Film Review: Hacksaw Ridge (dir by Mel Gibson)


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To be honest, Hacksaw Ridge is probably not the type of film that I would usually watch.  I’m not a huge fan of war movies and the trailer really didn’t inspire much enthusiasm within me.  However, ever since the film was released last Friday, it’s been the subject of some Oscar buzz and … well, you know me and the Oscars.  There’s no easier way to get me to take a chance on a movie than to tell me that it might be nominated for an Oscar.  I’m a completist, after all.  If they’re going to nominate 8 to 10 movies for best picture, you better believe I’m going to make sure that I’ve seen all of them.

So, after voting yesterday, I saw Hacksaw Ridge and all I can say is, “Wow!”  Hacksaw Ridge left me with tears in my eyes and feeling totally exhausted.  This is one of those films that kind of sneaks up on you.  I spent the first half of the film thinking to myself, “Okay, this is good and all but I still don’t see what the big deal is.”  And then suddenly, that second half started and soon, I was totally struggling to catch my breath.

I’ll just say this right now: Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most powerful anti-war films that I’ve ever seen.  It’s also an incredibly violent film, one that will leave non-veterans amazed at the number of ways that soldiers can be shot, stabbed, blown up, and set on fire.  But, despite all the visceral action that plays out across the screen, Hacksaw Ridge never glorifies combat.  It never glamorizes the destructive power of war.  We may be happy when we see a certain soldier somehow manage to survive but we never find ourselves cheering.  Instead, often times, we worry what awaits that soldier after the war.  The combat in Hacksaw Ridge is so brutal and so terrifying that you find yourself wondering not only how anyone could survive but also how anyone could ever go on with “normal” life after seeing the horrors of war.

Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who served, as a combat medic, in the U.S. Army during World War II.  As a Seventh Day Adventist, Doss both refused to carry a rife and refused to train on the Sabbath.  Despite all the efforts of both his sergeant and his captain to convince Doss to leave the service, Doss stayed in the Army, served in combat despite refusing to carry a rifle, and became the first C.O. to be awarded the Medal of Honor.  In the film, Doss is played by Andrew Garfield, who is one of those extremely talented actors who has been miscast in several films.  Fortunately, he’s perfect for Hacksaw Ridge.  Though his rural accent occasionally slips, Garfield is convincing as both a relatively naive farmboy and a man of such strong convictions that he’s willing to risk being court martialed to uphold them.  If Hacksaw Ridge is about Doss proving himself to his fellow soldiers, it’s also a film about Andrew Garfield, who is still perhaps best known for being awkwardly cast as Spiderman, proving himself as a unique and interesting actor.

Garfield pretty much dominates the film but a few of the supporting performers do manage to make an impression.  Vince Vaughn is surprisingly effective as the tough and no-nonsense sergeant and Teresa Palmer is sympathetic as Doss’s wife.  Hugo Weaving plays Doss’s alcoholic father, a man who is still haunted by what he saw during the first world war and he does a great job.

I know that some people are going to be hesitant about Hacksaw Ridge because it was directed by Mel Gibson but you know what?   You may not expect Mel Gibson to direct one of the most searing anti-war films of the past decade but that’s exactly what he managed to do.  It’s an important film, one that reminds us that war is neither fun nor an adventure.  It’s a film that shows what our combat veterans had to deal with (and when we countless men lost their legs as the result of a Japanese rocket, it’s hard not to make the connection to the countless vets who have lost limbs in the Middle East) and, in its way, chastises a society that would abandon them after the war is over.  If Doss, working on his own, was willing to put his life at risk to save 75 wounded soldiers, how can we, as a society, justify not taking care of our wounded veterans?   Hacksaw Ridge is a film that works both as a tribute to our veterans and a reminder that the costs of war are all too real.

It’s a good and important film.  I recommend the Hell out of it.

Film Review: Everest (dir by Baltasar Kormákur)


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If I wasn’t already scared of heights, I definitely would be after seeing Everest.

Based on a true story, Everest tells the story of two expeditions attempting to climb to the top of Mt. Everest.  One expedition is led by a New Zealander named Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), an experienced climber who, we’re told, pretty much invented the entire industry of taking commercial expeditions up to the top of Mt. Everest.  Criticized by some for being a “hand holder” who gets too emotionally involved with his clients and, as a result, cheapens the Everest “experience” by helping weaker clients make it to the top of the summit, Rob is married to a fellow climber, Jan Arnold (Keira Knightley).  While Rob tries to lead his clients to the highest place on Earth, the pregnant Jan stays home and waits for his return.

