Hacksaw Ridge

For F*** Magazine

HACKSAW RIDGE 

Cast : Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Corr, Teresa Palmer, Rachel Griffiths
Genre : Drama/History/War
Run Time : 2h 19min
Opens : 19 January 2017
Rating : M18 (Violence and Gore)

hacksaw-ridge-posterStepping behind the camera for his first film as director in ten years, Mel Gibson tells the true story of war hero Desmond T. Doss (Garfield). Doss was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Doss’ father Tom (Weaving), a traumatised World War I veteran, often lashes out at his wife Bertha (Griffiths). Doss’ brother Harold (Nathaniel Buzolic) enlists in the military to serve in World War II. Doss decides to enlist, but his strongly-held beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist forbid him from taking a life, or even touching a weapon. Doss’ superiors Sergeant Howell (Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Worthington) try to get Doss discharged out of fear that Doss will be unable to contribute as a soldier. Doss persists, training as a medic, and his unit is eventually deployed to the Pacific theatre. In the Battle of Okinawa, Doss’ unit faces off against hordes of Japanese troops atop the cliff face of the Maeda Escarpment, nicknamed “Hacksaw Ridge”. Without firing a single bullet, Doss goes about rescuing his fellow men who are wounded on the battlefield, hoping to make it home to his wife Dorothy (Palmer).

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For years, the real-life Desmond Doss, who passed away in 2006 at the age of 87, resisted the idea of a film being made about him. Doss feared that his religious beliefs would be misrepresented on the big screen, and was finally convinced in 2001. Hacksaw Ridge was stuck in development hell, as producers Bill Mechanic and David Permut tried for 14 years to get the film made. Mechanic sought Gibson to direct, and Gibson agreed after turning Hacksaw Ridge down twice. While Gibson has some ways to go if Hollywood at large is to forgive him for his inflammatory anti-Semitic outbursts, homophobic remarks and other erratic behaviour, Hacksaw Ridge is a big step along Gibson’s path to redemption. Permut, himself Jewish and gay, has publicly stated that Gibson is not the man that tabloid headlines make him out to be.

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It’s a positive thing that Hacksaw Ridge finally got made and that Doss’ story will now reach a wider audience than it ever has. The real-life Doss is worlds away from the pre-conceived notion of a square-jawed action hero who charges into battle with guns blazing, and this underdog quality is quietly compelling. Garfield, as rangy and awkward as he is charming, imbues Doss with a folksy charm and an unwavering earnestness. Through its depiction of Doss’ Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and the opposition with which he was met, Hacksaw Ridge paints a vivid portrait of someone who stuck to his guns. Maybe that’s not the best way of putting it, but you get what we mean.

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Hacksaw Ridge spends a little too long setting up Doss’ childhood and his training at Fort Jackson before his deployment. We understand the need for meaningful character development, but in between Doss’ courtship of Dorothy and his tumultuous relationship with his father, these earlier scenes feel embellished for dramatic effect. The character of Smitty (Bracey), Doss’ squad mate who accuses Doss of cowardice, is fictional. However, the journey Smitty undertakes to respect Doss’ beliefs and his heroism is moving all the same.

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On a relatively modest budget of $40 million, Gibson pulls off explosive battle sequences which are effectively concussive and chaotic. The Japanese forces are depicted as ferocious, relentless and faceless – this is not a war movie which even remotely attempts to give the enemy a shred of empathy. The battlefield carnage is excessive – we see viscera strewn all over the place, limbs blasted off and rats picking at corpses of the fallen. Perhaps it’s a moot point to call out a war film for being “too violent”, but Gibson sometimes crosses the line from authentically grim to self-indulgently gory. It’s not as pronounced as in The Passion of the Christ, which was also a graphically violent faith-based film, but is in that vein.

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Hacksaw Ridge is squarely Garfield’s to carry, but there are supporting performances of note here too. Vaughn plays very much against type as a harsh drill sergeant and is surprisingly believable in the part. Weaving’s portrayal of Doss’ father Tom is menacing but also sympathetic, with the audience understanding that it’s the trauma of war that has made Tom this way. Palmer brings a dose of old Hollywood glamour to the part of Dorothy, but as is often the case in war films, the character amounts to little more than “the wife waiting back home”.

