REVIEW: Hacksaw Ridge (2017)

hacksaw_ridge_posterUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 26th January 2017

Running Time: 139 minutes

Director: Mel Gibson

Genre:  War, Action, Biography, Period

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn

SYNOPSIS: Mel Gibson directs Andrew Garfield in the visceral true story of a war hero who didn’t fire a single shot. Scarred by childhood experiences with his alcoholic WWI veteran father (Hugo Weaving), devout Seventh Day Adventist Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) resolves never to touch a gun. This proves something of a challenge when he enlists in the army to fight in WWII. As a conscientious objector, Desmond insists on his right to serve as a medic. But he’s bullied by his unsympathetic comrades, who consider him to be a coward.

His greatest test comes during the notoriously bloody Battle of Okinawa. Returning to the director’s chair for the first time in a decade, Mel Gibson celebrates a very different kind of hero in this intense, blood-soaked true-life tale of faith, courage and patriotism. Andrew Garfield is on outstanding form as the pacifist whose single-handed acts of bravery saved 75 lives.

(Synopsis from Cineworld.)

 

So, this is the second of a pair of linked film reviews, the first being a review of ‘Amish Grace’. I’d suggest you read it first it you haven’t already.

So, the second review, about ‘Hacksaw Ridge’. I thought this was a superb film. An inspiring story of a pacifist staying true to his conscience and religious convictions, and an unflinching portrayal of the horrors of war, handled in such a way that the courage and sacrifice of the soldiers who do fight and kill is never denigrated. The latter on its own is quite an impressive film-making achievement.

The film could be said to take place in three acts. Act one, formative moments from childhood, leading into a satisfying and wholesome romance, as Doss courts Dorothy (who slaps him for kissing her without asking her permission first!).

Act two is a boot camp adventure cum courtroom drama, as Doss resists the army’s attempts to break him and force him to carry a weapon. It is refreshing to see a Hollywood film in which there is no apology for, or concealment of, the character’s Christian faith, and this is so all the way through the film.

Act three is a war film. A bloody, brutally honest war film, but like none I’ve ever seen, since it revolves around a hero who never fires a single shot or takes a single life. Interestingly, Mel Gibson actually left out at least two significant heroic actions on Doss’s part, feeling that the audience simply wouldn’t be able to credit it, and would assume he was making it up. (To read what these incidents were, scroll down to below the trailer, but they include SPOILERS.)

So, how come I’ve just recommended ‘Amish Grace’ for its extreme discretion in depicting violence, but am now praising ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ (because ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a very graphic film, and will certainly not be for all viewers, even among the adults).

Well, I watched ‘Amish Grace’ just the weekend before ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, and as I mentioned in the review, I was bowled away by how well they managed to handle such a horrible crime without showing one shred of violence on screen. Then I watched ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ and came out thinking what a superb film it was, partly because of its utter refusal to hide, glamorise, romanticise, or in any other way conceal the full horror of war. Needless to say, the contradiction struck me. Which approach is correct? Graphic violence, or nongraphic violence, that is the question…

Of course, the answer is that neither approach is ‘correct’; it depends entirely on how it is done, and why. (And indeed, what is being shown. It’s hard to conceive how anyone can benefit from watching ten little girls shot, for any reason.) Such a lot of films featuring graphic violence are simply violence-porn. There’s no reason for the gore other than to titillate and provide pleasure to the (surely perverse) viewers. Or the other category of ‘bad’ graphic films, into which Brad Pitt’s recent film ‘Fury’, a thoroughly unpleasant work in so many ways, surely falls, where the violence seems deliberately gratuitous, with absolutely no goal other than to push the boundaries and shock the viewer.

But sometimes—and perhaps especially with war films—there is a good reason for showing a lot of graphic violence: simply in order to show the pure unvarnished truth. So many war films glamorise combat, romanticise it, conceal the full horror of the battlefield. Sometimes it’s good to have a film that shines the light of truth on war, and the truth is graphic, and horrific. Throughout the film, it always feels as though this is what ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is seeking to do. The battle scenes aren’t pleasant to watch, but if they strip away people’s illusions about war, they’re serving a good purpose.

My one criticism would be that I felt some of them went on a trifle longer than was strictly necessary, but on the other hand, if you’re in a battle it probably feels like forever, so you could say there is realism in having a bit of length to them!

