Tag Archives: Mel Gibson

“THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A passion we’ll never be able to understand.

We open on a dark, haunting shot, a man standing alone in the vineyard weeping and praying desperately. Tears are streaming down his face. Blood is sweating from his brow. He begs in thick Hebrew dialect, begging to his heavenly father for another path if there is one. He knows what is coming. He knows what he has to do, and he’s afraid of everything that is about to happen.

A figure hides in the shadows, tempting him like he always has. He tells him he does not need to suffer if he does not want to. He does not need to be harmed. He does not need to die for the crimes committed by others. The man continues to weep, conflicted by his commitment to his father and the temptations from the evil one.

I’ve known this man ever since I was a young boy growing up in a Baptist Church. I’ve never met him face to face, yet I know him just like millions of other people do. Later when he exits the garden, a group of soldiers come to take him away before one of his followers slices one of the soldiers’ ear off in retaliation. The man rebukes his friend, miraculously heals the soldier’s ear, and allows the other soldiers to take him away. The evil one continues to watch closely while the rest of the man’s followers flee into the night.

This man, of course, is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, portrayed here by Jim Caviezel. He is the son of Mary the virgin, leader and friend to his faithful disciples, and the central figure behind the Christian faith. His story has been told and retold numerous times already, his sacrifice praised in churches all around the world. Yet, his story has never been told like this before. Not in the way that it is told in The Passion of the Christ.

In this epic drama directed by Mel Gibson, Jesus’ final hours is depicted in brutal, unrelenting detail as it covers the entirety of Jesus’ emotional and physical abuse leading up to his crucifixion. Whether you’re a believer or not, you more than likely already know the story from a historical perspective. A man claimed to be the son of God and was beaten, tortured, and sentenced to die on the cross because of his prophecies. Then on the third day after his passing, he mysteriously vanished from his tomb.

This much is consistent knowledge among atheists and believers alike. What isn’t covered enough is the full details surrounding Jesus’ suffering. I remember when I was in Sunday school and how much our instructors cleaned up their telling of Jesus’ crucifixion to us. I’m sure it was because we were all children and the instructors didn’t want to disturb us, but regardless we were only given a brief outline of the crucifixion without covering much of the specific details surrounding Jesus’ anguish. Since we grew up with this sanitized picture in our minds, we imagine the whole affair as clean-cut and are somehow able to brush through the messy parts of Jesus’ death.

Gibson, however, doesn’t allow us to shy away from the violence. Pulling from the New Testament Gospels including Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Gibson confronts Jesus’ suffering headfirst, demonstrating all of the brutalities that Jesus went through at the hands of those who persecuted him. Among the cruelties that Jesus experienced included being arrested, beaten, kicked, spat on, flogged viciously, stabbed rose thorns into his head, forced him to pick up a 300 pound wooden cross, travel through the blistering heat while carrying it on his back, whip him when he falls behind, dehydrate him, strip him, and humiliate him in public before nailing him to the cross and waiting for him to die a slow, agonizing death. I know some pastors who preach about the crucifixion as if it were some deeply spiritual, dignified affair. Believe me when I say there was nothing dignified about it. It was an ugly, violent, torturous, exhausting, and disturbing experience that Jesus went through, all because the Jewish high priests felt this man wasn’t the son of God.

The Passion of the Christ is a deeply moving film. Powerful, spiritual, and profoundly mesmerizing, this picture is commanding of our attention and doesn’t lose it until after it fades out from its final shot. That’s because Gibson focuses on telling Jesus’ story as a filmmaker and not as a follower. In most Faith-based movies, the big mistake most filmmakers make is glossing over the complexities of real life to stick to its shiny-clean moralistic agenda, forgetting that oftentimes believers and non-believers both face the same struggles. This is one of my biggest pet peeves when a film skips material just to take the high road when it comes to content and development. Can you imagine how jarring it might be to see Jesus’ crucifixion adapted as brutally as it is here, then flip into a upbeat, flowery musical such as Jesus Christ: Superstar?