The other expedition is led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal).  Scott and Rob are friendly rivals, with Scott taking a much more hands off approach to his clients.  (It’s not a coincidence that Rob’s company is called Adventure Consultants while Scott works for Mountain Madness.)

Everest details what happens when the two expeditions are both caught in a sudden blizzard and find themselves trapped at the top of Everest.  The rest of the film is about the attempts of a stranded few to make it back to civilization.  A few make it, though not without suffering a good deal of pain and, in one particularly case, sacrificing a few body parts as a result.  Tragically, several others fall victim to the whims of nature, some dying of hypothermia while others, hallucinating from the lack of oxygen, literally walk off the side of the mountain.

Everest is one of those films where men die tragically but we’re supposed to find some sort of comfort from the fact that they died doing what they loved.  To be honest, I usually have a hard time buying into these type of narratives.  For instance, I love shopping but I wouldn’t expect anyone to be happy for me if I died while looking for a new purse.  (In fact, that’d probably upset me if not for the fact that I’d be too dead to know about it.)  At the same time, guys seems to love movies like this and I think, in the future, Everest will probably be remembered for being the epitome of a guy movie.

And that’s not meant to be a criticism on my part!  Everest does what it does with a lot of skill and confidence.  It’s an exciting film that, once the disaster hits, will leave you breathless.  And yes, at the end of the film, I did shed a tear or two.  Narratively, there’s really not a surprising moment to be found in the entire film.  I went into Everest not even knowing it was a true story and I was still able to guess who would survive and who would not.  But Everest‘s amazing visuals make up for the predictable narrative.  The term “visually stunning” is probably overused (especially by me!) but Everest is truly a visually stunning film.  For someone like me — who has asthma, a huge fear of heights, and who lives in North Texas (where, regardless of what you may see in the movies, the land is remarkably flat) — Everest is probably as close as I’ll ever get to climbing a mountain.

I should also mention that it never ceases to amaze me that Josh Brolin was born in Santa Monica, California because, on the basis of this film and No Country For Old Men, he is one of the most convincing Texans to appear in the movies.  In this film, he plays Beck Weathers, a Dallas doctor who is a member of Rob’s expedition team.  Usually, of course, if a Texan (especially one who is specifically identified as being a Republican, as Beck is at the beginning of a film) shows up in a movie, you know he’s going to end up being the villain.  Fortunately, Everest was based on a true story and, as a result, Beck turned out to be one of the most compelling characters in the film.  (If you know the story behind the film, you already knew that.  However, I went into Everest blind.)  Josh Brolin brings a lot of strength to his role and to the film overall.

Everest may predictable but it’s still an exciting film.  Make sure that you have someone beside you to whom you can hold on and that you see it in 3D!

Trailer: Sabotage (Red Band)


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Since Arnold Schwarzenneger left the California governor’s office and politics he’s gone back to doing what he was good at (or at least good at during the 80’s and 90’s). His first couple of films since getting back in front of the camera has been average at best (though I must say that Last Stand was pretty fun).

Now, we have him back in another film, but this time around one that’s a very hard, gritty R-rating that he hasn’t done since ever. He’s always had rated-R films, but they had a certain fun tone to them. With David Ayer’s Sabotage it looks like Schwarzenneger is trying to flex his hardcore bones. It’s definitely a surprise to hear him curse like a sailor during the red band trailer.

Sabotage is set for a March 28, 2014, release date.

Film Review: Man on a Ledge (dir. Asger Leth)


The newly released film Man on a Ledge is about a man (played by Sam Worthington) who checks into a hotel room in New York City and then climbs out on a ledge and threatens to jump off unless a specific hostage negotiator is brought in to talk him off the ledge.  We quickly discover that Worthington isn’t just a depressed jumper.  Instead, he’s got a really lengthy and overly complicated back story.  It turns out that he’s a former detective who used to moonlight for a venture capitalist and then one day, he was accused of stealing a priceless diamond and destroying it.  This resulted in him getting sentenced to 25 years in prison but when his father is reported to have died, Worthington is released from jail for a day so he can attend the funeral.  So, Worthington escapes and then ends up out on a ledge as part of a massively complicated plan to prove his innocence.  His name, by the way, is Nick because people named Alvin are never the stars of action movies.

