HACKSAW RIDGE (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 11 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Intense Prolonged Realistically Graphic Sequences of War Violence including Grisly Bloody Images

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Directed by: Mel Gibson

Written by: Andrew Knight & Robert Schenkkan

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Corr, Teresa Palmer, Rachel Griffiths, Richard Roxburgh & Luke Pegler

World War II was a horrible time in human history that contained many fascinating true stories. One of these stories is that of Desmond Doss, the only conscientious objector to ever receive the Medal of Honor during WWII. Working off a well-crafted script from Andrew Knight (who previously wrote 2015’s substandard WWI drama THE WATER DIVINER) and Robert Schenkkan, director Mel Gibson delivers a triumphant movie about unbelievable courage, inner strength and the horrors of war. Like many WWII films, HACKSAW RIDGE isn’t exactly the most pleasant movie of the year as there are harrowing moments of carnage and scenes of breathless tension. For those who want to see a rousing story of an unlikely hero, HACKSAW RIDGE is one hell of an emotional ride.

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Raised in Lynchburg, Virginia, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a deeply religious man who finds himself tested by the arrival of World War II. Despite seeing what the horrors of World War I did to his alcoholic father Tom (Hugo Weaving), Desmond can’t sit idly by while others are fighting the war for him. To the dismay of his loving fiancé Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), Desmond volunteers to fight in World War II…but there’s just one stipulation. He refuses to touch a weapon. This puts Desmond in a tough spot with his superiors and in greater danger on the shores of “Hacksaw Ridge” during the Battle of Okinawa. Instead of taking life, Desmond Doss intends on saving it.

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HACKSAW RIDGE is split into two distinct halves. The first half focuses on Desmond’s home life, the events that drove him to enlist, his deeply held religious beliefs, and the turbulence he encounters at boot camp for his pacifist stance on the war. The second half is where the Battle of Okinawa comes into play and we actually see Doss at work in some of the most heroic acts that have come from one extraordinary human being. The first half allows the viewer to get to know the characters and presents a layout of the story, so we totally sympathize from where Doss is coming from.

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The slower first portion was a smart move, because it also causes the audience to let their guard down and makes the violent second half that much more shocking. Soldiers we’ve followed through boot camp are killed in mere seconds, whilst we root for Doss to save as many as he possibly can. The Battle of Okinawa sequences are gory, intense and assault the viewer’s sensibilities. Those three qualities are absolutely called for in a film about World War II. Okinawa was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War and Mel Gibson does his damndest to capture the sheer terror of it all. Lots of smoke obscures figures in the distance, causing many threats to go unseen. The Japanese kamikaze tactics are shown in shocking fashion. The battle scenes don’t shy away from severed limbs, rat-eaten corpses, and graphic wounds. The details are appropriately horrific and make Doss’s courageous acts of bravery seem even more heroic in comparison.

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In the role of Desmond Doss, Andrew Garfield delivers his finest performance yet. I mostly know him as Peter Parker in the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN movies, but Garfield disappears in the role of good-hearted Southern boy Doss. He slips right into the part and I completely forgot that I was watching a performance until the end credits rolled…and we’re treated to actual footage of the real Doss. Vince Vaughn gets lots of laughs and great scenes as Doss’s strict drill sergeant. His performance reminded me of a less-harsh R. Lee Ermey. Sam Worthington is mostly regulated to the sidelines as frustrated and undermanned Captain Glover, but receives a couple of powerful moments in the final third. Luke Bracey is well-cast as a soldier who understandably opposes Doss’s “cowardly” ways, Teresa Palmer is great as Doss’s understanding fiancé, and Hugo Weaving is outstanding as Doss’s abusive father.

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Taken purely on a technical level, Mel Gibson has crafted one hell of a war film. The battle sequences look realistic, pack serious tension into the bloody chaos (to the point where I was on the edge of my seat multiple times), and seem massive in scope. Detailed cinematography adds a beautiful look to the proceedings, while intricately layered sound design adds a believable sense of confusion to the combat scenes. If I have any complaints they come from an out-of-place dream sequence and the sudden ending. I expected this film to run longer than it actually did, but that gripe might be taken as a positive for how amazing and compelling this movie’s quality is. I wanted it keep going beyond the end credits.

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HACKSAW RIDGE is a compelling, deeply emotional war movie. The performances are stellar across the board, with Andrew Garfield disappearing into the role of a real-life heroic character. The story’s two-act structure ultimately makes the entire film feel more realistic and moving. The combat sequences are rough and horrific, as they should be. The film also looks and sounds amazing on a technical level. With his fifth feature, Mel Gibson has brought cinematic life to an incredible true story that’s bound to move even the hardest of hearts. If you’re into history, war films or just great cinema, HACKSAW RIDGE is must-see!