And yet, Gibson doesn’t forget that Jesus was a man before he was any of the other things that society has labeled him. In both cultural and religious groups, Jesus is referred to under multiple pseudonyms. Messiah. Savior. Redeemer. Son of God. If you are a person belonging to the faith, then of course you see him as all of these things and more.

But who was Jesus before any of these titles were attached to him? Quite simply, Jesus was a man. He had a family, friends, a great many people who cared about him and loved him, and he cared about and loved each of them a great deal in return. And yet, even as a man, he possessed a grace and strength to his character that is all too rare in today’s world. In the moments where he was tortured, victimized, and sentenced to a bloody death, you would understandably assume that most others in his position would curse and lash out at the people who were hurting him. Yet, while being mutilated, abused, and laughed at, Jesus cried to the heavens and shouted out “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

I’m trying to write this review from the perspective of a non-believer. As a Christian, I’ve always been familiar with Jesus’ story and why he felt the need to sacrifice himself for the people he loved. In the same way that Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatmas Gandhi died for the causes they believed in, so too did Jesus die for the cause that he believed in. Yet, their causes were for mortal and earthly movements. Jesus’ cause was for something much bigger, something that is not understandable to most people. So why should non-believers take the time to watch The Passion?

For me, I would watch it just to get an understanding of the man who lived and died. Like Schindler’s List, Braveheart, and Born on the Fourth of July, The Passion of the Christ evokes a deep understanding of the emotional impact for the character and what his actions meant to the people around him. This was a man who really lived and died for the people he held a deep compassion for. Even if you don’t believe in his mission or his identity as the messiah, can’t you at least feel sympathy for this man’s sacrifice and his willingness to die for the people he loved?

I will leave it to you to decide your own conclusions based on what this film shows you. I will say that even if I were not a Christian or a believer, I would still be moved by Jesus’ story and the sacrifices he made for his people. He knew in his heart what would come from this. He knew he would extend this gift to everyone and many would still choose to not accept it. So why would he still willingly sacrifice himself and allow himself to suffer, knowing where everything will lead in the long run? As much as we’re tempted to read too deeply into his intentions, I think the answer is relatively simple: love. He died because he loved us, even though he has every reason to hate us for our persecution of him. That’s a love many of us will never be able to understand. Or perhaps, maybe a more appropriate word would be passion.

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“HACKSAW RIDGE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Convicted by belief.

I don’t believe in God anymore.

The first time I heard those words uttered from one of my closest friends’ lips, I was shaken. Growing up in a deeply spiritual household, I’ve always held the notion that God was quietly watching over everything. The thought that he didn’t even exist truly frightened me. To me, it was as if hearing love doesn’t exist.

But as my friend continued his testimony, my shock turned into sadness as I slowly realized where he was coming from. Fighting in the Iraq war, he saw things nobody should ever see, not even soldiers. He saw his friends blow up right in front of his face. People he called his brothers, suddenly turned into small, bloody piles of meat laying on top of the dirt. He saw women and children killed daily, and in turn, he also saw women and children kill others. He does not exaggerate when he says he saw a very real picture of hell, and at the end of it all he looked at me and asked “How can a God see that and let it exist?”

I’ve never agreed with him, but I’ve always understood where he came from and why he held the position that he did. I’m sure he looks at other war films, such as Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down, and is tragically reminded of the horrifying images he saw half a world away. I can watch a movie. He only needs to watch his nightmares.

I would like this same friend of mine to watch Hacksaw Ridge. It is a powerful, emboldening film, one that does not shortchange the horror of war, but equally does not shortchange the power of belief either. This is a movie that does more than strengthen the soldier’s spirit. It strengthens the human spirit.

Based on an incredible true story, Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Desmond Doss (Portrayed by Andrew Garfield), a combat medic during WWII that saved the lives of over 75 American soldiers during the battle of Okinawa. That much I already knew. What I didn’t know was that he exhausted and nearly killed himself saving most of those men in one single night. The number of lives that he saved is impressive enough on its own. The fact that he did it within a 12-hour period makes his story seem impossible.

