Tag Archives: Mel Gibson

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Say what you want about Mel Gibson, but the alcoholic antisemite nutjob sure knows how to make awesome movies!

I was somewhat wary about his latest film, Hacksaw Ridge, the remarkable true story about a Christian conscientious objector who became a hero during World War II. Given Gibson’s religious leanings, I was concerned that he was going to push that aspect of the movie down my throat, but I guess I didn’t give him enough credit because Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most epic and inspiring war movies ever made. And it’s technically an Aussie film!

Former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, a young man who felt obligated like so many in his hometown to join the US military and fight the Japanese during WWII. The problem is, he’s a devout Christian who not only refuses to kill but even refuses to carry a weapon. Obviously, if he were simply sent home at this point, Hacksaw Ridge wouldn’t be much of a movie. So you can kind of guess what happens next. And yet, the battle sequences, when they finally hit, are so impactful and devastating that I became totally immersed in the film, such that it didn’t matter if I knew what the story was about or what the outcome would be.

We all know Mel loves violence, and Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t hold back one bit. Bullets shredding bodies, exploding heads, flying limbs — the carnage actually wasn’t too far off from the over-the-top massacres in Rambo (2008), except here it felt terrifyingly real. Well-developed characters you care about and good acting can make all the difference.

Garfield is really, really good as Doss, and I wouldn’t be upset if he snags one of the five Best Actor spots at the Oscars this year (he also could for Silence, though I haven’t seen it yet). It could have been easy for Doss to come across as too self-righteous and obtuse, but Garfield’s performance makes him a protagonist you want to root for. The rest of the cast is fantastic too, including Doss’s abuse, alcoholic father played by Hugo Weaving and mother played by Rachel Griffiths. Teresa Palmer puts in one of her better performances as the love interest, while Luke Bracey and Sam Worthington — two guys who haven’t been great leading men but have been solid supporting actors — are as good as they have ever been as soldiers in Doss’s unit. Vince Vaughn rounds off the stellar cast with also one of his best performances in years as their wise-cracking sergeant, providing the bulk of the film’s humour without at all coming across as jarring or out of place.

Hacksaw Ridge a brutal, harrowing film about the horrors of war, but also an uplifting one about faith and sticking to what you believe in and who you are. You really don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy this movie or be moved by it. You can actually even hate Christianity but love this movie because the themes are universal. Inspiring is inspiring, and a great movie is a great movie.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: Apparently the film is pretty accurate too. Some timelines are shifted or stretched, but the core facts are verifiable.

Movie Review: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max

It’s kinda shocking that I’ve never seen any of the original Mad Max films with Mel Gibson. Too campy? Too 80s? Too Aussie? (All baseless assumptions, by the way). Whatever it is, I’ve never really felt the urge to watch them. And so I wasn’t all that hyped up when I heard the the franchise was receiving a reboot 30 years later, surprisingly with original director George Miller returning and the super likable Tom Hardy replacing the now-super unlikable Gibson.

But rave reviews and strong word of mouth got me thinking that, against all odds, Mad Max: Fury Road might actually be a good film.

Well, I was wrong. Because Mad Max: Fury Road is a bloody modern masterpiece. In my memory it will surely go down as one of the best movies of 2015, one of the best action movies of the decade, one of the best Aussie movies of all-time and one of the most visionary post-apocalyptic movies ever.

You don’t need to know anything about the previous films; you don’t even have to know the premise or who Mad Max is. That’s the first fantastic thing about the movie — almost everything about the world in which the story is set is revealed by showing as opposed to telling. There’s no narrator, no scrolling introductory text — and yet from the very first scene it manages to immerse you into this strange and terrifying new future. The opening sequence introducing us to Mad Max is insanely tense and horrific, but it’s also a slick lesson in world-building and storytelling.

And so I won’t say much about the plot except to note that the narrative focuses on three main characters. There’s Max Rockstansky (Tom Hardy), a loner constantly battling inner demons and fighting for survival. There’s Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a warrior on a deadly mission of redemption. And there’s Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a pale-skinned “War Boy” brainwashed into worshipping a ruthless dictator (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who apparently played a different character in the original trilogy).

