Hacksaw Ridge Review: In good faith


Director: Mel Gibson

Writers: Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan

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

hacksawridge


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.

Paper Planes Audio Review: Smooth Glide


Director: Robert Connolly

Writers: Robert Connolly, Steve Conrad

Stars: Ed Oxenbould, Sam Worthington, Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke, David Wenham

paper_planes_ver2


Release date: January 15th, 2015

Distributor: Roadshow Films

Country: Australia

Running time: 96 minutes


 

3½/5

Review:

Sabotage Review – Bad Boys & Bullets


Director: David Ayer

Writers: Skip Woods, David Ayer

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams, Terrence Howard


Release date: March 28th, 2014

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA

Running time: 109 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Schwarzenegger’s aura.

Worst part: The unlikable supporting characters.

Here’s a question, Hollywood: Whatever happened to guns in popular cinema? Over the past few years, studios have put down their guns and picked up everything else in sight. Noticeably, blockbusters try, and more often than not fail, to one-up those that come before them. Gleefully, Tinsel-town’s biggest and baddest action star has returned to the big screen to overshadow everything around him. Sabotage, despite irking nuances out of its dynamic performers, underwhelms more often than it enthrals.

Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Obviously, I’m referring to bodybuilder/action-movie icon/Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In a previous review, I stated that he has “lived the life”. Returning to the silver screen after a string of controversies, the Governator’s latest effort is nowhere near as profound and intriguing as its lead’s reputation. Unworthy of Schwarzenegger’s aura, Sabotage is hyperactive and lazy simultaneously. This action-thriller – based to a certain extent on Agatha Christie’s seminal story Ten Little Indians – tries to fit round bullets into square targets. As cheesy as this metaphor seems, the movie clings onto a specific level of corniness to propel its static and conventional narrative. Whilst reading the synopsis, anyone with a basic understanding of plot mechanics will be able to predict where this action-thriller is going. Sabotage follows a no-nonsense group of DEA agents known for shooting first and insulting one-another later. Schwarzenegger plays John “Breacher” Wharthon, the leader of this outrageous unit. Known for his immaculate reputation, Breacher leads with his swagger and precise technique. His team, however, is made up of delusional and arrogant warriors. Rounded out by James “Monster” Murray (Sam Worthington), his wife Lizzy (Mireille Enos), Joe “Grinder” Phillips (Joe Manganiello), Julius “Sugar” Edmonds (Terrence Howard), Eddie “Neck” Jordan (Josh Holloway), Tom “Pyro” Roberts (Max Martini), Bruce “Tripod” McNeely (Kevin Vance), and “Smoke” Jennings (Mark Schlegel), the unit goes guns blazing into every assignment.

The DEA team.

Here is the thing about Sabotage – it’s neither good nor bad. In fact, it hits the 50% mark from the get-go and rarely shifts above or below that point. However, though it could have been worse, we should not commend this big-budget actioner for being mediocre. With better material, it could’ve been a transcendent return to form for Schwarzenegger. Director/co-writer David Ayer (writer of Training Day, director of Street Kings and End of Watch) yet again takes on LA’s ‘finest’ and presents his creations as machismo-driven outlaws. The whodunit shades kickstart after $10 million goes missing from a raid. With our characters being picked off one by one, Ayer and Skip Woods’ dumfounding screenplay grinds on the consciousness. Taking on corruption and interrogation techniques, these intriguing concepts are dropped in favour of car chases, gun fights, and horrific murders. In addition, like the team itself, the movie itself, from the opening torture sequence onward, barges through each unrelenting and abrasive moment. The story inexplicably sticks to its overwhelming and repulsive convictions. After barging headlong into a cartel safe house, one of many vile and cruel set pieces, the narrative takes several meandering and laughable turns. Sabotage, inexplicably, distorts its simplistic plot with a fiery mean streak and idiotic twists. Intent on dousing the audience in blood, the movie immediately kick-starts its unending rampage. Exploding heads and inappropriate gags turn this actioner into a nightmarish ordeal.

“Some of us are getting paid, the rest of us are just getting dead.” (Sugar (Terence Howard), Sabotage).

Olivia Williams.

