Hacksaw Ridge

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Release: Friday, November 4, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Andrew Knight; Robert Schenkkan

Directed by: Mel Gibson

Unlike the hero at the heart of Mel Gibson’s first directorial effort in a decade I went into battle fully protected by a weapon: my overactive imagination. Turns out, psychological preparation is kind of necessary as you enter the gauntlet of Hacksaw Ridge‘s final hour. Things become real, and in a hurry. Of course there is violence and gore characteristic of war films but this is Mel Gibson we’re talking about.

But this is also the Mel Gibson I’ve been waiting to see for a long time. In spite of the way he once again seems to enjoy flagellating audiences with punishing sequences of human cruelty Hacksaw Ridge ultimately is worth the toiling. The paradoxical sense of uplift we feel in the moments where we are also suffering the most makes his return to filmmaking a welcomed one. I was so moved by this I couldn’t help but applaud during the credits. Meanwhile everyone else quietly filtered out. Did I feel awkward? Yes. Yes I did. But it was still the right thing to do.

Desmond Doss (portrayed by Andrew Garfield in one of the most sensational performances of the year) felt a tremendous sense of moral obligation — a sense of doing what is right not just for himself but for his country — when he enlisted as a medic in World War II. Hailing from a humble community tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, Doss became the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor after pulling 75 men off of Hacksaw Ridge during the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest confrontations in the Pacific Theater. A devout Christian whose violent upbringing at the hands of his alcoholic, war-scarred father irrevocably changed him, Doss’ enlisting became the stuff of legend when he told his commanding officers the Sixth Commandment forbade him from lifting a weapon; that he could serve his country by saving lives as opposed to taking them.

Hacksaw Ridge is somewhat a tale of two halves — one is noticeably stronger than the other and unsurprisingly the drama genuinely becomes compelling in the latter half, when we dive headlong into hell with Private Doss, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and a company of men who haven’t exactly taken a shine to the Bible-thumping pacifist. Like the brave men who took to the cargo net for the Ridge, Gibson’s cameras charge into battle with a gusto that’s immediately met with some of the most grisly war action you’re likely to ever see. It’s a breathless, chaotic and disturbingly realistic account of the bloody affront to the Japanese who were slowly losing control of the island, despite heavy losses on the American side.

While the film that precedes the fight itself feels much more compressed — particularly the budding romance between Doss and the nurse he meets at the town hospital where he decides he will donate blood, the beautiful Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) — there’s enough there to build a foundation for empathy. Perhaps this is a convenient time to forgive a film for being so contrived, but Palmer and Garfield’s chemistry feels appropriately based more upon a certain Look and Feel — both actors look of the era and their sweet romance feels unpretentious, genuine. They’re wonderful together. And while their passion for each other is palpable it’s more about the way the soldier was raised that offers the most compelling angle.

Gibson zeros in on two pivotal moments in Doss’ childhood — moments that, aside from his unwavering devotion to God, inform almost every decision he makes as an adult. One is an early scene in which Desmond and his younger brother Hal get into a play fight that turns ugly when the former smacks his brother in the head with a brick in an attempt to claim victory. Young Desmond, haunted by the fact he could have killed Hal, instead of taking a long hard look in the mirror takes a long hard look at a picture on their living room wall, a list of the Ten Commandments in a moment of silent and sincere repentance. Then, later, Doss finds himself stepping in between his father (a heartbreakingly good Hugo Weaving) and mother (Rachel Griffiths) during yet another bout of domestic violence. A pistol becomes involved. Plagued by his experiences in World War I, Tom Doss embodies the soul-crushing effects of survivor’s remorse. Desmond seems to take more after his mother, who is a strong and positive influence, despite her suffering at the hands of an unstable husband.

