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

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+

THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sci-Fi Terror and Violence

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Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: David Koepp

(based on the novel THE LOST WORLD by Michael Crichton)

Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite, Arliss Howard & Peter Stormare

Following the massive success of JURASSIC PARK, there were immediate talks of sequels. So Michael Crichton wrote a sequel novel (a first in his career) and faster than you could say cash-in, there was a script ready (by David Koepp, co-writer of the first film) and Spielberg was helming the entire project. In 1997, after four years of anticipation, audiences were treated to a middle-of-the-road sequel. What exactly makes this second installment so mediocre? Perhaps, it’s that there are many repetitive scenes that were done far better in the first film. One might argue that it could be the silly excuse for a story and hollow characters. Maybe, just maybe, it was the need to be overly excessive and unnecessarily dark in tone. At the end of the day, a combination of iffy factors make for an iffy movie and that’s definitely the case with THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK.

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Years have passed since the disaster of John Hammond’s prehistoric theme park. Chaos theorist Ian Malcolm is still recovering from the traumatic experience of being chased by man-eating dinosaurs. Imagine his surprise when he’s unwillingly recruited by the now disgraced Hammond to investigate a second island filled with dinosaurs. This mysterious second island was meant to be a natural preserve for the dino-clones. Ian and a ragtag group of researchers find their already dangerous expedition to the second island becoming even more dangerous thanks to a group of hunters led by Hammond’s evil nephew, Peter. Soon tensions between the groups rise and their expedition becomes a struggle to survive from more vicious dinosaurs.

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A comparison between LOST WORLD and JURASSIC PARK is inevitable, seeing as the second novel wouldn’t even exist without the success of the first movie. This sequel feels like a cash-in. The story is a piss-poor flimsy excuse for more people to get eaten by dinosaurs. Hollow characters don’t help either. Jeff Goldblum was an annoying asshole in the first movie, but that’s who his character was. Here, he feels like he’s forcing comic relief lines and seems distracted by the big paycheck on his mind. Julianne Moore and Vince Vaughn are equally as wooden. There’s also the godawful inclusion of an annoying kid character. While the first film had children in peril, those young actors were convincing in their roles and smartly written. The annoying addition of Ian’s smart-aleck, easily frightened child adds nothing but frustration to this film. A scene where she eliminates a Velicoraptor through gymnastics is beyond stupid.

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As the movie moves from set-piece to set-piece, there are a few neat moments to be had. The tone is far darker than in the original, which lends to more grisly deaths. My favorite of which being Peter Stormare’s ill-fated scumbag coming face to face with a pack of pissed off Compys (small carnivorous scavengers). These little beasties are arguably the best part of the entire film, but only pop up for a handful of scenes. The special effects bringing the dinosaurs to life somehow look less impressive than the first film, but do the job just fine. There’s still some entertainment value to be found in dinosaurs eating people, but the overlong running time (slightly longer than the first movie) drags to a crawl in the final third.

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Spielberg regarded the T-Rex as the show-stealer of the original, so it seems like he was having a blast in this sequel. More time is devoted to the T-Rex than any other dinosaur. Velociraptors are noticeably absent aside from a brief 10 minute patch of film. While the Compys are a cool new dinosaur, other fresh-faced prehistoric reptiles (including a Stegosaurus) pretty much exist for a brief minute or two and then vanish entirely. The main problem with THE LOST WORLD comes in it feeling so derivative and repetitive with an unnecessary amount of excess. In the original, a scumbag with disregard for the monster in from of him was killed by a scary-as-hell Dilophosaurus. In this sequel, that moment happens twice with Compys and a baby T-Rex. In the first, there was an exciting car chase between three people and a T-Rex. In the sequel, there’s a similar chase on foot where the amount of people running is upped purely for a higher body count. The list of scenes goes on and on. It’s almost as if Spielberg, Koepp, and Crichton tried to clone the original film with more violent sensibilities. The end result is a lackluster, overly familiar disappointment.

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More dinosaurs, bloodier deaths, and a T-Rex running through the streets of San Diego does not a good sequel make. There is some dumb fun to be found in THE LOST WORLD purely for seeing deserving dumbasses meet their doom at the jaws of dinosaurs, but a boring story and wooden protagonists make this a drag for the most part. When you’re simply counting the seconds until the movie to ends during a would-be exciting climax, there’s a serious problem with your so-called adventure. THE LOST WORLD is a middle-of-the-road monster movie when taken on its own. That doesn’t stop this sequel from being a massive disappointment when viewed after its incredible predecessor.

Grade: C

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