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The screenplay by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan contains moments that border on being cheesy, including when Sgt. Howell announces “we’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy”. Perhaps it should be expected from a war movie about a pacifist, but Hacksaw Ridge’s message of standing by one’s principles seems a little at odds with how the camera lingers on grisly brutality. Even taking all this into account, Hacksaw Ridge manages to be rousing and emotional, a grand tribute to an unlikely hero.

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Summary: Beneath the over-the-top carnage and war movie clichés lies a fascinating true story brought to life by a remarkable performance from Andrew Garfield.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Point Break (2015)

For F*** Magazine

POINT BREAK

Director : Ericson Core
Cast : Édgar Ramírez, Luke Bracey, Ray Winstone, Teresa Palmer, Delroy Lindo
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 3 December 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Sexual Scene and Some Violence)

Strap in, buckle up, insert alternate ways of securing oneself here – because things are about to get XTREME! *Guitar riff*. Johnny Utah (Bracey) is an FBI agent-in-training and a former motocross rider who left the sport after a tragic accident in his youth. When a team of elite thrill-seekers pulls off multiple heists around the world, targeting wealthy corporations, Utah proposes to his FBI instructor (Lindo) that he be allowed to investigate. Utah goes undercover, infiltrating the team and befriending its leader Bodhi (Ramírez), who explains that the daredevil exploits are actually about honouring nature. Utah falls in love with one of the team’s members, Samsara (Palmer), and British agent Angelo Pappas (Winstone) begins to doubt where Utah’s loyalties lie. As Bodhi’s gang pursues the ultimate rush, Utah is seduced back into the extreme sports world, but must put a stop to Bodhi’s criminal activities before he reaches the point of no return.
            Point Break is a remake of the 1991 film of the same name, which some would go so far as to call a classic. The original Point Break is by no means flawless and certainly has its goofy moments, but its iconic status is well-deserved and the characters of Johnny Utah and Bodhi, as portrayed by Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze respectively, are certainly memorable. There’s no use beating around the bush: a Point Break remake is unnecessary, and doubly so because we already have The Fast and the Furious, which swapped out surfing for underground street racing. It is a touch ironic that Ericson Core, the cinematographer of the first Fast and Furious movie, is the director and cinematographer of the Point Break remake. It can be argued that if the characters had different names and this movie were called something other than Point Break, there would actually be less furore at it being a rip-off than there is now, given its “official” status.
            The original film revolved around surf culture and the remake ups the ante by throwing everything and the kitchen sink into it, showcasing feats of big-wave surfing, wingsuit flying, free rock climbing, dirt road motorcycling and sheer face snowboarding. The film has roped in top real-life extreme sports athletes to perform the stunts and granted, they do look impressive, but there is something very dated about this approach. It makes the film feel like a relic of the late 90s, when things like the X Games were taking off and everything felt like a Mountain Dew commercial. The daredevil stunts are strung together with a plot device in which Bodhi is looking to complete the “Ozaki 8”, a series of extreme sports trials. The film has a larger scope than the original, with filming taking place in Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, Mexico, Venezuela, French Polynesia and India, but there are times when it feels more like a ginned up Amazing Race than anything else.
            It is interesting that audiences feel so protective over the characters of Johnny Utah and Bodhi given that they’ve only been in one film, but it seems like it’s sacrilege for any actors other than Reeves and Swayze to take on those roles. Gerard Butler was originally cast as Bodhi but was replaced by Ramírez. While Ramírez brings some mystique to the role and tries his best to pull off the philosopher-warrior attitude embodied by Swayze, his interpretation of the character is far from sufficiently magnetic. Reeves isn’t exactly an untouchable paradigm of acting talent and from some angles, Bracey does sort of resemble Reeves. He does bring a heaping helping of whininess to the part. Similarly, Palmer is considerably more boring than Lori Petty was in the original. Gary Busey brought his trademark unhinged unpredictability to Pappas, while Winstone is the usual gruff English street tough he always is. Lindo is the stock authority figure, also doing very little. As a side note, the film features some of the least convincing tattoos we’ve ever seen in a movie. Guess the stunt budget left the makeup department high and dry.
            It’s pretty obvious that the plot exists to string the stunts together, and it all comes across as very perfunctory and half-hearted. This is a movie that should naturally be flowing with adrenaline, but it often feels like it’s just being shoved along. A Point Break remake was a terrible idea to begin with, and even with all the extreme sports bells and whistles in the world, there’s no way this was going to be anything but a let-down. In the hands of screenwriter Kurt Wimmer, it’s even more laughable than in the original film when Bodhi waxes faux-philosophical. Sure, the original Point Break was cheesy, but that was part of its charm. In place of that, we get a whole lot of going through the motions, the end result mediocre rather than radical.
Summary: This remake boasts superbly executed stunts but is fully incapable of justifying its existence and, for a movie about extreme sports, is sorely lacking in energy. It’s pretty blah, brah.
RATING: 2out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

