Hacksaw Ridge Review: In good faith


Director: Mel Gibson

Writers: Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer

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Release date: November 3rd, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment, Icon Film Distribution

Countries: USA, Australia

Running time: 131 minutes


4½/5

Best part: The battle sequences.

Worst part: The CGI vistas.

Over the past decade, actor, director and trainwreck Mel Gibson has had massive highs and lows. His homophobic/sexist/racist/anti-semitic comments and unapologetic attitude destroyed his reputation. However, to quote South Park: “Say what you want about Mel Gibson, the son of a bitch knows story structure”. The controversy magnet is back in the spotlight with war-drama Hacksaw Ridge.

The once-great leading man was the king of 1990s and 2000s action-drama. 1995 Best Picture winner Braveheart, adding to his preceding successes, paved the way for A-list actor/directors like Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Jodie Foster. His other directorial efforts, Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, were also major talking points. Hacksaw Ridge a necessary jolt of adrenaline for Gibson’s career. This war-drama covers a shocking true story. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), after a violent incident involving brother Hal years earlier, lives a peaceful life in Lynchburg, Virginia. Desmond and Hal’s father Tom (Hugo Weaving) is haunted by World War I. The boys’ religious Mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) bares Tom’s wrath. The boys, much to their parents’ disdain, enlist to fight in WWII. Desmond falls for local nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) before being shipped off for military service.

Hacksaw Ridge develops multiple unique and intriguing identities. Screenwriters Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan provide solid groundwork for Gibson and the cast. The narrative itself is split down the middle. The first half develops Desmond as both lover and fighter. Gibson depicts Des’s home life with short, heart-wrenching moments. Des, essentially, is middle America’s more content side. Whereas Hal jumps at the opportunity to leave, Des contemplates everything and everyone before making fateful choices. His relationship with Tom is utterly necessary. That all-important decision – whether to join up with his comrades or leave other young Americans to fight – defines their dynamic. Our hero (despite being your average white, religious young protagonist) is never cloying or irritating. He is a blank canvas for everyone to project their views onto. Unlike many Hollywood-ised war-dramas, Des and Dorothy’s budding romance never jars with the tone.

After the brisk first half, Hacksaw Ridge takes swift turns throughout the second. Gibson and co. keep the politically-and-socially-charged fires burning. Throughout basic training, Des’s religious, anti-violent beliefs – as a conscientious objector following the Sixth Commandment of the Old Testament – rustle many feathers. In particular, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Jack Glover (Sam Worthington) seek to eject him on psychiatric grounds. Gibson’s handling of tension and drama is sublime. He gives each party their due whilst fleshing out Des’s training and court proceedings effectively. Also, interactions between Desmond and fellow soldiers are tightly wound. The movie soars during its Battle of Okinawa recreations. Each set-piece is shockingly violent, throwing buckets of blood and guts in our faces. Within seconds, machine gun fire and grenades obliterate whole battalions. Gibson fills every frame with stunning practical effects and stunt work.

Overshadowing 2016’s slew of bland blockbusters, Hacksaw Ridge provides genuine chills and thrills. Gibson is let off the leash here. Thanks to his command, the drama, comedic moments and action never distort one another. Indeed, his cast and crew bring their A-game to every scene. This could win big come Oscar time.

Verdict: A triumphant war-drama.

Blood Father Review: Mad Mel’s Mission


Director: Jean-Francois Richet

Writer: Peter Craig, Andrea Berloff

Stars: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, William H. Macy, Diego Luna

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Release date: August 31st, 2016

Distributor: SND Films

Country: France, USA

Running time: 88 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Gibson’s committed performance.

Worst part: The gangbanger villains.

2016 marks big, bad actor/director Mel Gibson’s shiny return to the big screen. Is it ok to accept the artist despite the controversies? Should we forgive and forget despite serious – and possibly unresolved – social problems? Whatever the case, Gibson is back with action-thriller Blood Father and directorial effort Hacksaw Ridge.

Blood Father kicks off with American war veteran and ex-hardened criminal turned convict John Link (Gibson) in a mediocre existence. Thanks to his parole officer’s orders, he is unable to drink, do drugs, or leave the state. Stuck in a dead-end tattoo business, housed in his caravan home, he longs to find his missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty). Lydia’s life goes from bad to worse. Influenced by her drug-running boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), she joins his assault on tenants occupying cartel-owned homes. After an accidental shooting, she runs off and meets up with Link. The cartel’s baddest are hot on their trail.

