Tag Archives: mel gibson

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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Apocalypto – Review

10 Oct

 

Mel Gibson has become a name that is synonymous with controversy. In my opinion, regardless of what Gibson has said or did, it’s important to separate an artist from his work. For this particular film maker, he’s proven himself to be quite a talent with his most well known epic films being the modern classic Braveheart and the meticulously made Passion of the Christ. In 2006, Gibson took epic film making to a new level with his severely underrated film Apocalypto. Movies are a very exciting thing, and when one this huge is made with so much attention to small details along with a captivating and exciting story, I almost lose myself in thinking about it. This movie is a masterpiece.

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Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), who along with his father and many friends, is a hunter in the jungles of Central America during the collapse of the Mayan civilization. Jaguar Paw’s village is separate from all that as these people live a peaceful, secluded life. One morning, the village is attacked by a warrior named Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) and his followers. They kill many villagers, but take many to bring back to the Mayan city either to be sold into slavery or be sacrificed to the gods. Jaguar Paw manages to escape from his Mayan captors and begins a chase through the thick Central American jungle to get back to his wife (Dalia Hernández) and son (Carlos Emilio Báez). With the vengeful Zero hot on his trail, Jaguar Paw has to think like a hunter once again if he’s ever going to see his family again.

From the opening shot of the jungle existing naturally without any interference to the very last shot that bookends the film both visually and thematically, Apocalypto is a gorgeous movie. Shot on location in Mexico, very little computer generated images were used in favor of showing the natural majesty that these jungles have to offer. It makes for exciting chase sequences through the thicket and roaring waters. A lot of credit has to go to the stunt team for making these kind of high speed chases through territory like this possible. When the characters are in the Mayan city about half way through the movie, it’s even harder to believe that most of what is seen is not computer generated. Like the epics of the 1950s, including Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, the towering structures were actually built by a team of set designers. It’s an incredible sight to behold and made me feel like I was looking through a portal to a time long since past.

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I said earlier that the attention to detail is extremely impressive in this movie. Much like with The Passion of the Christ, all of the dialogue in Apocalypto is spoken in an approximation of what language would have been used in that time or place. In this case, the language is Yucatec Maya. It’s a decision that makes it so much easier to immerse yourself in the world that has been created. It’s obvious that this was one of the main intentions of Gibson’s from the very beginning. Other than taking the time to get this language down properly and film all the scenes with it, it’s important to recognize the costume design and make up. It boggles my brain how this movie didn’t get any Oscars for its costuming and make up. There are hundreds of extras in this movie along with the handful of main players, and each one of these people have a unique make up and costume design. This is an enormous undertaking and it’s a cinematic feat that I’ve never seen anything like before.

While the story, itself, isn’t anything too groundbreaking or complex, it’s enough to keep the action and adventure moving at a quick pace. Apocalypto is not a short movie with it’s run time closing in on two and a half hours, but never was I bored throughout the entire movie. There’s a surprising amount of time building up the characters that will be present throughout the movie, and I was surprised by how much I really cared for Jaguar Paw and his family and friends. Once the attack happens the the villagers are taken to the Mayan city, the plot feels like it’s shot out of a cannon and the excitement doesn’t stop until the closing credits.

Apocalypto is one of those movies that reminds me why I love movies so much. It’s kind of a cheesy thing to refer to movies as magic, but sometimes I don’t know what else to call them. Apocalypto is pure movie magic and an achievement that is greatly under appreciated. The fine attention to detail mixed with loads of excitement, action, and adventure makes this a movie that I won’t forget for quite a long time.

Final Grade: A+

The Expendables 3 – Review

2 Jan

When The Expendables came out in 2010, I was thrilled to see all of the legendary action stars coming together to be in one movie, even if it didn’t reach the high expectations that I set for it. I was even more pleased with The Expendables 2 in 2012, which was a superior sequel that added Chuck Norris to the mix and gave Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis more to do. These were two fun films that hearkened back to action movies from the late 1970 and 1980s, but Stallone wasn’t ready to stop there. The Expendables 3, which I can now say was released in 2014 (just for the sake of saying it), completes the trilogy and actually offered me with more entertainment than I was expecting, which is a nice surprise.

