Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Top 10 Favorite Films / Video Games of 2016

Top Ten Personal Favorite Films / Video Games of 2016

Ah 2016... you have been rough to say the least. From personally, to politically, to world wise, and entertainment / notable people passing, it was as they say "the worst of times". But removed from its "2016ness",
there was a solid amount of great media this year, let's focus , here, on that. As always,  if it isnt
listed and is considered to be amazing, i havent likely experienced it at all or enough to make a valid
judgement. Things stay cool eternally..

Top 10 Films of 2016:

1.) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: For proving that just maybe Disney's plans for a yearly film will work if they are this its classic OT feel even more than TFA, its intense stakes, its new characters and edgy attitude, and!

2.) Captain America: Civil War: For truly bringing together the entire existing MCU to date into a intense dramatic
conflict, and yet also for introducing some new heroes and spideys, for being marvel at its most epic yet.

3.) Deadpool: For delivering on a dream, and being as perfect and funny and crude and zany as it should be.

4.) La La Land: For its beautiful music, directorial visuals/art, and story. Craft!

5.) Hacksaw Ridge: For its great performances, and intense bloody WW2 action, and message.

6.) Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice: For truly starting a new era of DC crossover, bringing a great new Battfleck and intense drama and action.

7.) Doctor Strange: For also delivering a dream, and its surreal visuals and unique action.

8.) Arrival: For its deep intricate intellectual plot, direction, performances, and meanings

9.) Finding Dory: For its charm, emotions, and color.

10.) 10 Cloverfield Lane: Haha what timing, but yes despite the coincedence for its performances, tension, mystery,
and  uniqueness.

Honorable  # 11 to 13:
11.) Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them(Vibe!)

12.) Zootopia(Themes!)

13.) Star Trek Beyond(Spectacle!)

NEW RULE( 2015 or prior wider re-releases don't count for me, nor do one night only... sorry,
Will include similiar category in future years...) Doesnt Count Since Originally Released Before 2016/Less Than A Few
Weeks(The Revenant(Leo!), Batman: The Killing Joke(Hammil!!)

Top 10 Video Games of 2016:

1.) Uncharted 4: A Thieve's End: For its incredible visuals, performances, gameplay, and set pieces culminating the series to date both plotwise and game evolution wise.

2.) Battlefield 1: For its incredible visuals, interesting gameplay and varied maps, and touching campaign and not being afraid to go back to roots.

3.) Dishonored 2: For its unique world, deep plot, perfromances, and truly offering varied ways to complete something

(I would put the first two episods of Telltale's The Walking Dead Season 3/ New Frontier here,but since it is episodic
starting this year its kind of hard to put...but woah, choices and emotion and etc..what reminder of quality, and so) 4.) Kirby: Planet Robobot: For its crazy spectacle, music, and level design, fun, and unlockables.

5.) Overwatch: For being an important new change and trendsetter in the FPS genre, colorful visuals, world lore, and polish, and free updates plan.

6.) Gears Of War 4: For bringing back that feel one missed, intense story, and even intenser gameplay scenarios and combat while looking great.

7.) Watch Dogs 2: For being what number one should have been. Wacky, stuff to do, San Francisco adaptation,

8.) Titanfall 2: For its intense and evolved multiuplayer gameplay, smooth performance, and actually a great, well done, varied campaign.

(Would out Telltale's The Walking Dead: Michonne series as well, it all did come out this year, but its a bit hardto quanity episodic point and clicks as games,...but it did have great emotion, action, and vibe and even moreso music..)  9.) Pokemon Sun And Moon Versions: For serving as a tribute to the franchise while shaking up its core formula, a greatvibe, plentiful new ideas offering both the usual new era Pokemon experience while also feeling fresh with features.)

10.) Inside: For its dark ambience, sound design, and intensity.

Honorable  # 11 to 13:
11.) Deus Ex: Mankind Divided(World!)

12.) DOOM(Brutality/Old-Schoolness!)

13.) Street Fighter 5(Changing/Options!)

