FlixChatter Review: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

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It’s been ten years since Mel Gibson‘s last directed a film; the violent adventure Apocalypto was a mild success for the controversial actor and director. Many thought that film would be a comeback for Gibson, but then his personal life took another controversial hit and he’s been out of the limelight for a few years. He’s now back with another violent film that’s based on a real life WW2 American Army named Desmond Doss, who became the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Doss (Andrew Garfield) who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, learned the true impact of violence at a young age. During a scuffle with his older brother, Doss almost killed his sibling and after that he sworn not to hurt or kill another human beings. His alcoholic father Tom (Hugo Weaving), who happens to be a war veteran himself, tends to physically abuse his mom Bertha (Rachel Griffiths), also made him despise violence. During a visit to a local clinic, Doss’ eye catches Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), a nurse who takes a shine to his humble-but-determined ways, with the pair eventually getting engaged to be married.

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However, before they’re eloped, Doss enlists in the army, uncomfortable with the idea of staying behind while others fight for their country. When he arrives for basic training, Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist, proclaims his interest in being a combat medic, refusing to take part in gun training. Frustrating superiors Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Glover (Sam Worthington), Doss’ faith is put to the test through hazing and menial labor, making an enemy out of Smitty (Luke Bracey). When the unit is finally shipped over to Japan to take Okinawa, the ferocious battle of Hacksaw Ridge presents Doss with a supreme challenge of survival and duty.

Gibson, who I believe is an excellent director, didn’t really do anything new when it comes to storytelling. We get the usual romance montage between Doss and Dorothy, Doss being resented by his peers when he refused to pick up a weapon. But when the battle starts, here’s where Gibson shine as a director. Since he had appeared in several action films, Gibson knows how to staged some of the most intense and bloodiest war battle sequences ever put on film.

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Even though his Southern accent were inconsistent, Garfield’s performance is very good here. He’s a man of faith and really stick to his principles. I was quite surprised by the effective performances by Vaughn, Worthington, Bracey and Palmer. Weaving’s drunken father character is a bit more clichéd, but it’s nice seeing ‘Agent Smith’ playing something other than a bad guy.

It may not be in the same class as other great WW2 pictures like The Thin Red Line or Saving Private Ryan, but I was glad Gibson decided to tell this story. I’ve never heard of Desmond Doss before and after seeing this film, I have nothing but respect for late war veteran.

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Have you seen Hacksaw Ridge? Well, what did you think?

Thursday Movie Picks #56: Alien Invasion of Earth

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 

Alien Invasion of Earth

This month’s theme turns out to be pretty easy as there are actually not that many to pick from for me. A lot of the scifis I like are more about humans & robots, not aliens.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

Independence Day (1996)

The aliens are coming and their goal is to invade and destroy Earth. Fighting superior technology, mankind’s best weapon is the will to survive.

When someone says ‘alien invasion movies,’ the first thing that came to mind is this. In fact, I asked my hubby and that’s the first thing that came to his mind as well. It’d also my pick for apocalyptic blockbuster as it’s just so much fun! I remember when I saw it on the big screen for the first time, there’s a sense of awe and intrigue when those big spaceships first appeared hovering above the sky.

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I mean, all the action set pieces like the White House blowing up, Will Smith punching the ugly, slimy alien in the face, and that bombastic aerial battle at the end are still memorably epic to this day! It’s an awesome ensemble cast too, Jeff Goldblum has the snark and swagger to make any role memorable. And of course there’s that rousing, albeit corny, presidential speech from Bill Pullman… “We won’t go quietly into the night!” There’s nothing quiet about this flick and I love it all the better for it!

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SIGNS (2002)

A family living on a farm finds mysterious crop circles in their fields which suggests something more frightening to come.

Let me preface this pick with the fact that despite the atrocity of The Happening, I actually still have hope for M. Night’s career. He’s made two excellent films you could consider a classic (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable) and the other two in his resume, The Village and Signs, left a lasting impression that I thought about them for days after seeing them. I know his films have their share of ardent fans and equally passionate detractors.

