DADDY’S HOME 2 (2017)

November 9, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s rare for a sequel to be a better film than the original, and we are entering unicorn territory when dealing with comedy sequels improving on the first film. So hearing that most of the original cast is back for material from the same creative team – director Sean Anders and his co-writers Brian Burns and John Morris – well, expectations would normally be pretty low. However, all of that changes when we learn of two cast/character additions: Mel Gibson and John Lithgow.

After the fierce daddy competition between Brad (Will Ferrell) and Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) in the original two years ago, this film picks up with what looks to be a very healthy co-dad environment for all involved. In comedy-based cinema, the best way to disrupt a happy family synergy is to introduce the Christmas season and the sure-to-follow family turmoil. Enter Mel Gibson as Dusty’s estranged dad, and John Lithgow as Brad’s so-close-it’s-too-close dad … and let the holiday escapades begin.

At its core, this is an observational comedy about the contrast between old school and contemporary fatherhood – machismo vs emotionally open. Mel Gibson is key to the story working on multiple levels, and his performance is a reminder of his immense screen talent (in spite his personal life issues). His character’s idea of being a father has been around for many generations. Toughen up the kids and make sure they are strong and independent. Keep those emotions close to the vest. On the other side is John Lithgow and his over-hugging and blubbering true feelings approach.

The familiar supporting cast holds up their end admirably. Linda Cardellini and Alessandra Ambrosio are back as Brad’s and Dusty’s wives, respectively. Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro, and Didi Costine are back as the kids – each with their own quirks and growing pains. Even John Cena returns as Adrianna’s biological father, and to deliver one of the film’s best punchlines, as well as a bit that might forever ruin Christmas caroling for you.

The trailer, as with most comedies these days, gives away too many of the funny moments, so don’t expect any additional spoilers here. There is some comedy brilliance mixed in with the cheesy, over-the-top slapstick (a snowblower scene that could have easily worked in CHRISTMAS VACATION almost 30 years ago). The brilliant moments are often the quieter ones, and they focus on parenting, family, and the challenges of childhood. There is a surprising and unusual cameo near the end, and the movie is well executed to satisfy its built-in audience, while also capitalizing on those who enjoy (and/or need) a good, clean comedy at Christmas time.

watch the trailer:

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HACKSAW RIDGE (2016)

November 3, 2016

hacksaw-ridge Greetings again from the darkness. Why doesn’t every high school student learn about Desmond Doss in History class? Beyond that, why isn’t Desmond Doss profiled in every Psychology and Philosophy class? It’s inexplicable that more Americans aren’t familiar with his story, much less failing to honor his legacy with a well deserved tribute. Fortunately director Mel Gibson (Braveheart) and screenwriters Andrew Knight (The Water Diviner) and Robert Schenkkan (“The Pacific”) bring us a spirited look at this underappreciated American war hero.

Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) plays Desmond Doss and perfectly embodies the conviction and dedication of this extraordinary (not hyperbole in this case) man. See, Desmond Doss was one of the first conscientious objectors in the U.S. Army. His religious beliefs (Seventh Day Adventist) prohibited him from using a weapon or killing another person … two things that don’t go over well with fellow soldiers or commanding officers. Yet, Doss was committed to serving his country as a medic and saving lives, rather than taking them.

Unbelievable may be the best description even though his story is absolutely true. Credited with saving the lives of at least 75 wounded soldiers, Doss and his fellow soldiers are depicted in the film fighting the Battle of Okinawa at Hacksaw Ridge … a topographical challenge punctuated by the need to climb a rope wall in order to scale the face of the cliff. Their reward was facing thousands of Japanese hiding in tunnels and bunkers, waiting patiently to kill in mass. There will be no spoilers here on the courageous actions of Doss … you should see for yourself.

The early part of the film features a heart-warming first love story involving Desmond Doss and Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer, The Choice). Watching young love bloom is precious and provides a stark contrast to the battle scenes. The two make a lovely couple and we can’t help but root for them. Once Doss hits basic training, we find Vince Vaughn in the role of Sergeant Howell, Sam Worthington (failing to hide his Aussie accent) as Captain Glover, and Luke Bracey (Point Break, 2015) as Smitty, one of the soldiers who initially has no interest in serving with Doss. The Army Psychologist is played by Richard Roxburgh, whom movies lovers will recognize as The Duke from Moulin Rouge! (2001).

Some of the best scenes involve Desmond’s parents played by screen vets Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths. Both are excellent in roles requiring very different and extreme emotional moments. It’s a credit to Gibson’s filmmaking expertise that he is able to add depth to all aspects – family turmoil, a classic love story, the brutality of war, and the deep religious convictions. There are a few moments of “artistic license” and some of the CGI is inconsistent and even over-produced at times, but the intensity of the battle scenes rival that of Saving Private Ryan and the landing at Omaha Beach. It’s a passionate piece of filmmaking centered on a most passionate man. You may disagree with much of what Mel Gibson has said and done in his personal life (and I hope you do), but as a film director he has earned much respect. And speaking of respect … Desmond Doss. Enough said.

watch the trailer:

 


THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

August 18, 2014

expendables3 Greetings again from the darkness. Whether you saw the first two in this series will directly correlate to whether you head to the theatre for this third entry. The filmmakers’ attempt at attracting a younger audience by adding a “new” crew and dropping to a PG-13 rating backfires, and will not provide the legs this franchise needed for more installments.