According to Desmond Doss Jr. (Doss’s only child): “The reason he [Doss] declined [to have his story filmed] is that none of them [those seeking to film it] adhered to his one requirement: that it be accurate. And I find it remarkable, the level of accuracy in adhering to the principal of the story in this movie.” And it does seem, as films go, to be a very accurate one, although the filmmakers have made a few small alterations in the early section, sometimes to heighten tension and drama, and other times to streamline and more simply convey background.

For example, Doss’s convictions about killing stemmed from a combination of a childhood fascination with Cain and Abel and the commandment ‘Though Shalt Not Kill’, and a violent confrontation involving his father, uncle, mother and a gun. All these influences are portrayed in the film, but in ways slightly altered from reality. However, the only significant change to the key battle scenes seems to be the leaving out some of the heroism! Which is a shame, but reading the IMDB discussion boards, Mel Gibson’s fear was clearly well justified!

Overall: A great film that satisfies on many levels. One for the shelf.

Sex/Violence/Profanity: Brief honeymoon scene, not very graphic. CONSIDERABLE graphic war violence. Sensitive viewers strongly cautioned. Considerable crude language.

Heroism Mel Gibson left out [SPOILERS]:

1) In reality, the cargo nets weren’t already fixed to the cliff when Doss’s battalion arrived. Doss was one of three volunteers who scaled the cliffs to fix the nets in place under the guns of the Japanese defenders.

2) After being wounded by the grenade at the end (17 pieces of shrapnel stuck in him) Doss treated himself, then waited for 5 hours before soldiers could get to him to evacuate him. As they headed for safety he saw a badly wounded man. He insisted they stop so he could try to patch him up, then gave up his place on the stretcher to the other man. Whilst waiting for the return of the stretcher, a sniper shot him, shattering his arm. So he fashioned himself a splint out of a discarded rifle stock and crawled 300 yards to safety, under enemy fire.

3) And lastly, not specifically heroism on Doss’s part, but fascinating all the same: a Japanese soldier had Doss in his sights, but every time he went to fire, his rifle jammed!

Information from www.historyVsHollywood.com. The article goes into greater detail about the changes made by the filmmakers.

REVIEW: Rogue One (2016)

 rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterUK Rating: 12A

Release Date: 15th December 2016

Running Time: 134 minutes

Director: Gareth Edwards

Genre:  Sci-fi, Action

Starring: Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn

So, I was quite sceptical about this when I first heard about it. For one thing, the posters and trailers brought the expression, ‘Star Wars does The Hunger Games,’ inescapably to mind. But I was still excited to see it.

I was very favourably surprised. Last Christmas, I enjoyed watching ‘The Force Awakens’ in the cinema with my family, but I couldn’t honestly say I thought it was a terribly good film. In fact, I have to admit that one year on, I can’t remember most of it, which is never a good sign. ‘Rogue One’ is very much the better film, in my opinion. In fact, Rogue One is a pretty good film.

Although it has over eight stars on IMDB (so most people agree with me) some people do seem to be hating it. They seem to be divided into three groups:

  • People who hate it because the heroine is… well, a heroine, not a hero.
  • People who hate the fact that there aren’t any American white male protagonists in the film. Which I have to say I totally failed to notice whilst watching. I mean, why does it matter?
  • People who hate the ending.

Now, the third category have a more valid point. I don’t agree, but I can understand why some people may not like it. I really can’t specify what it is about the ending without giving a total spoiler, so I’ll just say I found it refreshing, and realistic, and felt it fits with and flows very well into the next (chronological) film, ‘A New Hope’ (the very first film to be made).

There is also a moment of absolutely wonderful poetic justice at the end, in the way in which the main villain receives his come-uppance. Obviously, I’d rather he’d repented, but all the same… 🙂

The film has a large and diverse cast of characters, including a blind man who is some kind of former Jedi/monk. The Force stuff takes on somewhat Buddhist overtones in this film, sadly, but it’s not particularly overt. There is a lot of fighting, but it’s bloodless.