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I’m not saying SIGNS is a perfect film, there are some preposterous, even laughable moments. But I like that it’s really not so much about alien invasion, but he took some of the classic elements of that genre and turn it on its head. In the same way that Sixth Sense isn’t your typical ghost story and Unbreakable offers a compelling twist in the crowded superhero genre, Signs deals with a broader theme. It’s an intimate film about a close-knit family, led by a former pastor dealing with a crisis of faith. The mystery and suspense surrounding the aliens themselves was pretty fun to watch the first time around, but it isn’t the heart of the film and it’s not what stuck with me afterwards. I like the emotional and spiritual aspect, and how a dire predicament actually helps restore a man’s soul and brings his family together. It’s been ages since I saw this but I definitely want to see this again. Excellent acting all around too by Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix.

Pacific Rim (2013)

As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.

I love LOVE this movie! I never thought I’d love a big monster movie THIS much but what can I say, it’s awesome. Or as one character in the movie said, “That’s two-thousand five-hundred tons of awesome!’😀 I don’t think it’d be a major spoiler to say that it’s as much an alien invasion movie as it’s a big monster flick. The Kaijus are obviously not from this world, they’re mammoth biological weapons sent by an alien colony through a portal for a specific mission: wipeout humankind. Guillermo del Toro did an amazing job making these creatures look organic like a dinosaur, but with thick, gunky blue blood that actually looks cool the bloodier the darn thing is.

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All the fight scenes between the Kaijus and the massive human-powered robots called Jaegers are wonderfully staged. But I love that we constantly see the humans powering these machines and some of the scenes are actually quite emotional. I like the father-daughter dynamic between Idris Elba‘s and Rinku Kikuchi‘s, and a flirty banter between Rinku and hunky Charlie Hunnam, as well as a slew of fun supporting characters that enrich the movie. Just like ID4, this movie doesn’t take itself seriously, there’s something so giddily-amusing about the fight scenes, like when a Jaeger named Gypsy Danger swung a huge, Titanic-sized ship and hurl it at the Kaiju. You just want to get up and cheer when those moments came on!

I saw this movie twice on the big screen and loved every minute of it. I’ve since bought the Bluray and it’s gotten a lot of play in my house.

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What do you think of my alien-invasion movie picks this week? Have you seen any of these films?

FlixChatter Review – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

MadMaxFuryRoadIt took over ten years for Mad Max to return to the big screen, originally set to hit theaters back in summer of 2004 and Mel Gibson was set to reprise his iconic role. Unfortunately, the filmmakers ran into some troubles securing locations and budget and the film was put on hold. 11 years later, the new film is ready for prime time with a new cast and bigger budget.

It never really implied but Fury Road picks up right around the time when Beyond Thunderdome ended. Max (Tom Hardy) still has his long hair from the last film and wandering in the wasteland. Suddenly he’s being chase by some awful looking men and then gets captured. He’s brought to another strange city called the Citadel, here it’s being ruled by a mad man named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, same actor who played the main villain in the original film) and his War Boys.

MadMaxFuryRoad_ImmortanJoeMax is being use as a blood transferor to these War Boys and one of them named Nux (Nicholas Hoult) takes advantage of that right away. Joe rules the city by giving water to its citizens only few drops and false hope. Then we were introduced to Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who decided to betray Joe by stealing his wives to take them to a safer place called the “green place”. When Joe finds out, he and his War Boys sets out to bring the wives back and kill Furiosa. During the chase, Max got caught in the middle and has no choice but to become a hero again. Anyone who have seen the previous films will know that this franchise isn’t about deep plot, it’s about action and lots of car/truck chases.

MadMaxFuryRoad_Theron_HoultIf you want to see action, this is the movie to see. Just like last year’s John Wick, this film never tried to be anything but a non-stop wall to wall action. George Miller staged some of the craziest and most brutal action sequences I’ve ever seen. Some of the stunts he shot were just mind-blowing and best of all, he kept the cameras still and we the audience can see all the spectacular action sequences. But amidst all the chaos, he’s still able to give each of the characters some screen time and we got to know their motivations. Kudos also go to the film’s cinematographer John Seale, he shot the movie in digital and the picture looks amazing. I didn’t see it in 3D but clearly he and Miller shot the film with 3D in mind. The film’s soundtrack by Junkie XL was quite amazing; the thundering sound definitely enhances the action scenes.