Doesn't Count But Great Re-Releases/Mostly Same Games/Mobile/Etc:(Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD(Refine!),
Ratchet and Clank (PS4) (Beautiful!),Pokemon Go(Simplistic Popularity!), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered

La La Land Review

La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast Headliners: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
Original Release Date: December 9th, 2016 (Seen Later in Month)  

   Damien Chazelle astounded the world with his intense, jazz infused Whiplash in 2014. That film was as infused with as many great soundtrack and visual moments a it was with powerful performances. Chazelle has a touch of directorial gold, and so when he makes a film at the head one should pay attention. He turns his attention to a classic style Hollywood(both in setting and style) musical in La La Land. It is every bit as a treat as the praise makes it out to be.
While evoking the great musical flicks of yesteryear, the setting is in modern times LA. This allows it to take a jest, positive and critical, at SoCal lifestyle which will resonate with those who have any familiarity with the area. Soon after an incredibly bright, rousing opening number we meet our two leads.
The narrative is essentially a standard romantic drama / comedy. The two main leads are Mia(Emma Stone) who is an aspiring actress and Sebastian(Ryan Gosling) who is an aspiring musician. The plot unfolds across seasons and circumstances through their romance. There's other character's besides them but none get much focus aside from the effective use of side characters in musical numbers. Chazelle makes a reunion with JK Simmons to play an effectively humorous jerk of a restaurant owner in Bill. Real musician John Legend (with a kind of different part bringing one of his songs in tow) shows up in a sincere role as Keith who is important to the plot.
The two ones who will stick out are Gosling and Stone. Their rapport, chemistry, and dialogue between each other is great. Both traverse a range of emotional feels, and delight the audience to laugh, feel romance, or cry in their various situations. They both are great singers, dancers, all giving their best. Emma Stone in particular gives a fantastic performance and getrs much of the narrative focus. Her singing as well will leave one with chills.
That is because the music, both instrumental and the frequent (but not overbearing) musical numbers are astoundingly, amazingly gorgeously composed. The soundtrack by Justin Hurwitz will leave one humming forever, dancing forever. From joyous horns, to the frequent use of jazz styles(important to the narrative), to strings and lyrics and more it's both very classic Hollywood and modern artistic flair.

Damien Chazelle also in a way is a musician in his visual style. Even more than Whiplash, La La Land is a work of visual art. Each shot has great cinematography and close-camera-care. The use of colors, sunny LA, set design is all wonderful especially in a key end scene. It is at times surreal and magical, dancing in the stars and so on. These moments make La La Land truly special. While it can be a bit long and typical, it will leave an impact to the viewer through its candy of visuals and music and charm. That's what good movies do. 8.8 out of 10

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Assassin's Creed Review

Assassin's Creed
Director : Justin Kurzel
Cast Headliners : Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Ariane Labed
Original Release Date : December 21, 2016

  Video game films have had overall a , to say the least , hard time reaching success in Hollywood. Games and films can be such different mediums that there's a clash between experiences. Now as for Assassin's Creed there comes an interesting question... How does a linear adaption of one of the most famous open world games work ? It does sometimes....

   After some questionable time jumps between 15th century Spain and the protagonists childhood , we meet the 30something Callum Lynch ( Michael Fassbender ) in the modern day on his death row end. He is saved from his end by Sophia Rikkin ( Marion Cotillard) of the mysterious Abstergo foundation.

  The main crux of the AC series , and here , is that Abstergo has a technology known as the Animus that allows one to travel into a vision and control of their genetic ancestors and learn from them. Sophia and her father Alan(Jeremy Irons) act as the villainous force , wanting Callum to tap into the life of his Spanish ancestor Aguilar(also Fassbender in a silly long costume  wig ), a member of the Assassin's Brotherhood of secret warriors.

  The movie is thus separated into a bit of two disparate storylines.  The 15th century quest of Aguilar and his assassin comrade Maria ( Ariane Labed) is the films best stuff , for the most part . Director Kurzel shows a beauty seen in his past work Macbeth, with gorgeous costumes, scenery , and swashbuckling action. The jumping and parkour and combat is right out of the originals and is solid medieval fare. While it doesn't use its Spanish setting to much more than historical context with some Moors and the Inquisition.  In these parts , Fassbender and Labed are decent in their coolness , and trials against henchmen like the Black Knight ( Denis Menochet, also playing Abstergo security in a bit of cleverness ).  However, while there is some cool stuff it is a minority of the overall film and reaches a cliffhanger that never really resolves itself .