However, the male protagonist, Cassian, commits a terrible crime in the very first scene in which we see him. This was important when it came to my reaction to the ending but I think it was actually potentially easy to miss, or to misunderstand what happened. So if you’re thinking, ‘Who shot the guy?’ yes, I’m afraid it was Cassian. And that’s shocking. Why will be clear if you see the film. There’s a tendency in films—and life—nowadays, to think that in a good cause, evil actions are okay. It’s a grave ethical error and the proliferation of this idea is deeply harmful to our society. Fortunately, in this film, although the fact that it is not morally permissible to commit an evil action even to attain a good result is not made as explicit as it should be, overall there is at least an emphasis on redemption, which carries the implicit message that what has been done is wrong, no matter what it was done for.

I would hesitate to say there is a full-out ‘romance’ in the film, but there is a very satisfying thread of refreshingly pure romantic feeling which is nice to see.

On a more technical note, the benefits of CGI are very visible in this film. First film made in the 70s, want to have the same character but, uh-oh, the actor’s now dead? No problem. Just CGI the character in. If I hadn’t known it couldn’t be the actor in question, I might not even have noticed! (I’ll leave the ethical discussion of this to someone else!) Anyway, Princess Leia even makes a brief appearance right at the close—and the audience clapped as the film ended. Because of Leia, or because they just really liked the film? Not sure, but it was charming!

Overall: I think this may well be one for my shelf.

Sex/Violence/Profanity: No sexual content. Lots of bloodless violence. No profanities. Probably not for younger children, though.

RISEN: Out Now in the UK

This is not actually a review since I haven’t seen RISEN yet, but I wanted to make people in the UK aware that this new film about the Resurrection is coming out tomorrow. It looks quite promising, as far as one can judge from a trailer!

It is only showing once a day at my local cinema which means it will probably only be on for one single week–so everyone who wants to see it needs to go at once!

The US have loads of Christian films but most of them never come out here due to lack of market, so it would be great if everyone supported this one. Hopefully it would encourage future releases.

Fun fact: The cast met Pope Francis during a General Audience at the Vatican.

More information below. Do share this to your friends.

Risen

  • Release date: 18/03/2016
  • Rating: 12A
  • Running time: 107 mins

Synopsis: Peter Firth stars as Pontius Pilate in this unofficial follow-up to The Passion of the Christ.


In 33AD, Christ has already resurrected from his death on the crucifix. Now, in order to quell an imminent uprising, a member of the Roman army, Clavius, is charged by Roman prefect Pontius Pilate to locate the missing body of Jesus. It is Pilate’s job to not only locate the corpse of Christ but to arrest those disciples who snatched his body. The mission becomes a learning experience for Pilate as his discovers who Jesus really was… Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld) returns to the director’s chair after an absence of ten years with this unique take on the Greatest Story Ever Told.

Spooks star Peter Firth takes on the role of Pontius Pilate, with Tom Felton (Harry Potter) as Lucius and Joseph Fiennes as Clavius.

REVIEW: The Revenant (2016)

The_Revenant_2015_film_posterUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 15th January 2016

Running Time: 156 minutes

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Genre: Thriller, drama, action

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy

 

So this one was a big disappointment, I’m afraid. Of the most frustrating kind: the ‘could have been so good’ kind. When I first saw the trailer I thought it looked so utterly miserable I had no intention to see it, but I kept hearing good reviews and always the reviews seemed to hint that actually there was redemption at the end, rather than it being about straight up revenge, the way the trailer suggested. Well, I’m a sucker for a redemption plotline, and so is my friend, so we decided to give it a chance.

Most of the film is excellent, with a great soundtrack. It’s a gritty survival tale with great performances. Probably a little too graphic for some people’s taste, but realistic rather than gratuitous in its portrayal of wounds and violence. It is also a hugely more realistic portrayal of the ‘wild west’ than most westerns. There was a time when the Native Americans were always the villains in westerns, now for a long time, they’ve almost always been portrayed as the good guys, or at least the oppressed. Which is fair enough and an improvement on the former representation, but still rather incomplete. ‘Revenant’ tells it much more true to life. Some Native American tribes are peaceful, others are busy slaughtering every other tribe or white person they can lay their hands on. Some of the white people are peaceful, some are quite happy to kill a Native American simply for being a Native American. It all makes for grim viewing, but it’s definitely more accurate than most westerns.

The film falls apart at the end, at least for the Christian viewer who’s been promised redemption. (I can’t completely avoid spoilers, so stop reading if you definitely plan to see it, regardless of what I say.)