And yet, Desmond Doss did exist, he did save 75 soldiers, and he did do all of it in one night. Even more impressive is the fact that he did so without arming himself with a single weapon. Yes, dear reader: he was a conscientious objector, and he is the only war hero in history to have earned that title alongside a Medal of Honor.

To try and verbalize the feelings that the film emotes is impossible. Like other great historical epics, such as Schindler’s List or 12 Years A Slave, it pulls emotion out of you to the point where you don’t feel like you’re watching a movie anymore, and are instead completely immersed in its harsh, uncompromised reality. It’s easy to relate to Desmond Doss because you’re not experiencing the film through the third-person perspective as the viewer: you’re experiencing it firsthand as Doss, seeing the same things that he does while reacting to them in real time.

Mel Gibson is no stranger to this sort of storytelling. His previous films, including Apocalypto, Passion of the Christ, and the Oscar-winning Braveheart, each threw our heroes through impossible, monumental, life-changing events that personally challenged each of them as those movies went on. Hacksaw Ridge is a welcome addition to his incredibly impactful filmography. Like each of those films, Hacksaw Ridge finds tragedy in a real-life subject, hammers it mercilessly at our hero, only to see him overcome it with every grit of his teeth, every sweat pouring down his brow, and every grip of his nails digging into the dirt.

The fact that this film exists, and that it is done as well as it is, is a testament to Gibson’s skill as a filmmaker. What is most impressive is the fact that this person existed in real life, and that he really did the things we saw him do on screen. How could this have possibly happened? I’m a believer, and I don’t believe the things I saw on the screen. It’s so far-fetching to think about, but the film is done so vividly well that you can’t see it as anything but real. The film exists in this weird space where you want to question everything you’re told, but then as you watch it, you suddenly silence your questions and your disbelief.

You stop doubting. You start believing.

Garfield deserves equal credit in bringing this man’s story to life. Yes, Gibson is the director in the chair, and his master strokes as an artist is what allows this film to live and breathe. Yet, a movie is nothing without its character, and Garfield performs his role brilliantly. Imagine a character pulled right out of the frames of any other Christian film, professing his status as a believer, hit with some monumental tragedy, then questioning himself and the things that he was raised to believe.

Now throw that character through the gritty, violent, gory battlefields akin to any horror movie, and watch as he reacts to everything he’s witnessing in the moment. That is the role Garfield has to play, and he does it convincingly as his character is scared, fearful, chaotic-minded, and alone. Yet, there is also an earnest courage and bravery to him that feels equally real, and when it overcomes his fear and his sadness, that is when the film is at its most powerful. Garfield is simply stunning in this role. If he does not at least get an Oscar nomination for this performance, the Academy will have truly lost all authenticity as an awards ceremony

To elaborate on this film any further would invite the threat of spoiling it. Go and see this movie. I repeat: GO AND SEE THIS MOVIE. There are films out there that excite us, thrill us, depress us, madden us, scare us, and empower us. Hacksaw Ridge changes us. Even if you do not share the same religious views as Doss, you share the same spiritual views, which is the spiritual power of overcoming.

I don’t know if Hacksaw Ridge will change my friend’s view on God. It probably won’t. But it might change his view on life, on the resilience of the human spirit and the things that it can accomplish. If Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t bring my friend to God, then I pray that it at least brings him to hope.

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“MAD MAX: FURY ROAD” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

A lovely day and a flaming guitar. 

I’ve never seen a movie break as many rules as Mad Max: Fury Road does and get away with it. I’ve never seen a movie so loud, obnoxious and over-the-top that still manages to impress me by the time the end credits roll. Previous movies have done the same thing Fury Road has done and failed spectacularly. Transformers. Resident Evil. Underworld. G.I. Joe. Fast and Furious. All of those films are every bit as explosive and stupid as Mad Max: Fury Road is, and yet I don’t love them as much as I do Mad Max. Why is that?

