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?

FlixChatter Review: American Sniper (2014)

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The last time Clint Eastwood tackled a war story he made Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima back to back. The former I thought was a good film but contained too many clichés, while the latter I thought was one of the best war films ever made. I think his latest picture sort of fall in between his last two war films.

Based on the book and life of the late Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in US history. The story begins with a flashback of Kyle and young brother being raised by a tough and religious father. He was raised as the typical all American boy – tough, a patriot and never give up. Years later he’s now a grown man and played by the buffed-up Bradley Cooper. He and his brother are still close but his life is not what you call a success. After seeing an American embassy building got blown up on the news in Africa, he decided to wants to fight and protect his country from terrorists. He went down to the local army recruiting office and told the recruiter he wanted to enlist. Since he’s already 30 years old and in pretty good shape, the recruiter suggested he should enlist in the Navy Seals unit. We then got to see a montage of him training with the other Seals recruits.

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Later he meets his future wife Taya (the unrecognizable Sienna Miller) at a bar. They hit it off and later got married. On their wedding day, Kyle’s Seals unit got a call to head over to Middle East. The whole movie was about Kyle’s life on the battlefield and how it affects his personal life once he’s back to the States with his wife and children. The story was told in two tiers, one you see Kyle and his men battled the enemies in the Middle East and the other shows his normal life in the States when he’s back from one of his tours.

I’m not the biggest fan of Bradley Cooper, ever since I saw him in The Hangover movies, I could never see him as anything but a frat boy type. However, he gave quite a strong performance here and displayed so many emotions that I didn’t know he could do. Kyle’s a man who wants to be strong for his family and comrades, but deep down you know he’s a troubled person. He keeps all of his emotions inside and refuses to talk about what he saw and done while in the battlefields. He’s a patriot and won’t question his superiors for the orders they gave him, but when some of his comrades were killed, he may have some doubts about the war itself. Since Kyle is the main character, Cooper appeared in pretty much 99% of the film.

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Unfortunately I wish Eastwood had cast a better actress for female lead, Sienna Miller changed her appearance make herself look more like a normal person but she’s still can’t act. Some of the dramatic scenes with her and Cooper were kind of cringe-worthy. The rest of the cast didn’t really make much of an impression on me because many of them only appeared briefly in the film.

Eastwood has always been a generic director to me but in a good way. What I mean by that was that he never tried to include any trick shots or weir filters in his films and best of all never go for the popular trends in movies. I was afraid he’s going to shoot the battle scenes in those annoying shaky cam and fast editing shots but thankfully he held the cameras steady and we can what’s going on during the action scenes. In fact, he staged some quite intense and exciting battle sequences. He and his editors, Gary Roach and Joel Cox, kept the pace moving quite smoothly. They never linger on scenes that could’ve dragged on. Also, for a war picture I thought it’s going to be quite gory but they didn’t show that much of the gore.

I’ve never read the book that the film was based on and knew only a little bit about the real Chris Kyle so I don’t know how accurate this film was to his life. Jason Hall wrote the screenplay and I thought it’s weird that he actually included some “villains” in the story. In fact, for most of the movie I thought I was watching a movie based on one of Tom Clancy’s novels instead of a real person and events. Since I’ve never read the book, I don’t know if the antagonists were real or were just made up for dramatic purposes.

With a good performance by Cooper and solid direction by Eastwood, I thought this was a good action thriller, but not a great war picture. Again, the inclusion of the villains took me right out of the reality of the story and I thought I was watching something Tom Clancy would write. But the movie did have some great battle sequences and some very intense dramas, I won’t mention it here but it’s definitely not a movie to bring your young children along.

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Have you seen this movie? What did you think?

FlixChatter Review: FURY (2014)

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Hollywood loves making films about WWII and to their credit they produced some great ones. In my opinion, Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line were the last great films about this war. And even though I loved Inglorious Basterds, I don’t count it as true WWII film, if you saw it then you know what I mean by that. This latest one from writer/director David Ayer has an A-list leading man and huge budget, but unfortunately it’s just another by-the-numbers war film.

It’s April 1945 and the war is almost over, as the film opens we see an aftermath of a huge battle and the only people left alive were a group of American soldiers inside a tank named Fury. Its commander is Don Collier (Brad Pitt) and his crewmen are not happy with him since one of their teammates was killed in the battle and they blamed him. After some bickering, they head back to their base camp to get their next assignment. A young recruit named Norman (Logan Lerman) introduced himself to Collier and said he was told he’s now under Collier’s command. Upon seeing the young soldier, Collier was not happy but he has no choice but bring Norman on board. After receiving his next mission from his boss Captain Waggoner (the always great Jason Isaacs), Collier and his men set out to take down more Nazis. As the film moves on, it became pretty generic in this genre, we see big battles, body limbs gets torn apart, the young soldier gets picked on by older soldiers and of course they accept him once he proved himself in the battlefield.