There’s an argument to be made against Gibson injecting blood and violence into almost every possible scene — did we need to see the needle pierce the skin? Ditto the leg injury sustained by the local mechanic, did we really need that? Words like gratuitous, self-indulgent and perverse frequently have popped up, but I’d wager this grim foreshadowing is actually not only creatively inspired but it helps prepare the viewer mentally as we leave behind the quaint Virginian town and journey out onto a smoky battlefield. Those spurts of violence are perpetuated as Doss’ idealism is met with hostility by his fellow soldiers and his commanding officers at boot camp. Watching him getting harassed unmerciful isn’t exactly pleasant.

In fact much of Hacksaw Ridge is far from comfortable viewing. As it should be. Gibson brings the horrors of war, and particularly this violent confrontation to life in a stunningly authentic and emotionally robust portrait. His first film in 10 years reminds us what made him a compelling filmmaker: his passionate touch, his ability to channel emotion through the lens, his eye for the beautiful as well as the barbaric. Amidst the loss of life there grows a flower. Doss’ heroic actions deserve to be celebrated and it would be something of a disservice not to show us precisely what kind of odds he was up against. What a powerful story.

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Recommendation: As both a tribute to a real war hero and a bloody depiction of war, Hacksaw Ridge manifests as one of the most punishing but ultimately rewarding film experiences of the year. The emotional and visual components match up favorably with Steven Spielberg’s seminal war film Saving Private Ryan, though I personally stop short of saying it tops that epic. I just have to recommend you bear down and watch this one. It’s an important film and a remarkable true story of courage and remaining true to one’s self.

Rated: R

Running Time: 131 mins.

Quoted: “Lord, help me get one more. One more.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Baskin

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Release: Friday, March 25, 2016 (limited)

[Vimeo]

Written by: Can Evrenol; Ogulcan Eren Akay; Cem Ozuduru; Ercin Sadikoglu

Directed by: Can Evrenol


This review is my latest contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. It’s another underground foreign film that I have heard few, but interesting, things about and I’d like to thank James for the opportunity to talk about it.


Eye-gougings. Keyholes in foreheads. Buckets of frogs and portals to Hell. Welcome to the mad, blood-soaked world of Baskin, the debut feature from Can Evrenol, one of only eight Turkish films ever to receive distribution in North America. If you want the truth, there’s no good way to prepare yourself for the craziness that awaits once you decide to enter, and given its incredibly nasty conclusion, perhaps only the most ardent of gore hounds will emerge unscathed from the visceral stylings of this extended version of Evrenol’s 2013 short film of the same name.

Baskin (Turkish for “police raid”) centers around a squad called upon for back-up at a remote location where they encounter a scene so shocking it puts even the most heinous of FBI and DEA crime scenes to shame, a blood-splattered dungeon inhabited by the film’s big bad, a satanic cult leader referred to as Father Baba (Mehmet Cerrahoglu, whose rare skin condition mostly affords the character his creepiness). This nameless pit is an infinitely grim place where torture and misery run rampant and to which the majority of the production budget was clearly funneled. Unfortunately it’s also one of the only bright spots in a film constantly drowning in its own mess.

Thematically, it’s tough to get a sense of what Evrenol is trying to convey here. (Satanic cults are hazardous to your health; try to stay away from them, mmmmmkay?) Overt religious imagery does not on its own constitute thematic depth or innovation. Granted, not every horror flick has an obligation to deliver the goods in symbolic fashion, but if they have any interest in staying competitive, they must then rely much more heavily upon the novelty of the story being told, not to mention whatever evil lurks in the shadows. In the case of Baskin, the story’s not quite solid enough to justify the work we have to put in to make sense of what’s going on. As for the villain? More on that later.

One of the cops in this group is the young Arda (Gorkem Kasal), who to this day struggles to overcome haunting memories from his childhood. He possesses some kind of telepathic ability that’s never properly explained, giving Evrenol free range to implement extremely interruptive flashbacks that kill the momentum being built in the present. If it’s Arda’s perspective from which we’re meant to derive any meaning here, it’s not established enough to make any impact. If we’re meant to be watching this all play out from the otherwise omniscient camera angles, those aren’t employed effectively enough either. In short, we’re left with a confused point of view that doesn’t improve even when we descend into what appear to be the bowels of the Underworld.

