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Posts Tagged ‘Mel Gibson’

If you are reading this you probably already know as much as you need to about Hacksaw Ridge.  For those who don’t, directed by controversial filmmaker Mel Gibson: Andrew Garfield gives an excellent, Oscar nominated performance as Desmond Doss.  An American Medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa in WWII but refused to carry a gun making him the first man in American military history to receive the Medal of Honour without firing a shot.

hacksaw-ridge-poster

Question: is Hacksaw Ridge a good two hour twenty minute movie hiding a ninety-five minute masterpiece?  Answer, probably.  Mel Gibson has proved with Braveheart and in particular Apocalypto that he is a master of big, bold and violent action.  But he has never been able to get away with the quieter moments without being sentimental, preachy and heavy-handed.  That is why Hacksaw Ridge was an opportunity to showcase what he does best. andrew-garfield

Understandable comparisons have been made with Saving Private Ryan and Full Metal Jacket.  Saving Private Ryan is simply a matter of the brutal visceral war scenes.  While Hacksaw ridge’s portrayal of the Battle of Okinawa is more bloody and violent than Steven Spielberg’s depiction of the Normandy Invasion it is actually less shocking.  Partly because Saving Private Ryan opens with the assault on Omaha Beach whereas, Hacksaw ridge builds up to its battle, but mainly because it was new, when it first came out we had never seen anything so visceral and brutal.  In the years that have followed we have seen Black Hawk Down, Enemy at the Gates, Lone Survivor, American Sniper, as well as real conflicts and atrocities on TV news.  Full Metal Jacket is more complicated, there are two elements of comparison.  Vince Vaughn’s Sergeant Howell is very much in the vein of R. Lee Ermey’s  Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.  But then, the character has become an archetype, think Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman), Career Sgt. Zim (Clancy Brown in Starship Troopers) or even Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway (Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge) When Vaughn walks in shouting and giving the recruits nicknames it looked like he would give a pastiche of Ermey, fortunately he doesn’t and is actually very good.  The second more significant comparison is the structure of the film.  Like Full Metal Jacket, Hacksaw Ridge is split into two distinct halves, the first in America, the second in country.  The difference, both halves of Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam movie are equally as good. The war scenes in Hacksaw Ridge stand up to any other war film, but the quieter moments of the first half don’t.

sergeant-howell

I have heard the first hour of Hacksaw Ridge described as a Hallmark Channel movie, this is unkind, it is better than that, but it is overlong, preachy and heavy-handed.  How could this have been improved?  The war scenes account for over an hour of the movie.  There are moments of quiet within this that a clear break points.  It would have been very easy to jump right into the action and intersperse it with flashbacks to Doss in training and at home before enlisting.  This would come in at around 95 minutes.  A tighter more concise film done well would have both been a better watch, and would have given a greater impact.  It would also make the gaps in battle more interesting than they are.

The problem, this shorter bolder film may have been better but it would  have lacked the epic status that war films need to gain favour with Oscar voters. We may have seen a better film but would we have seen a film with six Oscar nominations?

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“People don’t believe in heroes anymore”

With all the coverage received by the new trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road I thought it was time to look back at the original 1979 movie.  Many people associate Mad Max with the sequels Mad Max 2 (1981), subtitled The Road Warrior in America, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and have forgotten the original movie. 

“A few years from now” in a unspecified place the MFP are the traffic police who maintain order on the streets.  Cop, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) becomes the target of a biker gang after he is involved in the pursuit of an escaped killer calling himself The Nightrider (Vince Gil).  When he  loses everything, Max goes out to seek revenge.Mad Max

As described in the opening title card, the film is set “A few years from now”, it isn’t the apocalyptic world where the desert has reclaimed the world.  A lot of Mad Max is set in relatively lush green scrubland.  It is the beginning of the “maelstrom of decay” described in Mad Max 2.  The world isn’t going out with a bang, humanity is slowly giving up as the gangs take over and the world is tearing itself apart.  Is the film set in a dystopia on fringes of society or in a future on the brink of collapse?  This is never really made clear, but in many ways the film is all the better for it.  In a vast landscape filled with nomadic motorists the traffic cops are the only thing keeping the world in check and hanging on to civilisation, they are the heroes that Fifi (Roger Ward) refers to.Mad Max