In an era when most action movies are predictably conventional and follow familiar arcs — whether it’s superheroes, long-running franchises or Taken/Bourne imitations — Mad Max: Fury Road stands out for being something completely different. The film is essentially a long, exhilarating car chase with one jaw-dropping action sequence after another. That said, don’t be mistaken in thinking it is anything like the Fast and Furious franchise, which relies on a mix of old and new star power and having to constantly one-up itself in the crazy stunt stakes. Fury Road is more raw, more strangely grounded despite its over-the-topness, more brutal, more unabashedly bizarre, and far more creative. Frankly, I’d never seen anything like it, and the film’s combination of thrills, suspense and horror blew me away.

That said, Fury Road also turned out to be a lot more emotionally involving than I had expected. Granted, it’s still predominantly style over substance, but there’s something about it — whether it is the strong characters, the brilliant performers or the construction of the narrative — that elevates its dramatic elements above your average action flick.

Speaking of performers, George Miller hit the jackpot with the trio of Hardy, Theron and Hoult. Max is a man of few words and spends a good portion of the movie in a face-blocking mask, making Hardy’s performance even more impressive. To be fair, he has had some mask experience after playing Bane, but it’s the quiet magnetism and emotions he exudes that turns Max into a hero you can easily root for.

As good as Hardy is, Max is actually more of a sidekick to Theron’s Furiosa, who absolutely owns the movie. Apart from sporting the best shaved head since Sinead O’Connor, the Oscar winner turns Furiosa into the heart and soul of the movie, a badass whose quest for redemption drives everything that happens.

And if you thought Theron had uglied herself up for Monster, then you ought to see Hoult as Nux — powdery skin, bald head, skeletal features and perpetually chapped lips. Amazingly, he still looks better than most people, though the sacrifice for his art is impressive. Without giving too much away, Hoult’s charm and willingness to do whatever it takes makes Nux an unusual and intriguing supporting character that might not have been nearly as interesting without his jittery, frantic performance.

As for the rest of the cast, the physically imposing Keays-Byrne leads a cast of grotesque villains, and balancing them out is a group of hot models led by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Zoe Kravitz. It’s good to see other Aussies such as Nathan Jones, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton and Megan Gale getting some burn. I like that Miller just let everyone speak in their native accents (maybe no one can do the Aussie accent properly), and yet the diverse mix of pronunciations is never jarring or feels out of place.

In all, Mad Max: Fury Road is a revelation. It’s one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen in a long time, from the sandy Australian landscape to the visceral violence and the uncomfortable characters to the gritty machinery. While I’m sure there are plenty of special effects involved, the CGI never overwhelms like it does for many action films these days. The performances are top notch, and the story is simple but effective. At exactly two hours, the length is close to perfect for a film of this kind, though there were times when I felt a little burned out from the endless sand and moving parts. Minor quibbles aside, this is an unexpected masterpiece. It’s hard to see how the planned sequels could top this experience or provide something fresh to prevent familiarity fatigue, but after what I’ve just witnessed it’ll be hard to bet against George Miller again.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Expendables 3 (2014)

The-Expendables-3

I remember when I thought the idea of The Expendables, which grouped together a huge handful of old action stars, would be a good premise — if the film was made 10-15 years ago. That was back in 2010, when they made the first film. Now, with the stars another 4 years older, slower and more mutated by HGH, we have been bestowed a third installment in the franchise, and the results are more ghastly than the cracks on Mel Gibson’s face.

The first Expendables was not very good, but at least it was fresh. The second film was more of the same, except less fresh, and now the third film is simply stale. The Expendables do a dangerous job, a villain appears, hurts or kills one of their own, and revenge is ultimately accomplished following a lot of gunfire, explosions, poor attempts at “character development,” and Sly Stallone running around in platform boots yelling incoherently. It’s a proven formula for box office success.

