rustic environment.

Jackaroo's Oscar predictions: Cinematography should be one for sure in addition to Best Actor for Leonardo's amazing performance.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas The Critic Gave to Me...A Beautiful Blue Death Audiobook Spotlight

Image courtesy of
The last day of Christmas is often a "blue" one, because we know that the party is truly over at this point and winter gets underway in earnest. Christmas, particularly in 19th century England, is also traditionally a time to tell stories of intrigue, often with notes of the supernatural.

Enter a cure for the winter doldrums and an inspiration for the ear and mind. A Beautiful Blue Death, Book 1 in the Charles Lenox Mysteries series written by Charles Finch and read by James Langton, is set in Victorian London and has all the markings of a frightfully buttoned up bore. It soon proves to be exactly the opposite - murder by poisoning of a maid (tidy enough for even the most delicate sensibilities) is uncovered despite a hasty conclusion of suicide. Langton's crisp British tenor buoys the plot along with an impressive array of regional accents and tones.

Mysteries are not easy things to write, particularly good ones. It takes patience and willingness to intricately weave a plot that is intriguing enough to tease the reader or listener into seeing it through to the end, but not giving away too much as to cause the audience to solve the crime too early (or, in many cases, at all). Our man Lenox is an aristocrat without being obnoxious, and fully admits to his status of being an "amateur detective." The numerous historical tidbits referring to trends of the time, from food to the way wood is stacked, shows the mark of exhaustive research on the part of the author to fully immerse the audience within the time period. The slow burn attraction between Lenox and our heroine Lady Jane is charming, enhanced by the appropriate emotional depth of Langton's narration. The juxaposition of these two characters as next-door neighbors and old friends makes the ongoing daily interaction of the opposite sexes, minus a chaperone in such strict social times, plausible - also the fact that they are both so terribly proper (until they aren't, that is).

Perhaps my only complaint about the plot is the copious amount of plodding through conversations (lots and LOTS of tea and sandwiches) in order to get to the bottom of things, which may try the patience of someone more accustomed to fast-paced thrillers. But Langton does masterful work in building the suspense while maintaining a very firm "stiff upper lip" that Lenox as a character cultivates within himself despite the most desperate of situations. Langton also pays strict attention to vocal consistency of multiple recurring characters and slips easily from the rarified polish of the upper class to the coarser notes of servants, footmen, and street thugs.It is a story that I believe Dickens himself might have enjoyed by the fire with a strong cup of tea on a cold winter's eve.

Toby sez: An excellent start to a series with a solid narration that wraps up loose ends but leaves the listener hungry for more.