Hacksaw Ridge Review

When Mel Gibson releases a film people sit up and pay attention. Ever since Braveheart back in 1995, which he directed, starred and produced, Gibson has been one whose films are shocking and controversial while also receiving high critical acclaim. Does his new film Hacksaw Ridge follow the great string of films before it?

Hacksaw Ridge stars Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington and Teresa Palmer and is directed by Mel Gibson. The film follows the true story of Desmond Doss (Garfield) a contentious objector during the Second World War. He volunteers as an army medic instead and is sent out during the battle of Okinawa, in which he saved the lives of seventy-five men.

If Mel Gibson’s films are known for anything is their almost pornographic depictions of gore and violence and the sometimes heavy-handed religious metaphors and aggrandising of the main character. In terms of the former, Hacksaw Ridge has the blood and bodies turned up to eleven. This isn’t the bloodless fights of Marvel or the rather scaled-back violence in Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge paints the screen red with blood. It’s an odd balance of sickening and gratuitous; a solider picks up the corpse of a comrade and uses him as a shield, we get several body pans focusing in on missing legs and the Japanese soldiers use samurai swords when finishing off the barely surviving soldiers. The start of the film is an almost Nicholas Sparks-style romance film, with Garfield’s Doss falling in love with a nurse. When it comes time for the battle to start the switch to dismemberment is a tonal whiplash, leaving you completely open to the vile amount of gore on stage.

Garfield is near perfect in his role as Desmond Doss. Most people only really know Garfield as the second Spiderman, a character known for being quiet and unassuming. He brings that along with a childhood innocence and naiveté to the role, leading to a main character that you root for and understand his motivations. His religion is not over-played, it’s just another layer to the character. My only flaw would be his “aw-shucks” accent, which makes him sound like he’s talking with a mouth full of food. The rest of the cast are good even if most of his fellow soldiers are one-word stereotypes. And who knew that Vince Vaughn, the guy from Wedding Crashers and Dodgeball, would do a good job in an action role? Or that Sam Worthington could actually emote?

The accompanying score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is an excellent addition to the film. It has the hallmarks of a war movie; the marching drums and the bold brass for the action heavy second half, but evens it out with some beautiful string and woodwind solos during the beginning and the downtime in between the fights on the battlefield. It is easily one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time, not since Bridge of Spies have I been blown away by the score of a film.

The film does have some minor faults. While it was important to establish Garfield’s character’s optimism and innocence, the first half feels both overlong and cut short at the same time. It’s pretty much the first hour, but most of the scenes that are a good few weeks apart are shunted together like they are happening in the same day. As I said before the romance sometimes comes off a little corny with cheesy one-liners being most of Garfield and Teresa Palmer’s dialogue together. The film also ends with actual interview footage with Doss and his fellow soldiers, which feels a bit at odds since we’ve just got done watching a dramatisation of the events. Maybe it was to show that some things depicted in the film actually did happen, but I got that from the “this is a true story” at the beginning.

In the end, Hacksaw Ridge completely blew me away. While it may not reach the cultural heights of Braveheart (everyone knows the “they may take out lives” quote), it is still a bombastic, violent depiction of the Second World War. It’s definitely not one for the squeamish.

Score: 8/10 A cinematic tour-de-force on the brutality of war and the power of the human spirit.

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Satoshi Kon Collection Review

Preface

I get asked a lot why I chose the name The Student Film Review. For me it was a simple choice; I was a student and I was reviewing films, it was a perfect fit. I wasn’t reviewing films from a student perspective, it was just the period of time in my life when I was reviewing movies. But this collection, I’m reviewing films which are very much tied in with my studies, these are the films that I’m researching for my dissertation.

Satoshi Kon was a visionary director. Over ten years he made four films, each unique and outstanding in their own rights. He pushed animation and anime in new directions, focussing on much more adult and mature stories than his contemporaries. If Hayao Miyazaki (the head of Studio Ghibli) is the Walt Disney of anime, Satoshi Kon would be the Alfred Hitchcock or Terry Gilliam. His films became some of my favourites, so I chose him to focus on for my final university work. And now onto reviews.