Even though he only had a few lines of dialogs, Tom Hardy was very convincing as the brutal action hero. He shoots, punches and kicks his enemies without hesitation. Clearly he’s trying to differentiate his Max from that of Gibson’s. Here Max is more of a brute while Gibson’s version was more laid back and not as cold as Hardy. Theron on the other was marvelous as Furiousa, she’s the best female action hero since Ripley in the Alien films. In fact, I think they should have named the movie Mad Max and Furiosa. She’s as tough as Max and kick some serious ass. There’s a fight scene between her and Max that was quite fun to watch and she could definitely handle herself.

MadMaxFuryRoad_TomHardyMadMaxFuryRoad_Max_FuriosaI actually think the movie was really about Furiosa since Max was just there to help out. Nicholas Hoult’s character started out as a foe but then became part of the team and I liked his character. We also got to know each of Joe’s wives; they’re not there to just be eye candy. As for Immortan Joe, well he’s just another one-note villain that’s similar to Lord Humungus in the second film.

Fans of the series will get a kick out this one new film and maybe new comers will enjoy it as well. I do recommend that you watch one of the previous films before going into this one if you’ve never seen the previous films, particularly Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. You need to familiarize yourself with the weird and crazy world that Miller has created. As a fan of the series and action films, I truly enjoy this tremendous action picture. If there’s a theater in your area that has Dolby Atmos, I highly recommend you see it there. I plan to see it again in 3D and hopefully it’s as good as the first time I saw it.

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Have you seen this movie? Well, what did YOU think? 

Casting News Roundup: Chris Pratt, Rosamund Pike, Keanu Reeves & Mel Gibson + Andrew Garfield

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Boy I’ve been meaning to do a post on casting news but for some reason just never got around to it! Well, I might make this more of a weekend bi-monthly series as there’s never a shortage of casting news 😀

Chris Pratt to star in graphic novel adaptation Cowboy Ninja Viking

Pratt_CowboyNinjaVikingLook at the smirk on this guy! When I read the description of the graphic novel created by writer A.J. Lieberman and artist Riley Rossmo, I think Chris Pratt fits the role nicely. Per Collider, The story revolves around an assassin with Multiple Personality Disorder who possess the skills of a cowboy, a ninja, and a Viking, and works for a secret government program. Pratt is to play the protagonist Duncan, and I think it’ll be fun to see him manifest into those three different personas. No director is attached yet, though some names including Marc Forster was circling the project at some point, seems that this project has been in development for some time.

Rosamund Pike joining Charlie Hunnam in ‘The Mountain Between Us’

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One of the year’s breakout female star probably has a slew of offers coming at her. I kinda wish she’d be cast in the lead instead of co-lead with a male actor. In any case, sounds like she’s joining Charlie Hunnam in an adaptation of Charles Martin’s book of the same name. The story revolves around two people who survive a plane crash in the mountains where they are forced to trust each other and find safety while badly injured. Rosamund Pike plays a successful writer who’s flying East to get to her much anticipated wedding, whilst Hunnam plays a surgeon on his way back East after a medical conference for a slate of surgeries he has scheduled for the following day. So based on the book description in Amazon, it’s kind of like a romantic version of Alive and perhaps The Grey, I guess I could see the casting work for the story though I’m not sure about this one until I see at least a trailer.

Keanu Reeves in Talks to Star in Tarsem Singh’s ‘The Panopticon’

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Though Keanu never really left Hollywood, seems that he’s sort of got a career resurgence following the success of John Wick. I’ve always liked the guy so more Keanu casting is awesome in my book 😉 So he’s been cast in the sci-fi thriller Replicas which sounds right up his alley: After a car accident kills his loving family, a daring neuroscientist (Reeves) will stop at nothing to bring them back, even if it means pitting himself against a government-controlled laboratory, a police task force, and the physical laws of science themselves. (per The Wrap).

Well, seems that he’s also in talks to team up with Tarsem Singh in an action thriller The Panopticon, but the premise seems wholly generic to me: “The Panopticon” follows a seemingly ordinary man who receives a mysterious package containing a pre-recorded message from himself, warning that the world is about to end and only he can save it. He must race against the clock to piece together the puzzle before time runs out for mankind. Meh, I’m kind of tired of this ‘one man left on earth to save the world’ premise. It’s so stale, derivative and hackneyed that it’s REALLY hard to actually make a good film out of it. But then again, John Wick‘s premise isn’t exactly groundbreaking either but the film still turned out fresh and fun. Judging from Tarsem’s past work though, it’d probably be more of a visual feast than an absorbing story.

