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Oscars 2016 Breakdown

oscars 2016 breakdown

This week on Now Conspiring, we discuss the Academy Award nominations and provide our picks for each category. Throughout, we review several movies like Dirty GrandpaAnomalisaCarol, and The End of the Tour.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Who do you think should win this year’s award for Best Picture? (Feel free to add any other picks for the other categories if the mood strikes).

Go on…Oscars 2016 Breakdown

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Which is Better? ‘The Revenant’ Vs. ‘The Hateful Eight’

hateful eight better revenant

The Revenant is a two-and-a-half hour western that pushes the limits of cinematography and brutality in modern film.

The Hateful Eight is a three-hour western that pushes the limits of characterization and brutality in modern film.

On the surface, these movies seem very similar in terms of setting and tone, which is why many people have been comparing them in recent weeks. The truth is that these films have just as many differences as they do similarities. For example, The Revenant is a film mostly devoid of dialogue in favor of grander set piece moments. In contrast, most of The Hateful Eight is composed  dialogue, and its story rarely steps out of the confines of a small inn.

Another difference is even clearer. The Revenant is one of the most celebrated films of 2015, earning a sweep of coveted Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography (among others). The Hateful Eight was almost entirely snubbed.

But does that mean The Revenant is the better film?

My gut answer is no, without pause. The Hateful Eight is my favorite movie of 2015, with The Revenant coming nowhere near the top of my list. I thought it was above average, but nothing truly special as a whole.

Am I right about this? Or has the Academy done a better job analyzing these two films? That’s what we’re about to find out in this week’s Which is Better. I’ll break these movies down by category, evaluating which one edges out the other.

Starting with:

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

hateful eight better revenant

I decided to keep this category as broad as possible, allowing for both films to be merited based on how artistic they are. And this is no easy decision.

Emmanuel Lubezki was the cinematographer, again working with Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu after their collaboration on Birdman. And the results are pretty much the same, as film, every shot of The Revenant is downright gorgeous and even revolutionary, with the entirety of the film being shot in natural light.

Quentin Tarantino (director of The Hateful Eight) also got help from an old friend of his, Robert Richardson, who is the cinematographer behind Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds, and Django Unchained.

And in some ways, the cinematography of The Hateful Eight is just as revolutionary, as it was shot in Ultra Panavision 70 and Kodak VISION 3. Its limited release 70mm format is an experience that’s been missing from cinema since 1966’s Khartoum.

But what makes The Hateful Eight even more unique is how this 70mm format and wide aspect ratio is utilized. In the past, this type of filmmaking was popular when massive epics like Ben Hur needed that extra wide angle to show off large scale and spectacular settings. The Hateful Eight only has a handful of scenes that devote the sweeping 70mm shot to scenery, and it’s merely used to demonstrate the isolation of the characters.

Surprisingly, the majority of The Hateful Eight actually takes place indoors, which might seem like a waste of this compelling format. Yet it works incredibly well because the wide aspect ratio gives you the novel experience of a murder mystery dinner theater.

For that reason, The Hateful Eight pulls off what could have been a cheap gimmick in one of the most creative ways possible. Still, that doesn’t make it the more beautiful film.

After all, very few people actually saw The Hateful Eight in this 70mm format, unlike the widespread distribution of The Revenant. It just doesn’t stand on its own in the same way, and from a technical standpoint, The Revenant is a more stunning movie, with entire set pieces devoted to showing off Lubezki’s incredibly unique vision.

It’s a tough one, but I have to credit Lubezki for crafting a masterwork from such a grim premise and location. The Hateful Eight is also superb, but it’s just not on the same level.

The Revenant gets the first point.

BEST ACTING 

hateful eight better revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio’s hunt for an Oscar has truly become a legendary joke among movie buffs and mainstream audiences alike. In fact, much of the popularity surrounding The Revenant can arguably be explained by the widespread desire for people to see if this is his year.

And in a lot of ways, I agree with them. The Revenant absolutely showcases DiCaprio at his best, proving he’s one of the most talented actors alive. But it’s strange to root for him when you consider how little dialogue and (in some ways) character he ultimately adds to his role as Hugh Glass.

Granted, dialogue isn’t everything, and its lacking certainly doesn’t diminish the obvious commitment on DiCaprio’s part. It’s just hard to praise an actor who stares at the camera at one point, as if to Jedi Mind Trick the Academy into giving him his due.

Of course, there’s one other highlight from The Revenant, and that’s Tom Hardy’s performance as Fitzgerald. In my opinion, Hardy was vastly more memorable and entertaining, and he easily had the best quotes of the movie (not that it was much of a competition).