So the film isn’t an apocalyptic nightmare, that’s the second and third films, but is it the violent revenge thriller that it is labelled?  It does have its violent moments but most of those aren’t actually shown, they are surprisingly off camera, probably for budgetary reasons.   I am not convinced if released now it would receive the 18 certificate it got on its original release.  Is it then an observations on the effects of the 70’s oil crisis’ on Australian motorists? Is it an existentialist look at what people do to cling to their humanity and the idea of society?  The film is less than ninety minutes long but still manages to devote more than ten minutes to the opening chase scene. Only the final twenty minutes makes up the revenge story that the film is known for.  Any meaning we may be looking for is most clearly observed in the scene where Max wants to quit, he admits to Fifi that he is scared, not scared of what could happen to him, but scared that he may start to enjoy it, scared that he is going to become a “terminal crazy”, this is kind of what we see.    As Max, the innocent and good man gives up on society in favour of revenge, society itself gives up and we see the results in Mad Max 2.  So does that make it a cautionary tale against lawlessness?  Am I reading too much into it, at it is merely a visceral tale loss and revenge designed just to entertain on the most base of levels?Mad Max opening chase scene

Director, George Miller claimed the films budget was around $400,000.  Made in a pre CGI time this resulted in a very inventive movie that makes the most of its money.  This is what I love so much about the film, it’s a genre film like Roger Corman and early Walter Hill, it’s a film that is improved by its limitations not constrained by them, it is a film directors like Michael Bay, McG and James Cameron should revisit, they could learn something.  The real draw for the film is Mel Gibson, at 23 he was an unknown, with one movie and a couple of TV credits behind him.  Given the baggage he now carries with him, it is easy to forget what a charismatic and likeable star Gibson was back then.  Demonstrating the lighter and comic part of the film with the same ease as the more hollow shell of a man set on a path of revenge.  He manages to bring a sense of despair and melancholy to the part.The Rover and Mad Max Posters

The legacy of Mad Max and the apocalyptic movies set in sand covered landscapes that have imitated and been inspired by it probably belongs to Mad Max 2 and not to this film.  In the 35 years since its original release there hasn’t been another film quite like Mad Max, not even its sequels.  With David Michôd’s The Rover just opening and Fury Road due out next may, now is a perfect time to remind yourself of the original Mad Max. 

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Have you seen the trailer for the new Jason Statham movie Parker? Does it look familiar, do you think you have seen it somewhere before? If the answer to the second question is yes, there is a good reason, you probably have seen it before! This isn’t the first time the story has been filmed. Based on the pulp noir crime novel The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake (using the pseudonym Richard Stark), the plot revolves around a criminal named Parker who is betrayed and left for dead by his partner and wife, who are having an affair. Parker survives and goes on (to quote The Bride from Kill Bill) “roaring rampage of revenge”. The character went on to appear in 24 and novels and has been adapted into several movies. The new movie is the first time he has gone by his original name, Parker having previously been called: Porter, Walker, Gou Fei, Earl Macklin, McClain and Stone.

The most famous and best of the movies is Point Blank (1967) directed by John Boorman and starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. With a dreamlike unrealism the movie is very much of its era from the late 60’s. essentially a noir thriller it is a product of New Hollywood with elements of neo-noir and French New Wave influences. Often a harsh and brutal film it completely revolves around its star Lee Marvin in a towering performance.

point blank

Based on the novel of the same name, The Outfit (1973) is a different story staring the Parker character (there were 24 books in total) directed by John Flynn and starring Robert Duvall, Karen Black, Joe Don Baker and Robert Ryan. A more routine and straightforward movie than Point Blank but also well worth a look.The Outfit