For better or worse, this movie’s only memorable trait is its lead’s nostalgia-drenched glow. Like the Terminator, this celebrity refuses to slow down despite his damaged physical and psychological status’. Standing above the material, credit goes to Schwarzenegger for taking on this gritty and relentless role. Taking inspiration from John Wayne, Schwarzenegger’s post-political-career resurgence is seemingly mimicking the western-era icon’s work ethic. In the final few minutes, Arnie’s wish is granted as the movie transitions into dark revenge-thriller mode. Sporting a grimacing look and cowboy hat, it’s nice seeing the ageing star embracing his limitations. However, overshadowing the lead character’s magnetism, the supporting characters hamper this otherwise diverting experience. Spitting one-liners and evil-eyed glares at one another, commendable character actors like Olivia Williams and Harold Perrineau suffer significant career damage here. Sadly, almost everyone in this intriguing ensemble turns potentially gripping moments into hammy and ridiculous hindrances. Despite their loyalty to themselves and the job, these are some of modern Hollywood’s most detestable characters. To them, beating up bouncers and injecting illicit substances on company time are acceptable actions. Worthington, Manganiello, and Enos overcome hideous dialogue to come out relatively unscathed. However, Holloway and Howard are given little to do in two-dimensional roles.

Confidently, Schwarzenegger’s guile and confidence shimmer across tinsel-town. However, Sabotage, despite its engaging action sequences and alluring performers, refuses to get out of its own way. Attempting to take on multiple genres and plot-threads, Arnie’s latest action-thriller is little more than a destructive and forgettable ordeal.

Verdict: An over-the-top and silly explosion fest. 

Wrath of the Titans Review – Swords and Sam-dals


Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Writers: Dan Mazeau, David Johnson

Stars: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Rosamund Pike


Release date: March 30th, 2012

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The sumptuous visuals.

Worst part: The lack of depth.

Illustrating a world of grotesque monsters, bearded gods and vivid desert landscapes, Wrath of the Titans, despite conveying many problems from the lacklustre 2010 original, emphasises and exaggerates its mythological action-adventure appeal; creating a fun, special effect fuelled popcorn feature aimed primarily at fathers and sons, but not carved into the stone of memorable Hollywood spectacle.

Sam Worthington.

Sam Worthington.

This enjoyable romp through fantasised Greek mythology cleverly begins its journey with re-telling the brave events of fisherman turned demi-god Perseus (Sam Worthington) in the first adventure. We revisit him in a small village, fishing with his young son and teaching the ways of honest living. But war between the gods almost immediately disrupts the peace Perseus created as titans and traitors threaten the existence of mankind. With Zeus in great peril and murmurs of the titan’s release, its up to Perseus, spirited warrior queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and the son of Poseidon, Agenor (Toby Kebbell), to reach the underworld and destroy the minions and masters of hell once and for all.

Liam Neeson.

Liam Neeson.

Wrath of the Titans lives up to its name by delivering exactly what it promises. There’s Wrath, and there’s Titans. The film’s simplicity leaves room to showcase one cracking action sequence after another. Director Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles) Turns what could easily be video game-like hack and slash monster mashes into breath taking set pieces, each one excitingly increasing in quality. The fast pacing aids the brisk yet captivating action set pieces while the threats of annihilation by monsters, gods and the almighty Kronos build to a thrilling and climactic final third. With shaky cam and quick cuts plaguing the original, the sequel defies all expectations in its most appealing elements by showcasing immersive tracking and panning shots, fluid choreography, beautiful CGI effects and sharp sound editing. The maze sequence is filmed and designed with the ingenuity and epic scope of a labyrinth inside the mind of  Christopher Nolan. Unlike the disappointing misuse of the monsters in the original, the raw, wriggling and disgusting creations in this film create one startlingly imposing threat after another. They range from slobbering minotaurs, to blood stained siamese twin warriors called Makhai, to Cyclops’s looking remarkably like British soccer hooligans. Much like the original, its over dependence on action set pieces leaves much to be desired with the script and story telling.

“We may not be gods. But we do what people say can’t be done, we hope when there isn’t any… whatever odds we face, we prevail.” (Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), Wrath of the Titans).

Rosamund Pike & Bill Nighy.

Rosamund Pike & Bill Nighy.

With a story solely based on following the characters struggle against every monster in the Greek isles, it falls flat on its face as its hollow interior leaves nothing but a straightforward quest for our gaggle of misfit characters. Plot twists based on the bonds between fathers, sons and brothers become increasingly confusing as this theme is just one of many opportunities sorely wasted by a conventional screenplay. One and two dimensional characterisations and stilted dialogue also harm proceedings as Wrath of the Titans noticeably lacks a necessary emotional connection. The cast does an adequate job with the little they’re given. Worthington drastically improves on his dull performance in the original through a charismatic yet stoic portrayal of this fabled yet modest hero, while surprisingly convincing in his comedic moments. Kebbell as the wise-cracking thief and demigod Agenor lifts the tone slightly with clever one liners. Pike as the love interest seldom gets enough screen time to make her normally gorgeous presence known. While older actors such as Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston and Bill Nighy are captivating yet suffer due to lacking screen time, unclear character motivation or diminutive story involvement. Fiennes and Neeson deliver great chemistry between each other; creating a believable relationship as brothers.

Banking on the success of Worthington and Liebesman, Wrath of the Titans is obviously a made-by-focus-group action flick. Being a sequel to one of the biggest flops of 2010, the movie barely scrapes by on pure adrenaline and brute force.

Verdict: A shallow yet entertaining action-adventure sequel.

Man on a Ledge Review – Falling Down


Director: Asger Leth

Writer: Pablo F. Fenjves

Stars: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris


Release date: January 27th, 2012

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The courageous cast.

Worst part: The gigantic logic leaps.

When you have a film with a title as blunt and unsubtle as Man on a Ledge, you are likely to get exactly what you ask for. The film is a very mindless and tedious action thriller with many talented actors forced through bland material and one ridiculous action set piece after another.

Sam Worthington.

This tale of living life on the edge starts with Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), an ex-cop who escapes from authorities after two years in prison. He books a room at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, eats a final meal, cleans up and steps out onto the ledge. With the citizens of New York captivated by his daring feat, his ploy for attention is based on his call for freedom. After being sent to prison by slimy real estate tycoon David Englander (Ed Harris) for a crime he didn’t commit, he must call attention while at the same time, using his younger brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his Girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) to break into Englander’s safe to find the answers. Cassidy also calls upon hostage negotiator Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) and his former police partner Mike Ackerman (Anthony Mackie) to help prove his innocence.

Elizabeth Banks.

For a film involving a man threatening to jump from a high rise building to prove his innocence, Man on a Ledge surprisingly lacks either depth or any sense of tension. The direction by documentary director Asger Leth is heavily played down, choosing to reside with chases and heists over chemistry between the characters involved in these life or death situations. Despite what should be a convincing hostage negotiation thriller in the vein of the original The Taking of Pelham 123, the film is way over the top in many aspects. With the film switching mostly between the ledge and the heist, this Ocean’s 11 style heist only serves to be filled with one conflict after another for our characters to get past. Not only does the heist feel completely out of place for this type of film, but the constant, useless and unfunny bickering between the couple completing the heist becomes tiresome within 5 minutes. Despite the film’s consistent pacing, it moves from one ridiculous and predictable plot twist to the next. With the many attempts of story twists failing to create an emotional response, the final scene of the film will leave you sighing audibly.Of the many plot threads intertwining through Worthington’s character, the only one that is interesting involves his dice with instant death.

Genesis Rodriguez & Jamie Bell.

Man on a Ledge does manage to stay faithful to the original premise of the man on the ledge. Both the man on the ledge and the hostage negotiator are compelling and sensitive main characters. Throughout the film, the flashbacks and exposition based on them describe just enough to make them interesting. This is also helped by both Worthington and Banks once again delivering dynamic performances with the little they are given. Bell tries and fails to deliver an American accent, While a frail looking Harris and sexy, lingerie clad Rodriguez deliver Over the top and embarrassing performances as Englander and Angie Respectively. Harris’ excessive hand gestures and bad Brooklyn accent make you question his legendary Hollywood status. Despite a strong positive of the film being Rodriguez dressed in skimpy pink underwear, having her talk in Spanish in an over the top way is one of her many failed attempts at comedy. The film is filled with bad dialogue and a poor sense of humour, leaving it in the dust as a forgettable action flick trying desperately to be a hard edged but enjoyable cop drama. The film also suffers from a heavy handed ‘Occupy Wall Street’ message. This is only used to create an exaggerated connection between Worthington’s character and the crowd looking up at him, based on either a comical or emotional response to his situation.

“Today is the day when everything changes. One way or another.” (Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), Man on a Ledge).

Ed Harris.

The film manages to make several innovative references to other film’s of its type. Both Dog Day Afternoon and Safety Last! are paid tribute as we see the varying influences of a first time feature director. Despite the poor direction and screenwriting, the cinematography is very competent and is put to good use. If you suffer from either claustrophobia or a fear of heights, you may want to avoid this film as the many brisk shots detailing his view of the city, and point of view shots looking straight at the ground, create a perfect representation of his uncomfortable position. The quick editing also helps to establish a strong emotional response to this nightmarish ordeal. Quick cuts used to create a feeling of immediate danger with each slip, trip and chase amplify his terrifying situation. Despite the large number of chases, slips, attempted jumps to attract attention and helicopters flying dangerously close to the scene, they do briefly lift the film above its dull personality. For what its worth, you do have to commend Worthington for his efforts. He conquered his fear of heights with his film by standing on the 21st floor of the real Roosevelt Hotel for most of his scenes. His determination makes him one of the most commendable young Australian actors working today.

Don;t get me wrong, I love a good blockbuster premise. Hell, we need a helluva lot more of them to maintain audience interest in big-budget fare. However, Man on a Ledge fails to follow up on its many intriguing promises.

Verdict: A stupefying and bland action-thriller.