Boy, Keanu is one busy dude. Per The Wrap, he’s recently wrapped Eli Roth‘s “Knock Knock” and the courtroom drama “The Whole Truth,” and he’s currently filming the indie “Daughter of God.” Oh and supposedly he’s also working on Bill & Ted‘s 2?

Mel Gibson to direct Andrew Garfield in a WWII drama?

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Now this last one is intriguing to me as Mel Gibson hasn’t directed any film since Apocalypto nearly a decade ago. Regardless of how you feel about the actor/director, I think he’s a talented filmmaker.

DesmondDoss_HacksawRidgeI’m curious about his next project which is a WWII drama based on the true story of Corporal Demond Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the US congressional Medal of Honor by President Truman. Per Comingsoon.net, Doss was drafted into World War II at age 23. Raised a Seventh-day Adventist, he refused to kill or carry a weapon and, as such, became stationed as a medic. The center of the story is likely to focus on 1945′s three-month military assault Operation Iceburg, also known as the Battle of Okinawa. “Hacksaw Ridge” was the name given the location of a particularly brutal two-week confrontation wherein United States troops faced off against Japanese soldiers on the rocky cliffs of Okinawa.

If the deal went through, Gibson would reteam w/ Braveheart‘s screenwriter Randall Wallace who co-wrote it with Robert Schenkkan. Look-wise, Andrew Garfield seems to have the right physique and age to play the role and I think it’d be good to see him in something that’d really display his versatility as an actor.


Ok so what do you think of any of these casting news and/or the projects mentioned above?

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Rental Picks: Get the Gringo & The Lone Ranger

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Get The Gringo

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Remember when Mel Gibson was the king of the box office? Back in the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s, seems like every film he starred in were box office hits. After he starred in the big hit Signs back in 2002, he actually agreed to return as Max in George Miller’s Fury Road (it’s been renamed to Mad Max: Fury Road); if I remember correctly the film was scheduled to come out in the summer of 2004 but when the second Iraq War happened, the film was cancelled. They wanted to shoot the film in the middle east and of course with the war, it’s not possible. Then we all know what happened to his career after he directed The Passion of the Christ, even though I don’t agree with what he said in his personal life, I still think he’s a great talent.

A car chase opens the movie, a getaway driver (Mel Gibson) and a wounded accomplice are fleeing the American police and heading towards the Mexican border. The car crashes through the border fence and Gibson’s character was taken into the custody of the Mexican police, his accomplice died after the clash. Gibson’s character name was never mentioned throughout the movie, he’s only been called by everyone in the movie as The Gringo. After a night in a jail cell, The Gringo was transferred to El Pueblito prison under false charges, there he found out that the prison actually looks like a ghetto town rather than a real prison. Males, females and even young children are all being kept in this so called prison. Being that he’s the only Caucasian in the prison, he realized he has to figured out how to stay alive and escape the place. He was able to study the ins and outs of the prison and later met a kid (Kevin Hernandez) who’s living with his incarcerated mother. The Gringo and the kid formed an unlikely friendship and he also found out that the prison is being run by a powerful crime lord Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho). He then came up with a plan that will get him, the kid and his mom out of prison.

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This being a low budget production, most of the movie took place in the prison setting. First-time director Adrian Grunberg was able to keep the pace moving and staged some cool shootout sequences. Being that he was a second unit director on some of Gibson’s previous work and other well know films, he didn’t really established the look of his first gig as a director. That’s not a knock on Grunberg though, the look and feel of this movie reminded me of Michael Mann’s recent flicks such as Collateral and Miami Vice, as typical with a lot of action movies in the last few years, this one was shot in digital and there were too many scenes that looked like home video to me. Sometime it takes me out of the story when I see scenes that looked like someone used a consumer camcorder to record the scene, I wish some director would use some kind of effects in post production to give the movie a more cinematic look to it. Both Gibson and Grunberg co-wrote the script along with Stacy Perskie, they didn’t really come up with anything new for this kind of genre. It tends to get predictable but kept my interest and I was entertained, the movie kind of reminded me of Payback, a very good thriller from 1999.