Loosely based on the same source novel as Point Blank, Full Contact (1992) (original title: Xia dao Gao Fei) is a Hong Kong action movie directed by Ringo Lam and starring Chow Yun-fat. A by the numbers action movie but with the grit and flair you would expect from Ringo Lam. I haven’t seen the movie for a very long time but seem to remember enjoying it.Full Contact

Released in 1999 before Mel Gibson’s well published problems Payback is a stripped down and violent but more light hearted version of the story. Directed by first time director Brian Helgeland who is better known as a screenwriter. Gibson is having a great time in the lead and is well supported by Maria Bello, William Devane, Lucy Liu and Kris Kristofferson. Not a patch on Point Blank but great fun.payback

A little research tells me the character also appeared in four other films I haven’t seen: Made in U.S.A (1966) a French film directed by Jean-Luc Godard and unofficially based on the novel The Jugger. Mise à sac (1967) (also known as Pillaged and Midnight Raid) also a French film, directed by Alain Cavalier and based on the novel The Score. The Split (1968) directed by Gordon Flemyng starred Jim Brown and based on the novel The Seventh. British film Slayground (1983) is based on the novel of the same name, directed by Terry Bedford and starring Peter Coyote.The Split

Parker was released in America at the end of January and is due out her in the UK later this month. Unsurprisingly, reviews are reserved but relatively positive, Jason Statham is after all, a reliable if predicable action star. Obviously I will reserve judgment until I have seen the movie, but fear they have made one vital mistake. At just two minutes shy of two hours, it is clearly going to be too long. Point Blank is 92minutes, Full Contact 96 min and most notably, the cinema release of Payback was 100 minutes but the director’s cut (take note Peter Jackson) is 90 minutes.

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Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises are amongst my favourite movies of the year, but between them they cost the best part of the unimaginable sum of half a billion dollars. What can be done with a lower budget? All of the ten films listed below were made for less than $25million and are all the better for the invention and creativity that comes with limitations of a small budget. In a B movie tradition I have discarded indie drama’s in favour of genre movies: action, gangsters, sci-fi and horror.  The other notable thing, is that despite their B credentials they all received a UK cinema release.

Haywire
Budget: $23,000,000 (estimated)
Legend has it that Steven Soderbergh was sat at home late one night channel surfing when he came across a Mixed Martial Arts contest (a cage fight). He was so enthralled with one of the contestants Gina Carano that he diced to write a movie for her. Having never acted before it was a big risk, but we are talking about the director who cast porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience. Taking a different approach for haywire, he filled the supporting roles with talented actors (Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Ewan McGregor), but it is the action that really sets the film apart. Forgoing the post Bourne trend of ultra close-ups and staccato editing in favour of long takes and mid length shots with lots of depth of field. It all helps show off Carano’s fighting talents. A love it or hate it film, it has received mixed reviews, personally I love it.

Killer Joe
Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)
Back in 2006 William Friedkin made a criminally overlooked gem called Bug, it was based on a play by Tracy Letts who also wrote the screenplay. The pair re-teamed to adapt a play Letts wrote twenty years ago. Set around a criminally stupid dysfunctional Texas family it is a violent and repugnant tale. Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon are all brilliant but are in the shadow of the real star Matthew McConaughey. Often funny but the humour is truly jet black, this is a seriously fucked up film that many people will hate, again, I love it.

The Raid
Budget: $1,100,000 (estimated)
Welshman Gareth Evans is the unlikely director of this film that highlights Indonesian martial art, pencak silat. Set in a Jakarta tower block controlled by a crime lord a swat team have to fight for their lives as the story of why they are there gradually unfolds. A brutal and violent film that isn’t actually that originally but still manages to feel fresh and new. It isn’t as good, inventive or as memorable as Die Hard but it cost less than £1million, in other words less than the coffee budget from Lord of the Rings.