The November Man

For F*** Magazine

THE NOVEMBER MAN

Director : Roger Donaldson
Cast : Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Eliza Taylor, Catherine Scorsone, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton, Lazar Ristovski, Patrick Kennedy
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 28 August 2014
Rating : NC-16 (Sexual Scenes and Violence)
Running time: 108 mins

           In The Tailor of Panama and Matador, Pierce Brosnan played on his persona as the world’s most famous fictional spy. He does it again but in a markedly more serious manner here, as retired CIA agent Peter Devereaux. Devereaux violently barges out of his quiet retirement in picturesque Lausanne, Switzerland to embark on a very personal mission. Social worker Alice Fournier (Kurylenko) has valuable evidence that could topple the political career of Federov (Ristovski), poised to become the next Russian president. Devereaux must protect her to uncover the far-reaching conspiracy but this brings in him conflict with David Mason (Bracey), his former pupil at the CIA. The further Devereaux digs, the more danger he puts him and the few he keeps close to him in, especially when it transpires that a CIA official may have been in cahoots with Federov.

            Based on Bill Granger’s novel There Are No Spies, the seventh in the November Man book series but the first to be adapted, this is a film that is competently made but is filled with elements that aficionados of the espionage thriller genre are likely all too familiar with. The film is built upon the theme of spies entering relationships and having families, only for those they hold dear to become casualties in wars that are not theirs to fight. Veteran director Roger Donaldson has tackled the genre before with No Way Out and The Recruit, now turning out a post-Bourne spy movie that is tough and gritty without being self-consciously so. In the States, this is rated R. The blood, swearing and requisite gratuitous scene set in a strip club go some way to separate it from the PG-13 action thriller pack, if only superficially.

            Brosnan is actually even more convincing as a spy here than in his Bond films over a decade ago. Eschewing the wink-and-a-smile charm he is so famous for, Brosnan plays Devereaux as grizzled and lethal. If he’s planning a Liam Neeson-style “man of geri-action” career ahead, he’s going about it better than, say, Kevin Costner is. He plays the heated confrontations with a surprising amount of intensity, especially given that his Bond was never known for being particularly tough. It’s a pity then that Luke Bracey is bland as Mason, the Australian actor never rising above “standard issue imported Hollywood pretty boy”. A better actor could have made the strained mentor-mentee relationship between Devereaux and Mason more compelling.

            Let’s face it, former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko is known more her exotic, striking appearance than her acting chops. However, she brings a good deal of vulnerability and is also able to bring out the canniness beneath the surface of the Alice Fournier character, offering hints that there is more to her than she is letting on. Lazar Ristovski is also a sufficiently slimy and unlikeable as Federov without overplaying the stereotype.

            While many spy thrillers fall apart as they head into their conclusions, The November Man actually becomes a good deal more interesting in its last act, the twists and reveals effective and somewhat plausible. This doesn’t change that it follows many conventions of the genre and that it is poorly paced, the action sequences few and far between. Some visual clichés are employed too – there’s actually a scene of someone jumping sideways through a door into a room, firing a gun in slow motion. Ultimately, it is Brosnan who makes this worthwhile, kicking ass and taking names far more his wheelhouse than struggling through Abba songs.


Summary: A conventional espionage thriller that mitigates its sense of “been there, done that” by ramping up the tension in the third act. Brosnan’s late-career action hero resurgence also makes this worth a look.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong