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January Movies at Saigon’s Alternative Film Venues

With both the Golden Globes (you can find a full list of nominations here) and the Oscars looming, it is an (almost) all-American program this month at Saigon's alternative film venues. From a sci-fi adventure to a hard-hitting Cold War drama, Tarantino's rendition of a classic Western to the true story of Hugh Glass' 19th-century survival, these are the movies that Hollywood should be making more often.

January 6 @ 8pm – deciBel Lounge

January 7 @ 8pm – Saigon Outcast

The Revenant (USA, 2015)

Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant is a cut-to-the-bone – literally and figuratively – epic revenge adventure pitting man against the stark yet beautiful indifference of nature. Inspired by the true events of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), the distilled primal violence kicks off from the opening scene's war party and continues through to Glass' grisly attempt at survival after he is severely mauled in the already legendary grizzly bear scene.

The press has reported in great detail the gruelling filming of The Revenant, as both Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki were determined to shoot the entire film with natural lighting and make it as real as possible. While it was, no doubt, a challenge, the cast and crew should find solace in the successful result: a slow-burning film that brings us back to a state in which we, too, will start desiring to sink our teeth into the raw meat of a dead bison.


January 13 @ 8pm – deciBel Lounge

Sicario (USA, 2015)

Benicio Del Toro steals the show as the ambivalent Colombian consultant in the narco-thriller Sicario. Emily Blunt is Kate Macer, a by-the-book idealist FBI agent who is requested by special agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to take part in a mission against Mexican cartels with the aim of stopping drug-related crimes on American soil. A series of questionable tactical actions later force her to challenge her country’s ethical motives.

Thirty years ago, a story like the one in Sicariowould have fallen into the category of “far-fetched conspiracy theory concocted by screenwriters to make a sensationalized film”, however history and people like Gary Webbhave laid the ground for Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Enemy, Prisoners) to turn the polarizing and inconvenient involvement of US Homeland Security and the CIA with South American drug organizations into a believable and gut-wrenching thriller.


January 14 @ 8pm – Saigon Outcast

The Hateful Eight (USA, 2015)

Love him or hate him, two things are undisputed about Quentin Tarantino: first, he is a living, breathing cinematic encyclopedia and second, his endless resources deliver some of the sharpest scripts in Hollywood. Tarantino's latest Western, The Hateful Eight, is a testament to this: like a mad scientist, the director merges classic Western tropes and flavors – the film is scored by Sergio Leone’s long-time composer Ennio Morricone – with gore and explosive dialogue, which his actors deliver on the nose. Kurt Russel and Jennifer Jason Leigh join the usual Tarantino gang – Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins and James Parks – in the roles of bounty hunter John Ruth and his sinister murderous prisoner, respectively. Due to a blizzard, the two are forced to take on board two stranded men, another bounty hunter (Jackson) and the future sheriff of Red Rock (Goggins), and ultimately find refuge in a lodge where other lawless men are staying. It is here that the verbal and physical violence surges around a murder mystery.


January 20 @ 8pm – deciBel Lounge

Bridge of Spies (USA, 2015)

Penned by the Coen brothers and directed by the almighty Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies is a spy-war drama set at the height of the Cold War. Due to his involvement at the Nuremberg trials, insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is asked to defend alleged Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, elegantly played by revered British actor Mark Rylance. Abel’s incarceration on American soil, however, is brief, as he will soon be given back to the Soviets in exchange for captured U2 American spy-pilot Francis Gary Powers. Once again, Donovan is put in charge of arranging and executing the spy swap against the backdrop of a “complicated” East Berlin that was, exactly at that time, erecting the wall that would divide the German capital for almost 30 years.

Only an actor of Tom Hanks' caliber could have pulled off the true story of an ordinary man who rises to higher, heroic tasks without making it phony. Spielberg’s undisputed cinematic storytelling and his well-known fervor for history, combined with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski’s hazy shadows, recreate the hysteria of the Cold War. But Bridge of Spies is not a story about super powers, it is a story of individual men and their heroic efforts, on both sides.


January 21 @ 8pm – Saigon Outcast

The Martian (USA, 2015)

Matt Damon is astronaut Mark Watney on a mission to Mars in the latest film by Ridley Scott. Watney is stranded on the red planet after his crew believes him dead and are forced to quickly abandon their mission due to a dangerous windstorm. Unlike in Blade Runnerand Alien, Scott takes an entertaining and optimistic approach in this survival-adventure sci-fi flick that sees Damon’s character, an expert botanist, use all his strength and resourcefulness to find sustenance on Mars. Although The Martian has an A-list cast – Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig and Danny Glover, among the others – it is a one-man show for Damon, who received a Golden Globe nomination for his efforts in portraying a believable hero who is relatable but never dull.


January 27 @ 8pm – deciBel Lounge

The Lobster (Greece/Ireland/UK/Netherlands/France, 2015)

If George Orwell wrote a romantic version of 1984, The Lobster would be it. The setting of the first English-language feature by Yorgos Lanthimos is a familiar dystopian future, in which people have to be in a couple or they will be moved to the Hotel. Here, they must find a compatible partner within 45 days or they will be turned into an animal of their choosing. The key word here is “compatible”: like an online dating website, in which people believe that sharing hobbies or home towns are the winning criteria for a happy relationship, the Hotel’s management does not accept that two individuals can form a solid, loving relationship that will lead them to become “good citizens”. A funny, moving satire of today’s visions of love, The Lobsterreceived the Jury Prize at Cannes, earned seven nominations at the British Independent Film Awards, as well as a win for Best Supporting Actress Olivia Colman, and took home the top honor for Best European Screenwriter at the European Film Awards.


January 28 @ 8pm – Saigon Outcast

Spectre (UK, 2015)

The most notorious spy on the face of the Earth is back. The 24thinstallment of the Bond series, Spectre, sees Daniel Craig reprising the role of James Bond – probably for the last time – under the guidance of two-time Bond director Sam Mendes. 

The possibility of the closure of the ‘00’ section, the discovery of a mysterious organization called SPECTRE and a message from the dead whisk Bond on eye-popping adventures around the globe, from Mexico City to Rome to Tangier. Cinema's favorite spy will come face-to-face with Spectre’s mysterious kingpin (Christoph Waltz), clash with the newly appointed M (Ralph Fiennes) and rescue Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann in the true surprise of the film. 

To follow up the success of Skyfall was, to say the least, a nerve-wrecking and almost impossible task. Ultimately, Spectredoes not match Skyfallbut it comes pretty close, and it will surely give more than a couple of headaches to whomever takes on the next chapter in a franchise that seems wholly unstoppable.

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