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Hacksaw Ridge – Review

21 Nov

I recently wrote a review of Mel Gibson’s 2006 film Apocalypto, which I think is one of the coolest and most passionately movies I’ve ever seen. Since then, Gibson has gotten into all sorts of trouble, and his career has certainly suffered for it. While I can’t get behind anything he’s said or done, I’m still a huge fan of his work and it was unfortunate to see him fall so far off the radar. After 10 years, Gibson has returned to the director’s chair with Hacksaw Ridge, an anti-war film that’s based off an incredible true story of one man’s courage and beliefs that are often at odds with the rest of his brothers in arms. All I can say is that this is a very strong return which will hopefully remind Hollywood and movie goers everywhere about an intensely strong talent that has been missing from the spotlight for the past decade.

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Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a young man living in Lynchburg, Virginia during World War II. Throughout the years of the war, he sees his friends and neighbors leave to enlist and often times never return. When his brother enlists, much to the anger of his WWI veteran father (Hugo Weaving), Desmond also enlists as a conscientious objector with a goal of becoming a field medic and never picking up a weapon. As Desmond leaves his family and his love of his life, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), behind he finds that the Army isn’t quite as accepting as he thought. After jumping through legal hoops and defending himself against his platoon’s leaders, Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Cpt. Glover (Sam Worthington), he and his brothers in arms are shipped off to Okinawa to a strike point known as Hacksaw Ridge. There, Doss is witness to the brutal horrors of war and the violence one man can inflict upon another, but his strong beliefs and courage never waver and he becomes a truly respected hero of WWII.

There’s many different ways to go about telling a story. You can jump right into the action or you can take your time and build up the characters and motivations before really getting into things. There’s no objective right or wrong way to do this, but the writers and Mel Gibson really landed how to tell the story of Hacksaw Ridge. The best way to describe it is that the story is broken up in two halves. The first half of the movie show Desmond at home with his family, his decision to enlist, and his time defending his beliefs at basic training. The second half of the movie is the battles and other heroics at Hacksaw Ridge. The second half is such a devastating experience that is guaranteed to exhaust the viewer, but it wouldn’t have had that same impact if time wasn’t spent building up Desmond’s character and his relationship with his family, peers, and superiors. When something terrible happens to a character in this movie, I felt a physical reaction because of the previous half of the movie turning a fictional character into what felt like a real person. This is a war film at its most effective.

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I’ve seen from some critics that Hacksaw Ridge glorifies extreme violence. While the violence may be extreme, it never glorifies it. There was no time during the battle sequences where I thought an act of violence was cool. That’s not what this movie is about, and by the end I felt like I couldn’t take that final trip up the cliff and face the horrors again. This is a movie about two conflicting themes being met at a place that is hell on earth. Desmond’s pacifist and religious beliefs seem to have no place on the battlefield, and you’d expect these beliefs to change once he saw what his fellow humans are capable of. Gibson shows war in a straightforward and unflinching way which is reminiscent to the violence that is seen in Saving Private Ryan. Sure, there’s really brutal incidences that receive a lot of focus, but this was for the purpose of showing a religious individual faced with a situation that can be seen as entirely godless.

I always say that the writers are nothing without the actors and the actors are nothing without the writers. It’s a symbiotic relationship that walks a fine line with the director present to make sure everyone stays on track. Here we have actors all performing at the top of their game. Andrew Garfield seems to completely become Desmond Doss and Oscar consideration has to be given to Hugo Weaving for his small but unforgettable performance. Vince Vaughn gets more respect from me as well along with Sam Worthington in a career best performance. These are the names that stick out when I think of Hacksaw Ridge, but the rest of the cast also bring their best no matter how small the part may seem. A realistic movie requires realistic and believable performances and they radiate from the screen in the movie.

Hacksaw Ridge is a confident and impressive look at the horrors of war and is among the best and most powerful war movies ever made. The performances stand high amongst the carnage and the themes tower right along with them. This isn’t a movie about religion, but more so a movie about beliefs and conviction and the sacrifice it takes to uphold them. This is a masterwork in the genre of war and quite simply one of the best movies of the entire year.