I think its because the movie knows its just that: a movie. It knows that it’s loud, obstinate and stupidly explosive. It knows that its a blockbuster of exceedingly epic proportions that shakes the theater so much, it makes viewers shat in their pants. And more than anything else, it knows it is an action movie, with all of the fun and flaws alike bundled with it.

So what does a director like George Miller decide to do with that, knowing this is the fourth film in his own franchise? Fix the mistakes that are present in all of his predecessors?

No. Instead, he decided to embrace them, like a soldier throwing himself onto a hot grenade.

The end result is exactly how it sounds: bloody awesome.

The plot (if you can call it that) follows Max Rockatansky (this time portrayed by Tom Hardy) after the events of Road Warrior and before Beyond Thunderdome. In this desolate landscape called planet Earth, Max is a survivor of Nuclear war, traveling dry and sandy deserts in silence and solitude. Everyone else around him is either dead or has signed up in the mad crusade of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a tyrannical warlord who has idolized himself as a god and has labeled everyone under him as his followers. Considering he has control over the only water source over hundreds of miles, the survivors have little choice but to submit to him.

One of these followers is Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a fierce female warrior who is charged with transporting Joe’s water to a nearby town with her small battalion. Little to Joe’s knowledge, however, Furiosa is transporting something else: all of Joe’s wives. Now on the hunt from Joe and all of his maniacal followers, Furiosa needs to team up with Max to escape the desert landscape and free the wives that have been under Joe’s cruel control for so long.

Is the plot as stupid as it sounds? The answer is no, because the film really doesn’t have a plot, only the resemblance of one. The narrative is a weakness all of the films in the series share with each other. While other science-fiction movies have a rich amount of lore and backstory behind them, Mad Max doesn’t have as much to boast about in its own series. Really, as far as story goes, all of the Mad Max movies are kind of weak in narrative scope. Here’s the plot for all of them: a guy is trying to survive against a homicidal maniac in a deserted landscape. That’s it. It’s a big case of “what you see is what you get.”

Here’s where Mad Max: Fury Road is different though: there’s a lot to see. Even though the plot is about as thick as a studio pitch, Miller displays this meager plot in spectacular, stunning, eye-popping action and explosions, and even a few soft moments of short dialogue exchanges between characters.

The stunts are unlike anything you’ve seen in any of the previous movies. The most destruction you found in Mad Max and Mad Max 2 was cars exploding and toppling over into deep sand dunes and rocky road pavements. In this movie, vehicular manslaughter is the least of the destruction found in the film. In one of the first action sequences, an entire armada of Joe’s fleet follows Furiosa into a giant sand storm of extremely windy proportions. In another scene, gang members viciously chase Furiosa’s truck in a tightly-cornered crevice of mountains. In another, a flunkie gets blinded by gunfire, puts cloth around his bleeding eyes, then fires blindly at Max and his gang like a crack-happy trigger maniac. For crying out loud, there’s one underling in the film that uses a guitar flamethrower.

Yes. That’s right. A guitar flamethrower.

It’s obvious that the film is ridiculous and absurd in the most gleeful of ways. Yet, what I like so much is that in between all of the over-the-top and in-your-face action, there’s actually a purpose and a reason for actors being in the movie. Yes ladies and gentlemen: this is an action movie that has actual acting in it. Hardy replaces Mel Gibson’s role with hardened machismo and stiffness to his gesture, and while Max is still mostly a flat character, Hardy portrays him with a sort of intrigue to him that makes you curious about his history, even though we already know most of it. Theron, however, impresses me the most. She’s incredibly versatile in the film, being a firm and uncompromising action heroine in one moment, and an emotionally exhausted and stricken survivor in another. She’s honestly the real lead in the film, with Max being more of a supporting character to Furosia’s rebellion against Immortan Joe. The film is really empowering to females, and that’s an incredibly rare thing, especially for an action movie.

By now, you’ve hopefully gotten the idea of what the movie is like and whether you’d be interested in this sort of thing or not. The film definitely has its flaws, but by God, the movie is just so freaking entertaining. I can’t sum up the film any better than that. Now go get your movie ticket. There’s a flaming guitar that you need to see.