If there’s one thing Baskin excels at it’s shock value. The violence is so great so as to threaten comedy, but fortunately it stays on just the right side of exploitative. Torture never descends into parody, though it’s so nasty you’re desperate to force out a fake chuckle or two. At the heart of the evil is Cerrahoglu’s hooded Father figure, a vile creature who explains to his captives that Hell isn’t necessarily some place you go to. It’s “something you carry with you” at all times. Father Baba is an unequivocal nightmare, one of the more original-looking and genuinely terrifying villains in recent memory. James Wan may conjure up some good scares in his haunted houses but he could learn a thing or two about creating truly nasty baddies.

Indeed, if there’s any real takeaway from the chaos that becomes Baskin‘s slide into total depravity it’s that first-time actor Cerrahoglu has a promising future, should he decide to pursue acting further. He makes for a truly unsettling presence in a film that struggles to create much in the way of suspense and intrigue. There are some interesting ideas at play, including telepathy, but none of it is capitalized on with a story that prefers ambiguity over logic and coherence.

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Recommendation: Baskin is somewhat of an extreme film, though comparisons to contemporary boundary-pushers like Gaspar Noé and Tom Six might be in themselves extreme. Can Evrenol’s film certainly can be looked at as a depressing, nihilistic work and its denouement gives viewers the same sense of hopelessness that John Carpenter’s The Thing gave audiences decades ago. Though this is neither body horror nor the kind of dread-inducing cauldron that Carpenter’s picture has been cemented in history as, nor is it quite as gross as Human Centipede, Baskin sits somewhere in the middle — a purgatory of nastiness that is likely going to struggle to find a fanbase. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 97 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Saw (2004)

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Returning to my self-imposed hell by revisiting effective horror films from back in the day, we move onward through October rather painfully. (And of course this month would have FIVE Thursdays in it.) Still, at least today is a film that A) I’m far more familiar with than the previous entry and B) I actually really enjoy, although I don’t go back to it at all anymore. Not even in October. Nope. No siree. However, getting to review today’s film brings back some good memories from freshman year when my good friend Patrick and I, all crammed into those tiny little dorm rooms on campus with nothing but bottles of Captain Morgan and a flimsy DVD player, watched it over and over again. I guess we hadn’t really discovered it much before then. At least I hadn’t seen it until right around that time. Still, it’s a rare “horror” film — okay, more like a torture-porn — that I loved watching time and time again. The twist never got old. Not to me and Patrick. Nope. No siree.

Today’s food for thought: Saw

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 3.52.30 PMRelease: October 29, 2004

[DVD]

Nothing shouts ‘horror film’ more than shitty lighting, even worse acting. . . and an obvious lack of funding. Faced with all of these realities and more, then-amateur filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell knew that their first stab at horror wouldn’t quite be the typical film festival entry; they also had no idea how much of a sleeper hit they had tucked underneath their armpits at the time, either. Brutal, dark and grotesquely thought-provoking, the pair’s 2004 slasher-slash-psychological thriller rose to cult-status in a hurry after its nationwide debut in theaters, later spawning a run of sequels that’s close to being unprecedented in film history (please keep it up, Fast & Furious!).

I could just as easily create a post about the entire series of Saw films here; but. . . meh. As much as I was swept off my twisted feet with the original, the immediate sequels (2 and 3 are the only ones I’ve seen) I didn’t much care for, and any subsequent releases became so painfully obvious as a marketing gimmick (annual releases around Halloween for seven years straight) that I don’t even want to acknowledge their existence.

The very mention of anything Saw– or Darren Lynn Bousman-related in the years after I witnessed the “first trilogy” conclude pretty much made me ill. The once-brilliant, granted perverted, conceit that was crafted by the Aussies had indeed succumbed to being one of its own tortured, wayward victims, soon to be corpses. A final gasp of breath offered up a 3-D gimmick in 2010. Who wants to see people getting hacked up three different ways to Sunday in such a format — is it more convincing if body parts are actually flying outward at you?