The regular old geezers are back: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Jet Li (briefly), and Arnold Schwarzenneger. In addition, we get new “old” blood in the form of Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammar, Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, and the dominating presence of Mel Gibson as the bad guy. The young blood comes in the form of Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, boxer Victor Ortiz, and MMA superstar Ronda Rousey. The blandness of the newbies simply steals valuable screen time for the old folks, and the movie suffers because of it.

The film’s biggest flaw, however, comes courtesy of the all-time champion screen hog: Mr. Stallone. We understand that this  franchise is his baby, but why field an all-star team if you won’t let them play? Stallone gets a ridiculous number of close-ups and probably three times the dialogue of the runner-up. Snipes gets some time early in the film, replete with a reference to his real life prison sentence for tax evasion, and Ford and Arnold get in a few shots, but the only savior here is Mel Gibson. It’s a reminder of just how good he can be on screen … if we could only forget what a horrible person he can be off screen.

There is no need to go into detail on the plot or describe any of the characters. You know what you are getting if you buy a ticket. It’s just a shame the film’s direction and script aren’t at the level deserving of a cast that includes: Rambo, Mad Max, Blade, Conan, Han Solo, Hercules, Zorro, The Transporter, He-Man, and even … Sideshow Bob!

**NOTE: while Bruce Willis demanded too much money and does not appear this time, there is a Die Hard reference with the “other” Special Agent Johnson (Robert Davi)

watch the trailer:

 

 


THE BEAVER

May 18, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Clearly, depression is no laughing matter for anyone who suffers from it, or their friends, family or co-workers. But a puppet? Speaking as someone who is not qualified to speak on the topic, I do see how the puppet thing might be good therapy for someone who is depressed and has lost their “voice”. But a movie about it?

The good news … IF I were going to make a movie about a depressed dude who talks through a puppet, I would cast Mel Gibson. If the premise is ever going to be believable or watchable, Mel is the man to make it happen. Director Jodie Foster fully understood this and was willing to take the financial risk of having PR-nightmare Gibson attached.

 The frustrating part is that he almost pulls it off, despite the fact that he is TALKING THROUGH A PUPPET most of the movie. We get to see a puppet co-star in a heavy-handed drama, not a comedy like what would come to your mind when you think of a puppet movie. This puppet shares family meals, board meetings, and love-making. Yep, really.

Mr. Gibson proves again what a terrific actor he can be, though at times, I had difficulty not thinking of his real life personal escapades as the on screen drama was playing out. The opening shot of a beleaguered Gibson adrift in a pool makes it impossible to separate fact from fiction. Plus I found Gibson’s choice of mimicking Ray Winstone‘s voice for the puppet to be quite distracting.

 I actually found the sub-plot with the oldest son, played by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) to be far more interesting. His rogue business and pursuit of cheerleader/valedictorian Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) was very intriguing. Ms. Foster not only directs, but also plays the wife/mother who provides far more patience and trust than her husband probably deserved. 

Seeing this movie back-to-back with Everything Must Go just about sent me into depression overload. All the puppet movie really showed me was that Gibson can still act and that Foster is still a fine actress and director, despite the material … and a puppet.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are fascinated by the train-wreck known as Mel Gibson OR you have a “thing” for puppets

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you think the movie MUST be better than it looks in the trailer OR you can’t wait to see a puppet teach some manners to Mel.


EDGE OF DARKNESS (2010)

January 30, 2010

 (1-30-10) Greetings again from the darkness. Of course, we never expect much from January films – especially Rom-Coms or Action films. Sad to say, the stereotype fits Edge of Darkness like a glove.

Held out some hope for a pleasant surprise when Mel Gibson returned to acting with Casino Royale director Martin Campbell at the helm. Unfortunately, so little effort was put into the script, that it gives the appearance of a story being made up as filming occurs.

Mel Gibson stepped away from acting for awhile to concentrate on directing (Apocalypto and Passion of the Christ) … oh yes, and carousing. His face readily displays the stress of both. This is not to say he can’t generate some fine dramatic moments, but mostly, the rust shows and he is unable to lift the weak story.

In support we have Ray Winstone (very good in The Departed), Bojana Novakovic as Gibson’s slain daughter, and Danny Huston, who might as well wear a name badge that says, “Hello my name is BAD GUY”. While not the fault of these actors, a film like this desperately needs a few standout secondary characters. Here we have none, so the story is pretty simple with little tension … not a good thing for a “thriller”.