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“MAD MAX 2” Review (✫✫✫)

Where is your home, Max? 

I’m convinced that George Miller’s Mad Max series is an excuse to blow rugged vehicles up in spectacular fashion. Not that’s a bad thing. Crashes and explosions are exhilarating, after all, when done convincingly and used conservatively. That’s a big reason why most action filmmakers don’t succeed at what they do: they fail to produce anything new or different. They’re the same thing over and over again until the experience stops being entertaining and becomes more mind-numbing. It’s almost like an anesthetic exercise rather than an example of entertainment.

But with Mad Max 2, it’s action that actually matters. The setting is convincing. The premise is solid. The cars, costumes, and props all add to the surrealism of this post-apocalyptic environment. And then characters are placed into this desperate environment, this eerie spread of gloom and hopelessness where we watch as these human beings react to the same problem they are all facing: survival.

Taking place years after the first Mad Max, Mad Max 2 follows the world after an energy crisis consumes the Earth, and petroleum becomes a rare commodity. Some survivors form communities in order to build up each other’s chances of survival. Others join a gang lead by the vicious ringleader Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) that hunt and kill landscape scavengers.

However, one man stands among them, neither beggar or hunter, a man set apart from the rest of the world in his own search for peace and survival.

His name is Max Rotansky (Mel Gibson), and he lost his human spirit after he lost his wife and child in a hit and run years ago before the energy crisis.

With writer-director George Miller returning from the first Mad Max film, Miller seems to have a clearer idea of what he wants Mad Max to be: a high-octane, ridiculous action movie that refutes stereotypes and expectations. The film is spectacular in more ways than one, and most of it is for the reasons that made the first Mad Max mildly entertaining.

One of the things that Miller does as a director is remain adamant about using practical effects in his films. I am in 100% support of this decision, because practical effects, however over-the-top, always makes the most convincing effects. This was one of the few things that I enjoyed about the first Mad Max, in that the stunt and chase sequences were so seemingly absurd and ridiculous, and yet they weren’t, because they were all shot in real time. The car chases were authentic. The bikes and automobiles flying over bridges and crashing spectacularly were authentic. The explosions were authentic. Everything in that movie challenges what could be achieved visually, and not in the computer-animated graphic variety that Tron did. It challenged what shapes vehicles could crash into and how big it could explode afterward. It challenged the scope of destruction in an action picture, and what stakes could be built on top of that.

Mad Max 2 does the same thing Mad Max does in the destructive, chaotic nature of vehicular manslaughter, but with one key difference. It has a better development of the world it’s trying to create.

Don’t get me wrong: a lot of the problems from the first movie persist for this one. Max is still mostly a one-dimensional character with little more expression than the scowl on his face. The plot is straightforward and without many revelations or surprises in them. And the villain, however interesting, is extremely cartoonish. Humungus is essentially a beefed up Jason Voorhees, and his interest extends just about that far as well.

But from what I’ve come to understand about the Mad Max series is that the story isn’t supposed to come from the characters. It’s coming from the scenery all around them, this desperate and depraved world that Miller is illustrating as a warning to mankind’s nature. We didn’t get the sense of this world in the first Mad Max because it still felt like society was intact: that there were cities and townspeople still going on about their somewhat normal lives. In this film, there is no such thing as a normal life. Cities and towns have been reduced to war zones and rubble. People live in buses and tents instead of houses. Plentiful grassy plains have been replaced with desert sands. A regular meal consists of a can of beans if you’re lucky. And for whatever humans are left to survive, their form of currency is oil and water. This world is the definition of desperate.

This in turn, makes Max Rotanksy a perfect protagonist for the film, despite his neutrality as a character. It allows you to absorb the film with your own eyes, not clouded by the emotions of another character.