Grade: A

MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Directed by: George Miller & George Ogilvie

Written by: Terry Hayes & George Miller

Starring: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence, Adam Cockburn, Frank Thring, Angelo Rossitto & Gary Anderson

The MAD MAX series has had its ups and downs. The first MAD MAX was a highly original flick that creatively used a blend of genres to tell an interesting story. ROAD WARRIOR managed to surpass that first entry in every conceivable way and brought to life one of the best finales that the action genre has ever seen. So with both those films being highs, it doesn’t take a genius mathematician to figure out what the low is. BEYOND THUNDERDOME is lame. This third installment plays everything far too safe to be much fun at all. It has a crazy first 40 minutes and sinks into silly stupidity during the last hour.

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Fifteen years have passed since Max saved a group of survivors from Humungus. After being robbed of his vehicle and supplies, drifter Max winds up in scummy Bartertown. In this industrial city, Max is tasked by the powerful and threatening Aunty Entity to put one of her subjects back into his place. Max’s assignment doesn’t go as smoothly as planned and he is saved by a group of naïve children who are not fully aware about the current state of “civilization.” It’s up to Max to keep these kids safe, even if the evil Aunty comes a knocking.

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BEYOND THUNDERDOME doesn’t exactly have a great beginning. It feels like something is a tad off and forced about this third MAD MAX installment. This almost seems more along the lines of a post-apocalyptic INDIANA JONES adventure. However, this is supposed to be MAD MAX! The series has its groove and this third installment really steers too far away from that. This being said, the first 40 minutes of THUNDERDOME are tolerable and have cool ideas on display. The city of Bartertown is a steampunk slum that’s brought to life in a unique way. A gladiator-like fight to the death scene is hands down the best part of the entire film. However, things don’t stay tolerable with cool ideas on display.

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Holy shit. The last hour of this film really take everything down a notch in quality. The introduction of a band of wild children comes off like it’s from a completely different series. These didn’t feel like crazy, nutso Mad Max characters. These felt like the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. As soon as these children are introduced, the soundtrack also takes a noticeably wacky and whimsical change for the worst. The PG-13 rating hurts things further as pots and pans are used as weapons during a phoned-in finale that feels as if it was trying to unsuccessfully duplicate the insane climax of ROAD WARRIOR. Tina Turner’s Aunty is a weak baddie compared to the intimidating Humungus from the second film and the demented Toecutter from the first. Action scenes during the final third feel like a chore to sit through. I’d like to say that most of this isn’t because of the out-of-place band of kid characters, but that’s exactly what it is. They play such a huge part in this film that it botches what might have been a satisfying conclusion to a highly creative trilogy.

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Any way you slice it, BEYOND THUNDERDOME is a pretty big disappointment when taken in the context of the MAD MAX series. It still remains a bad film when taken on its own merits too. The distracting tonal change midway through really ruins the fun. When THUNDERDOME tries to imitate things that previously worked in the series, those qualities come off as forced. This especially being true of a lackluster final chase and a voice-over closing that feels cheesy (though it was utilized perfectly in ROAD WARRIOR). There are good moments throughout as well as memorable quotes (“Two men enter, one man leave” “Bust a deal. Face the wheel!”) as well as a sort of promising first act, but things go further and further down the tubes as the running time trudges onward. For the first 40 minutes, I felt like was a watching a MAD MAX movie (albeit a lesser one). For the last hour, I felt like I was watching Mad Max wander into a PETER PAN/GOONIES adventure. Skip THUNDERDOME. I really hope that FURY ROAD cleanses the MAD MAX palette in little over a month.

Grade: C-

MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1982)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: George Miller

Written by: Terry Hayes, George Miller & Brian Hannant

Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Emil Minty, Michael Preston, Virginia Hey, Kjell Nilsson, Vernon Wells & Max Phipps

The first MAD MAX was a combination of superhero origin story, revenge tale, and cop drama. ROAD WARRIOR abandons that formula for something entirely different and goes absolutely off the wall into beautiful madness. This film is awesome! Calling it one of the best action films to come out of the 80’s would be an understatement. This sequel right is next to ALIENS in terms of being a second installment in a successful science fiction series that outdoes the original in every conceivable way. Featuring some of the best action scenes ever put to film and a berserk set of sensibilities, ROAD WARRIOR is a surefire crowd-pleaser and one of the best films to come out of the 1980’s…period!

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Time has passed since Max avenged the deaths of his family. In that span of time, the post-apocalyptic world has gotten worse. Gasoline is running out and wars are being fought over fuel. Max, now a drifter, comes across a small community hiding behind a small fortress in order to collect enough gasoline to escape the harsh environment of the Australian desert. Instantly seeing Max as an enemy, the community takes the former cop (turned drifter) prisoner. It soon becomes apparent that Max is the only hope that this little group of survivors have. A gang of vicious psychopaths, led by the hockey-mask wearing Humungus, have staked a claim on this small community and their precious fuel supply. It’s Max and the community vs. Humungus and his band of crazies on the fierce road landscape of the Australian Outback.