Meanwhile, the cop that Nick demands to speak with is a hardened, veteran hostage negotiator and she’s played by Elizabeth Banks.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Anyway, Nick asks for her because he knows that the last guy she tried to talk out of jumping apparently jumped off a bridge.  Since Banks failed her last time out, her efforts to talk Nick off the ledge are cautiously observed by another detective, this one played by Edward Burns.  Banks is totally and completely miscast here and she has next to no chemistry with Sam Worthington.  However, she does have really good chemistry with Edward Burns.  Seriously, they would make a really cute couple and I would buy any issue of Us Weekly that had them on the cover.

Meanwhile, the guy that Nick is accused of stealing from just happens to be in a building across the street where he’s conducting some sort of generically evil business deal.  He’s a painfully thin, almost sickly man and, whenever he was on screen, I found myself wondering how his head managed to stay balanced on his body.  At first, I thought maybe it was the Red Skull waiting for the sequel to Capt. America to start filming.  However, on closer inspection, he turned out to be respected character actor Ed Harris.  In this film, Harris plays a ruthless capitalist who would have gone bankrupt if not for the insurance money he got as a result of Nick supposedly destroying that diamond.  Anyway, Harris appears to be enjoying playing a bad guy and he’s so over-the-top in his evil that you don’t really mind that he’s another one of those “I-should-kill-you-now-but-first-we-talk” type of villains.

Meanwhile, there’s two other people who are taking advantage of all the chaos caused by the man on the ledge to break into Harris’s building.  They’re played by Jamie Bell (who looks a lot like Casey Affleck in this film) and telenova veteran Genesis Rodriguez.  As you watch Bell and Rodriguez sliding down heating ducts and scaling elevator shafts, you can’t help but marvel at just how overly complicated everyone is making things.  Still, Bell and Rodriguez have a lot of chemistry and they’re fun to watch.

Meanwhile, NYC television reporter (played by Kyra Sedgwick) is running around the streets of New York, asking random bystanders how they feel about the prospect of Nick jumping.  Apparently, she is an old enemy of Elizabeth Banks’ though that whole plot line is dropped as soon as its brought up.  Still, the audience in my theater chuckled when Sedgwick dramatically rolled her r’s while introducing herself as “Suzie Morales.”

Meanwhile, there’s a bearded guy watching Nick up on the roof and he suddenly decides to go all Occupy Wall Street on the movie’s ass and starts shouting, “Attica!  Attica!” before then blaming it all on the 1%.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t put on Guy Fawkes mask at any point during all of this.

Meanwhile, the entire city of New York is obsessed with the man on the ledge and, if nothing else, they all end up acting exactly the way that people who have never been to New York City (like me) assume that people in New York act.  By that, I mean all the extras are all like, “Yo, Paulie!  There’s some man on a ledge!  Stop breaking my balls!” 

Meanwhile, there’s one final twist to the film’s plot that I can’t share without spoiling the film.  So, I’ll just say that it involved someone working at the hotel and I figured out the twist about 3 minutes after this character first appeared.  This is one of those twists that if you can’t figure out on your own then you need to hang your head in shame.  Seriously.

This film packs a lot of plot into 90 minutes of screen time and, not surprisingly, the end result is a bit of a mess.  This is one of those films where every single character attempts to solve his or her problems in the most needlessly complicated and implausible way possible.  Still, almost despite myself, I enjoyed Man on a Ledge.  It’s just all so silly and stupid that it becomes oddly likable.  The film also has two nicely done chase scenes and some of the scenes where Nick attempts to manuever about on the ledge made me go, “Agck!”

Seriously, I don’t do heights.

Trailer: Wrath of the Titans


2010’s Clash of the Titans remake wasn’t what fantasy fans were expecting. Yes, it had spectacle and taking advantage of 3D (rage of the time due to the success of Avatar), but how the film ended up quality-wise left much to be desired. For an epic summer blockbuster film (as hyped by it’s ads and marketing push) the film felt very underwhelming. It showed in the box-office as it failed to generate Olympian-level cash though it still generated a little under $500million worldwide. I’m guessing it’s this number which greenlit a sequel to a remake of a film that never had one.