There is, at the end, a tiny shred of redemption. But it’s just that. A tiny, feeble shred. In practical terms, it comes too late to make any difference whatsoever to the physical outcome. It’s probably fractionally better for one character’s soul than the alternative, but just barely. It’s a huge damp squib, and makes one feel like reporting the film to the Office of Fair Trading for false advertising (that’s a joke, but you get the idea!).

If this isn’t bad enough, the very, very final moments are hugely unsatisfactory as an ending. My friend and I both felt while watching the film (despite what the trailer implied) that we were really watching a film about the strength of the human spirit, and the human will to survive. It felt more like this was driving the main character than the need for revenge. This is perhaps a failure on the film’s part, though I’d be interested to know how it came across other people. At the close of the film, however, it takes great delight in making it abundantly clear that despite what it felt like throughout, the protagonist’s struggle really was just about revenge, not about the triumph of the human spirit. And so it ends. I can’t be more specific without huge spoilers.

There is also an ambiguity raised during the final encounter between the two main characters relating to a pivotal moment earlier in the film, and the lack of clarity one is left with is an additional annoying niggle.

Overall: So close: but no cigar. It could have been a great film, but the ending ruins it, ironically, beyond all redemption.

 

Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc: A sexual assault followed by an implied castration. Brief nudity. Frequent strong violence. Violence realistic rather than gratuitous, but graphic at times. Some disturbing images. Frequent rough, crude and profane language.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?

REVIEW: Jurassic World

Jurassic_World_posterUK Rating: 12A

Release Date: 11th June 2015

Running Time: 124 minutes

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Genre:  Action, Sci-fi

Starring: Irrfan Khan, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, Omar Sy, Nick Robinson

Well, after being traumatised by ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘The Lost World’ as a child (I didn’t even go to see ‘Jurassic Park III’, although I was well into my teens by the time it came out) my first inclination was to give this a miss as well. But the whole ‘raptor whisperer’ thing in the trailer was just too intriguing. I borrowed my Mum’s ‘Jurassic Park’ boxset to see whether watching ‘Jurassic World’ in the cinema was going to be a good idea, and was pleasantly surprised to find that whilst still excellent films (1 & 2 at any rate), they were no longer off-the-charts terrifying. I suppose after almost 20 years of CGI, we would be far more shocked if the dinosaurs didn’t look real.

For this reason, they would probably never have been able to make a film as scary as the original two, and (wisely, in my opinion) they don’t seem to have been trying. What they have made is a thoroughly enjoyable family film that has very much the ‘feel’ of the first film, with a bit more romance and action, and rather less terror. Although the scenario is pretty similar – nasty carnivorous dinosaurs get loose on the island – the way things play out is fresh and imaginative enough that it never feels like a pale imitation of ‘Jurassic Park’.

I’d caught the odd headline about sexism in the film, but came out scratching my head. The heroine, Clare (Bryce Dallas Howard), is a high heel and suit-wearing, hard-nosed business woman, and clearly no Lara Croft. But most women aren’t, so I can’t see what’s sexist about that. She’s out of her element, but does extremely well, saving the life of Owen (Chris Pratt), the hero, on at least one occasion. When her nephews, Zach and Gray, say, ‘We’re staying with you!’ and Clare says, ‘Don’t worry I’m never going to leave you!’ only for them to say, ‘Not you, him!’ pointing at Owen, one knows exactly where the boys are coming from. But it’s ultimately Clare who orchestrates the final victory while Owen’s hiding in a souvenir shop with the kids. So what’s so sexist about the film, I can’t make out. The high heels were an odd decision by the filmmakers, I will agree. Yes, they would have broken, and no, she couldn’t have outrun anything in them. But if you start looking for weak spots in the plot, there are worse ones than impractical shoes – it’s not, after all, a watertight-plot type of film.

It’s the first film that has a military-trained – rather than pure scientist – hero. Owen is a former Navy man turned dinosaur behavioural specialist. With his dual spheres of experience, he’s is definitely a good guy to have around when a super-dinosaur runs amuck. He has his own little pack of velociraptors – Blue, Charlie, Delta and Echo. They’ve all imprinted on him at birth and think he’s their alpha. He has a strong bond with them and has them well trained – but he still prefers to keep his deadly friends on the other side of a good strong fence if he can. Which shows he understands them much better than Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), the closest thing to a human ‘bad guy’ the film has. Hoskins is convinced the raptors would serve the US army better than drones (yes, you did read that correctly). Needless to say, he’s criminally stupid rather than outright evil – although the idea of loosing a velociraptor on anyone is pretty unpleasant, it isn’t really any worse than any other means of killing.

