Now in theaters, and the leader in this year’s Oscar nominations:
The Revenant—Probably because there’s a part of me that still thinks of him as that little kid from the sitcom, the adult Leonardo DiCaprio is an ongoing amazement to me. In this adaptation of Michael Punke’s 2002 novel DiCaprio is entirely credible as Hugh Glass, the frontiersman who, on an ill-fated pelt-hunting expedition in South Dakota in 1823, was savaged to the point of death by a bear, then abandoned by the men charged with staying with him. Horrifically wounded, he nonetheless dragged himself across hundreds of miles of wilderness, for the sake of survival and revenge.
This historical incident (it was also the basis for 1971’s memorable Man in the Wilderness, with Richard Harris) has been embellished, giving Glass an even more spaghetti-western-ish motive for his vengeance. Director Alejandro G. Innaritu stages scene after scene of gruesome and grueling violence—Indian attacks, the bear mauling, murders, scalpings, disemboweling animals to sleep in their carcasses—with undeniable primal force.
The final clash between Glass and his chief enemy (Tom Hardy, who’s superb) is a standard action-movie grapple, and somehow banal. But on balance, The Revenant is potent stuff, and vividly acted by DiCaprio, Hardy and Will Poulter as the young Jim Bridger.
I couldn’t help but notice, however, that Inarittu’s previous film, the rhapsodically received Birdman, was about a movie star prepared to end his own life because his acting career wasn’t going quite as well as he’d hoped. This time Inarittu gives us a hero who literally crawls out of his own grave, eats raw meat and cauterizes his own wounds with gunpowder just to keep breathing. It’s kind of hard to pin down Inarittu’s philosophy.
Still in theaters, and unlikely to be among next year’s Oscar nominees:
Norm of the North—The title character is not your average polar bear. He’s able to talk to humans, for one thing, and he’s squeamish about hunting and eating seals—though the movie never makes clear what he has been eating up to this point.
When a greedy New York developer plans to build luxury homes in the Arctic, Norm and three lemming pals—who are in no way imitative of the Minions, of course—travel to the Big Apple to find a way to put a stop to it. He becomes a media star shilling for the developer’s project, just waiting for his popularity to peak so that he can use it to turn public opinion against the ridiculous project.
This animated kidflick has its heart in the right place, and it’s hard to completely dislike a movie that mocks eco-tourism and gratuitous development of environments that should remain pristine. But Norm of the North falls flat. It has a flicker of wit here and there, but overall, it just isn’t funny.
Rob Schneider provides Norm’s voice, and there’s nothing very wrong with his work that a few decent jokes couldn’t cure. The cast also includes such talent as Bill Nighy as a Freudian seagull, Ken Jeong as the villain, Colm Meany as the grandfather and even Salome Jens as a nasty councilwoman. This movie does not, I’m glad to say, represent the finest hour for any of them.