  • Perfect Blue
  • Millennium Actress
  • Tokyo Godfathers
  • Paprika

Review

Perfect Blue

The first of Kon’s four films, the story focuses on pop singer Mima who takes a drastic career turn to become a risqué actress. She starts to receive death threats from a fanatical fan/stalker and hallucinates monstrous visions and nightmares.

This was both my first Kon film and my introduction to anime, which was an odd experience to say the least. The animation is a bit low budget, with some definition on large sections of crowds missing, but it holds up enough for the film. And while the English dub was a bit jarring at the beginning, it actually added to the weirdness of the film. What got me hooked was the clever and mind-bending story. We go from dream sequences to rooftop chases, song and dance numbers to viscous and bloody murder with a screwdriver, before landing on not one but two rape sequences. It was definitely a jarring film to be introduced to, but a memorable one. Fans of Darren Aronofsky, this is a film to check out. The latter director bought the rights just to restage a number of scenes in his film Requiem For A Dream, and the whole film is the basis for Black Swan. For anyone thinking that anime or animation is for children, this is one to change your mind.

Score: 9/10 Dark, twisted and baffling, but entertaining.

Millennium Actress

This was Kon’s second film and it shows how versatile a director he was. While Perfect Blue focused on dark and warped versions of celebrity, Millennium Actress is much more light-hearted, with a love for Japanese history, both real and cinematic. The film follows a documentary filmmaker and his assistant, who are interviewing a famous actress from the Golden Age of Cinema. As she tells them the story of her life, the group are transported back through time and relive the important moments of her life.

The time-travel gimmick can sometimes make this film even harder to follow than Perfect Blue with its dream-within-visions sequences. We’ll be in a train in the 1930s, but the characters will get off and the film will be back in the 1500s, without even a mention that we are in a new time period. The story though isn’t as interesting as Kon’s first film. The film is about a woman trying to find her first love amid all the time travel, but it isn’t that compelling. We don’t get any time to know with the man that she is chasing, which is kind of the point, but it leaves the film with nothing to aspire to. He’s an empty vessel, purely there to move the story on. And after the first couple of time swaps, the story potters about for a while until the big reveals start happening near the end.

Score: 7/10 One of the history buffs and romance fans, but not one of the best.

Tokyo Godfathers

Probably Kon’s most accessible film, as it features none of the trippy mind-bending weirdness or the adult themes of his larger body of work. The story follows three homeless people in the middle of Tokyo, who find a baby dumped in the street on Christmas Eve. The three band together to go find the child’s parents just in time for Christmas.

While the film is the most “normal” of Kon’s, it’s still deals with big ideas. The main theme is family; our three leads have each been thrown out or left their families for different reasons, and over the course of the film they seek to resolve and contact their families. The most interesting of the three is Hana, a transgender nightclub singer, whose desire to be female leads her to running away with the baby so that she can feel “motherly”.

The film is the most comedic of Kon’s four, but the humour can sometimes come off as forced. Take in the meandering story and very contrived plot (people meeting over and over again in one of the largest cities in Japan), it requires you to leave plausibility at the door. Kon’s fantastic camerawork and editing though make it still enjoyable to watch from a technical aspect. And it’s a Christmas film, so why not watch it next year rather than Die Hard for your alternative Christmas movie night?

Score: 6/10 Probably the weakest of the bunch, but still a good watch.

Paprika

Kons’ last film before he died in 2010, Paprika is his most well-received film. The story is about a machine called the DC Mini, which allows people to enter other people’s dreams. Its purpose is for psychotherapy, but a group of criminals steal it for nefarious ends. A group of scientists have to band together to find the DC Mini and save the world from total destruction.

The set-up of Paprika might seem familiar. That’s because, just like how Perfect Blue was remade into Black Swan, Paprika was remade into Inception. It’s not just in the vague story beats either; the rotating hallway, the shattering glass wall, the dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams idea (Inception went three dreams deep, Paprika goes five deep), it’s been lifted from Kon’s magnum opus.

The film is ten years old, but the animation is superb. Crystal clear and meticulously detailed, Madhouse, the studio behind it, outdid many similar animation at the time and works being done today. The crazy dream sequences and editing quirks (such as jumping through paintings and billboards and into another scene) are feats to be admired. It’s a film that is also in love with filmmaking as an art, with sections detailing Filmmaking 101 such as the “180 Line” and recreating famous films within characters dreams. With the addition of the darker themes and intriguing story of Perfect Blue but the brighter colours and cheery aspect of Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers, this is the culmination of Kon’s work and is surely his best.