In fact, you’re not likely to remember what the film is even about the next day, and memories of all three films will probably blend into one giant I-don’t-give-a-shit. For the loyal fans, it doesn’t really matter.

My memory of the film is already starting to fade. I am fairly certain that Mel Gibson is the villain because this is the only role in Hollywood he can get these days. I know Harrison Ford is in it because I remember thinking that he is doing a horrible job of convincing people that he has not turned completely senile. Wesley Snipes is the new addition to the oldies, but he doesn’t offer much apart from a “they went there” joke about his well-publicized problems. Arnie is back, but Bruce Willis is out (complete with a cheesy joke to go along with it). Jet Li makes his usual contract-obligated cameo, and Antonio Banderas is in it for some reason. As you can see, The Expendables franchise has more or less become a charity for old actors who want to keep gettin’ ’em checks. But hey, why blame them for exploiting the market? As long as there is demand there will be supply, no matter how many wrinkles there are. I fully expect Nicholas Cage to be in the next one.

To be fair, Stallone does try to infuse new blood into the series by hiring a bunch of potential box office draws, such as MMA badass Ronda Rousey, Twilight alumnus Kellan Lutz and former welterweight boxing champion Victor Ortiz. They each get to show off a little bit, but with so many people sharing the same pie it’s not really worth your time if you just want to see the film because of one or two people.

Now that the novelty of star power has worn off for good, The Expendables franchise must turn to action and cheesy humor to make up for it. The action, to be honest, felt like more of the same. I suppose the guns, knives and explosions are arguably bigger, but for me it was a case of different shit, same smell. I do, however, give kudos for the tongue-in-cheek cheesy humour. One of the franchise’s greatest strengths is understanding what a big joke everything is and its stars’ ability to make fun of themselves, and The Expendables 3 is no different.

I understand the appeal of the Expendables concept and why people (including myself) have flocked to it time and time again. The undeniable reality, however, is that the films have never lived up to the concept, and I doubt they ever can. I can see how there are those who still enjoy it, but I’ve become numb and indifferent after three mediocre efforts. I think my wife summed up my sentiments best with her one-word review when I asked her what she thought of it: “Whatever.”

2 stars out of 5

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 6)

It’s been a while since I did one of these, but it’s not because I haven’t had any lined up. Here goes. I suppose this is the “drama” portion of my catch-up review blitz.

War Horse (2011)

I wasn’t as high on this Steven Spielberg epic as I thought I would be. As the title suggests, it’s about the life of a horse, from its birth in the early 1900s to the end of the First World War, and the lives of all the people it touches along the way. There’s not much to dislike about the film — it features a stellar ensemble cast, looks absolutely amazing, and is designed to tug the heart strings. Ordinarily, that’s more than good enough for me.

But for some strange reason I wasn’t blown away by it. Perhaps it’s because I’m not the biggest horse fan, or perhaps its because the ensemble cast meant there wasn’t a particular human character I could really connect with. Or maybe it’s because it was so serious, lacking in that light touch I had been used to from Spielberg movies. But it is overly long at 146 minutes and my guess is that I found the subject matter a little on the bland side.

Ultimately though, it’s still a fine piece of filmmaking from one of the masters. I just wish I liked it more.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Descendants (2011)

The Descendants is remarkable in that it takes an interesting but unspectacular concept and turns it into a poignant, funny and unexpected gem driven by excellent performances.

Based on the book by Kaui Hart Hemmings, it’s about a Honolulu lawyer (George Clooney) who happens to be the sole trustee of a family trust that owns a lot of very expensive land. He’s filthy rich, but as usual, not content with life. Following a tragic accident to his wife, he is forced to confront his two daughters and the fact that his marriage wasn’t as perfect as he thought it was.

This is the kind of movie critics just love. Well-written and well-directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), and with possibly the best performance of Clooney’s career, The Descendants treads a fine line between genuine emotion and melodrama, but manages to come out on the right side. If you’ve seen Payne’s earlier films you’ll have an idea of the kind of dark comedy and tone that he is accustomed to creating.