Obviously, Blood Father lacks the big-budget prowess of Gibson’s 1980s/90s hey day. The veteran performer can do ‘dark and gritty’ this in his sleep. Director Jean-Francois Richet (Public Enemy #1, the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) boils everything down to essential elements. This little known director tackles one of Hollywood’s best (watch Braveheart and Apocalypto for confirmation) and gets his way. His style provides Gibson some meat to chew on. The drama builds slowly throughout the first half. As Link and Lydia steadily come together, the story delves into their broken lives. Richet and co. revel in Link’s dour existence. As Link and Lydia team up, the man-on the-run thread lightens the tone. That slight elevation from depressing to gritty builds the excitement.

Make to mistake, this is comfort food cinema. The ‘heroes are bad, villains are worse’ plot works well here. While the violence raises the stakes. Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff’s script provides fun surprises and an off-beat sense of humor. Their witty one-liners and lean sarcasm balance the jarring tonal shifts. The opening scene is a highlight; laughing at America’s lackadaisical gun laws. Link’s friend Kirby (William H. Macy), on the surface, is an nice-guy/target archetype. However, the writers and Macy make us care. His nasty gags and protective nature are worthwhile attributes for an otherwise throwaway supporting character. Gibson is the stand out performer – proving he still has the charisma and ferocity to pull off meaningful roles. Moriarty, however, is somewhat bland.

Blood Father recalls Gibson’s action-movie good ol’ days. Discussing the icon’s past, present and future, it is much deeper than most may give it credit for. At the very least, it is worth at least one Saturday afternoon viewing on Netflix.

Verdict: A fun, lazy-afternoon watch.

The Expendables 3 Review – Rough ‘n’ Tumble


Director: Patrick Hughes

Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Sylvester Stallone

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson

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Release date: August 14th, 2014

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 126 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Snipes and Banderas.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

Anyone remember the hospital scene from The Dark Knight? In particular, the part where The Joker mashes on a detonator to set off a firestorm of explosions? Now, do me a favour: picture that scene, then apply it to the Expendables franchise. Over the course of three movies, the directors, actors, and ‘writers’ involved have done little more than mash on detonators and watch studio-approved pyrotechnics light up the sky. Here, our pathos-driven Expendables come out all guns blazing for one last hurrah. The Expendables 3 is, at the very least, an efficient and amusing way to waste two hours.

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Sylvester Stallone at his baddest!

Nowadays, action flicks – leaning on extreme expectations from young, middle-aged, and old cinema-goers alike – are continually shot down by harsh critical backlash. Despite making piles of money higher than Scarface’s cocaine mountain, this series is seen as being the nadir of blockbuster filmmaking. More so, its cast members are laughed at for drifting through an extreme aura of denial. However, thanks to cinema heavyweight Sylvester Stallone’s influence, there’s something just so intriguing about these movies! This time around, Stallone and co. delivered a gargantuan marketing campaign. Willing to roll tanks through the Cannes Film Festival, this cast and crew lap up the attention they so desperately crave. Obviously, The Expendables 3 is not looking to be a straight-laced meta-narrative about the perils of getting older. Here, Stallone’s army is simply having a grand ol’ time in the spotlight. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the aforementioned team losing members left and right. Breaking original Expendable Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) out of a fortified prison locomotive, Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) meet up with Hail Caesar (Terry Crews) to track down more bad guys and send them to hell! Unsurprisingly, their Somalia mission goes horribly wrong when arms dealer/former Expendable Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) severely harms one of our muscle-and-wrinkle-bound heroes.

Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes' friendship on a...knife's edge.

Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes’ friendship on a…knife’s edge.

Obviously, this series has suffered its fair share of hits and misses. The 2010 original, thanks to cheap CGI and a diminutive scope, tripped over its own intriguing premise. However, 2012’s sequel delivered several testosterone-driven set pieces and ‘f*ck yeah!’ moments. Thankfully, The Expendables 3 defies the odds whilst  sticking to its guns…and knives…and colostomy bags. Running its premise ragged, this instalment could, and should, follow its poster’s advice and establish itself as that “one last ride”. Upping the stakes and scale immediately, this sequel displays more signs of life than our ageing screen icons. It delivers everything you’d expect: train/helicopter chases, car chases, knife fights, shootouts, explosions, funny lines, emotionally gripping twists, and more deaths than The Wild Bunch… and that’s all within the first 20 minutes! The opening set pieces, developing a consistent tone, launch this sequel into overdrive. Sadly, Stallone takes everything a little too much to heart. Firing his near-retiree buddies, Stallone’s roided-out stature goes looking for fresh meat. Sadly, despite mercenary turned recruiter Bonaparte(Kelsey Grammer)’s sage advice, the middle third stalls an otherwise promising actioner. Stripping away its nostalgic glow, the youngsters – rounded out by hacker Thorn (Glen Powell), Vegas bouncer Luna (Ronda Rousey), ex-Marine John Smilee (Kellan Lutz), and weapons specialist Mars (Victor Ortiz) – lack their elders’ overt charisma. Adding zero gravitas to the conventional narrative, the middle third is salvaged only by zany badasses Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Galgo (Antonio Banderas). In addition, the original members transition from vicious warriors into jealous buffoons.