   The modern day stuff is not quite as interesting by any means. While Fassbender is decently cool as Aguilar , his Callum is...not the best protagonist. At times he gives some emotion and coolness, but it's mixed in with silly rants and martial arts visions of the past that are laughable. The enemy Rikkin characters do not impress , with perhaps Irons being an OK exception. Lynch's father (Brendan Gleeson) shows up in a poorly explained moment and is decent but also all too momentary.

  The movie devolves into cheesy mania in the present tense as it goes on. There's side characters who don't do much (such as Michael K Williams ' Moussa), there's ok but silly action and uprisings, there's questionable turns from the games logic and general quality . There's plot holes and cliffhangers here too.

  The movie gets alot wrong from the source, which is a shame. Because the world of the Assassin's and Abstergo / the Knights Templar (!) Has told at at times epic saga . But here there is lack of explanations, mixed bag of acting, and a wonky plot. Buried within though is some cool medieval action and slightly dramatic set pieces . 7 out of 10

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Star Wars: Rogue One Review

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast Headliners: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Many Others
Original Release Date: December 16, 2016

                After years of being in a subdued state (and depending on one’s views of the prequel trilogy, even longer) the Star Wars franchise gloriously returned in all of its beloved space opera wonder in 2015’s The Force Awakens under Disney. Almost immediately after the news of that Episode VII, plans also were revealed for something else… “Anthology” films, side stories in theaters on the years the main episodes were not. Although there is a plethora of precedence (Though no one’s missing out on anything by skipping the Ewoks films or The Holiday Special) this is the first time there’s been a deliberate effort to show as different a perspective as possible to the main saga.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is adapted from a mere line of text from the 1977 A New Hope: “Rebel starships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire”.  It’s with much awesome delight that the movie is far more than just a sentence. The film is a massively fun, action packed, and powerful time within its span and within the Star Wars timeline and franchise as a whole.        
                The film, in the first of many experiments to make it (effectively) unique, drops the classic Star Wars intro story crawl and theme song to a scene in present time. Instead, the franchise’s first ever flashback / time jump is shown before a traditional film style logo. In the early years of the Empire after 2005’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the Erso family are in hiding on a remote world. Galen Erso(Mads Mikkelsen) is wanted by the Empire’s Director Krennic(Ben Mendelsohn) to finish the Death Star against his will. Events transpire, leaving new important characters in important predicaments.
                Years later, a now adult Jyn Erso(Felicity Jones) is a prisoner of the Empire. She is rescued by the Rebel Alliance, and finds herself on their base planet of Yavin 4. She soon teams up with more Rebel allies such as Cassian Andor(Diego Luna), his droid K-2SO(Alan Tudyk) and more to find her father and his information on the fearsome Death Star.
                It’s logical that the movie takes a medium between the semi-straightforward adventure style of the Original Trilogy, and The Force Awakens, and the perhaps overly intricate Lucas-style narrative puzzles of the Prequel Trilogy. The first act is an extra-whirlwindy rush of momentary different planets and informants that offers some neat location variety but stops just short of letting what’s going on sink in. Things more than make up for this as characters and elements old and new are brought into the fray.
                The film, as often is with Star Wars, is jam packed with great characters and performance. The core Rebel protagonists in this are not well established heroes, both literally to viewers nor within the film’s universe. They are edgy, outcasts, criminals which makes things interesting. The film is led by Jyn who is certainly her own spin of ‘Wars heroine. While she may lack the charisma of Rey or others, she brings a fierceness , street smarts, and criminal angle that add a slightly dark nuance to her. Felicity Jones gives some decent work at times, including a resounding speech or few. Her best stuff comes when she is with her father Galen and there’s great emotional performances at work between her and Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen is also very fascinating and sincere if shortly in the film.  Some of her other best scenes are with Cassian Andor, the squad leader. Luna brings an edge of his own to the character, feeling so gritty and real in his role as Rebel Captain with a serious attitude and equally dark past.  The “warlike” main trifecta of characters is rounded off with K-2S0. Alan Tudyk extremely shines amongst the cast, delivering what may be the best Star Wars droid ever. He’s almost like a Bender from Futurama or Star War’s own HK-47 from older materials: he’s smart, sassy, a bit mean, and hilarious. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have other humor with its leads, as the writing is great aided by the committed performances. It’s that classic Star Wars feel from a new grounded angle and crew.
