Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

I remember wanting to see Hacksaw Ridge in theaters but not following through on my impulse. The film garnered some buzz towards the end of 2016 for a number of reasons, mainly due to its grisly depictions of warfare. This did not surprise me because I am familiar with the work of Mel Gibson as a director and an actor. You could say that Gibson is a bit eccentric in his tastes. I have found Gibson’s films to be entertaining for the most part so I was excited to see how Hacksaw Ridge would fare.

The film tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a soldier who refused to carry any weapons in combat and who was awarded the medal of honor for his efforts during the Battle of Okinawa.  The film focuses primarily on the reasons behind Doss’s decision not to carry a weapon in combat and the consequences that this decision had for Doss.

Hacksaw Ridge has the look and feel of a big-budget movie. There are recognizable actors and the soundtrack is well-produced. Clearly a lot of effort went into making this movie. I would say that this movie did fairly well for itself in the 2016 Oscars. It actually won the awards for best sound mixing and best editing. While Hacksaw Ridge is an entertaining film, it’s probably not the sort of film that deserves a nomination for best picture. Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t really provide anything other than entertainment value.

I came away from this film with a greater appreciation for Andrew Garfield’s skill as an actor. He carries this film from beginning to end. There’s also a feeling I get from war movies that I can only describe as a longing for the bond shared between soldiers. I am clearly the demographic for this movie. If you are similar to me (white, male, interested in movies) then you will probably enjoy watching Hacksaw Ridge. Although it is hollow movie in terms of intellectual depth, it provided enough for me that I can safely recommend to anyone who shares my taste for movies.

You should watch Hacksaw Ridge but please do so with tempered expectations. It’s not that its a bad film. Its just that there’s nothing special about it aside from Andrew Garfield’s performance. Unless you have an interest in war movies, you ought to skip this one.

At this point, these kinds of movies feel more tiresome than anything else. I have seen enough great films depicting World War Two that another one simply doesn’t add anything significant. The best thing that I can say about Hacksaw Ridge is that it shines a light on Desmond Doss who was unknown to me before this film. Hacksaw Ridge is proof that Gibson has settled for low-hanging fruit.

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Manchester by the Sea is Tragic, Hilarious Oscar Bait.

Manchester by the Sea stars Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, a janitor who must become the guardian of his nephew when his brother dies of a heart attack. The film is written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan.

The film begins with Lee Chandler’s daily janitorial routine. Chandler comes across as quiet yet competent. However we also see Chandler’s dark side when he loses his temper with a customer and he gets into a fight at a bar. One day Lee learns that his brother Joe has died of a heart attack so Lee moves in with Joe’s teenage son Patrick.We learn through a flashback that Lee accidentally caused the deaths of his three children when he drunkenly forgot to place a screen in front of his fireplace. Lee and Patrick must figure out where Patrick will live following the death of Patrick’s father.

Manchester by the Sea is an easy watch due to the strength of its characterization. It’s the kind of film that makes you uncertain whether you should be laughing or crying while watching it. I’m always impressed by movies that can pull off this kind of tonal balance.

While Manchester by the Sea is clearly successful at what it attempts to do, I find myself questioning how much I should champion this film. The film is being marketed as an award-winning film and it looks the part. Manchester by the Sea is the type of film that fits so easily into an award ceremony. If it doesn’t win at least a few awards, then it will at least garner several nominations. For this reason I feel that I should avoid giving Manchester by the Sea more credit than it will most likely seem to possess during award season.

Manchester by the Sea is a great film with some serious emotional gravity. It will feel incredibly powerful while you watch it but it will disappear from your memory shortly after you leave the theater. The more I think about Manchester by the Sea, the more I want to conclude that the movie is fluff, a simplistic story that fits into an existing system that fails to present anything new or noteworthy. Manchester by the Sea is not a film that will challenge you or make you aware of something from a new perspective. Its film that knows exactly what it needs to do and does so in a workmanlike fashion, catering to your desires like a butler in a rich man’s house.

 

Moonlight (2016) Analysis: This Film will make you a better person.

Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, is the story of an African American man named Chiron told in three parts. The three sections are called Little, Chiron and Black. These labels refer to the name that Chiron is known by during the section. Moonlight is a incredible feat of storytelling and structure. Its a rare film that presents many questions without ever attempting to answer those questions in a simplistic way. Moonlight uses a specific story to explore universal themes such as identity and how people are formed by experience.