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The first MAD MAX wasn’t necessarily action packed from beginning to end. There were certainly stand-out sequences, but there were also moments of character development for Max, his conflicts, and his family. Now that Max’s origin story has been told, ROAD WARRIOR is free to go off the rails into insane glory and that’s exactly what it does! The ante has been upped. Mad Max is more of a brooding, reluctant hero who has come a long way since his vigilante justice seen at the end of the first film. Max has become more of a solitary beast doing what he needs to in order to survive. He already had one story arc and is given another among this community. You might be able to predict what happens, but it doesn’t matter at all. This flick rocks and is all about kicking ass. It does its job in a fantastic way that’s likely to be the highest point in the series (though we’ll see how FURY ROAD stacks up). The villains are far more colorful this time around with dyed hair, mohawks, odd fashion choices and a gang leader who could be mistaken for Jason Voorhees being played by Arnold Schwarzenegger during any other point in the 80’s. Though the Outback setting is barren and set pieces are sparse, George Miller manages to evoke the feeling of hopelessness and desperation. This is the end of the world and it’s not a pretty sight, but is insanely fun!

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The action scenes are simply amazing to behold and stand out on own their own individual merits. There’s a long sequence near the beginning that’s gets the adrenaline pumping. An intense chase scene near the middle sets up a huge applause-worthy punchline to a joke that’s set up way in advance. However, the best sequence in the film is a show-stopping finale that holds up as remarkable given today’s action movie standards. These car crashes were real and feel real. Though it lasts for nearly 15 minutes, the final showdown of vehicular carnage never once gets dull or repetitive. The stakes are high in colorful characters who have been developed throughout the film, the fate of an entire community hanging on a thread (or in this case a semi-truck driven by Max), and plenty of bodies flying around. To think this was made in the early 80’s makes the whole film even more impressive in terms of how well-constructed every piece of action is! An opening and closing narration doesn’t feel cheesy in the slightest either as the pay-off is surprisingly powerful.

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I can’t think of a single action movie buff or science fiction fan who won’t adore this movie. THE ROAD WARRIOR joins an extremely rare breed of sequel: one that not only lives up to, but easily surpasses its predecessor. MAD MAX was a highly influential and classic film. This second entry is on an entirely separate level of greatness. ROAD WARRIOR is absolutely a must-see! FURY ROAD will have a lot to live up to come May.

Grade: A+

MAD MAX (1980)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: George Miller

Written by: George Miller & James McCausland

Starring: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Burne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns & Roger Ward

With MAD MAX: FURY ROAD being touted as one of the biggest films of the upcoming summer movie season, I figured it was time for me to watch the series. Believe it or not, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the MAD MAX series, but have never sat through one movie from beginning to end. This changed with my recent viewing of the dystopian action sensation that started it all. MAD MAX was released to much acclaim in its native Australia in 1979 and made its way to American shores the following year. The movie made a big impression as most modern post-apocalyptic stories usually take at least some inspiration from George Miller’s unique vision.

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Beginning with the title card of “A Few Years From Now…,” MAD MAX introduces us to a crumbling society. It’s dystopian in many ways, but civilized in peaceful communities still existing. However, violence is rampant in the form of violent psychopathic biker gangs. With these motorcycle-riding menaces on the road, only extremely violent police officers can saving the innocent. Max is an officer who’s becoming jaded to the chaos around him. After a particularly messy high-speed pursuit kills an insane biker named Nightrider, said biker’s friends come to town looking for the officer responsible for his death. Led by the vicious Toecutter, this group of violent lunatics cause general havoc on the streets. It’s up to Max to put a stop to them, but will he become corrupted in his pursuit of justice?

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The plot of MAD MAX feels very much like a superhero origin story crossed with a post-apocalyptic DEATH WISH and then mixed with a cop drama. It’s quite an interesting blend of genres and I can honestly say that I haven’t quite seen that specific cinematic combination before. Each different genre angle is great in its own way. The superhero origin tale nicely sets up a badass hero and makes me excited to catch up on the rest of the series. The post-apocalyptic vigilante angle isn’t necessarily taken for the whole movie, but slowly built up to for a finale that’s bound to keep you on the edge of your seat. Finally, I actually found the cop drama angle to be the most interesting of the three genres seen in MAD MAX. I really wasn’t expecting Max to have a family and be conflicted with his job (which can be dangerous to say the least) or spending time with his wife and child. This approach fleshed out the science-fiction action flick into something with more meat than just a well-executed film filled with car chases.