                The ensemble cast of characters continue to overall impress from all sides. Soon the main crew grows to include two “Guardians of the Whills”( a lore reference sure to excite deep franchise fans, of which at times things get very deep) in Chirrut Imwe(Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus(Jiang Wen). It’s neat to see Star Wars add two Asian actors in such main roles. Perhaps stereotypically, or perhaps perfectly considering Lucas’ original inspiration, the two play very Jedi-like characters. Yen’s Chirrut is another show stealer, a devoted and humorous blind master of the Force in a new way with his staff and bow. His interactions with the fierce heavy machine gun toting Baze played greatly by Wen are also great.  Others on the protagonist or similar side are less impressive.  Imperial pilot defector (guess you weren’t the first Finn!) Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has his slight humorous and heroic moments but fades into the tapestry of things. It’s really cool to see the connective characters in Rebel Alliance top command of a younger Mon Mothma(Genevieve O’Reilly, from a Revenge of the Sith deleted scene!) and an older Bail Organa(finally played once again by Jimmy Smitts) who are important to the lore but do little else besides look the perfect part and drop some references and plot development.
                A great unique point to the film is found in some of these supporting roles. The most obvious is found in people like Cassian/Jyn/K2 but also in Saw Gerrera(Forrest Whitaker). Whitaker’s character Saw (originally from The Clone Wars animated show but it’s not mandatory plotwise) is crazed and leads an even more reckless independent brand of Rebel-like Partisans. His role is short, not too impactful but some regard of important in filling out the world which honestly makes sense: the Rebels were fractured ,and did bad things of their own. The movie is about shades of grey, moreso than perhaps any of the other 7 main SW main films, and whether it’s via characters or factions. It asks really interesting questions of this famed universe but not without compromising the fun, intensity, and action.
                It’s no surprise that the Empire gets much less sympathetic showtime. This is them at the height of their power, proving once again the elegant and epic-ly grim connections between the Prequels and Originals.  The primary villain is found in Director Orson Krennic(Ben Mendelsohn). Mendelsohn is a unique, often villainous talent and here he brings a powerful evil performance. He will stop at nothing to bring his Death Star and, of particular interest to the audience, impress his Imperial superiors. This allows for the reason to bring in THE Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, so great to be typing that name for the first time in over 10 years in cinemas). His role, possibly more than any similar cameo in recent Hollywood history, must be seen first hand to experience the awesome. That awesome is every bit as intense and evil as the legends, and hearing the familiar JEJ talk will give one chills. One could wish for more , but what we do get is incredible.  Less incredible is the choice to bring back a CGI Grand Moff Tarkin(played here, aside from Peter Cushing’s likeness, by actor Guy Henry).  He too looks just right out of 1977, but is clearly not a real person if almost there. Despite the surrealness , his interactions with Krennic and the Empire perspective moments are solid and fitting to the timeline.

                Once the movie gets going, it gets going to an amazing well done degree. Director Gareth Edwards is known to be a proud Star Wars fan, and like JJ before him, this bleeds through in every heartfelt aspect. The physical props, the sweeping energetic score (not done by Williams but here by an alright filler Michael Giacchino), the future sheen with an analog old school sensibility.. it’s all here. Perhaps even  a bit moreso than The Force Awakens, it feels like its cut out of the same cloth as the Original Trilogy though with its afromentioned unique identity. Edwards as well gives more beautiful  sweeping, natural breathing room to his shots and action moments which is a speck of his style but otherwise blending into the Star Wars taste.