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But seriously, how can anyone enjoy such violent stories? What’s the point?

If you were into horror, 2004 was an exciting time to be accustomed to seeing blood, gore and suffering on the big screen. The arrival of the Jigsaw killer and his ‘games’ marked a new era in filmmaking; granted, the subculture that grew out of this production might be even more cause for concern. It’s a disconcerting thought to have: knowing there are crazed fans for all types of forms of entertainment and the genres within. I wonder what that implies about the die-hards of things of this nature. . . shudder

Nonetheless, this particular film is brilliant, if not rough around the edges, and might be the most polarizing film made in the last decade. Why does one like Saw? Simple. The justification behind the violence. The victims picked in this film supposedly deserve the places to which they are exiled. I suppose depending on your worldview, the number of people “who deserve” any of this will widely vary — either that or your tolerance for humanity’s capacity for erring will completely inhibit your enjoyment of it at all, which would be understandable as well. The whole point of the misery is for the betterment of those suffering; those who are in these traps are meant to survive them and learn from them.

That concept’s a tough sell for a good number of viewers, but clearly Wan, Whannell and company are not concerned about that. And neither are followers of the Saw legacy. Ha! The legacy. What a joke. At least, I’m not concerned about the criticism myself. I can really side with both parties on this movie in all honesty.

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 What’s the deal with the Jigsaw Killer? He’s just a sick man, that’s all. . .

Again, polarizing. I bought into the set-up here, though. The fundamental principles of what this guy was doing in the very beginning (this film is maybe the best example of why sequels to horror films never should be approved) made sense to me. I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a psycho, though. Please don’t mistake me.

Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is an enigmatic figure, who, after discovering he has a terminal form of cancer, goes about creating vicious traps to put people he deems “unworthy of the life they are given” into, in an attempt to save them from themselves. One can sit and argue all day whether or not the guy has any right to put people through such trials or to even judge their lives, but then that’s all part of the thread of morality spinning itself through the gory story.

By now, Jigsaw’s one of the more memorable characters ever created in horror and the acting on the part of Tobin Bell is what largely makes the complex character such a satisfying watch. Plus, the way he is introduced into the story is quite possibly one of the most inventive and hair-raising turns ever created in the genre. It’s simply amazing the first time you experience it and seems to remain riveting on each return visit.

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The traps. . .? Can someone explain this to me, this stuff is just messed up. 

This element of these films is probably the most controversial of them all. First of all, it takes something of a warped mind to conceive of such devices from a writing standpoint — so a round of therapy might still be in order for Whannell and Wan at this juncture. But I digress. The traps are the tests for each character, meant to symbolize or reveal that person’s greatest weakness or flaw.

The most classic example revolves around a woman named Amanda, who is kidnapped by Jigsaw and, upon awakening, finds a metal bear-trap-like device on her head. She must remove it in something like a minute or so, or the trap will permanently snap open. In each of the traps (at least, in the original few films that I’ve seen anyway) a television set and a recording of this creepy-as-f**k clown on a tricycle accompanies the victim, which explains to them exactly their predicament and what they need to do in order to escape. The combination of the psychological element associated with the delivery of this information and how they potentially are going to die, along with the sickening originality of their plight has tempted many a horror director to try and incorporate similar extremes into their own repertoire (The Collector/The Collection; The Human Centipede). There may have been some success, but I haven’t much been interested to investigate beyond this one.

All the same, the traps invariably became more complex as the franchise’s budget became more lavish as time went on. As such, it became increasingly difficult to believe that Jigsaw was the man behind all these fancy killings; how does he exactly construct half of these things if his motif has been to build devices out of only items he has in his warehouse?

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4-0Recommendation: Well this most definitely has its devotees and it has its strong opponents. There will be very little to convince either to switch sides; it’s not like playing Red Rover here. Even still, if you haven’t yet exposed yourself to this, and are able to handle gratuitous violence and bloodshed, Saw is worth a watch for the compelling psychological element that lurks in the background. It’s a strong debut effort for the Australians, besides.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

You’re Next

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Release: Friday, August 23, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Men in animal masks descend upon a dinner party tucked away in a secluded mansion in the forest. When one guest manages to outlast the many vicious assaults, the identities of the assailants as well as the motives for all the bloodshed come into question.