Wild Bill
Budget: no idea but its British so it won’t be much!
Dexter Fletcher has always been a decent and likeable actor, although never a great one, therefore it many come as a surprise, but his debut feature as a director is brilliant. Given his association with British gangster movies it is natural that Wild Bill would be set in London’s underworld. What’s great about the movie is that it avoids the usual storylines associated with this type of movie in recent years and concentrates on more personal story of an ex con who returns home from prison to find his two young sons abandoned my their mother. Being a farther is the last thing on his mind but something compels him to do the right thing. Fletcher also avoids the pitfall of casting himself instead opting for a whose who of British TV and genre movies.

Killing Them Softly
$18,000,000 (estimated)
This gritty tale of low level mobsters and hit men could have been a disaster. Not a great deal happens, it is filled with scenes of men talking around the issues of the movie. The social and political commentary have earned the movie its greatest praise and largest criticism. Directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, the pair worked together on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and are both on top form again. And like all great genre movies, it clocks in at less than 100 minutes.

Lockout
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Based on an “original idea” by Luc Besson, I’m not sure there is an original idea in the whole movie and don’t think Luc Besson has actually had an original idea in a long time, but that really doesn’t matter, the movie is great. Its silly and its fun and that’s all it ever intended or indeed needed to be. The plot involves a shady but honest spy type character who is forced to rescue the president’s daughter who is held hostage on a prison in space. So basically its Die Hard meets Escape from New York, in space. The CGI is terrible and the plot is thin but none of this matters, the action is good and the dialogue is often funny. The real appeal is a surprisingly good Maggie Grace and the always brilliant Guy Pearce.

Chronicle
$12,000,000 (estimated)
The surprise low budget hit from the early part of the year. A Sci-fi movie reminiscent of Push (2009) and the TV show Misfits. I’m not a fan of the found footage genre but they get away with on the whole here. It loses its way in the final act but overall it is still an enjoyable movie. The unknown cast are good and the fact they are unknown often works in the movies favour.

Storage 24
Budget: again no idea but its British so will be well within the $25million limit.
I have suggested in the past that Noel Clarke is the most important person in the British film industry at the moment. Actor, writer, director and producer, awarded the Orange Rising Star Award at the 2009 BAFTA’s, he is the writer and star of Storage 24. Ultimately it is an alien invasion movie but without the grandeur of Hollywood movies and scaling it back to a small intimate and personal story. It plays out like a haunted house movie with a great blend of horror, comedy and action. Remembering the golden rule the creature is kept hidden for a long time and when we see it, its pretty good for a low budget movie. Criminally overlooked and underrated.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (aka Get the Gringo)
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Sadly under seen thanks to Mel Gibson’s personal problems and the lack of a cinema release in America. First time director Adrian Gruenberg worked for Gibson as assistant director on Apocalypto, the pair give us an old fashioned story of a getaway driver who finds himself in trouble south of the border. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Gibson impersonates Clint Eastwood but long before that the film starts to resemble A Fistful of Dollars (1964)/Yojimbo (1961) and is all the better for it. Full of both the action and the dry whit you would expect from Mel Gibson of old. Ultimately it is the story of a flawed character looking for redemption, just like Gibson himself.

The Grey
$25,000,000 (estimated)
A horrible and inaccurate portrayal of grey wolves but a haunting and entertaining movie. Liam Neeson has always walked the line between serious actor and action star, originally leaning more towards actor but more recently falling on the action side of the line. When a plane carrying oil drillers crashes in the freezing wastes of Alaska the survivors are hunted by killer wolves. A metaphor for the destruction of the environment and the power of nature or just a survival thriller. Whatever you get from the movie it is well made and largely enjoyable.

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In the twenty plus years that Mad Max 4 has spent in Development Hell George Miller has never given up. Mad Max 4: Fury Road as it had become known as by that time was set to go into production two years ago in Broken Hill, New South Wales, the setting for the original movies. The location was chosen ahead of the other option, South Africa thanks to government tax breaks in Australia. Unfortunately heavy rain delayed the shoot for several months then caused the desolate desert landscape into a lush green flower filled garden making it aesthetically unsuitable. Production has since started in Namibia. Based on the locations used in Richard Stanley’s B movie masterpiece Dust Devil I think this should be a suitable alternative. Rumours suggest the film will be set a few years after Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome telling the story of what happened to Max after he helped the kids escape. It appears Tom Hardy will be taking over from Mel Gibson as the eponymous antihero Max Rockatansky. There have been a couple of interesting set reports one involves the addition to the cast of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, best know as Megan Fox’s replacement in Transformers 3. The other involves hair, it appears while Hardy has been growing a bushy beard, Charlize Theron has had her head shaved for the part.