                The visuals , whether they be creatures, planets(which are the most in one film in long time and diverse from ancient Jedi desert metropolis Jedha to tropical Scarif to classic A New Hope forest Yavin 4 and more) to the Stormtrooper armor, guns, vehicles(walkers!!) it’s all  gorgeously shiny yet also real. This becomes especially enjoyable in the action scenes. This perhaps is some of the most action in a single Star Wars film ever. There’s a plethora of ground and space action peppered through the adventurous experience. Dozens of troops on each side and gigantic ships in orbit not seen since Return of the Jedi.  The stakes heighten things even more, and if one desired a Star “Wars” movie, they got it here. One will feel more and more on the edge of their seat as the ending Act 3 explodes into essentially one long, constant, and increasingly epic battle to get those plans via whatever that may entail. Without(as one can assume with the street level heroes…) a lightsaber duel in sight, the ending arc and excitement becomes some of the franchises’ finest . The ending in particular will leave one speechless , and perfectly sets up the future.
                That’s the film’s overall take away. It’s as nearly perfect a tie between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope there can be. There’s some of the varied worlds and political nuance of the PT, with the swashbuckling action and visuals of the OT. Questions are answered and new ones are asked. While at times things can be a bit rushed in both plot and characters, and while there’s some slight mistakes, it’s a movie a Star Wars fan will surely love. It has the very rare aspect of making not just itself a greatly enjoyable ride, but improving the meaning and stakes of the film’s preceding and following it in the Star Wars timeline. It’s the gritty frontline combat movie we always wanted, with a meaningful classic Star Wars lense(although with a only a couple too many other references less excusable at this point) and familiar feel.  Even a non-fan will find a somewhat self contained exciting galactic heist film. The Force, once again, is strong with this one. Disney’s spinoff plan is off to a great start with the one of the best movie prequels ever.  9.77 out of 10

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Bad Santa 2 Review

Bad Santa 2
Director: Mark Waters
Cast Headliners: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Kathy Bates
Original Release Date: November 23rd, 2016

 If it weren't for the first Bad Santa, there wouldn't have been the modern trend of edgy comedy films seen in things like The Night Before. Years later, the main crew(and more) return in Bad Santa 2. It earns some gold amidst its stocking of coal.
Years have passed, just as in real-time, since the first film and Willie Soke(Billy Bob Thornton) hasn't changed much from his criminal, holiday posing days or in fact hasn't changed at all. He still is a drunk, a jerk, a pervert, and a comedian. Events transpire to bring him back with his sidekick little friend Marcus Skidmore(Tony Cox) to a charity in Chicago. Events even bring back the now 21 year old boy Thurman Merman(Brett Kelly) with them as well.
There's a lot of pretty good comedy between these three just like the first. The humor is edgy and swearingly vulgar filled but that's what one would want for this film. It also helps that there's a strong new additon in Willie's mother Sunny(Kathy Bates). She manages to even out-darkness Willie. Another ok if barely involved addition is charity director Diane(Christina Hendricks) who is less of a humor and romantic lead than the first film's.
The core scenes where it's Thornton interacting with Cox/Bates/Kelly are realy funny. The larger formula possibly even out-humors the first film. But all of the holiday gimmicked edge has been done before. It's that blend of dark, edgy, and even a bit of dramatic melancholy emotion that stands out.
The core plot runs in circles a bit with some alright moments of action and espionage. Like the first, it's about a heist. Here it's one specific location and tighter knit. But that makes the stakes a bit sillier and lower.

 There's not much else to say about this one. It's got a funny bad Santa in Thornton, with some good new characters like the mom in Bates and the grown up Thurman. But it's more of the same as the first with less of the satire and uniqueness. But one will laugh tis the season. 6.95 out of 10


Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Director: David Yates
Cast Headliners: Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterson, Alison Sudol, Collin Farrell
Original Release Date: November 18, 2016

