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.

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.

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 Forest Review

After thinking about my movie watching habits, I decided to start seeing more films of questionable quality. Lately most of the films I’ve watched have been superb. There’s nothing wrong with only seeing high-quality movies, but I tend not to have anything interesting to say about them. Seeing bad movies should give me more interesting and vicious things to say on this blog.

First on my list of supposedly bad movies is The Forest. It follows Sarah, played by Natalie Dormer, as she tracks down her twin sister Jess, also played by Dormer, who supposedly committed suicide in the Aokigahara forest. Along the way, Sarah teams up with the handsome and charming Aidan who accompanies her to write a news story.

Early on it becomes clear that the movie is confused, and not in a good way. Sarah tells Aidan the story of how her parents were killed by a drunk driver, but the images on screen do not support this narrative. On screen, it appears that Sarah and Jess’s father kills his wife and commits suicide, creating a strange inconsistency.

Also, it would help a lot if Sarah were a somewhat interesting or complex character. Her basic “need to find my sister” motivations become tiresome quickly. The flatness of Dormer’s character is the true downfall of this movie. All she needs is one or two well-timed lines to make her character more three-dimensional. Instead we are expected to trudge along with Sarah’s annoyingly singular goal. She feels like a robot programmed to do one thing and no one wants to watch a movie about that.

The movie relies pretty heavily on jump scares. I would like to think that I am desensitized to such frights, but in truth, I do not watch enough horror. At least two times, I felt my chest tingle when the music volume increased and something scary yet odd happened on screen. Jump scares are effective but they feel cheap. They have the effect of pissing me off because they don’t feel earned.

So this movie has some things going for it. Dormer is nice to look at, it takes place in Japan and some parts are effectively chillling, such as the images of bodies hanging from nooses in the forest. It’s obvious that the movie had some material removed. Certain lines suggest a more complete story, but perhaps it would have been a bore. The film barely reaches and hour and a half and I was glad when it ended. If I had paid to see The Forest, I would have felt ripped off. So the movie exists in the category of “meh”.  It’s not awful but its definitely not good by any means. Unless you are a devoted Horror enthusiast, avoid this movie and see one of the many excellent films currently in theaters.