Home Video Picks & Passes 05.01.16
The Revenant (2015) -- PASS
A Whit Stillman Trilogy (1990-1998) -- PICK
“Best Picture” nominee The Revenant, in which Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his Oscar, is either a masterpiece or a mess, depending on who you ask. I’m in the “mess” camp, though the film is undeniably visually spectacular and contains some gripping sequences. Where some see a gritty-yet-powerful tale of survival, fortitude and purpose, I see a straight-up revenge story, with a hero who endures endless pains to avenge a loved one on a contemptible villain and a plot only interested in which is the better (i.e., tougher and more capable) man. The Revenant flirts briefly with religious themes, even toying with the idea that vengeance belongs to the Creator, not to us. The empty way this notion is invoked at the very moment vengeance is taken crowns the movie’s failure.
If the leather-tough masculinity of The Revenant nevertheless wins you over, A Whit Stillman Trilogy, new from Criterion, may not be your cup of tea (but give it a chance). One of cinema’s most eccentric and valuable voices, Stillman has been called “the WASP Woody Allen” and “the Jane Austen of indie film.”
Stillman made his debut with Metropolitan (1990), a surprising and revealing comedy of manners set in the Upper East Side’s debutante ball scene “not so long ago.” He followed up with Barcelona (1994), a culture-clash comedy about a pair of Americans in the Spanish city. The Last Days of Disco (1998) rounds out the trilogy, with sketches from the early-1980s disco scene. Stillman — who calls the films his “Doomed Bourgeois in Love” series — peppers his work with sympathetic portraits of unexpected subjects and offbeat, witty dialogue, rich with contrarian observations about the world and human nature.
When one character scoffs that nearly everything Jane Austen wrote is “near-ridiculous, from today’s perspective,” another retorts, “Has it ever occurred to you that today, looked at from Jane Austen’s perspective, would look even worse?” Still another, critiquing his parents’ generation for making happiness their highest good (“the last way to be happy”), is even harsher on his own generation, which he calls “probably the worst since … the Protestant Reformation! Barbaric! ... Now barbarism is cloaked with all sorts of self-righteousness and moral superiority.” Admit it, you want to hear more, don’t you?
Caveat Spectator: Whit Stillman’s films include sexual references and situations, some language, drinking and/or brief drug content and at least one fleeting, nonexplicit sex scene. Mature viewing.
- May 1-14, 2016