Gibson is pretty much the star of the movie and I thought he’s terrific in the role. Again, I don’t agree on what he said in his personal life but I think he’s one of the few aging movie stars who’s still giving 100% in his performance, Tom Cruise being the other one. I can’t say the same for some other brand name stars, yes I’m referring to Bruce Willis and Robert De Niro, those two seems to just take whatever role the studio offered them.

Despite it being predictable and has that home video look to it, Get The Gringo was a good action thriller that will satisfy both fans of Gibson and the genre. It’s on sale for cheap on DVD/Bluray or you can stream it on Netflix. I think if you’re in the mood for a good thriller, this one will be worth your time.


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The Lone Ranger

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After reading negative reviews after another I didn’t intend to see this movie but my girlfriend and I couldn’t figure out what to do one Friday night, so we decided to check it out. We saw it at one of the most popular movie theaters in MN and there were only 5 people in the seats, including us and this was a Friday night! Apparently the negative reviews scared off a lot of people. Fortunately, the movie wasn’t as bad as most people made it out to be.

The film starts out with a prologue, took place at a San Francisco sideshow in 1933. A young boy who adores The Lone Ranger radio series ran into an old Native American Tonto (Johnny Depp), Tonto sees the boy and start calling him Kemosabe, seeing the boy with the mask on, Tonto thought the boy was his old pal The Lone Ranger. The boy was curious as to why this old man started calling him by that name and so Tonto decided to tell him the story about the masked man and his sidekick. The film then flashes back years later when we meet a lawyer named John Reid (Armie Hammer), he’s on a train and going to visit his brother who’s a lawman Dan Reid (James Badge Dale). However his train ended up being hijacked by a few outlaws who are trying to free their leader Butch Cavendish (William Fitchtner). Here we’re also introduced to a young Tonto, when chaos ensued, both Tonto and Reid tried to stop Cavendish from escaping but were unsuccessful.

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Shortly after, Dan deputizes his brother, allowing him to join in the hunt to bring Cavendish back to justice, but tragedy strikes as their group is ambushed and left for dead. Tonto comes to the scene and saw bodies everywhere, he decided to bury all the lawmen but then John woke up, so Tonto believed he’s been brought back to life by the higher power. John swears to take revenge on Butch for the murder of his brother and decides to team up with Tonto, who is trying to take his own revenge for another tragic event from several years ago. Their adventure will put them up against not only the violent gang of outlaws, but also against a scheming railroad man, Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who is attempting to amass a great fortune with his plan. There’s also a subplot about the romance between John and his widowed sister-in-law Rebecca Reid (Ruth Wilson) that didn’t really pan out that well.

What worked for me were the great visual effects and action scenes, especially the big climax sequence involving trains was pretty well thought out and exciting, you can tell where all those millions of dollars went to. Director Gore Verbinski and his cinematographer really wanted to capture the look of Sergio Leone’s western films of the 60s and I thought they were quite successful at it. As mentioned earlier, the action scenes were pretty great to watch, you can tell Verbinski and his crew probably spent weeks or months prepping each sequence. Wish they spent more time on the actual plot of the film though.

A few things that I thought didn’t work. First the film tonal shift just felt out of place, it didn’t know if it wants to be a comedy action or dark and edgy action/western. There would be one scene where you’ll laugh and then another where you see people getting slaughtered. By combining all these elements into a film, it just didn’t blend well for me. Also, by trying to tell origin stories of both of the leads didn’t really work either. I mean the film’s called The Lone Ranger and they should’ve just focus the story on him, Tonto’s a sidekick so why not leave his origin for later films? I understand when you have a big star like Depp in that role, you have to make him the main lead. They should’ve just called the film Tonto and The Lone Ranger. Lastly, the bloated run-time was just inexcusable, about 20 to 30 minutes of the film could’ve been edited out.

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Performances wise, I thought Johnny Depp was good as Tonto, he’s basically playing Jack Sparrow again here. I was bit disappointed with Armie Hammer though, I always liked him as an actor but I found him to be lackluster here. I wonder it’s because he’s second fiddle to Depp, he’s been told not to over shadow the bigger star? Whatever it was I just thought he didn’t really sell me as the action hero. Both Fictner and Wilkinson were great as usual since they’ve played villains in other films before. I’m still not sure why Helena Bonham Carter agreed to appear in this movie, her role was so small and didn’t really have much to do, maybe she did it as a favor to Depp since they’re good friends. Ruth Wilson was pretty decent as the damsel in distress.