Final Grade: A+

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Cloud Atlas – Review

14 Dec

It’s a rare thing to see a movie have three directors, but that’s the case with 2012’s hugely epic film, Cloud Atlas. Based off a book by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas is a collaboration between Andy and Lana Wachowski, the famed directors of The Matrix and its sequels, but also German film maker Tom Tykwer, most known for his hyperkinetic action film Run Lola Run. Together, these three film makers have achieved a bold cinematic landmark that is really like no other movie I’ve ever seen, and while it is something close to a masterpiece, there are still many areas that could have been cleaned up.

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The Pacific Islands, 1849: Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) is an American lawyer sent to the Chatham Islands to conclude a business deal for his step-father. On the voyage home, Adam begins writing a journal as his health starts deteriorating. He soon befriends an escaped slave, Autua (David Gyasi) who shows him the error of his ways of thinking.

England, 1936: Robert Frobisher (Ben Whitshaw) begins working with aging composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent) in order to earn his own acclaim with his “Cloud Atlas Sextet.” While writing letters to his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy), it becomes apparent that Ayrs is just out to steal his work and profit from it in his old age.

San Francisco, 1973: Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) is a journalist hell bent on exposing the crimes of corrupt businessman Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant). She soon becomes the target of a hitman (Hugo Weaving) hired by Hooks to silence her and preventing his secrets from ever being exposed. Luckily, Hooks’ head of security (Keith David) is working against him, and begins working with Rey to uncover the truth.

London, 2012: Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) is an aging publicist who becomes wealthy overnight after his client (Tom Hanks) kills a critic. He soon has people breathing down his neck demanding money, and through a series of odd events becomes trapped in a nursing home. Along with other residents, Cavendish plans an escape back to the real world.

Neo Seoul, 2144: Sonmi~451 (Doona Bae) is a genetically engineered human working as a server in a chain restaurant that hides its fair amount of secrets. When she’s rescued by revolutionary Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess), she realizes her true destiny and becomes a voice for change and revolution.

Big Isle, 106 winters after The Fall: Zachry (Tom Hanks) is a tribesman living in Hawaii whose life is disrupted when Meronym (Halle Berry) visits the island to find a remote communications device on a mountaintop that is the supposed home of the devilish Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving). Zachry braves his own beliefs in the gods and devils of his time to escort Meronym to the device in order to help save her people.

All of these sound like completely different stories, but there is a link that connects them throughout the centuries and shows how one person’s actions can affect the future of the entire world.

What a summary to write. I have to completely break the format of my posts just to fit a fraction of everything in. This is one of the biggest movies I have ever seen that earns its place as an epic to stand the test of time. Cloud Atlas truly is a marvel and something that has to be seen to entirely be believed. It’s science fiction, fantasy, mystery, espionage, action, romance, and adventure all rolled up into one big film. Something this big has to take chances, however, and these chances do hurt this movie during some parts, but it can’t be denied that there’s way more positives than there are negatives.

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Since the story of Cloud Atlas is so huge, there is so much that the cast and crew had to do in order to make it actually work. First off, the make up in this movie is really impressive, especially considering that every actor plays multiple parts in each of the six time periods. Seeing Hugh Grant go from being a business tycoon to the leader of a cannibalistic tribe is surprising and seamless. Part of the fun is trying to spot the different actors under all of the make up. The effects are also quite good, especially in the Neo-Seoul sequence, but the effects aren’t what is really memorable. What the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer did by combining all of their efforts is almost its own special effect.

Back to how huge this movie is. It’s rare that you’ll find something as bold and large as Cloud Atlas and not have some gripes. Unfortunately, not all of the six time periods are that interesting. I was surprised to see that the New-Seoul sequence is actually the most bland part of the entire movie, even if it is the most action packed. To me, the most interesting parts of the movie was the 1936 period and the post-apocalyptic time. It sometimes got a little difficult sitting through this 3 hour long movie when some of it really started to drag. Fortunately, the editor of this movie cut the sequences together so perfectly that there was something to grab my attention as it was starting to get dull.

While many would probably disagree with me and call me insane, I believe that Cloud Atlas is a minor but strong modern day masterpiece. It’s a movie that I can see being remembered many years from now when people look back to study this time in film history. The Wachowskis and Tykwer are all talented film makers, and this collaboration showed what they are truly capable of. It may not be a perfect film and can often feel like a chore, but in the end it really is a one of a kind cinematic experience.