FURY_2014_stillsPitt gave a solid performance as the leader but seeing him in perfect shape and his hair never seem to get messy during the battle scenes really didn’t make his character more believable. When I saw the trailer for this film, I thought he might do another Aldo Raines but thankfully his performance was more grounded than in Tarantino’s flick. The most surprising performance to me was Shia LaBeouf, he’s the man of faith in the group and I thought he was quite good in the role. After seeing him in all those awful Transformers movies, I just couldn’t stand him but here he actually gave a good performance. Unfortunately the rest of the cast members got stuck with clichéd roles. Jon Bernthal is again being cast as the “bad” guy on the team and even though he did a good job, we’ve seen this kind of character many times before. Michael Peña is the token minority character and he’s supposed to be the comic relief guy, in some scenes he’s funny but again we’ve seen this too many times before. Lerman’s Norman is supposed to be the heart and soul of the team since he’s the “innocent” one but he’s not a strong actor so he didn’t really make an impression on me. I think Ayer tried to make his character very similar to that of Charlie Sheen in Platoon but it didn’t work because he’s a supporting character. The film might’ve worked better had it been told from Norman’s perspective and have a better actor in the role.

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David Ayer has been living off the success of his early writing gigs, he wrote the first Fast & Furious film and later that same year another film he wrote became a success, Training Day. As a director, none of his films were successful and here I think he tried too hard to make a “serious” film. There’s a scene halfway way through the film that totally dragged and I wish he’d left it on the cutting room floor, I think I understood what he’s trying to say with that scene but to me it’s just a waste of time since it never really amount to anything significance later in the story. The battle scenes were well staged but seeing green and red laser beams was kind of weird, I’ve never seen a real gun battle in real life so maybe when guns are fired, they shoot out laser beam like that.

Technically Fury is a success but overall it’s just another run of the mill war film that we’ve seen way too many times before. Maybe with a better script, the film could’ve worked better, but there are so many great films out there about this subject that it’s hard to make anything new.
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Have you seen FURY? Well, what did you think?

Memorial Day Special: Pictorial Tribute to U.S. Soldiers in the Movies

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The final Monday of May is a Memorial Day holiday here, which is a day to remember the fallen men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. As a U.S. resident, I’m definitely grateful of the service of Military men and women. Freedom is definitely NOT free and the people serving in the various U.S. military branches – Navy, Army, Air Force and the Marines – risk their lives to protect their country and its citizens.

So today, as I reflect on their bravery and dedication, I thought I’d do a pictorial tribute to memorable portrayal of American soldiers in the movies from various era and genres. Obviously I have not seen too many war/military-themed movies so these are meant to only be a sampling of military roles represented.

So here are (roughly) 27 of them, simply to coincide with today’s date of May 27:

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Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) – ‘Independence Day’
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Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) & Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) – ‘The Hurt Locker’
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Lt. Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) & Capt. Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) – ‘Crimson Tide’
Major "Dutch" Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) – 'Predator'
Major “Dutch” Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) – ‘Predator’
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Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) & Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) – ‘Captain America’
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U.S. Army Private Witt (Jim Caviezel) – ‘The Thin Red Line’
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Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) & Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) – ‘Forrest Gump’
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Marine Sergeant Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) – ‘Born on the Fourth of July’
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John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) – ‘Rambo’
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Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) & Lt. Colonel Serling (Denzel Washington) – ‘Courage Under Fire’
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Gen. ‘Buck’ Turgidson (George C. Scott) – ‘Dr. Strangelove’
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US Army helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) – ‘Source Code’
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LT Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson), Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) – ‘A Few Good Men’
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Navy Commander Shears (William Holden) – ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’
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Major Archie Gate (George Clooney), Sergeant First Class Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) – ‘Three Kings’
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Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) – ‘Twelve O’Clock High’
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Sgt. Emil Foley (Louis Gossett Jr.) & Officer Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) – ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’

Now, I made an exception with this last pick. Even though I have not seen Saving Private Ryan yet, but everything I’ve read (including this fine review by good friend Mark) about this Steven Spielberg masterpiece suggests that Tom Hanks as Captain Miller is more than worthy to be included.

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Happy Memorial Day to my fellow Americans!


Now, which other U.S. military movie characters would YOU add to the list? Let me know in the comments!