Wrath of the Titans forgoes having just two titans battle it out with Perseus (Sam Worthington) stuck in the middle. This time around the sequel will deal with the weakening of the Olympian Gods as human worship wanes while at the same time the powers of the imprisoned Titans rise. So, from the trailer alone this looks to have action that’s even more amped up than it’s predecessor. Previous director Louis Leterrier has stepped aside as director and in his place for the sequel is Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles…which I thought was actually quite good despite what my partner-in-writing Lisa Marie says about the film).

Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes return to their roles from the previous film. Replacing Alexa Davalos in the role of Princess Andromeda from the first film is Rosamund Pike who now takes the role as Queen Andromeda. Bill Nighy and Danny Huston join the cast as Hephaestus and Poseidon respectively.

Wrath of the Titans is set for a March 30, 2012 release which just reinforces my point that the summer blockbuster season seem to be encroaching into Spring with each passing year.

Trailer: Modern Warfare 3 “The Vet and The n00b”


Well, the time that seems to arrive once every year around November has finally arrived. The latest iteration of the Call of Duty first-person shooter franchise from Activision will see a midnight release starting 12:01 am on November 8, 2011. Already there are lines numbering in the hundreds in major cities. Parties being held at stores such as Best Buy and Gamestop as hundreds of thousands, if not, millions of gamers flock to get the game in their hands. This game is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and it’s one of those rare video games which actually lowers work productivity the week of it’s release. It will be safe to assume that the morning of November 8, 2011 will see a high amount of sick calls and last minute PTO requests.

I won’t be one of them but I will still get this game in a week or two. Until then I’ll just continue to watch this funny and creative trailer for the game starring Jonah Hill, Sam Worthington and Dwight Howard.

Review: Terminator Salvation (dir. by McG)


It has been 25 years since a certain James Cameron introduced the film-going public to the post-apocalyptic world of Judgement Day. While he’s never really fully shown the war-torn future ruled by the machines in the the two films he directed in the Terminator franchise he does show glimpses of it. It’s these glimpses of desperate humans fighting to survive against Skynet and its machine hunter-killing robots which have always intrigued and made its fans salivate at the thought of seeing it realized. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003 tried to show how it all truly began, but again it just hinted at the future battlefield and not the full-blown war. It is now 2009 and the most unlikely filmmaker has finally shown what the future of Judgement Day looks like. McG’s Terminator Salvation succeeds and fails in equal amounts yet has laid the groundwork for the future of the franchise as a war series instead of of its past as installments of what really is one huge chase film.

There are many things which work in Terminator Salvation and one of them happen to be its director McG. A director who is much-maligned for his too campy Charlie’s Angels set of films would’ve been the last name to look to for a restart to the stalled franchise. His direction of this fourth entry in the series was actually very well-done. There’s none of the cartoony and way over-the-top action set-pieces of his Charlie’s Angels past. Instead he moves the film along in a brisk and energetic pace with very little downtime for much introspection. It is this pacing which makes this a good and, at times, an above-average action-film but also serves to make any of the scenes questioning what it is to be human (once again) and machine seem tacked on. The first three films in the series have delved into this theme and question too many times for a fourth attempt make it seem any more relevant than the previous times.

McG went out to make a war entry to the series and to an extent that’s what he did. While there are chases to be had it doesn’t necessarily mean its all about John Connor once again (though the film does make it a point of targeting him again in its own fashion). Terminator Salvation has finally shown what the world looks like after the events of the third film and what had been hinted and teased at in the first two. The world is a desolate place with ruins of landmarks to give the audience a reference point. We see Los Angeles a tumbling and crumbling wreck which looked eerily like something out of the recent Fallout 3 scifi-rpg game. Even San Francisco makes a post-apocalyptic appearance as a major Skynet headquarters. McG achieves this post-apocalyptic look by bleaching out the film’s color palette to the point that browns and greys dominate. He actually achieves to add grittiness to this film which his past films had never shown him having the ability to do. While this film won’t sway people to admiring his skill as a filmmaker it does show some  growth. Then again he does have a hold of a film series which is nothing but B-movies elevated through bigger budgets and access to the latest in film FX. If I have any gripe to point out about the action in the film it’s that there’s not enough of it to truly convey a “War Against the Machine” scenario. We get these tantalizing hints, but not something on par of what a fuure war should look.