I wouldn’t say I absolutely loved this movie but I did think it was wonderfully made and produced laughs and stirred up emotions I had not expected. While it probably deserved its Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, I doubt this is a movie we will look back upon in a few years as a classic, or even a particularly memorable film.

4 stars out of 5

Puncture

Captain America as a drug addicted lawyer? And it’s a true story? Yep, that’s what Puncture is all about. Chris Evans is Mike Weiss, who looks like a bum off the street but is actually a very smart guy with a law degree. The problem is, he doesn’t care much about anyone except himself, and is usually either drunk or on drugs.

Weiss and his partner take on a case where the manufacturer of a safety syringe (which would be perfect in hospitals) claims it was shut out of the market by the big bad pharmaceutical companies (sounds like a true story already). As the case progresses and the odds become more and more against him, Weiss starts developing a conscience and begins to genuinely care about the cause — with your typical “flawed protagonist finds redemption” vibe written all over it.

Essentially, Puncture is a darker, grittier version of some of the other little lawyer against big bad corporations kind of film. Matt Damon’s The Rainmaker comes to mind. But unfortunately, Puncture takes far too long to get off the ground that by the time I found myself engaged it was almost over. And no, it’s got nothing to do with Evan’s acting, which was fine, by the way.

I think it had a great story to tell and the final third was executed rather well, but it’s a shame that the film could not have gotten interesting sooner.

3 stars out of 5

The Beaver (2011)

This film had things going for it and against it. On the one hand it is directed by Jodie Foster and is called The Beaver (which is awesome), but on the other it stars megadouche and anti-Semitic psycho Mel Gibson. In the end, I decided to put my biases aside and watch the film, and I still can’t decide in the end whether I made good use of my time.

The Beaver deals with Depression by creating a bizarre scenario. Water Black (Gibson) is a depressed toy company CEO who handles his issues by speaking through a beaver hand puppet (as though it were a different person). And to everyone’s surprise, the beaver makes Black a huge success and enables him to rekindle his relationship with his wife (Foster) and son (Anton Yelchin).

If you can stomach the premise and the actor, The Beaver is a solid drama that tells a serious story in a semi-lighthearted manner. There isn’t as much humour as you would expect, though I suppose it’s hard to be funny when you’re dealing with a mental illness that affects millions of people. I think Foster dealt with it respectfully and she injects the film with warmth and honesty, but I’m not certain that I was sold by it as a whole. In the end of the day, it’s still a family drama starring Mel Gibson, and neither is really my cup of tea.

3 stars out of 5

In-Flight Movie Reviews (Part I)

A long flight means movies.  On my way to India, I watched a few relatively recent films, and here are the reviews.  This is Part I.  Need to bear in mind that I watched these on a mini airplane screen in a prescription drug-induced state, so my experience may be slightly affected.

Dorian Gray

I was really looking forward to this Oscar Wilde adaptation starring Ben Barnes (ie Prince Caspian) and Colin Firth ever since I heard about it.  The titular character is a beautiful young man who is immortalized in a painting. Dorian is then seduced into a life of excess and debauchery, but while his youth and beauty is magically preserved in real life, the painting begins to manifest his actions as it morphs into something horribly grotesque. Excellent premise that really fascinated me, but this film version fell flat.

Ben Barnes is indeed a beautiful man (and I say this with no homosexual undertones whatsoever – not that there’s anything wrong with that), but he seems to lack the requisite charm and simply ends up going through the motions. It just felt like something was missing with this one, which was very disappointing considering how much promise it had.

2 stars out of 5

Edge of Darkness

I believe this is the first Mel Gibson movie since the “incident”, and I expected it to be fairly decent. While it is smarter than the average thriller, it’s really just another violent Gibson revenge rampage in the mould of Ransom and Payback.

Gibson is a cop who picks up his daughter from the airport, and soon a violent incident has him in crazy mode, sending him on an investigation that takes him deeper and deeper into a mystery that, to be honest, I can’t exactly remember.  It’s not horrible, but overall, a pretty forgettable affair.

2.5 stars out of 5

(For Part II click here)