What we have left is an effective action movie that lets the audience carry the film’s weight just as much as the cast and crew does. It’s rare to find an action movie like this, where the viewer actively engages and thinks like the film’s characters do. Usually action movies tell viewers to turn off their brains and be drowned in an orgy of explosions and testosterone. This movie does something different. This movie asks viewers what an action movie is, what it is supposed to be, and what it can be. And at the center of it all is one lonely man; a slave to the roads that he was born from.

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“MAD MAX” Review (✫✫)

You people are mad, alright. 

Sometimes I watch a movie and I wonder what purpose it’s supposed to serve in the world of cinema. Mad Max is one of those movies.

I’m not saying its either good or bad. I’m saying I don’t know what it’s supposed to be doing. Is it supposed to be social commentary? If so, the film actually needs to comment about something. Is it supposed to be a character study? The character needs to be either unique or fascinating then, but Mad Max himself is neither. Is it supposed to be just plain, dumb old entertainment? Well, by that logic, isn’t the film supposed to be entertaining?

The plot takes place in a semi-post-apocalyptic future where the police force’s power is dwindled and resourced into a new unit called the Main Force Patrol, which monitors highway crime like a cop and a speed detector. The best of these MFP’s is Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), a highly-skilled driver who has a beloved wife and child at his home.

One day, after driving a murderous criminal into a barrel roll and an explosion after a high speed chase, Max is pursued by the criminal’s gang followers as they prepare to take on Max and the rest of the MFP. These guys do anything and everything to get under Max’s skin, from assaulting his friend Goose (Steve Bisley), to terrorizing a small town, to even killing Max’s wife and child. Now on a quest for vengeance, Max goes on a hunting spree, tracking down every gang member involved, not stopping until every single one of them paid for what they’ve done.

I know that paragraph sounds like the premise of the film, but really the two paragraphs I just typed could also count as a plot synopsis too. Oopsie! Did I spoil it much? I don’t think so. After all, is it still a spoiler if you see the so-called “twist” coming from a mile away?

The biggest problem I find with Mad Max is that there is too much buildup and not enough payoff. In the above synopsis I provided, it sounds like the perfect setup for an excellent movie. Yet in retrospect, I more or less described the entire plot of the film in less than 164 words. What happens in this movie? Just about what I described above, and little else. There’s no complex emotion with the film, no sense of urgency or immediacy to make us care for the movie or what’s going on in it. No, instead we get a bleak, lifeless film that sounds like a great studio pitch, but the final product doesn’t extend much further beyond the pitch itself. I think the studio execs involved were more fascinated with the idea itself than they were with carrying out the idea.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: Mel Gibson is as good in the role as the character will allow him to be. But the other part of this movie’s flimsiness is that the protagonist is as flat as the movie’s plot is. What’s the most interesting thing about Max Rockatansky? He’s a father and a husband. That’s it. He doesn’t have the charisma of James Bond, the grit of Harry Callahan, or even the smugness of Han Solo. No, Max Rockatansky has no defining characteristics as the lead protagonist: he’s just supposed to pose in his leather jacket next to his car with a big gun, and apparently that’s all he needs to be called an action hero.

Again, I ask: why did this movie have to get made? What purpose does it serve? Well, I read on a forum that writer-director George Miller wrote the movie after working in a hospital emergency room, supposedly inspired by the car crash victims he tended to. That’s all fine and dandy, but how does that translate into a film? The movie doesn’t have any clear motivations of what it wants to be, no clear idea as to what its themes are or how to express those themes. I didn’t get from the movie that Miller was trying to tell a cautionary tale about high-speed driving. In fact, I didn’t get much of anything from the picture. I just got a stereotypical action hero and his arc of vengeance that has been done better in numerous other movies before Mad Max. 

I’ll give the film one point, and one point only, for the stunts. With Miller being adamant about using 100 percent practical effects, everything you see on the screen genuinely happened. Cars barrel rolling and crashing spectacularly into other cars on the highway. Motorbikes flying off of bridges with the paint and metal ripping off of their surfaces. Vehicles blowing up in large, spectacular fashion. All of it was done with practical effects, and the film achieved the greatest visual result from it. Now if only the rest of the film could be just as practical.

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