The first section of Moonlight introduces the character of Chiron as a young child living in Miami. When Chiron is chased by bullies, he hides in an abandoned building and is found by a drug dealer named Juan who becomes a father figure for Chiron. In this section we see the beginning stages of Chiron’s development as a person. We see a budding relationship with another child named Kevin and abuse by Chiron’s mother. The second section of Moonlight is Chiron’s teenage years. Chiron is constantly harrassed by other kids in school and his mother’s addiction has only gotten worse. Chiron has his first sexual experience with Kevin on a beach but later Kevin is pressured into assaulting Chiron by a bully named Terrel. When Chiron retaliates against his bully, he is arrested.

The third section of Moonlight shows Chiron several years after being arrested. He works as a drug dealer in Atalanta and he goes by the nickname “black”. Chiron visits his mother and forgives her for the roughness of his childhood. Chiron also visits Kevin who now works at a a restaurant in Miami. Chrion reveals that Kevin is the only man to ever touch him which prompts another sexual encounter between the two men. The film ends with an image of young Chiron looking back towards the camera on the beach.

The story of Moonlight could easily occur in reality as it is incredibly personal. The film tends to focus on moments that are mundane but these moments are filled with meaning. You could easily watch Moonlight and think that most scenes are pointless but the truth is that every single detail is important. Moonlight is the kind of movie that you can’t help but think about for days after you watch it.

Moonlight is easily one of the most important movies of the year. It’s a film that shows the facts of a human life without making any assumptions or drawing any conclusions about what those facts mean. It teaches you that the world is an unfair place and often people have no control over their futures. Watch Moonlight to become see a compelling story and become a better human being.

 

Arrival (2016) Analysis: Denis Villeneuve is Today’s best Filmmaker.

Denis Villeneuve creates films that stay with you long after the credits roll. Now that his fourth major film has hit theaters, I am convinced that Villeneuve is the most significant filmmaker we have today. His film Arrival is a stunning masterpiece of science fiction, one of those rare films that is thought-provoking and a downright pleasure to behold.

Arrival stars Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a linguistics professor tasked with translating the language of aliens who have recently arrived on Earth. Arrival begins with a sequence depicting the life and death of Banks’s daughter who dies at a young age. Banks is invited by an army colonel, played by Forest Whitaker, to Montana where she enters the shell-shaped vessel of the aliens and encounters their language for the first time. The rest of the film follows Banks’s journey to understand the aliens language amidst rising military tensions due to the possibility that the aliens are dangerous. This is about as far as you can go describing the film’s plot without spoiling anything. If you have read this far, be aware that I am going to spoil many parts of the film in the rest of my piece.

I should give props to Ted Chiang because Arrival is based on a short story he wrote. Many elements of Arrival such as the design of the Aliens’ language come from Chiang’s short story. This means that Villeneuve does not deserve all of the credit for Arrival’s awesomeness. Much of the material is shamelessly taken from Chiang’s story but this most likely occurred with Chiang’s permission. Villeneuve does deserve credit for Arrival’s incredible visuals, the casting of Amy Adams and the choice to adapt Chiang’s story in the first place. Arrival is an example of what happens when multiple creative geniuses combine forces on one project.

A major source of mystery in Arrival is the aliens’ reason for being on Earth. This is the main question Banks wants to answer in her meetings with the aliens. When the question is answered, it almost happened too quickly to comprehend. The aliens purpose is to give the gift of their language to humanity because learning the language enables the user to see the past and future. The aliens claim that they will need humanity’s help in the future so that is why they are giving humanity their language. This plot point is unfortunately not fleshed out enough in Arrival. There is no discussion of what this means for anyone other than Louise Banks. I wish that the movie had at least made an attempt to explore the larger implications of a language that enables the user to see the future.

Arrival is a much more personal movie than it appears. While the stakes are large, the movie ignores those stakes in favor of the smaller stakes related to Dr. Banks. Ultimately its unclear why the movie chose to focus so heavily on her story when greater possibilities were available. Despite this problem Arrival is so far my favorite movie of 2016. The film achieved what few other could. It kept me transfixed for the entire time I was in the theater. At this point it is safe to say that this is Villeneuve’s specialty. His ability as a filmmaker is unparalleled in today’s cinema landscape.

Blair Witch Review

Blair Witch is the sequel to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. It is amazing that the original Blair Witch Project hit theaters nearly 18 years ago.  The reboot is directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett. These two also collaborated on films such as The GuestYou’re Next and V/H/S. Judging by their past work, it would appear that Wingard and Barrett are the perfect people to write and direct a rebooted blair witch film.

Blair Witch takes place many years after the events of The Blair Witch Project. Heather Donahue’s younger brother James plans to enter the Burkittsville woods with two friends and documentarian Lisa Arlington who hopes to make a film following James’s search. Two local residents accompany the search as well. It doesn’t take long before shit starts to hit the fan. The group inexplicably sleeps in until 2:00 PM and then finds stick figures hanging from the trees around the campsite. It only gets worse from here as more supernatural things interfere with the group’s search.