Unfortunately this is yet another family film where the film makers choose to add a little more angst by having the parents of Zac and Gray in the middle of a divorce, once again contributing to the ‘normalising’ of divorce for younger (and older) viewers. However, this is the only significant moral quibble with the film. Though I did find Clare’s decision to charge off and look for her nephews in person slightly dubious, seeing that she seemed to be in charge of the park, and thus the safety of the other 20,000 people who were also in danger.

As with the other films in the series, there is a clear warning about humans playing God mixed in with all the mayhem. Although it is tremendous fun seeing all the different attractions at the park, there is never any doubt that it is all a Very Bad Idea.

My only other niggle was that Irrfan Khan’s very likeable character was rather under-utilised, as, to a less glaring extent, was Omar Sy’s character – twice the shame, since they were the two main non-white actors. But…

Overall: I enjoyed the film tyrannosaurously and would like to see it again. I suspect it may be the first Jurassic Park film to make it onto my shelf!

A few rules learned from the Jurassic Park films:

Rule 1: Don’t bring back dinosaurs.

Rule 2: If you break rule 1, don’t genetically engineer a new super-dinosaur.

Rule 3: If someone breaks rule 1 or 2, do not go to the island where the dinosaurs are. Ever. For any reason.

Rule 4: If you break rule 3, and there is an announcement – ‘Due to an unusual Asset containment situation, take cover’ – drop your coke and take cover immediately!

I’m tempted to add, Rule 5: Never, ever, ever let out the velociraptors – but that wouldn’t quite be fair, would it? 😉 Now you’ve got to watch it…

Sex/Violence/Profanity: No sex scenes. Mild innuendo and a couple of kisses. Threat and moderate violence. Blood but no graphic shots of wounds. Quite a few deaths. I don’t remember noticing any strong language – which is probably the most unrealistic thing in the film!

REVIEW: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Edge_of_Tomorrow_PosterUK Rating: 12

Release Date: 30th May 2014

Running Time: 109 minutes

Director: Doug Liman

Genre: Action, Sci-fi

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendon Gleeson

“The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one.” Ernest Hemingway (Farewell to Arms)
As the Catholic News Service Review puts it, “it’s hard to imagine that anyone has ever undergone the multiple demises due the lily-livered quite so literally”.

‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is an unusually intelligent and emotionally satisfying war film with a sci-fi twist. Although the central premise of the film is that the earth has been invaded by an alien species, ‘Mimics’, it has very much the feel of a World War Two film and the main action centres around a D day type battle on the beaches of Normandy.

Major Nicholas Cage (Tom Cruise) is the face of the army’s recruitment campaign – and, disappointingly, a coward. Despite his best efforts, he finds himself on the Normandy beach and rapidly meets his end… only to awake at the beginning of the day he has just lived, and have to live it again. And again. And again. Hence the film’s tagline, ‘Live. Die. Repeat’. However, the film deftly and humorously avoids the potential boredom of watching such a time loop.

The film’s emotional satisfaction comes as much from watching Cage grow from coward to true hero, as it does from his relationship with Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a formidable female soldier who has been tempered in the same fire – or time loop – that Cage now suffers. The film isn’t perfect, especially the ending, which one definitely feels could have been made clearer with a little extra effort on the filmmakers’ part (though it does makes sense if you think about it long and hard enough). It is, however, an extremely satisfying ride, and not without its challenging moments. “Why does it matter what happens to me?” demands Rita at one point, with a selflessness that certainly left this viewer feeling overawed.

In a nice touch, it is the song that accompanies the closing credits that supplies the final line – keep your ears open!

Look out for the film under the name: ‘Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow’, available to rent or buy now.

I published the above review in the Advent edition of my parish magazine .

Overall: I have a copy on my DVD shelf. Thumbs up.

Sex/Violence/Profanity: No sex scenes. Threat and moderate violence. Infrequent strong language.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?