The Hateful Eight is almost all character, on the other hand. And that’s saying something about a movie that doesn’t really have a lead actor or actress. You’d think this would hurt its chances, but it’s actually quite admirable how well the ensemble performs with limited screen time devoted to each character.

To be fair, a few of these characters are overshadowed by the true heavyweights: Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Kurt Russell, and Jennifer Jason Leigh all deliver extraordinary performances. If we were judging this category solely by classic one-liners, this would be an easy choice.

It’s a tough because The Revenant only has the performances of DiCaprio and Hardy to make its case, while The Hateful Eight benefits from several incredible performances offered by a much better cast, overall.

Unfortunately, you can’t weigh this choice on the sum of good performances, so I have to give this one to The Revenant. Both DiCaprio and Hardy drove their movie, while the real star of The Hateful Eight actually felt like Tarantino himself most of the time.

Second point goes to The Revenant.  

BEST CHARACTERS

hateful eight better revenant

Ah, but which movie has the best characters?

This is much easier, thanks to the horrid miscasting of Domnhall Gleeson as Captain Henry in The Revenant. Aside from Fitzgerald, none of the side stories in this movie had me wanting more (except more of Fitzgerald, perhaps).

But The Hateful Eight excels in a big way when it comes to its ensemble, as I mentioned in length earlier. You can make the argument that Michael Madsen should have been swapped out, or that Tim Roth was trying too hard to channel Christoph Waltz (an argument I wouldn’t make, personally).  But virtually everyone else in the cast was indispensable.

Aside from casting, the characters in The Hateful Eight were simply more entertaining to watch. They had multiple dimensions (usually hidden) compared to the gruff and simple survivalists in The Revenant. They actually had character arcs and grew as the film went, notably Walton Goggins’ as the Sheriff.

While the performances in The Revenant were more proficient overall, the characters in The Hateful Eight were vastly more interesting, compelling, and memorable.

The Hateful Eight wins this point handily.

BEST SCORE

hateful eight better revenant

I’ll make this quick, since many of you probably haven’t had a chance to study the score yet.

First, you’ll notice that The Revenant didn’t get an Academy Award nomination for Best Score, simply because the composer violated one of the rules for qualifying.

That said, The Hateful Eight also didn’t get nominated, despite Ennio Moriicone crafting one of his best scores in years. What to do?

I actually had to listen to the score for The Revenant after seeing the movie, because I simply forgot all of it. In contrast, I was hooked by the overture of The Hateful Eight (so, before the movie even started).

Aside from that, the song choices littered throughout were masterfully chosen by Tarantino, giving us even more reasons to rewatch the film for new meanings.

The score for The Revenant is fine and all, but it pales in comparison to The Hateful Eight, which gets the point.

BEST STORY 

hateful eight better revenant

The score is tied, and only one category remains. Between The Revenant and The Hateful Eight, which movie has the better story?

It goes without saying that both movies have simplistic set ups. The Revenant is about a hardy (no pun intended) frontiersman looking for revenge against the men who left him for dead. The Hateful Eight boils down to a group of outcasts being forced to spend time together during a blizzard.

The settings, characters, and action are what truly drive the story for both of these movies, though in their own unique ways. And what’s even more interesting is how both movies virtually eschew the typical three-act structure, to varying success.

Let’s just get this out of the way. My biggest complaint with The Revenant was, in fact, its story. Though the first act is incredibly strong with its one-two punch, the movie descends into an overlong and under-edited mess.

The story takes no significant turns, instead pitting more and more obstacles against the main character until none remain. So by the time the final climax came to a head, I had already lost all interest in the plight of Hugh Glass. In a way, I was sort of rooting for Fitzgerald. And nature. And everyone else, really.

hateful eight better revenant

Part of my issue with The Revenant was how Iñárritu handled a lot of the characterization of Hugh Glass himself. To break up the action, the writers used flashbacks and daydreams to further explain why we should care about Glass. These moments were probably meant to give us a chance to catch our breath, but they were ultimately too confusing and surreal for most people to grasp.

It’s not that these sequences were hard to understand, by the way. The issue is that using conceptual and abstract storytelling to explain a character who himself is incredibly abstract (thanks to his lack of dialogue and seemingly mythic constitution) is utterly ineffective.

The Hateful Eight couldn’t be more different. Tarantino’s screenplay for this film is a work of art, on the same level as Lubezki’s cinematography for The Revenant.

Every chapter of The Hateful Eight has a clear purpose, with each interaction between each character building toward a shocking finale that few will see coming. It’s a story that’s so engrossing, I found myself amazed that it had been three hours, not thirty minutes.

More importantly, this was a story I had never experienced. The Revenant had one-of-a-kind visuals, but its revenge story was based on a very loose adaptation of a true story. Not much of The Revenant is very surprising or jaw-dropping, save for a few spectacular “pretty” moments that aren’t well-connected.

The Hateful Eight, on the other hand, was far more original and difficult to interpret. It took a lot of analysis and critical thinking for me to find the deeper meanings masquerading as nihilism. The result, which I won’t spoil for the sake of those who haven’t seen the movie, is the simple fact that The Hateful Eight is the product of a master storyteller.

THE VERDICT

hateful eight better revenant

My final decision is that The Hateful Eight is better than The Revenant. Obviously not in every respect, as the latter has superior cinematography and more remarkable performances.

But the characters, score, and story push The Hateful Eight forward by a wide margin in their own right. So much about so much of this movie just works to near perfection, even on the note of cinematic experience. I like to bring this up a lot with these Which is Better articles, but I tend to judge a lot about a movie based on how I left the theater after watching it.

Though its easy to write off these moments as “gut reactions,” there’s truth in evaluating the experience of watching a film. The goal is for me to leave the theater feeling glad I participated in the movie, and The Hateful Eight does that and then some.

The Revenant left me cold, confused for the wrong reasons, and ultimately disappointed. It’s not a bad film, but only because so many disparate elements of it are too exceptional to write off.

So that’s where I stand. What about you? Sound off in the comments if you have something to contribute. And if you have an idea for a new Which is Better topic, be sure to send me your ideas below.

Thanks for reading this! You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni

 

What’s Your Most Anticipated 2016 Movie?

most anticipated 2016 movies

This week on the podcast, we discuss our most anticipated movies of 2016. From Pixar and comic books to wizards and french cartoons, we discuss which films are on track to become new favorites.

We also briefly discuss our favorite movies of 2015 to kickoff the show (and there are some surprises, for sure). Feel free to add your favorite 2015 movie to the comments below.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Which 2016 movies are you looking forward to the most?

Go on…What’s Your Most Anticipated 2016 Movie?

Over a Decade Later, Samurai Jack is Back (on Toonami)

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Cartoon Network teased us with a short video today announcing the soon return of an animated series we thought had been forgotten: Samurai Jack.

Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of the series, is attached to what’s being called “a new season for the epic story,” which will premiere on the mostly anime-filled Toonami block.

As for the video itself, we only get a glimpse of what’s to come. The figure in the video is presumably Jack himself, outfitted with new armor along with his signature sword. Aku, his demon rival, is also seen in the background sporting his flaming eyebrows and deadly stare. It’s enough to bring me right back to the original style and flourish I loved from the original run.

Samurai Jack ran on Cartoon Network from 2001 to 2004 before being unceremoniously cancelled, despite any resolution to the show’s singular narrative. Growing up in feudal Japan, the newly-minted samurai (later known as Jack) took on the shape-shifting demon, Aku, in a battle for the entire world. Nearly defeated, Aku threw Jack through a time portal, transporting him thousands of years into the future.

Jack had to use his legendary sword and grit to survive this war-torn wasteland filled with dangerous machines, aliens, and mythological foes on his way to finally confronting Aku again in this new world. Unfortunately, that battle never happened.

In 2016, we may finally get the ending we’ve been waiting over a decade for. And would it be asking too much for some sort of theatrical release? Yeah? OK, just pretend I didn’t ask for that.

First Thoughts: ‘The Jungle Book’ Trailer

jungle book trailer

The Jungle Book is Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of the 1967 animated film of the same name. This, of course, is not a surprise due to the successes of Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent. And with 2015’s live-action Cinderella being such a big hit, remaking the last film Walt Disney ever produced was inevitable.

You may not remember this (I certainly didn’t), but Disney already did a live-action remake for this movie in 1994. It borrowed stories from both The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, and it was actually well-received by both audiences and critics. Yet many people still scolded the film for veering so far away from Kipling’s original stories, not that the animated film did a good job of this.

There was also an animated Jungle Book sequel made by DisneyToon (they make the majority of Disney’s direct-to-video movies) in 2003. I’ve never seen it, and I honestly don’t intend to anytime soon. For context, this is the studio that brought us Planes and Planes: Fire and Rescue.

Oh, and I guess I have to mention that the first Jungle Book movie ever came out in the 1940s, decades before Disney got to work on it. Also, an unrelated movie called Jungle Book: Origins will be coming out in 2017, and it’s being made by Andy Serkis and Warner Bros. We honestly don’t have time to get into that, but I will mention that it has a stellar cast.

jungle book trailer

Now, we have the first teaser trailer for Disney’s next retelling of The Jungle Book, and it provides a lot of information that will intrigue longtime fans of the story. Even if you’re not very interested in the Jungle Book franchise, I think you’ll still find something unique to latch onto as we learn more about this movie. It’s the first Disney remake I’ve come across that seems like it could bring something new to the original story.

Sure, Maleficent and Alice and Wonderland already tried this by extending their stories and putting more emphasis on the villains. And they’re not terrible movies or anything. My only issue with them, honestly, is that they feel like unnecessary accessories to an animated movie that’s already great.

But with The Jungle Book, we have a source material that has so much potential as a live-action movie with updated special effects. It will be a visual spectacle just to see these complex animal characters coming to life on the big screen. And since The Jungle Book hasn’t been retold thousands of times over the years (ahem, Cinderella), this new movie will hopefully feel fresh for many people who see it.

Here’s the trailer below, and I encourage you to watch it at least twice. Afterward, we’ll discuss. 

OK, so to start things off, let’s talk about the cast.

Jon Favreau, the director of Iron Man, is helming the film and will probably make a cameo at some point. Mowgli is being played by a newcomer named Neel Sethi, and like the original animated film, he’ll be raised by a family of wolves.

Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) will voice the alpha male, Akela. Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) will voice of the mother wolf, Raksha. And the panther, Bagheera, will be voiced by Ben Kingsley (pretty much every movie you’ve ever seen).

Bill Murray is voicing Baloo in this film (yes, that’s the song he’s whistling at the end), and Idris Elba is voicing Shere Khan. When I first heard that Scarlett Johansson would voice the seductively dangerous snake, Kaa, I was less than excited, but she kills it in this trailer as the narrator. And of course, Christopher Walken will be handling the voice of King Louie.

jungle book trailer

I was hoping that this new movie would borrow more from Kipling’s work, and I think this might be the case in some ways. Naturally, Disney is maintaining a lot of what made the original animated film so well-liked, but they seem to be adding some of the darker material that got cut from the original. Pirates of the Caribbean proved that Disney has room for darker and more epic movies, and I hope they apply that here.

So, how is this new film like the old one?

Kaa the snake will apparently be more of a villain who wants to eat Mowgli, at least at first. In the book, she actually saves Mowgli from the Bandar-log after he gets kidnapped, which could also happen here. Pretty much everything related to the Bandar-log and King Louie in this trailer looks more like the animated movie, instead of the book.

Baby Mowgli is found by Bagheera instead of the wolves, just like in the animated movie. And that last scene with Mowgli and Baloo floating down the river is clearly an homage to the 1967 film.

jungle book trailer

But something from the book that appears to be happening in this trailer is Mowgli stealing the “red flower” from the village. He runs across the bridge holding fire, as instructed by King Louie. This could mean that he’s going to fight Shere Khan with the red flower, which is straight out of Compton-er-the book. Toward the end of the trailer, you can see a glimpse of this fight.

It also looks like the film is adding something that neither the book or movie did, which is a fight between Bagheera, Shere Khan, and Baloo. I have absolutely no idea where this is going, so I’m excited to see it go down in the film. It’s the natural progression of the story when you think about it, at least before Mowgli gets his chance to face Shere Khan on his own. Or it could mean that he’s not fighting the tiger alone.

Finally, I want to point out that the look of many of these characters is coming from the book, which is a great thing. This includes Baloo, who is now a brown bear instead of the bluish grey bear from the movie. And Hathi, the old elephant, appears more like the domineering and wise character that the Kipling story portrays. He’s not supposed to be comic relief, like we see in the 1967 film, which I think they added because they already had so many know-it-all animals running around in the script.

jungle book trailer

Like I said before, the movie is so far coming off as darker and more epic than the animated film. That said, some people who’ve seen footage of the movie at D23 claim that it’s actually light-hearted, so this trailer might be a little misleading. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you.

I don’t know how I feel about this film yet. On the one hand, it’s cool to see that they’re breaking away from the music numbers and treating the source material more seriously. But I’m worried this will take away what people loved about the classic film in the first place. I guess we’ll have to trust that Disney can surprise us once again with something that fits comfortably in the middle.

The Jungle Book opens in theaters, April 2016.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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