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Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), the leader of his team of mercenaries called The Expendables, start their mission by breaking an old member of the team, Doc (Wesley Snipes), out of prison and than rush to Somalia to stop the delivery of bombs by a mysterious arms dealer. The mission goes awry when it is revealed the arms dealer is an ex-Expendable and personal enemy of Barney’s, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). One of the team members is severely injured and Stonebanks escapes, forcing Barney to assemble a new crew to go in and bring Stonbanks back on the orders of his new boss, CIA officer Max Drummer (Harrison Ford). When the new team gets captured by Stonebanks during the mission, the old Expendables crew comes back in to save the new recruits, defeat Stonebanks’ personal army, and bring him in personally to be charged as a war criminal.

I don’t think I even need to say this, but just look at this cast. Just look at it. On top of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and the rest of the original cast we now have Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, and Antonio Banderas added just to name a few. Not only that, but Schwarzenegger and Jet Li are back to join in to the action and join it they do. Obviously, there are also a bunch of fresher faces there like UFC figher Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, boxer Victor Ortiz, and Glen Powell. While it must have been cool for these fighters and actors to join in with the legends, they don’t add anything really special to the movie, and their acting can often be subpar, which shouldn’t even bother me in an Expendables movie. I was worried that these newcomers would push the others to the side, but it was great to see everyone get their chance in the spotlight, my personal favorite being Banderas. I just would have rather seen Gina Carano instead of Ronda Rousey, but that’s just me. There’s also a real big lack of Terry Crews in this movie, which was a little disappointing as well.

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Of course one of the biggest draws to see an Expendables movie is the action, and there’s plenty of it to go around. One of the things that concerned me along with the new cast was the fact that The Expendables 3 was PG-13, which made me think that this movie was going to be completely toned down. It really didn’t feel that way though. In fact, I’d say it may even be superior to the original movie. Another thing that is necessary in action films of this kind is a strong villain, and we get one with Stonebanks. It is obvious that Mel Gibson is having the time of his life, hamming it up as Barney’s arch-enemy and delivering his lines like he’s back in the role of Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon movies. Looking back on these movies, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mel Gibson were two of the best parts of the entire series, which is cool because cool villains are just plain awesome.

It’s clear that this is also a pretty personal project to all of the older actors in this movie, especially that there are now younger actors in the movie kicking ass with them. There’s been a few of these kinds of movies recently where the people we loved for years begin to talk about their age in a positive light. Stallone and the rest of them is reminding us once again that they are quite capable of high octane action scenes and still have fun shooting them. That being said, I don’t think we need another Expendables movie, and I’m hoping and praying that we don’t get one, because as much as I like what they’re doing, they’ve been doing it on repeat since 2010. I will say that some of this movie felt like it was getting a little stale (and I’m including the wonky special effects with this), which means it’s time to pack this series in.

The Expendables movies are simply nostalgic guilty pleasures that no one should really feel guilty about, in my opinion. These movies, the third movie included, are not pieces of work that need to be criticized to quickly. Maybe I liked this movie as much as I did because it exceeded my low expectations, but maybe it’s just because I like seeing these actors do what they do best. It’s not high art and it doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to say, but we’ve known these actors for a long time and it’s cool to see them in a loud, violent, and often funny action film.

 

Mad Max Trilogy – Review

17 Jun

Despite having major controversies surrounding him recently, everyone and their mothers know who Mel Gibson is. Nowadays he’s a major movie star, producer, and director but he had to start somewhere. Enter the cult classic dystopian sci-fi trilogy of Mad Max. Spanning from 1979 to 1985, this trilogy was a new and unusual re-imagining of what dystopian science fiction should look like, and has spawned many film makers and designers to mimic what George Miller had originally created. Obviously, to any who have seen these films, this trilogy isn’t perfect, but you really can’t deny how influential and fun these movies are.

In 1979, George Miller directed and released the first film, Mad Max, on a budget of just $400,000, which is extraordinarily cheap for a movie like this. Somehow, Miller was able to make this movie work and work very well.

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In a bleak future due to a worldwide energy crisis, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is the last chance for law and order in the violent Australian highways. Working for the MFP (Main Force Patrol) has become a major driving force for Max’s life, along with his relationships with his wife (Joanne Samuel) and his best friend Goose (Steve Bisley), who is also a member of MFP. When a vicious motorcycle gang led by the Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rides into town with the plan on getting revenge on Max, who is responsible for the death of one of the gang members. When the Toecutter and his gang finally catch up to what Max loves he most, he wages a one man war on the motorcycle gang, and won’t rest until they’ve all got what’s coming to them.