Even though I thought the plot didn’t work and the film was way too long, I didn’t hate it. I actually enjoyed it for the most part but I’m a sucker for western so it’s an easy sell for me. With a better script that focuses more on The Lone Ranger and shorter run-time, the film could’ve been a fun summer ride. Since the film is officially a massive flop for Disney, we probably won’t see any more adventures of The Lone Ranger and Tonto.

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What do you think of Get the Gringo and The Lone Ranger? 

Rental Pick: The Beaver

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A troubled husband and executive adopts a beaver hand-puppet as his sole means of communicating.

I’ve been curious about this one mostly to see Mel Gibson’s performance and because the script apparently topped 2008’s The Black List (as in list of Best Un-produced Screenplays). I also wanted to see it because Anton Yelchin, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing last month, had a role as Gibson’s son.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you might be inclined think that it’s a comedy, but truth be told, the subject matter of suicidal depression is no laughing matter. ‘Walter Black is a man who’s lost all hope…‘ the voice over says, and given all the troubles in Gibson’s personal life, it seems like art imitating life or vice versa. Does that mean it’s inspired casting? I don’t know, but Gibson certainly gave his all in portraying a man plagued by his own demons.

How Walter meets the furry hand puppet is actually pretty interesting. He was at the lowest point of his life, having just been kicked out of the house by his weary wife. It’s the morning after his botched suicide attempt that The Beaver suddenly took over him. It seemed that Walter’s no longer have a voice unless it came from his new um, identity.

It’s certainly amusing at first to see a beaver stuffed animal speaking in some weird Cockney-accent (Gibson’s own apparently, though I thought at first it was Michael Caine), and for a time it seemed as if the beaver did save him and his toy company. But soon we know that there’s no simple ‘cure’ for Walter’s condition and his shenanigans took a toll on his family as well. This film isn’t trying to explain the nuts and bolts of mental illness but actor/director Jodie Foster presents it with unflinching honesty.

Gibson and Foster were on screen together in a Western comedy Maverick, but this time around they’re not exactly exchanging playful banters. As I mentioned before, Gibson gave a no-holds-barred performance as someone losing complete control of his own life. Apparently Steve Carell was originally cast as Walter. I think this film might have a totally different vibe with Carell in the role, though we’ve seen him in this kind of role in Little Miss Sunshine.

Foster’s performance didn’t quite wow me, but I really sympathize with her character. It’s nice to see Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence in a movie together after seeing them in Like Crazy, even though their storyline seem to feel somewhat detached from what’s going on with Walter. I’m impressed with the kind of range Lawrence has in the few movies I’ve seen her in, she’s definitely one of the strongest young stars working today.

This is Foster’s third feature film directing project but the first one I’ve seen. I think she is a capable enough director though I think her biggest talent still lies in acting. Overall this is a decent movie though I feel like given the strong script, perhaps it could’ve been a much more compelling film. It’s not an enjoyable film per se and there are some cringe-worthy moments which is kind of expected given the subject matter. A couple other quibbles I have are that the film seems to drag a bit despite the relatively short 91-minute running time and Walter’s relationship with his older son doesn’t feel as convincing. But it’s still worth a watch and despite Gibson’s real life antics, I do think he’s a gifted actor who can balance both drama and comedy convincingly.

Three and a half stars out of Five
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Have you seen The Beaver? In regards to Mel Gibson, does his personal life affect your decision to watch his films?

Guest Post: An in-depth look at Tequila Sunrise (1988)

Special thanks to Michael Alatorre – the sharp-witted blogger of It Rains … You Get Wet (even his blog name is clever!) » Follow Michael on Twitter


Every summer I make it a point to watch one of my favorite movies, Robert Towne‘s Tequila Sunrise. And, this year was no exception. Released in 1988, it is the second directed feature from the writer of another great Los Angeles movie classic and noir thriller, Chinatown. It is a wonderfully layered neo noir film set in the distinct South Bay area of L.A. Although, I often ponder if I hadn’t attended junior college right after high school (and spent a formative portion of my student life in and around that southern region that ends at the beach), would I care as much as I do for this film? Here, I’ll let the Captain Renault-like character from the movie answer that:

Probably not, but who knows what he’s really up to? I mean you’re snitch isn’t going to tell us… ~ Lt. Nick Frescia

Set at the end of the Reagan-era 80’s, with a soundtrack to match (like a few of us, I can’t help but associate Crowded House’s Recurring Dream with this movie), Tequila Sunrise is a brooding tale of deceit and betrayal, but primarily it is a film of friendships, set in a small corner of the Drug War between cops and smugglers. Some have criticized this film for being confusing (and its production history may have something to do with that). But at its core, it is a solid character-based melodrama that is laced with ambiguity and some ever-moving boundaries. Just about everyone in this film is not quite what you’d first assume. If you enjoy a film that needs close watching, with intricate character motives — regardless of clear moral distinctions — this one is for you.

For Tequila Sunrise, Mel Gibson plays Dale (Mac) McKussic, a retired South Bay cocaine smuggler of legendary proportions. Interestingly, Gibson was not the first choice in the antihero role — it was initially envisioned for the likes of Jeff Bridges or Harrison Ford. Certainly, I think Bridges could have pulled it off, but I have my doubts that Ford would have been as successful here as Gibson is in this character. [Note: recent train wreck behavior aside, I’m only here to speak about the actor as it pertains to this film and his role in it] For me, he was unafraid to convey the darker aspects of this part (see 1999’s Payback) — something Ford would likely have pushed to tone down. And I doubt other big name actors would have undertaken a role like this, one so on the other side of the objective. Remember, this was the period of ‘Just Say No’, and a push back on the cause célèbre for then First Lady Nancy Reagan. Here, the character wants to remain disengaged from his former living in the drug business (in a capacity that he’s been so good at for so long) and a chance at an ordinary family life. But, as he puts it:

“… nobody wants me to quit.”

Not so much opposing him, but being the flip side of a ethically dubious coin, is Lt. Nick Frescia (who at the start, newly heads up L.A. County’s drug enforcement unit). Most crime fiction (in book or film) centered in the City of the Angels, makes use of the well-known LAPD. To his credit, Towne lets the location set the story’s law enforcement entity — and it provides an absorbing contrast with the lesser-known (and larger) L.A. Sheriffs. The vastly underrated Kurt Russell plays this character as a smart, slick operator capable of breaking the law whenever it helps him enforce it. Again, Kurt was not the primary choice for this role. Now, can you imagine Alec Baldwin or Nick Nolte as this? They were up for it. Even the then L.A. Laker coach, Pat Riley, was envisioned for the role. Which by way of style and manner, Kurt pays homage to in his performance. Like Mel, Russell is quite capable of playing the ambiguous lead (see the later Dark Blue for further proof). Even when he’s not speaking Towne’s crisp dialogue, Russell is equally adept without words. His facial expressions during his wordless observation of a DEA interrogation are simply masterful. Watch him throughout and I think you’ll see why Nick’s character in a league with certain Vichy police captain.

Jo Ann: “That’s an awful lot of money.”

Mac: “Uh, fifteen million dollars.”

Jo Ann: “That is an awful lot of money.”

Mac: “Yeah, well. Money makes people predictable, at least. They’ll never be reliable.”

To really begin to understand these two characters, southern Cal-native, and renowned screenwriter, Robert Towne sprinkles his well-known and sharp dialogue throughout the movie as a way of building Mac and Nick’s history and the plot line. Hence, the reason a few quotations appear in this post. The story makes clear these two protagonists friendship is long, and probably always rivalrous, as guys are known to be. And, it is the key point of the tale. The writer/director also has a keen eye to the strangest of relationships: those life-long friendships that arise, and are tempered, in the furnace known as high school. I don’t know anyone who claims H.S. was ever a smooth and simple part of his or her life. Indeed, it provides a great springboard for the story, one that the screenwriter effectively mines quite well. The characters friendship has continued, and intertwined even more, despite their paths veering to opposing sides of the law.

Nick:” You got one chance, buddy, turn yourself in.”

Mac: ”What for?”

Nick: “What for?!?”

Mac: “Yeah, what for? I told you I had an accounting problem in the restaurant. I’ve been holding on to money for someone, and he’s here to pick it up. I mean it’s his money.”