The budget could be seen on the screen as the film uses a combination of CGI and practical effects to pull off a much more complex robotic army for Skynet. It’s the robots and machines which keeps bringing the audience back each and every time the series releases a new entry. We don’t just have the Human Resistance fighting the typical T-800 or even the more advanced T-1000 or T-X. We get the earlier versions of these human hunting and killing machines. From a brutish and zombie-like T-600 we see in the LA-scenes to newer and bigger specialized Skynet soldiers like the anime-inspired mech Harvester which towers several stories high and literally harvests humans it finds to take back to SKynet’s R&D bases. When the original Terminator does make an appearance it’s both a welcome and a surprise as McG’s technical wizards find a way to bring back the original exactly the way it’s supposed to look. I’m sure the Governator of California would want to have that physique and youth back.

As an action-film Terminator Salvation works well enough when the action appears on the screen. Now as a film that tries to delve into the philosophical trappings of the series it doesn’t so much as fail and sink the film, but almost does which would’ve been a shame. While not the worst in the series in terms of storytelling it does come across as very scattershot in what story it wants to tell. The film actually has three ideas which could’ve been used to make it’s own film. Is the film a story of John Connor and his rise to his prophesized leadership of the Resistance (he’s a leader of a branch of fighters, but not yet of the whole group in this film)? Or is this film about the search and attempt to make sure the person who will be Connor’s father stays alive to allow what transpired in the past to happen (time-travel can be a tricky and confusing thing to comprehend)? Or is Terminator Salvation the story of the new character Marcus Wright and his quest to find out just who, or what he is exactly? It’s all three of those and all three weren’t explored enough to make one care too much for the story being told. There’s great ideas in all three but trying to combine them into one coherent storyline mostly falls flat and uninsipiring for a film trying to be the war movie in the series. For what are war movies mostly but attempts to show inspiration in the face of desperation. There’s very little of that in this film. If the writers had been given a chance to further streamline the story into one major arc then this film would have benefitted greatly in the long run.

With acting very tightly tied-in with the story being told it’s only logical that the performances by the cast rarely go beyond acceptable. Christian Bale’s John Connor is always dour and brooding. He’s almost becoming a typecast for any role that requires for him to be the down man in any party. He does this ably, but he doesn’t bring anything to the role which hasn’t already been explored in past entries. His performance does show hints of mental instability as the weight of being the savior and prophet of the human race may be starting to get to him. The other two pivotal roles in the film have more meat to play around with. Anton Yelchin as the teenage Resistance fighter destined to become John Connor’s father in the past shines in the scenes he’s in as he elevates a bland script with some youthful energy and hints of the adult Kyle Reese fans of the series know so well. Then we arrive on the newest character in the series: Marcus Wright.

Little-known Australian actor Sam Worthington was recommended by James Cameron for the role of Marcus Wright. Like Anton Yelchin’s performance, Worthington’s work in the role of Wright saves the film from mediocrity. While it is not a start-turning performance by any means Worthington does make it difficult not to pay attention to him throughout the film. The man has presence and every scene he is in shows why Cameron himself has faith in being the latest to carry the Terminator torch. The rest of the cast is quite a throwaway in that we never really get to know any of them and invest anything in their well-being.

Terminator Salvation is a very frustrating film in that there’s so much great ideas to mine. The series has always tried to explore such themes as fate, predetermination and human free will. While the third film in the series was quite lacking in memorable action sequences this fourth entry makes a mess of trying to explore these themes. Again, it seems as if the film’s script was rushed into production with very little doctoring and as the production continued forward no one bothered to point out just how average and bland the storyline does sound despite being the most overly complex of the series.

One thing I am sure of is that the one person people thought would be the weakest link in this film instead happens to be its strongest. McG and some inspired acting from two newcomers keep the film from becoming a total failure. Terminator Salvation is an able and, for most of it’s running time, a very good action film with brisk pacing and energy in its action sequences. Enough of these elements keeps the film’s fractured and scattershot of a storyline from sinking the film into total failure. As a summer tentpole action film it delivers on some of what it promises, but it could’ve been more and better. Some would settle on calling this entry in the franchise a failure, but I am always an optimist and a fan of action thus I’ll land on calling this film a successful failure.