“Jing-a-lang, jang-a-lang…” (Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), The Expendables 3).

Antonio Banderas as kooky mercenary Galgo.

Beyond the vicious piracy scandals, The Expendables 3 is still one of Lionsgate’s biggest box-office weapons. However, Despite director Patrick Hughes(Red Hill)’s commendable intentions, the screenwriters and post-production workers spray a hellfire of bullets into this fresh corpse. Delivering dodgy CGI, cheap stock footage, distracting film grains, and off-kilter voice dubbing, this heavy-duty juggernaut hasn’t been taken care of. Delivering a near-inexcusable final product, Stallone and co. should know better by now. However, thanks to Hughes’ searing direction and the cast’s enthusiasm, The Expendables 3 is a franchise standout! The action, though choppy to accommodate the PG13+ rating, fires on all cylinders. Utilising its performers’ abilities, the fight choreography lands several effecting blows. With Hughes hitting his stride, these sequences deliver enough explosions, knife attacks, and gunshots to take down a small army. In fact, that’s exactly what our plucky heroes do in the hell-bells final third. Throwing in tanks, helicopters, Harrison Ford, and Jet Li, this extended action sequence delivers well-charged thrills and energetic back-and-fourths between fan favourites. Despite the stupidity, motorcycle stunts and falling buildings add to the immense spectacle. In addition, as expected, our leads’ rapport is worth the ever-increasing admission cost. As the franchise’s saviour, Stallone carries the lead role with style and gusto. Getting along with Statham and co., his immense presence elevates hokey material. In addition, Snipes and Banderas are wholly aware of the movie they’re in. Blissfully, their charm offensives sit well with the series’ baffling  stupidity.

With Stallone and the gang keeping everything afloat, at this point, this series has, unquestionably, said everything it could ever hope to say! With a fourth instalment and The Expendabelles on the cards, I can only hope they recruit some better screenwriters and post-production staffers to salvage the mission. Obviously, hiring Shane Black or John Woo would deliver that truly brilliant Expendables flick we’ve been waiting for. However, compared to 2014’s other nostalgia-driven actioners, you could do a helluva lot worse than this low-three-and-a-half-star explosive thrill-ride.

Verdict: A charming yet transparent explosion fest.

Machete Kills Review – A Bloody Mess


Director: Robert Rodriguez

Writer: Kyle Ward

Stars: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Mel Gibson, Carlos “Charlie Sheen” Estevez


Release date: October 11th, 2013

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minute


 

1½/5

Best part: The energetic performances.

Worst part: Rodriguez’ direction.

Every so often, big-name directors churn out critically and commercially panned movies, and, because they are stuck in the spotlight, they become ridiculed beyond belief. It may not be fair, but it’s inevitable. It proves that even Hollywood’s greatest figures make mistakes. However, I wish to point out a much worse scenario – when an auteur all but gives up on their grand vision. Mexican director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk till Dawn) has fallen into this trap. Judging by his latest action flick, Machete Kills, this director should go back to the drawing board. It has it’s moments, but, sadly, that’s the highest praise I can give it. Unfortunately, this zany homage becomes a schizophrenic miasma of stereotypes, actors collecting pay-checks, and dull sub-plots.

Danny Trejo & Michelle Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’ abhorrent laziness and lack of subtlety stand out in Machete Kills. There are not enough words to describe how schlocky, bland, and convoluted this exploitation flick becomes during its exhaustive 108 minute run-time. Bafflingly, describing this uninspired action flick’s plot requires a lot of energy and patience. Left for dead after a drug bust gone horribly wrong, leading to Sartana Rivera(Jessica Alba)’s murder, Machete (Danny Trejo) must reel from his lover’s death whilst being threatened by Sheriff Doakes (William Sadler). Thankfully, during his execution, he is summoned by US President Rathcock (Carlos Estevez aka Charlie Sheen) to save the USA and Mexico. Teamed up with feisty beauty queen and informant Blanca Vasquez (Amber Heard) and one-eyed senorita Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), Machete tracks down wanted revolutionary Marcos Mendez (Demian Bichir) before he can obliterate Washington DC. However, Mendez’ abduction doesn’t bode well for Mexico’s future. Mendez hurriedly places a $10 million bounty on himself to be saved from his tough-as-nails captor. This sets off a chain reaction, as brothel owner Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara), arms dealer Luther Voz (Mel Gibson), and infamous assassin El Camaleon (Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding jr., Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins) poke their heads out from the Mexican desert to track down the mysterious anti-hero and his personality-shifting captee. Machete, considered a legendary badass and skilled lover, could use his remarkable talents to decapitate pure evil itself!