Another beloved franchise , J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World as it is titled(of Harry Potter), is reborn into cinemas. It's back to that world of mysteries and magic and beasts set just under a world much like our reality. Though with Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (connected to the short novella of the same name by Rowling) the movie is not just a spin-off but a prequel as well. This creates an interesting recipe for adventurous shenangins.
The movie is set in the 1926 past, in New York City (introducing America on-screen to the universe) and follows a new leading band of heroes. Watching the other Harry Potter films is not a pre-requisite since the connections are at first tangential. The original novel existed in the HP lore as a textbook that Harry and peers used in their Hogwarts courses. Rowling made a real-world, “in-universe” book (and the story/script for this film) detailing a variety of creature lore from within the world by fictional author Newt Scamander. This film, and it's saga ahead, follow the life of that author, played by Eddie Redmayne as the new protagonist. There's a couple of references and the feeling of being cut from the same ambient cloth as the other films but otherwise it does a pretty good job of standing on its own though it would be helpful to be a fan who knows their Muggles from their Nimbus 3000's.
A large part of the driving force of the film is that Scamander's magical briefcase containing various magical creatures has been swapped with No-Maj(the USA's Muggle term) Jacob Kowalski's(Dan Foglet) and thus let loose into the city. Scamander encounters various new allies and enemies along the way on his quest to wrangle them and deal with the political situation of NYC.
The scenes and aspects which tie to that main creature-fetching arc are great. There's imagination to the various , realistically yet CGI critters, whether they be the adorable gold loving rodent Niffler, the mighty pachedyrm Erumpent, or Newt's personal allies(it's interesting to see his affinity and capability with animals) in the grassy Bowtruckle and avian Swooping Evil. A variety of very interesting, wonky, magical properties and scenarios are used to capture the beasts. Director David Yates fills these and other action and magical set scenes with his trademark franchise touch that will make it feel just like the classics and more.
The core crew takes a bit of getting used to. The absence of staples like Harry, Ron, Hermoine, and Hagrid is felt . But these new characters have their various merits. Redmayne's Scamander will take some getting used to as it appears he is purposefully an outsider with an awkward personality. At least hopefully that's the intention, as at times Redmayne can be hard to hear or moves quickly through conversations before we really get the chance to appreciate him. He is joined in time by the Goldstein sisters. Ex-Auror Tina(Katherine Waterston) has an intriguing premise but that's about all that is memorable. Her sister Queenie(Alison Sudol) brings a vibrant odd charm and telepathic powers that make her additions enjoyable. It's without a doubt that one of the most entertaining parts of the film is Fogler's Jacob. He is great at the “What the heck is all this” normal person role. The movie is perhaps the funniest Potterverse film yet and he is a big part of that. He has great chemistry with all of the heroic quadrio and his presence in future sequels is a much wanted one beyond his good arc in this film.
Various other characters and slightly muddled motivations fill the film besides the beast hunt. There's some various complex factions competing of the (surprisingly and lore enticingly) strict MACUSA(The US's magical society) led by President Seraphina(Carmen Ejogo) versus the fanatical anti-magic Second Salemers led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) with some side elements like USA Senator Shaw( Jon Voight) . It's here the more dramatic and darker elements come into play but feel clashing with the actiony, humorous adventures of Newt and co. It doesn't help that just a little too long yet also too little explanatory time is spent with them with characters that don't make too much of an impact. There is the involvement of Ron Perlman playing a motion capture goblin mobster named Gnarlack though which is entertaining.
A few characters do strongly rise to the surface in the intricate web. Colin Farrel's MACUSA agent Percival Graves provides the strongest intense edge the film. He brings a charisma and attitude that stand out in his side-plot of tracking down mysterious magical events in the city. So too does Second Salemer Credence Barebone(Ezra Miller) who's role must be seen but is unique and effective. And the trailer's do speak of a Grindelwald(Johnny Depp), who's name will be familiar to longterm fans but otherwise must be seen first hand too. By the end of the film, the dramatic threads become pretty epic.
It's a long film but brings back the musical and visual trademarks that will make one feel right back to Rowling's Pottterverse. Just like that film septology , the first one is an interesting introduction but makes one even more excited for where things will go. It's interesting to be transported to a lavish recreation of the 1920s and New York in any case, with an extra dose of magic. There's some strong aspects that one will look forward to more of and things that need to be proven. But for a fan, that makes this required watching, and a mostly exciting visual adventure romp for a first timer. 8.05 out of 10