Nick:” I wanna get this straight. You’d kill me over drug money?”

Mac: “Well… it’s a lot of money.”

The primary impetus for the trouble to come is from the outside. For Nick, it’s the unwelcome intervention by DEA agent Hal Maguire, done to slimy perfection by an extraordinary character actor who is greatly missed since his passing. J.T. Walsh built a career playing either the villain (Breakdown) or the almost invisible but vital support (A Few Good Men) in film and TV duty. In this role, he’s in top form as the smarmy Fed… and the one who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Maguire presumptuously maneuvers Nick to seek to nail his friend Mac (who he likes) to do his job for him (who he hates) so as to keep his friend out of federal custody.

Jo Ann: “What is it, Nick? You need some chapstick or lip-gloss or something cause your lips keep getting stuck on your teeth. Or, is that your idea of a smile?”

Nick: (smiling and embarrassed) “That’s my idea of a smile. Ah, man. You are… you’re tough.”

For Mac, coincidentally, it’s the complication of another friend’s arrival. In this case, the drug overlord “Carlos” is coming to town to clear up “an accounting problem.” Without giving too much away, the other greatly missed actor who co-stars, the late Raul Julia, gets to have loads of fun playing the mysterious Mexican cop Javier Escalante (brought in by Maguire to help arrest this crime lord). Julia, who once played Guido Contini in the original Broadway play of Nine, (don’t get me started on Rob Marshall’s film adaptation of same) gets to showcase why he was so good on stage and on film.

Further muddling matters are Mac’s longing for restaurateur Jo Ann Vallenari. The gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer plays her for all her smart and sexy toughness, in a befitting role for a neo noir film. And it wouldn’t be melodrama if there weren’t a triangle in there. Naturally, all of this is made even more difficult when Nick immediately sees her as someone who can help him with his case against his longtime bud. However, the lieutenant is just not prepared for his feelings, the resulting consequences for both he and Mac, and the choices true friendship sometimes demands. All will dovetail to a fiery and passionate confrontation among friends in a fog-shrouded scene in Long Beach harbor.

Tequila Sunrise is a film that has been somewhat forgotten and dismissed. Though some see it as dated, the decade of the 80s remains distinct, and this drama offers a good display of the era and its ramifications. High concept it’s not. Still, the film is nothing if not a entertaining primer on the twists and turns of the bonds that link us, and the implications of choice upon them. Of course, this movie plays better for those who watch carefully and enjoy the craft of a master scriptwriter. But, if you stick with it, by the end it is so worth it, IMO. The additional visual treat of this movie is the great cinematography on display throughout by the famed Conrad Hall. For instance, one standout scene has to be the sunset summit sequence between Mac and Nick on the beachside with a spectacular sunset going on in the background. If you listen to the top-notch commentary track by producer Thom Mount (who gives some great insight on the film’s production) on the impromptu locale of that section of the film, you’ll discover how remarkable was its result. A big credit to has to go to the late-cinematographer and crew for what they achieved in the scene that had time and that setting sun against it.

The 1997 DVD is now very long in the tooth and is certainly in need of re-issue, remastering, and new extras. Hopefully, a future disc will offer broader input from all those involved for how the film evolved to its final cut. It would be interesting to hear more from Robert Towne about the production, which this DVD lacks. However, I suspect Gibson’s current reputation is now a hindrance to a new studio disc release. There was some contention mentioned in the commentary track and at IMDb regarding the feature. While the initial ending had to be re-shot, I wouldn’t change a thing. Also, be on the watch for a wonderful cameo by the legendary western director (and Robert Towne favorite), Budd Boetticher, in the role of Judge Nizetitch. It’s a small but superb tribute for a director that deserves greater recognition. Lastly, I’ll end this post with a significantly killer piece of dialogue that serves as a great thumbnail for this underrated film, one that hits home with me:

Carlos: “You son of bitch! How could you do this? Friendship is the only choice in life you can make that’s yours! You can’t choose your family! Goddamn it, I’ve had to face that! And no man should be judged for whatever direction his dick goes! That’s like blaming a compass for pointing north, for Chrissake! Friendship is all we have. We chose each other. How could you f*** it up? How could you make us look so bad?”


Have you seen Tequila Sunrise? Please share your thoughts on the film