Carlos “Charlie Sheen” Estevez.

Honestly, despite researching this inferior sequel’s numerous arcs and twists, I can’t seem to recall anything about this movie. Rodriguez, convinced he is Mexico’s greatest visionary director, is now playing a one note banjo. This talented yet misguided filmmaker has underwhelmed since his debut feature El Mariachi took the low-budget film-making world by storm. That $7,000 gem placed one man in a frightening situation and pushed him to the edge. Machete Kills, with a budget probably 10 000x that of his first movie, should have relished in its opportunities to enthral filmgoers. Sadly, Rodriguez’ style and attention to detail have steadily declined in quality. Despite Sin City‘s understated success, movies like Spy Kids and Planet Terror failed to impress despite their overwhelming potential. Despite his Mexi-can-do attitude, Rodriguez’ talents are sorely wasted on Machete Kills. Though the original wasn’t exactly high art, it contained the grit and guts needed for this type of nostalgic romp. With Machete spawning from a fake trailer featured in 2007’s Grindhouse flop, Rodriguez’ senseless pride, bloated ego, and misguided optimism have proven costly. With its poor box-office receipts, the Machete series can assuredly be labelled the ‘headless chicken’ of franchises (not too dissimilar to the headless beings scattered throughout Rodriguez’ previous efforts). Surprisingly, Rodriguez had the audacity and guile to credit screenwriter Kyle Ward. Machete Kills, planting an array of exploitation-fantasy tropes into its confused narrative, lacks the punchy dialogue and unique characters Quentin Tarantino can craft from scratch. Jumping from Tex-Mex action flick to sci-fi extravaganza, Rodriguez’ ambitiousness flails as this ode to 70s exploitation cinema fizzles out before the half-way point. His purposefully derivative direction is, in itself, ageing dreadfully. With Rodriguez’s reach exceeding his grasp, Machete Kills proves that Rodriguez’ mid-life crisis is now becoming tiresome.

“I just gotta say that you are one genuine article, Genghis Khan, high-caliber, f*cker-people-upper.” (Voz (Mel Gibson), Machete Kills).

Sofia Vergara.

Rodriguez’ wink-and-nudge visual style, still as pulpy and outrageous as it was in the 90s, rages throughout Machete Kills. Stuck in Tarantino’s shadow, Rodriguez can’t help himself when it comes to filling every frame with gratuitous and wacky imagery. Kicking off Machete Kills with a goofy trailer for the threequel, Machete Kills Again…in Space, he douses the camera in elaborate costumes and unconvincing CGI. Despite the gag casting of Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio in the fake trailer, it proves the Machete character shouldn’t have left that 2-3 minute marketing realm. Replicating the kooky and laughable visuals reminiscent of direct-to-DVD and 60s sci-fi action flicks, Rodriguez’ kitsch aesthetic has become alarmingly discomforting. Here, the CGI backgrounds, blood splatters, and muzzle flashes overshadow the enjoyable and exhaustive action sequences. Despite consistently delivering his movies on time and under-budget (admittedly, a commendable feat), his style lacks the dynamic punch, satirical edge, and necessary thrills that could’ve made Machete Kills a bonafide hit. Here, tacky settings and cheap practical effects highlight Machete Kills‘ datedness. Fortunately, the bevy of B/C-list actors and Hollywood’s most deplorable celebrities lift the audience’s spirits. Clearly, these actors know more about B-movies than Rodriguez thinks he does. Trejo, a direct-to-DVD king himself, is a wondrous and engaging screen presence. Growling and slashing in every scene, he elevates several sorely unimaginative set-pieces. The titular legendary figure becomes a Mexican Roger-Moore-James-Bond-esque hero. Meanwhile, Vergara, Estevez, Gibson and Heard deliver sumptuous turns in underwhelming roles. Also, in Machete Kills‘ least interesting subplot, the El Camaleon becomes a breeding ground of unique celebrities and outrageous performances.

Unfortunately, Machete Kills‘ few shining moments become bursts of oxygen escaping a overwhelmingly toxic environment. Rodriguez’ penchant for making terrible movies on purpose has turned him into an obsessive and alienating director. Someone should tell Hollywood this ’emperor’ has no clothes.

Verdict: A clumsy and pointless hack-and-slash flick.