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.”

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 

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Release: Friday, May 15, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: George Miller; Brendan McCarthy; Nico Lathouris

Directed by: George Miller

For a lesser population, what a lovely day it is indeed, a day in which a franchise is reborn. To anyone else not attuned to what was once a legitimate excuse for Mel Gibson going crazy, Mad Max: Fury Road feels like what a Michael Bay action sequence wants to be when it grows up.

Before dealing with the flack I’m going to inevitably receive for that comparison, may I remind you that Bay, despite himself now, has a knack for building enthusiastic, explosive entertainment. Whereas the aforementioned splurges on expense, George Miller ingeniously . . . well, he splurges too actually. Except here a $150 million budget is appropriated toward some mind-blowingly technical stunt work that is liable to leave most breathless, begging for more.

Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is seen at the film’s deceptively quiet open recounting his days of hardship via a gruff narrative, briefly reflecting upon a troubled past before being snapped up by a passing horde of baddies, undoubtedly the inspiration for some of this year’s most popular Halloween costumes. Behold, the War Boys. He is taken to a strange and desperate civilization known as the Citadel, a relative oasis presided over by the tyrannical King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who keeps most of the communal water and greenery to himself and his minions.

Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, a shaven-headed, fearless amputee with a face covered in soot, finally has had enough of living in such conditions. She goes rogue, fleeing the Citadel in Joe’s ‘War Rig’ and down an indistinct but narratively significant path of sorts, bound for a better way of life. On board the Rig are Joe’s Five Wives — a collection of beauty that recalls Bay’s casting sensibilities. But Bay doesn’t go for talent, really. He just stops at ‘good-looking.’

Perhaps that’s the only thing Joe cares for as well. Enraged by the knowledge of their escape, he sicks the War Boys on the Rig, igniting a thunderous and violent chase across remote desert landscapes and into a sand storm that makes The Perfect Storm look like a gust of wind. Valleys become death gauntlets, their outer limits patrolled by bikers who are expecting a shipment of gasoline be delivered by Furiosa in exchange for her safe passage through. As sure as a Michael Bay car chase, more disaster awaits there.

Miller and Bay are both adrenaline junkies — the former addicted to cartoonish madness; the latter to closing the gap between CGI spectacle and cinema-related migraine. One of these addictions is healthier (at the very least, artsier) than the other. But the constant raucous atmosphere can be overwhelming for newcomers to this depraved world of half-dead humans clinging to life however they can. For a good portion of this ride Max is used as a blood bag to nurse Nux (Nicholas Hoult) back to . . . uh, health. And one of the Five Wives is very pregnant. This isn’t a thinking man’s movie, but if there’s one thing Fury Road is adept at other than delivering non-stop thrills, it’s showing humanity’s will to endure some crazy shit.

With Hardy replacing Gibson in the titular role, one that strangely bears less significance when put beside an iconic Charlize Theron, Fury Road threatens to abandon its cult classic status, exploding into potential box-office behemoth territory. Despite an outrageous, gothic dress code this costume design will likely remain one of the hottest topics of the summer. Maybe all year.

Apparently The Avengers: Age of Ultron is still playing in some theaters. Well, now there’s a new kid on the block and his name is Mad Max Absolutely Ridiculous. Decorated in war paint, yelling at the top of his lungs he demands you know his name. After spending two hours with him you aren’t likely to forget it. Perhaps that’s the most significant distinction between these auteurs of the action spectacular.

When you realize you left the GPS at home . . .

When you realize you left the GPS at home . . .

4-0Recommendation: Decidedly one-note when it comes to plot, Mad Max: Fury Road is still a unique experience — brutal and relentless action combined with beautiful visuals and a gung-ho spirit that fails to dwindle. Having seen the originals isn’t a necessity but I’d imagine it would help round out Max’s character more. Action junkies and fans of George Miller’s brand of filmmaking must see this movie. It’s a curious thing, too: there are two films coming out later this year (one this summer) with as much potential to deliver the goods and both indisputably appealing to larger audiences, but I wonder if these films will be as successful in recruiting new fans as Miller’s latest has been.

Rated: R

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “Hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.”

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

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

Machete Kills

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Release: Friday, October 11, 2013

[Theater]

Okay. I’ll go ahead and file this one under ‘Ridiculous.’

But I’ll be sure to leave a sticky note on it as well, with a reminder saying, ‘Not bad if you’re in just the right mood for guns, girls and glory all in one simple, cartoonish and outrageously campy package.’ It’s not exactly a brief label, but this is what’s true of Robert Rodriguez’ follow-up to 2010’s Machete. This thing is incredibly clunky, crude and crass, but oh-so-creative and deliciously dumb.