Hacksaw Ridge Review

Hacksaw Ridge

Director: Mel Gibson
Cast Headliners: Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Theresa Palmer, Vince Vaughan, Sam Worthington
Original Release Date: November 4th, 2016 (seen mid/late Nov)

  “War is hell' is a phrase and words that have been explored in many films and media before. Countless tales of heroism, true stories, and sacrifice during World War 2 have been told in Hollywood before. Hacksaw Ridge has something extra notable in it: the protagonist never once touches or uses a gun. How does this happen, and does this make for a worthy premise? Director Mel Gibson tells a overall emotional and visceral tale on what this means to make a pretty unique film.
In essence the movie is a biography of the important parts of Desmond Doss(Andrew Garfield), a Virginian who lives with his brother Hal(Nathaniel Buzolic), and parents Tom(Hugo Weaving ) and Bertha(Rachel Griffiths). Flashbacks show his young childhood, and encounters with the violence, spirituality, and drunkenness of his father which forms his beliefs. World War 2 starts, and amongst family drama he finds himself joining the military even with his pacifistic views that do not permit him to even touch a firearm.
The movie goes through three major arcs and settings that contrast pretty heavily in quality and style from each other. The film's opening 1/3 are set in Virginia and detail the Doss family drama. There's some decent stuff, but at times things can get cheesy. It's unfortunate that the great Hugo Weaving kind of bumbles through his lines here especially since he's a big part of the first third. But he has small moments of effective emotion. None of the rest of this sequence is very memorable but does establish the character of Doss. There's the showing as well of his romance with future wife Dorothy Schutte(Teresa Palmer). This is handled with some slightly awkward chemistry between Garfield and Palmer, and is paired with cheesy music but beautiful visual shots courtesy of Gibson.

The next portion of the film follows in the same trend as Doss goes to bootcamp. Here he meets the strict Sgt. Howell(Vince Vaughn) and stricter Cpt.Glover(Sam Worthington). Suffice to say that Doss's views do not mesh well with the military. It should be seen first hand, but there's an interesting, almost A Few Good Men style legal element here that would make the movie interesting in its own right as a standalone. Vaughan provides some needed comic relief , especially before things get too grim, and shows a bit of a type cast break from what he normally does. Worthington as well gives a ferocity and slight adversary role that's memorable. There's also a pretty good cast of various supporting squad members, from the bullying Smitty(Luke Bracer) to the charismatic “Hollywood”(Luke Pegler).
As with most war epic films, all of the mixed ride of the civilian life is all just set up to the real part of the film, the battlefield. Set in the brutal Pacific 1945 Battle of Okinawa, Doss and crew are sent to the frontlines through what is nearly non-stop action for the rest of the film's long run-time. This is one of Hacksaw Ridge's strongest suits. Mel Gibson is a director that has delivered powerful brutal imagery through Christ in Passion and conflict in Braveheart and Apocalypto. A WW2 film is a natural fit, and the battle scenes are a varied greatness of brutal, exciting, horrifying , explosive, and dark. This is perhaps one of the most brutal war films ever made as it makes Saving Private Ryan seem like it was holding back slightly in terms of gore. It at times may seem excessive, but no doubt this is how it really was and brings the audience to the front line. There are slight moments of obvious CGI but otherwise it's a terrifying, visceral portal to the past. Perhaps the brutal violence helps sell the message as well.
Through this all, it's exciting to see how Doss handles this. The plot is good at making just one titular ridge of “hacksaw” worth the time. This allows Garfield to shine, who is the other main highlight. Andrew Garfield has shown some promise in other roles in his career, but here he has the extended time and material Spider-Man never gave him. He brings depth, emotion, an accent, that makes him transform into the role and feel and cheer for him in his faith. One constantly cares for Doss, and his peers.
Mel Gibson has made one of the new World War 2 Pacific front legends. Although it has its drawbacks, most notably in the buildup and some bit pieces, the violent action and core themes/performance make it unique and commendable. 8.75 out of 10