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Speaking of which, the car chases here are amazing. The stunts get your adrenaline pumping and actually made me question just how much courage the stuntmen had to have in order to brave certain moments in the film (multiple roll-overs, explosions, lots of car parts spread across the road). Mel Gibson brings a dark hero to the table in Max. He’s a badass through and through, with more than enough motivation for the viewer to root for him to come out on top. The villains are colorful and absurd (in a very good way). Toecutter is played with various quirks (changes in tone, little facial expressions, and a child-like attitude) that show just how insane he really is. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Joanne Samuel is a little wooden as Max’s wife. Her character isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed and keeps making the same dumb decisions over and over again (one of which was mind-bogglingly ridiculous). Her decisions ultimately help move the plot forward, but I wish she had been better written.

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MAD MAX certainly wasn’t what I was initially expecting. It’s not car chases from beginning to end or a total dystopian action flick. Instead, this first film in the franchise blends various genres into an origin story that ultimately keeps going in crazier directions as it goes along. With a good hero who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, crazy villains, an original combination of ideas, as well as some of the best car chases you’ll ever see in film, MAD MAX has solidified its spot in movie history. If you haven’t seen it already, check this one out!

Grade: A-

PAPARAZZI (2004)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 24 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Violent Sequences, Sexual Content and Language

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Directed by: Paul Abascal

Written by: Forry Smith

Starring: Cole Hauser, Robin Tunney, Tom Sizemore, Daniel Baldwin, Kevin Gage & Dennis Farina

Paparazzis are the scum of the earth. There’s no honor or dignity in making a profit off harassing celebrities in their personal life. With this issue more prevalent than ever before, one might think that a thriller centered around these privacy-invading assholes could make for a weighty film with a lot to say. 2004’s PAPARAZZI is definitely not that film. This box office bomb/critical flop feels like it belongs in the heyday of 70’s trashy exploitation cinema. It’s goofy, stupid, ridiculous, and over-the-top on every conceivable level. It’s really bad movie, but so damned bad that it’s unintentionally enjoyable for all the wrong reasons.

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Bo Laramie is a fresh-faced action star who’s just struck it big. With this fame comes attention and with that attention comes the soul-sucking parasites known as paparazzi. When Rex Harper, a particularly nasty photographer, invades Bo’s personal space and receives a punch in the face as a result, Bo is arrested and forced to undergo anger management therapy. As if Bo’s situation couldn’t get any worse, Rex and his trio of nosy goons decide to stalk Bo and try tear his personal life apart. After their tactics go too far and result in a car accident that winds up putting Bo’s little boy in a coma, the newly recognized action movie star finds himself in a real-life thriller as he begins to take down these paparazzi scumbags one-by-one…much to the chagrin of an inept detective.

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PAPARAZZI can probably be considered the most unintentionally hilarious thriller to follow the likes of 1997’s TURBULENCE. It’s a movie so baffling that it makes the viewer question who on Earth greenlit this project…turns out that was Mel Gibson. Gaps in logic are seen all over the place, which causes the entire movie to rely on the stupidity of pretty much every character to make it function. There’s Cole Hauser playing a protagonist who’s about as wooden and one-dimensional as you can get. By the time he becomes a secret Hollywood vigilante, the viewer finds themselves not fully rooting for Bo as he reveals himself to be a total lunatic. The paparazzi themselves are laughably bad, including a washed-up Tom Sizemore as the main villain who isn’t given nearly enough scenery to chew. The most egregious excuse for a character comes in the inept Detective Burton who can’t seem to tie his shoelaces without pondering over the process for five minutes. A huge plot “revelation” in the final third showcases how astoundingly stupid this detective is. It’s almost as if someone watched Lt. Frank Drebin in THE NAKED GUN trilogy and found him to be a serious character, so they wrote him into a thriller.

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There are also nice little coincidences strewn throughout the script that help tie everything together with a nice little bow on top as well as minor moments that are plain hilarious. Why, after barely releasing an action movie, is Bo already filming the sequel to that film? Clearly, not enough time has passed to determine if that first movie was worthy of a franchise. Unless the film is based on superhero comics, I’m pretty sure that’s not how Hollywood works. This being said, PAPARAZZI is entertaining in an unintentionally hilarious B-flick sort of way. This would feel right at home in the 70’s alongside DEATH WISH and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. PAPARAZZI manages to be enjoyable in the “guilty pleasure” exploitation sense in spite of a PG-13 rating that doesn’t lend well to gratuitous violence.

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Mark my words. PAPARAZZI is a bad movie. It’s astoundingly inept in its stupid plot. However, there’s a somewhat redeeming quality to be taken out of that. The dumbass characters, ranging from an unsympathetic lead to paparazzi scumbags to an unbelievably inept detective, get their fair share of laughs that surely weren’t intended. The plot is woven together through a series of dumb decisions and coincidences. It’s a bad movie, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t entertaining in a really stupid so-bad-it’s-good way.

Grade: D+

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