As much as I love the franchise so far and am looking forward to seeing what Miller will do with the story, I am not convinced there should be another film following Thunderdome. It was the weakest of the trilogy and there was a sense that they had run out of ideas and decided to increase scope and scale to make up for it. I would rather see something more along the lines of a reboot. There are two ways to do it; the first would be set a few years from now and not when the original film was set. This would allow the financial crisis and oil related wars of recent years to be used as a background to the collapse of society as we know it. The other would be set around the same time as the original movie, possibly even in the time between the first two movies. The twist and the way to shoehorn the movie into the continuity is that the movie would be set in a different part of Australia. It would tell the story of a different group of MFP cops and different gangs. As well as aiding the continuity it also avoids the pitfall of expecting a new actor to live up to Mel Gibson’s Max.

The direct sequel they have planned or either one of these reboot ideas would require a new story to avoid just rehashing what has gone before. It would depend greatly on which idea was taken up as to what direction the story would take; one ting that is important is to manage the scale and the scope of the idea. The reason Mad Max works so well is the intimate nature of the story, it is a revenge story about a lone man pushed over the edge, not by the crumbling society itself but by the actions of men within that society. In the original movie Max is part of a group, as he becomes a vigilante, he isolates himself from society, from the group. Throughout the next two movies becoming reintegrated with societies but always ends up alone. As such Max is a walking metaphor for the breakdown and possible renaissance of society. This is a theme that that any new movie should incorporate.

A little like a Ridley Scott movie within the Alien universe, whatever they come up with, I will always be up for a George Miller directed Mad Max movie.

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I miss Mel Gibson, when I say Mel Gibson, what I really mean Max Rockatansky and Martin Riggs. As a fan of his work I have always kind of hoped that his well published indiscretions are a symptom of his equally well published problems and not more deep-seated belief. How I Spent My Summer Vacation is his first movie playing his archetypical character for a long time, possibly since Payback (1999). This truly is a star vehicle, funded by Gibson, who produces and co wrote the movie. He also hand picked the director, Adrian Gruenberg (making his directorial debut) who had previously worked as assistant director on Apocalypto.

An American getaway driver (Mel Gibson) crashes into Mexico (literally) and is promptly arrested. In order to relive him of the proceeds of his crime (around $2million) the Mexican police dump him in an unusual jail. When he befriends a young boy with a unique value he is forced to think of more than just himself and his cash.

There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Gibson impersonates Clint Eastwood but long before that the film starts to resemble A Fistful of Dollars (1964)/Yojimbo (1961), I don’t think we ever learn what Gibson’s characters name is (from here on I will refer to him as Driver as he is credited on IMDB). The prison contains whole families and is run like a small town by a mob boss. There is even a wild west style shootout. Driver quickly learns who is in charge and what he needs to survive, all the time playing the angles to get out and get his money back. Although largely a likeable character Driver is at the end of the day a career criminal. Stealing from drug smuggling gangsters and helping others, he is given all the breaks when it comes to audience sympathy, not surprisingly when you consider Gibson is credited as both a writer and a producer.

Full of both the action and the dry whit you would expect from Martin Riggs, Gene Ryack and Porter, How I Spent My Summer Vacation is the story of man looking out for himself who finds a certain amount of redemption by thinking of others. Gibson’s own redemption can only be found in his personal life but attempting to get his career back on track and not disappearing to reclusive obscurity hints at a possible intention to do this. In the UK we get to see the movie on the big screen but in America it appears to have débuted on Video On Demand (under its original title Get the Gringo). This is a shame, while not a classic, it is good enough to deserve a theatrical release.

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