You’re Next combines good old-fashioned gore with a surprisingly clever conceit to build a film that is more dark comedy than horror. While I’ve debated exactly what makes ‘horror films’ “horrifying” these days (blood and guts aren’t scary, that stuff’s just gross), it seems director Adam Wingard, along with writer Simon Barrett, were keen on trying to reinvent the term. They came close, but not quite. Still, the resultant film is a ton of fun and deserves more attention than it’s probably getting.

Beginning fairly inconspicuously, the family slowly starts to come together to celebrate the 35th wedding anniversary of Crispian (AJ Bowen), Drake (Joe Swanberg), Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and Kelly (Margaret Laney)’s parents. Though the acting starts off on the wrong foot, the atmosphere remains relatively tense since a few members of the family — notably Drake and Crispian — don’t get along very well. As dinner conversation goes from civilized to more hostile, strange things are happening outside and in a single, brilliantly directed moment chaos erupts. From here on out, you can start to expect a body to drop about every other scene. The blood starts to flow quite freely, and things in the Davison family will never be the same again. That’s putting it mildly, too.

The family is under attack from at least three men — one in a lamb mask, another in a tiger mask and the third in a fox mask. (I actually thought one of those was a bear, but still. The masks are effectively creepy either way.) The masked murderers apply a variety of hunting skills to the task at hand, which is essentially to wipe out this entire gathering of seemingly innocent people, wielding crossbows, machetes and axes as their weapons of choice. However, as the narrative continues to unwind and the body count rises, we are provided some unexpected twists — here, ones that are used to serve great purpose rather than being thrown in to oblige a post-Saw horror audience — that shake up the entire dynamic of this particular home invasion story.

Impressively, the acting throughout You’re Next does not greatly improve. . . .yet the movie itself does, and by quite a large margin. Relying mostly on emotional reaction shots in response to the (often grisly) death of someone close to them, Wingard and company don’t need award-worthy performances from the cast to carry this story forward. The further we go, the more complicated the morality play at work becomes. Character motivations become the only thing that truly separate this from a plethora of other home-invasion type thrillers. The violence is nothing spectacularly original — though it is often accompanied here by a laugh or two, which is attributable to the brilliant writing of one Simon Barrett (who wrote segments for V/H/S 1 and 2); and the hits always come at a time when it feels. . . right. I feel a little like a psychopath saying that, but when you watch this film, tell me you do not agree.

Though the film is limited (more or less) to a single building, the drama is never less than compelling. It also should be emphasized that there is more drama than terror; more twisted, dark humor than profuse bloodletting for profuse bloodletting’s sake. Because the film borrows elements from dramas and thrillers, there is an unusual gleefulness about watching so much gore unfold. Adding to that the fact that hardly any of the characters are all that likable aside from the crucial role that Sharni Vinson plays as Crispian’s girl, Erin, and You’re Next suddenly becomes a wildly entertaining, fun ride. It was absolutely a pleasant surprise and it begs the question of why can’t more horror films be like this.

Then again, that could very well diminish the novelty of Wingard’s take on horror/home invasion movies. For now, I’m perfectly content with the fact that this movie has rekindled my enthusiasm for the genre, and why anyone should pay to see them.

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3-5Recommendation: For fans of the genre, this is a must-see. For anyone else who’s dubious about putting themselves through an hour and a half of brutal violence, you should still go see it. Never before has violence and death seemed so. . . necessary? Maybe necessary’s not the right word; but it sure is satisfying watching it here. You’re Next successfully has made a break for a wider audience, and, much like James Wans’ incredibly successful The Conjuring, this film has proven that 2013 has made a concerted effort to add substantial entries into ‘Horror.’

Rated: R

Running Time: 94 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com