Seems that with Machete Kills, along with lowering my standards of moviegoing entertainment (I paid $8.75 to see Miss San Antonio, not Mel Gibon. . .or even a Chuck Sheen who’s seemingly undergoing an identity crisis as he’s credited as Carlos Estévez for the first time in. . . well, years), I’ve also gone ahead and broken a long-standing moviegoing rule of mine — to avoid seeing a sequel before getting to see the original first. Seeing that this is a story with about as much substance as a microwaved bowl of Spaghetti-O’s, I figured I wouldn’t be missing much. And, barring the continuation of the “fake trailer” gimmick that Rodriguez has run away with since his Planet Terror portion of Grindhouse, and a couple of characters that were also in the first, my experience proved that to be true.

The film opens with a scene in which Machete (Danny Trejo) and his partner, Sartana (Jessica Alba) are fighting off some baddies and seem to have been successful, when suddenly a masked man appears around the side of a vehicle and guns down Sartana, and then bails, leaving Machete alone and  now even more morbid-looking than he previously had been.

Soon he’s captured by an overzealous Texas sheriff (William Sadler) and is subsequently hung, but once again his body proves to be near-immortal as his neck is too thick to break in the process. Moments later, a call comes in from President Rathcock (Sheen) requesting the help of the ex-Federale agent. The cop reluctantly cuts the big bastard down and he sets off on his mission to save the world, also now saddled with vengeance and heartbreak. What ensues is a journey filled with chaos, extraordinarily excessive bloodshed, women that would likely incur the envy of James Bond, and another appearance from Mel Gibson (yay!). It is all perhaps a bit too much to handle at once.

Not the least of which is Amber Heard in a, shall we say, visually stunning role that is, unfortunately, all style and no substance. Her (read: appreciated) eye candy roles have pretty much all led to this.

Simultaneously a San Antonio Beauty Pageant Queen and a covert agent trained to assist Machete in his mission, Heard’s role is probably the most gratuitous element in Machete Kills. Describing her entirely would reveal too much about this flick, even though spoilers SHOULDN’T be something one should be concerned about with a movie like this — all the same, I won’t ruin it — but I’ll say this: Miss San Antonio, for all intents and purposes, is a microcosm of Rodriguez’ brand of filming (at least, as of late). She’s sexy, obsessed with violence, and her acting is desperately campy all at once, in every frame of the film she’s in. As much as I enjoy her presence, her performance does leave a lot to be desired still. But, how dare I ask for more.

Miss San Antonio’s not left to bask in the misogynistic light of Rodriguez’ blood-spattered world alone, though.

Along his journey, our scarred hero must get past a barrage of blustery characters, including a hostile group of women who seem to be the female version of Hell’s Angels (only without the bikes), headed up by Sofia Vergara’s maniacal Desdemona (otherwise known as the girl in the trailer with guns for boobs). She’s backed up by Alexa Vega’s Kill Joy and Vanessa Hudgens’ Cereza; other notable villains include Walton Goggins/Cuba Gooding Jr./Lady Gaga/Antonio Banderas as El Camaléon/La Camaléon (that’s a whole other story in itself), and Demian Bichir is wildly entertaining as a bipolar weirdo named Mendez.

Not having seen the first movie may almost be an advantage when talking its follow-up. Clearly, it hasn’t performed even half as well as the original. All depending on one’s loyalty to the director’s flare, there’d be surely some level of disappointment after seeing Kills if you were a fan of the first. The film seems to drag by in places which rendered it a much slower-moving hour and forty-five minutes than it should have been with such a star-studded cast; the flaw in its pacing is something that should be unforgivable given the playfulness of the style and tones on display. When the acting is not something you can rely on either, the parts that drag, go by unbearably so.

Fortunately, the climax of the film is suitably amusing and the deaths are more cartoonish than ever. Mel Gibson is disturbingly comfortable in the role of a demented billionaire, hell-bent on worldwide destruction. In some ways, I was convinced this was not really an acting job for him. He just was himself and cameras rolled. (Theories on this can be discussed later.) What worked the most for Gibson here was his timing. Appearing at the ass-end of an outrageous story, his Voz, a wealthy arms dealer who plans on nuking the world into chaos for some inexplicable reason, is the ultimate threat. A point to the movie, if ever there were any.

Can Machete stop Voz before its too late? Will Machete become seduced by one too many tantalizing ladies? . . . will Charlie Carlos Sheen-Estévez’ identity crisis get resolved? You’ll have to find out by tuning into the latest trailer-disguised-as-movie, Machete Kills, one of the most unabashedly silly farces you should allow yourself to see this side of Movie 43.

Yeah, why not?

Hey, what the hell — why not?

2-5Recommendation: The original likely will be widely regarded as the superior version, as I get the impression this affair lacked some originality in its storytelling (probably the most common syndrome that sequels suffer from), and the Bollywood-esque acting offers no apologies. Still, there’s enough here to have a mindlessly entertaining time with. Guilty pleasures, what’s wrong with having ’em?

Rated: R

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “Machete don’t tweet.”

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