Movie Review: “Hacksaw Ridge”

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

The story of Desmond Doss is so remarkable that it’s surprising it took this long for someone to make a film based on his life. Although Hollywood has produced plenty of movies about real-life war heroes, Doss is a fairly unique case: a U.S. Army medic and devout Seventh-day Adventist who single-handedly saved 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa without ever firing a shot. It’s the kind of material that Mel Gibson typically gravitates towards as a filmmaker, which is why it’s so fitting that “Hacksaw Ridge” marks the director’s long-awaited return behind the camera. “Hacksaw Ridge” isn’t as great as some of Gibson’s past work, but it’s a well-made drama that’s bolstered by a superb central performance and the best battle sequences since “Saving Private Ryan.”

Before plunging the audience into the horrors of WWII, however, Gibson flashes back to a year earlier to show how Desmond’s (Andrew Garfield) fractured home life and his romance with local nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) led him to enlist in the Army. Though Desmond doesn’t believe in violence, his sense of patriotism and duty compels him to follow in his brother’s footsteps, much to the disapproval of his alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving), who witnessed all of his friends killed in action during the first World War.

Desmond wants to serve as a combat medic so that he can save lives rather than take them, but upon arriving at Fort Jackson for basic training, he’s met with resistance by his commanding officers, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), who try to convince Desmond to quit and then court-martial him for his refusal to carry a weapon. But since we already know how the story ends (in fact, Gibson opens the movie with a shot of Desmond being carried across the battlefield), it’s safe to say that he wins the case and is shipped out with the rest of his unit to Japan, where he would go on to earn the respect of his fellow soldiers in a miraculous act of heroism and bravery.

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Movie Review: “Trolls”

Starring
Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Baranski, Russell Brand, John Cleese, Jeffrey Tambor
Director
Walt Dohrn & Mike Mitchell

A movie about Troll dolls is almost comically cynical. Take a product line that has lost its luster, repackage it for the next generation and laugh all the way to the bank. It’s the textbook definition of a cold, calculated, brand-driven cash grab. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that is exactly what people said about “The LEGO Movie” before it came out. Then that movie turned out to be awesome, and the nation ate a fair amount of crow.

“Trolls” is no “LEGO Movie,” but there is something to it, a relentlessness of spirit that is undeniable. It has a stunningly unique visual style, the musical numbers are a deftly chosen blend of big pop hits and lesser-known but worthy songs (all selected by co-star Justin Timberlake), and the voice casting is sublime. The ‘B’ story could have used some work (it’s a Disney princess story, almost verbatim), and it ultimately lacks the courage of its early convictions, but it is still a wildly entertaining movie.

The trolls are impossibly happy, follicly-blessed creatures who live in a tree in the middle of a village of Bergens, miserable folk whose only joy comes from eating a troll, and the eating of a troll becomes a Bergen holiday. On one of these holidays, the trolls escape, and for 20 years, they live a blissful, hug-filled existence. The new Bergen king (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has been told his entire life that he will never be happy until he eats a troll, so when the disgraced Chef (Christine Baranski), who’s been cast out of Bergenville after the trolls’ great escape happened on her watch, finds the trolls’ hiding place and snatches several trolls to offer to the king, he is more than eager to restart the long-abandoned tradition of eating a troll. Troll Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) sets out to save her kidnapped friends with reluctant assistance from sullen troll Branch (Timberlake).

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Movie Review: “Inferno”

Starring
Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy, Ana Ularu
Director
Ron Howard

It’s been seven years since the world last saw a film based on author Dan Brown’s renowned symbologist Robert Langdon. The last installment, “Angels & Demons,” had a worldwide box office gross nearly $300 million less than its predecessor, “The Da Vinci Code.” That sounds bad, but to be fair, “Angels” still took in nearly half a billion dollars, so even if the idea of a Langdon film in 2016 seems unthinkable for a number of reasons (time, diminishing returns), money clearly did most of the talking when it came to green lighting the latest film, “Inferno.” And for a while, the movie distances itself from the first two films thanks to a breakneck opening pace, only to turn into the Dan Browniest Dan Brown adaptation to date halfway through and grind to a screeching halt.

