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Micro-Review: The Revenant

The Revenant

A review in bullet points, mostly shamelessly stolen from my Twitter account.

  • Watched the Revenant last night with the Mrs. on HBO. I’m personally notorious for dozing off for long stretches of dramatic tilts, but, unexpectedly despite its over two-hour length, the movie managed to capture — and hold — my interest and attention the entire time.
  • Plot-wise, it made for a very good story, although nothing we really haven’t seen before. Despite being loosely based on the real-life tale of frontiersman Hugh Glass in 1823, most of the primary storyline borrows from classic tropes regarding survival, revenge, and the eventual redemption of our hero. Perhaps that’s why it proves so compelling.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio deserves praise for conveying Glass’s pain, despair, and determination through essentially a series of grunts and groans (and without working legs!) for nearly half the film. That takes quite the talent, and Leo well deserves his Academy Award for a job well done.
  • Tom Hardy has become one of the go-to actors in Hollywood these days. It’s amazing how well he has performed in a series of diverse roles in some of my favorite movies of recent times, from Bane in The Dark Knight Rises to the titular character in Mad Max: Fury Road to the low-down, partially scalped cretin Fitzgerald in this movie.
  • Wow, the cinematography and scenery were absolutely stunning. Again, well worth the Academy Award.
  • The Bear Scene. One of the most brutal, painful, torturous scenes since The Passion of the Christ. Never mess with a momma bear, folks!

“House, MD” Season One: A Review

House MD Season 1 DVD CoverIn the interest of full disclosure, House, MD could be my favorite television show of all time.  The combination of pithy, sarcastic humor, witty banter, and grave seriousness match my own twisted personality nearly perfectly, and I can easily watch each episode time and again, one after another, without even remotely suffering from boredom or restlessness.

The show is a masterpiece of design.  From the stylish opening credits (to the tune of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”) to the lighting to set design to ambient music throughout, no detail or care is overlooked in creating a wonderful, sleek, and bold package. Producer Bryan Singer (X-Men) spares little expense in setting the mood and tone for the show with every element. It’s television as art in a neat, dramatic, and humorous package.

Of all its six seasons to date, though, none matches the perfection and charm brought forth in its first season, which ran from 2004-2005.  The cast for the show remained small and intimate, and the focus more on the show’s primary gimmick — diagnostic forensics — than in future years.  Indeed, several of the program’s top episodes all ran during its debut season:

  • DNR: a legendary jazz musician (Harry Lennix, Commander Locke from the Matrix Trilogy) loses feeling in his legs and eventually collapses from a lack of oxygen.  House (Hugh Laurie) further complicates matters by violating a “Do Not Resuscitate” order to save the patient’s life and risks jail while fighting to determine the cause of the underlying condition.
  • Histories: a mentally unstable homeless women, who is favored for some reason by Dr. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), suffers from rabies and is not diagnosed due to complicating factors until it’s too late.
  • Control: a young, driven CEO (Sarah Clark, 24’s infamous Nina Myers) takes Ipecac as a means of facilitating bulimia and destroys her heart in the process.
  • Role Model: a passionate, charismatic black Senator runs for President but displays symptoms of AIDS, raising issues of trust and honesty with respect to politicians.
  • The Socratic Method: a schizophrenic mom is cared for by her struggling 15-year-old son.

Despite the focus on medicine and the individual story, though, great character moments were never at a loss and we as the audience grew to like and respect each of the main cast as if they were old, favored friends: the childish, almost infatuation-like affection Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) has for her boss, the glimpse into Chase’s (Jesse Spencer) paternal issues, and the revelation/”origin” of House as it relates to his condition and relationship with Stacy (Sela Ward).

Of course, the show lives and dies — so to speak — on the performances of Hugh Laurie, who portrays the titular character.  Unlike many medical dramas, Laurie nails the unique dynamics of a top-notch physician nearly perfectly.  House is arrogant, sarcastic, self-righteous, and critical to a fault.  He practices strict atheism (“dying is never dignified”) and, with the literal power of life over death, it’s difficult to not understand just why he and so many other doctors and scientists display those traits.  His dry wit in even the most somber of moments often proves genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. Above all, though, he is an educator — Princeton Plainsboro is a teaching hospital — and for all of his flaws its clear how brilliant an instructor and illuminator he is (witness his turn in front of a room of young doctors in the Emmy-winning episode “Three Stories.”)

The apex of the season’s main arc involves the hospital’s Chairman of the Board, Edward Vogler (Chi McBride), and the power and influence he wields thanks to his $100 million investment in Princeton Plainsboro.  A larger than life figure, Vogler is determined to run his new toy as a strict business and House’s unconventional style and philosophical differences eventually nearly cost himself, Wilson, Cuddy (Lisa Eddelstein), and Cameron their jobs. I won’t lie, watching House bristle in nearly all interactions with his new boss — who neither understands nor appreciates what he brings to the hospital — probably hits any officer worker suffering with a tough job a little close to home (I may or may not resemble that remark).  It’s the addition of those little extra and seemingly unnecessary dynamics that make House, MD so deep and rewarding a viewing experience.