The original Blair Witch Project is credited as being one of the most crucial films in the history of horror cinema. It was the first film to utilize a found footage premise and it did so with an incredibly effective marketing campaign. The end result was a film that left viewers unsure whether it was real or not. The film achieved an stunning level or realism that encouraged viewers to believe that it was real “found footage” that was discovered in the Burkittsville woods. Any effort to reboot this film cannot have the same effect because of the rapid developments in technology over the past couple decades. Blair Witch understands this fact and smoothly incorporates present-day technology such as drones and webcams into its narrative. However one must suspend their disbelief to an extremely high level to accept the idea that this new Blair Witch is true found footage. The chances that this amount of footage would survive the events that occur are slim to none. The skills with which the film is shot and edited also helps diminish any “realistic” qualities.

Yet I assert that Blair Witch succeeds on both a technical level and with regards to entertainment. I was enthralled by every moment of this film. Perhaps I am predisposed to enjoy watching unsuspecting people meet a horrific downfall and the closer this downfall appears to reality, the more invested I am. Wingard treats this film as a longer version of a segment from V/H/S, where found footage is utilized throughout. Blair Witch starts innocently and the ending is where the real meat of the film resides. The only complain I can muster is that Blair Witch uses too many “jump scare” moments that are cheap and do an injustice to the film’s goal of realism. The original Blair Witch Project had no jump scares so you would think that the reboot would do the same. The tendency of my fellow audience members to react loudly to these jump scares exacerbated my hatred of them.

Aside from this small complaint, Blair Witch is a must-see film for horror fans.

Hell or High Water Review

Hell or High Water is written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by David Mackenzie. While I am unfamiliar with Mackenzie, I know that Sheridan wrote the script for Sicario which is one of the best films of last year. Once I knew that Sheridan had wrote the script for Hell or High Water, I rushed to the theater to see the film. That was the first time I had been to the theater in several months.

Hell or High Water stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as two brothers who rob banks to pay banks. Pine plays the quiet and intelligent brother while Foster is more of loose cannon. The brothers’ plan is to steal only a few thousand dollars during each robbery so that the FBI will not get involved. Jeff Bridges plays a nearly retired cop who decides to investigate robberies with his partner played Gil Birmingham. We spend significant amounts of time with both duos and the dynamic between both is quite entertaining. The brothers’ goal is to pay the debt on a reverse mortgage so that their mother’s home will not be foreclosed. This honorable intention justifies their illegal behavior in my mind and provides a commentary on the difficulty of surviving in the United States where debt slavery is a very real problem. I was definitely on board with the brothers’ goal.

One of my favorite things about Sheridan’s writing is the realistic quality of the dialogue. Everyone from Pine to the most ancillary character sound incredibly realistic. The most attention grabbing scenes in the film are not the heists but the interactions involving everyday people living in Texas. Truly this is a testament to Sheridan’s abilities as a writer. As a psychology and linguistics nerd, these scenes are by far my favorite in the film.

Hell or High Water does not contain an agenda. The film simply presents a realistic story and lets the audience draw their own conclusions. I find this kind of film so refreshing because it seems the majority of films in theaters these days are needlessly complicated. Hell or High Water is as entertaining as film gets for me. While I could nitpick certain elements that bothered me, I would much rather celebrate the movie for what it accomplishes than degrade it for minor personal annoyances. I would hope to share my appreciation for this film so that others can understand and share in my love for it.

Hell or High Water is an interesting second step for Sheridan. Sheridan has made a film with more local color that seems more personal than Sicario. With Hell or High Water, Sheridan has transitioned near seamlessly from one project to another.

The Nice Guys (2016) Movie Review

The Nice Guys is the latest film from writer/director Shane Black. The film stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as detectives in 1977 Los Angeles searching for a girl who is involved in some shady dealings.

Shane Black is known for creating films such as Lethal Weapon and Iron Man 3. I had no real exposure to Black’s films prior to watching The Nice Guys.

I regret not seeing this movie in theaters because it is truly a fantastic film. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are both perfectly cast and there is a ton of humor in the film. I don’t usually laugh at movies but this film had so many moments that were simply hilarious. I was pleasantly surprised at just how funny this film was.

The Nice Guys also succeeds on a technical level. You just know while watching that Black and company made every effort to make this film as good as possible. This is most visible in the production design meant to replicate a 1977 Los Angeles setting. Every scene in the movie feels perfect and the plot slowly builds to an incredible climax.

This is the kind of movie that I hope to watch again because I know there will be details that I missed the first time around. From experience I know that if I feel willing to watch a movie twice, then that movie is something special.