Score: 10/10 Will blow you away with its fantastical approach.

The YouTube channel Every Frame A Painting did a fascinating breakdown of Kon’s editing and visual style. It’s a great watch, even if you don’t know his work.

Kubo And The Two Strings Review

For all of the shoddy sequels and comic book movies this year, animation has been on point. With Disney’s excellent The Jungle Book and Zootropolis, Studio Ghibli’s final film, When Marine Was There, and the incredible Anomalisa, 2016 is looking up in terms of animation. And now, a new one, Kubo And The Two Strings.

Kubo And The Two Strings stars Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes and Rooney Mara and is directed by Travis Knight. The film follows Kubo (Parkinson), a young boy who must find a set of magical armour bequeathed to him by his samurai father, while being chased by evil forces.

The animation is some of the best of this year, which is really saying a lot. Laika, the team behind Kubo, is the same team that made ParaNorman and Coraline, two recent greats for animation buffs. The level of detail and the production design is part of the reason to go see Kubo right away. The incredibly smooth stop-motion animation, along with the 3D printed faces turns even the small down time in between the big action set pieces into a jaw dropping display of craftsmanship, you completely forget the massive human effort it took to create something so magical. One of the first big fights in the film includes what is apparently the largest stop-motion character ever animated. Be sure to stick around during the credits, which includes a “see how we did this” behind the scenes moment that shows how ridiculous the task must have been.

Kubo is heavily influenced by Japanese folklore. While the story is a grab bag of several different legends and tales, it’s more in the mood rather than the plot. Little wisps of fog coat lakes, half forgotten statues to Shinto and Buddhist religions are throughout the land, it does a good job of creating a world, and not just a succession of places in a line. The music helps settle us into the world, with the strings of Kubo’s guitar, along with flutes and chimes constantly coming and going from the film, highlighting some scenes as being instant favourites of the year so far. The plot though is very by the numbers. A little boy finding magical armour and defeating dark gods, it’s a story that’s been told before (mainly Legend Of Zelda). The story has a few twists that might be easy to figure out for the older viewers, especially reveals about Kubo’s companions Monkey and Beetle, but overall it’s more a dressing than the central point.

Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey are excellent as Kubo’s friend Monkey and Beetle respectively. Theron is doing her usual badass performance, with McConaughey playing a bit against type as the rather slow-minded Beetle. Ralph Fiennes does his sinister charm in a small role as Raiden, and Rooney Mara, playing dual roles as a pair of evil witches is remarkably menacing for how little she is on-screen. Art Parkinson though as Kubo is who deserves the high praise. Most notable as Rickon Stark from Game Of Thrones, the young actor carries the majority of the first act mainly by himself.

I always feel that when animation goes dark, due to it being animated, it adds to the scariness. Kubo And The Two Strings is rated PG for “mild fantasy violence and scary scenes”. The scary scenes are mainly supplied by Rooney Mara’s excellent twin sisters (who never actually get names), who appear at night in a swirl of black smoke. Their black robes and their constantly smiling facemasks add a genuine deal of creepiness to the film, and leave a distinct impression that will be remembered long after it’s finished.

In short, Kubo And The Strings is one of the best of the year and one that will be enjoyed both by young and old. Go see it now while it’s still in cinemas, then go push it on all your friends. You will not be disappointed.

Score: 10/10 Genuinely awe-inspiring.

Silent Hill Double Review

Preface

As you might have gathered from my other forays of video games turned into movies (Hitman: Agent 47 and the Tomb Raider films) I love video games. And with one of my university courses this year focussing on horror, I recently got back into one of the most interesting game franchises ever, Silent Hill. And since it’s one of the many franchises that has been adapted, I thought I would take a break from actual work and bring you another double review, Silent Hill and Silent Hill: Revelation.

Review

Silent Hill

Silent Hill stars Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden and Jodelle Ferland and is directed by Christophe Gans. The film follows Rose (Mitchell) as she tries to find her daughter Sharon (Ferland), after she loses her in the town of Silent Hill.