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up dazed in a hospital, suffering from head trauma and trying to put together the missing pieces between the present and his previous memory from three days earlier. Almost immediately after he wakes up, there is an attempt on his life by a policewoman, but Robert’s attending physician, Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), helps him escape and brings him to her apartment, where Robert discovers that in the pocket of his coat is a vial used to transport lethal pathogens.

Inside the tube is a clue left for Robert by billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who’s known for his incendiary speeches warning against the overpopulation of the planet and the need for a correction in order to prevent the complete extinction of the human race. Robert concludes that Bertrand, who committed suicide two days earlier, has created and hidden a deadly virus designed to “solve” the overpopulation problem, but in his search for the clues to find the virus, Robert has the police, a compromised World Health Organization and a third party of questionable intent hunting him at the same time.

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Movie Review: “In a Valley of Violence”

Starring
Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, James Ransone, Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan
Director
Ti West

Filmmaker Ti West has made his most conventionally enjoyable movie to date. Best known for horror films like “The House of the Devil,” “The Innkeepers” and “The Sacrament,” West tackles a new genre with “In a Valley of Violence,” a western starring Ethan Hawke and John Travolta. While West’s previous films get you squirming, his latest effort may have you cheering thanks to its sparse, enigmatic storytelling.

Paul (Hawke) isn’t exactly a loner. Although he’s tortured and on a path to nowhere, he has Abby at his side. Abby is his dog, and she sometimes looks after him just as much as he looks after her. When Paul enters the rundown town of Denton, nicknamed the “valley of violence,” he crosses paths with the hotheaded Gilly (James Ransone), the son of local sheriff, The Marshal (Travolta). Gilly thinks he’s the most dangerous man in town and challenges any man who questions his power. But when Paul leaves him bloodied, bruised and embarrassed after a beating that in no way constitues as a fight, Gilly and his men go after Paul’s dog for revenge, unaware that they’re dealing with one seriously flawed, dangerous military man who’s trained to kill. As Paul puts it, Gilly and his men left him with nothing, and he’s going to leave them with even less.

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Movie Review: “Moonlight”

Starring
Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, André Holland, Janelle Monáe
Director
Barry Jenkins

A24 is without a doubt one of the most creatively exciting players in Hollywood today. They’ve made it their mission to champion less marketable films such as “Swiss Army Man,” “The Lobster” and “American Honey,” just to name a few from this year alone, opening up a whole new avenue for projects that don’t conform to the traditional studio system. It’s hard to imagine a movie like “Moonlight” developing into the festival sensation (and potential Oscar contender) that it’s become without the studio’s support, even if it might be slightly overrated. Adapted from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” writer/director Barry Jenkins’ sophomore effort is a powerful but flawed rumination on identity that chronicles the life of a young, gay black man across three different time periods as he struggles to find his place in the world.

The film opens in the late ‘90s as a soft-spoken boy named Chiron (Alex Hibbert) is chased by a group of bigger kids through his poor, crime-ridden neighborhood in Miami. Chiron comes from a broken home with no father figure and an abusive, crack addict mother (Naomie Harris), so when local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) takes a sudden interest in the runaway, Chiron immediately looks up to him as a mentor, despite Juan’s involvement in his mother’s drug habit. Several years later, Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) has grown into a lanky, introverted high school student who’s become the target of bullying as he tries to come to terms with his sexuality. Chiron finds some solace in his casual friendship with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), but after a sexual encounter between them leads to a startling act of violence, Chiron’s life is changed forever. In the movie’s final chapter, a completely transformed Chiron – now a muscular, drug-dealing adult (Trevante Rhodes) who hides behind a thuggish facade – must confront his past when he’s reunited with an older, wiser Kevin (played by André Holland) at a Miami diner.

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