It’s also most interesting to watch this arc today, while the United States debates whether or not to publicize the healthcare industry.  Just which method is in the long run most accurate: a true laissez-faire focus on profits and helping the most patients possible, or a far more expensive and ethically less dubious focus on the individual, no matter the cost?  While House and crew emerge “victorious” in the interest of perpetuating the series, the show provides no clear answers and shows both sides suffer from their own limitations.

I’m no expert on video quality or DVD conversions, so as to the product itself I’ll say that sound and video fidelity appear to be consistent with most modern programs ported over to video, and will likely look and play well on nearly any system.  After promoting the package’s bonus features through the first five discs, though, its hard not to find massive fault with what is offered: a few brief “behind-the-scenes” clips that run perhaps twenty minutes in total and do little to provide a closer look into the show, aside from illustrating Laurie’s real-life British accent.  This is clearly a DVD set put together merely to provide what it claims to — the complete first season of a top-notch television show — and little more.

So, all in all, House, MD Season One recaps on of the best pure story seasons of any show in broadcast history, albeit it with little flash or style.  Buy it for the sheer quality of the episodes, but don’t expect much else.  9 out of 10.

2012: A Discussion in Both Cinematic and Real-World Varieties

Seven Things I Learned While Watching 2012

1. It’s no Independence Day.

I am a huge fan of one of Roland Emmerich’s previous works, Independence Day. ID4 was a nearly perfect reincarnation of the spectacular book and movie War of the Worlds, told for a modern-day audience. 2012 lacks every element that made ID4 so great: likable characters, good drama mixed with humor, and just enough geeky science that the overall plot felt marginally believable.

2. It’s “disaster-porn” of the worst magnitude.

My goodness, I know that a tale about the “End of the World” involves carnage and death on a planetary scale, but for the first two hours it feels as if the audience is forced to suffer through every single death among the billions of victims one after another in sadistic and numbing fashion. Literally no stone is left unturned across the wasteland that becomes the United States, or the Vatican, or Asia. Africa, though, is curiously left unscathed. What’s up with that?

3. It’s junk science isn’t even plausibly believable.

So the sun lets off some “neutrinos” that heat/melt the earth’s core and, coupled with a mysterious alignment in the galaxy, the planet’s entire crust and magnetic fields shift violently.

Huh?

Where’s the big “Planet X” that’s destined to wipe up out? Where are the supporting revelations from the i-Ching and Nostradamus? The screenwriters grabbed a few cool terms from the 2012 lexicon and turned it into garbage. I actually laughed during the discussion of those wacky and terrible neutrinos. At least give us some global warming or a wayward asteroid!

4. John Cusack is a vacuum of charisma that fills the screen with suck.

Seriously, did every other major actor approached turn this flick down? Where’s Will Smith, or Denzel Washington, or even Ben Affleck? Instead, it’s Cusack filling the role of loser author with family issues, a PG-rated and less-charming archetype of David Duchovny’s Hank Moody in Californication. Big, heroic scenes call for big, heroic characters. Instead, we get a guy best known for holding up a stereo standing aside his ex-wife’s even dorkier new husband.

5. It is actually possible to hate a movie and the main characters so much that you wish for random catastrophes and deaths.

Cusack. The dorky surgeon new husband. The “I’m too old and dumb to believe this crap” President of the United States (Danny Glover). The fickle, fair-weather wife (more on that below). The usual screen-time hogging children. Evil Russians and bureaucrats. It’s no wonder why I hoped beyond hope for the US Ark to wipe out in spectacular fashion against the ridges of Mount Everest, or at least for Cusack and company to drown in unheroic fashion during the climax. That’s a bad thing, by the way.

6. A simple piece of electrical wiring can jam several-ton hydraulically controlled doors, but a half-drowned, oxygen-starved human can easily go in and remove the jam — and then not get crushed!

Yeah. That pretty much sums it up.

7. Amanda Peet got hit with the ugly stick, and is a poor wife at best.

Sorry, I didn’t even recognize the formerly lovely and sexy (in a cute, buck-toothed way) Peet until approximately halfway through the flick. I suppose I’m still more accustomed to her more quirky appearances as a contract killer (The Whole Nine and Ten Yards) or as a crazy dominatrix girlfriend from hell (Saving Silverman) than as the cookie-cutter wife.

That being said, my gosh was her character a total bitch. Let’s examine the facts: her first husband (Cusack) was a down and out struggling writer who’s first major published work failed utterly (400 copies sold total). So she leaves him for a dorky surgeon of some sort. Then, while the surgeon actually does more to save the main characters’ collective asses than anyone else by actually flying the various airplanes they use to escape by the hairs of their collective chinny chin chins, she begins to get goo-goo eyes for the ex. She finally succumbs and kisses Cusack…a mere 15 minutes or less after her hubby dies! What a ho!

2012: The Real Deal

Meanwhile, here’s a great summation of the major arguments for and against the apocalypse courtesy of Information is Beautiful.  Man, those guys do some great work.

2012: The End of the World?