Games like Hitman or Tomb Raider, while they have some semblance of story are not the most cinematic of games. Silent Hill however, is very focussed on narrative and that’s one of the films strongest points. It’s a straight adaptation of the first game’s story, with minor points from the rest of the series thrown in as little Easter eggs for the fans. The major change in the story is changing the main character from male to female. Gans says that he made this change as when he was writing the film, the main character’s emotions and dialogue had more in line with a woman than a man. To be fair, the main character from the game, Harry Mason, hardly had a personality to begin with, so Gans would have had to create a background for whoever the main character was and Radha Mitchell does great as terrified mother Rose.

Gans does a good job of capturing the iconography of the series; the radio static, the misshapen Freudian monsters and the beautiful detail as the haunted town peels away into the “Otherworld”. This is another one of the films strong points, with CGI blending seamlessly with the built sets, creating a flaking snowfall effect to both bring in and take away the dark world.

The film does have several problems however. A lot of the cast seem to be hamming up the script (despite the original Silent Hill already having a lot of camp in it), with Sean Bean’s atrocious American accent being the cherry on top. Along with this, the film is very American in its horror, meaning the horror is mostly all gore and blood with no deeper meaning. Silent Hill was created in Japan, and a lot of their horror stems from psychology, but here a lot of that has been stripped backed for a more in-your-face approach. And just as a fan, why is Pyramid Head here? He’s a (spoiler alert) Freudian/Jungian manifestation of the main character from Silent Hill 2, him being in the film is a total undermining of his symbolism. But in fairness it is pretty good visualisation of the infamous monster.

In conclusion, Silent Hill has a few slip ups, but overall, it manages to capture the atmosphere of the game very well.

Score: 7/10 A good enough example of a video game film done right.

 

Silent Hill: Revelation

Silent Hill: Revelation stars Adelaide Clemens, Sean Bean, Kit Harrington and Malcolm McDowell with directing duties being moved over to Michael J. Bassett. The plot follows Heather (Clemens) who on her eighteenth birthday is called back to Silent Hill, with the town holding dark secrets about her past.

You won’t find a good Silent Hill film here. You won’t find a scary horror film here. You won’t even find a good film here. What you will find, if you ever decide to watch Silent Hill: Revelation, is something that flips from being incredibly tedious to unintentionally hilarious.

Where to start? Well, at the beginning. The film just starts in the middle of a conversation, with no build up to introducing the main characters or back-story to get us up to speed from what happened since the last film. I rewound the film several times because I was sure I had missed a few minutes of the film before realising that the film just begins abruptly.

Sean Bean’s American accent appears again and is terrible, but Bean is only the start of a selection of bad performances. Adelaide Clemens as Heather does nothing but scream and pout and Kit Harrington once again shows that the only good performance he can give is in Game of Thrones. Malcolm McDowell shows up for a couple of minutes in a dress and overacts his heart out. Sure, the script doesn’t help, with endless exposition and dialogue so wooden is basically a tree.

Quite a few of the monsters are done practically, but the effects are so poor you can tell it’s a guy in a mask. The rest of the monsters are created with cartoon levels of CGI which just adds to the “so-bad-it’s-good” quality of the film. Pyramid Head shows up again for no reason, becoming a good guy and helping the protagonists out at the end, which makes no sense.

The film was made for 3D viewing, so there are lots of moments when stuff is meant to be jumping at the camera. Since all I’ve seen is the normal version of the film, the spectacle of a blade being jabbed at the screen or blood flying at me doesn’t work and just makes the viewing experience worse.

It’s not like the film doesn’t try. There are a few moments when the snow is falling in the streets and enough of the plot and characters from Silent Hill 3 that it feels like a film that everyone involved thought it could be a good film. The fact that it tried and failed is fascinating to watch.

The ending is what really got me though. The film has the gall, the sheer temerity to not have one, but three sequel baits, with several characters from the series turning up. A sequel will never be made, which is good but also sad. This is one of the best series to adapt, but the people making it don’t know anything about Silent Hill.

In conclusion, Silent Hill: Revelation is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a while. That sounds like praise, but then you remember that it was meant to be a horror film.

Score: 1/10 A slow-motion trainwreck of a movie.