The plot for Mad Max is anything but difficult and complex. You don’t have to do a whole lot of thinking during this movie as long as you know the basic plot that runs through every revenge movie ever. What the biggest draw is to this movie is the completely ridiculous and awesome vehicular action scenes and stunts. Cars, motorcycles, and trucks get completely demolished in what can only be described as vehicular mayhem. If you’re expecting anything else from this movie, you may be sorely disappointed. The narrative of this movie doesn’t feel very good with a very exciting first act and third act, but a second act that drags on way longer than it should. This would be a perfect, mindless action movie if the second act was shortened and the third act was longer.

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Still, for what it’s worth, Mad Max is a very entertaining movie and was the start of a trilogy that became an influential sci-fi hit. This film didn’t make it into the US for major distribution until after the second film, which isn’t only an excellent film but also one of the best sequels ever made.

In 1981, George Miller released the second installment in the trilogy, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. People, including me, who complained about some of the lackluster qualities in the narrative of the first film, but praised the high octane action will fall head over heels for this movie. Not only is it the best of the trilogy, it very well may be one of the best action films ever made.

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Five years after the events of the first film, society has fallen into even worse conditions after a global war has wiped out most of the oil supplies that was keeping civilization moving. Max is still wandering the wasteland and, like everyone else, is left to fend for himself in search of oil. Max soon comes across a compound that is acting as an oil refinery that is under constant siege by a gang of leather clad savages led by the Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). Max strikes a reluctant deal with the leaders of the oil refinery that consists of him bringing them a Mack semi-truck to transport the oil in return for as much oil as he can carry. As expected, the Humungus and his gang are waiting for them and begins one of the most epic chases ever to be captured for the silver screen.

This is how an action movie should be made and this is also the film that pretty much defines what the Mad Max trilogy is all about. The over the top punk, savage gang members have become the iconic image for these movies and is what a lot of people think of when these movies are mentioned. The action and chase sequences in this movie are choreographed and shot so well that it almost seems unbelievable. Now a days, with a few examples, CGI is used for a lot of special effects in the industry, but in The Road Warrior, all of the destruction you see is genuine. Of course, people aren’t really getting decimated by these vehicles, but it sure looks like it! The story also follows a narrative arc that is seen in some Akira Kurosawa samurai films and westerns like The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars.

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Mad Max 2 is an achievement of the action genre that inspired many people, including the Wachowskies and their epic car chase in The Matrix Reloaded, which was done with very little CGI. Not only does it fix all of the flaws of the first film, it enhances everything that was awesome about it. Even if you’ve never seen any of the other films in this trilogy, you can’t miss out on this one.

Finally, in 1985, Miller and his co-director George Ogilvie released the final film in the trilogy, that being Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. A title like that is certainly intriguing, but as anyone who even knows a little about these movie knows that this is not only the weakest entry in the series, but also a major disappointment as a whole.

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It’s been twenty years since Max first started wandering the wastelands. His adventures finally bring him to a place called Bartertown where he comes searching for the camels that were stolen from him. Upon arriving, he meets Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), who is the self proclaimed ruler of Bartertown. She  makes it clear that she is willing to give Max his property back as long as he challenges the head of the Bartertown underworld, Master Blaster (Angelo Rossitto and Paul Larsson), to a battle in the Thunderdome where the rule is that two men enter and one man leaves. After refusing to kill Blaster, Max is banished to the desert where he meets a tribe of children that he vows to protect and enlist their help to free Master from Bartertown and start a new life of their own.

To be fair, the first forty five minutes to an hour of this movie are awesome. The whole idea of the Thunderdome and Master Blaster being two people acting as one is awesome. Tina Turner also gives a gleefully over the top performance as the queen of Bartertown. At first, I was confused as to why this movie was so disliked. That’s when Max met the kids and it turned into Mad Max Meets the Goonies. Of course, that’s not true, but it felt like Steven Spielberg took over and decided to make this a family adventure film. Well, it’s not supposed to be! It’s a Mad Max movie! The chase looks eerily similar, and a thousand times more goofy, to the one from The Road Warrior and lots of the intensity is sacrificed for a more Hollywood film.

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Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is too long, too uneven, and too goofy for my tastes. It did build on Max’s character in some cool ways and the first half was really awesome. It’s just unfortunate that the second half is damn near unwatchable. This film is solely for die hard Mad Max fans that would feel incomplete without this film. It’s a mess.

So the Mad Max trilogy isn’t perfect. It has one shitty movie, one good movie, and one excellent movie. That’s pretty good in my opinion, and the whole mythology surrounding the story is really cool. George Miller is planning on releasing another film featuring Tom Hardy as Max in 2015 called Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m definitely impressed by these movies and am ready for another one, so I can honestly recommend these movies to anyone who likes to turn their brains off and just have a good time watching a movie.