Hacksaw Ridge (2016): I Got You (Review)

Andrew Garfield as Desmond T. Doss

Mel Gibson may well have clawed his way out of the Hollywood “doghouse” with Hacksaw Ridge. Directed by Mel and based on a screenplay co-written by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight the film tells the “true” story of Desmond T. Doss. Doss was the first medic to win the Medal of Honor without ever firing a shot in the battlefield. 

Somewhat amazingly, this over two hour film cracks along at a pace that never really lets up. We follow Doss as he fights the system and a group of Army colleagues who take forever to understand his beliefs. Andrew Garfield plays Doss (and got a BAFTA for his portrayal) in the Oscar winning film and his utterance of “I got you,” to each man he treats becomes a mantra of sorts to the audience. It also allows a certain amount of truth to shine through his performance and must be based on the real Doss and his time in the field. 

The editing, which won an Oscar, and the practical FX steal the show here as the battle sequences and the horrific injuries suffered by the men on Hacksaw Ridge while taking on an almost overpowering enemy are spectacular.  They are also hard to watch.

This could be said of the whole film. It is difficult to see Doss get a dose of barrack room justice – when his fellow soldiers follows the sergeant’s and the captain’s orders to make Doss see the “error of his ways.” It is just as difficult to see the death of the first man who really understand’s the conscientious objector.

Gibson’s film shows us many instances of discomfort, suffering and visceral wounds that, if real, would turn the stomach over with revulsion and horror. This may well be the real triumph of Hacksaw Ridge; it is not just the re-telling of the first decorated non-combative hero but a testament to the bloody and terrible toll of war in general.

(This was Mel’s chance to follow up the 1981 Peter Weir film Gallipoli, another film that focusses on the horrors of war. Gibson was in the film playing Frank Dunne an Aussie soldier.)

As an action film, Hacksaw Ridge, delivers on many levels. The battle on top of the ridge is intense and practically non-stop. Even the fall of night only delays the advance of the enemy for a short time.

In terms of performances, Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington both deliver admirably and Hugo Weaving is brilliant as the alcoholic WWI veteran who goes to bat for his son.  

The film is a white knuckle ride, including Doss’ expected hell in boot camp, and only the hardest heart would not get a lump in their throat at some of the more touching scenes. There are moments where the horrific injuries and the sounds of battle are almost too much and one can only imagine the bravery of those concerned at the actual event.

Mel Gibson’s ticket to redemption, in the eyes of Hollywood, is a full 5 star effort. There are mistakes, historical and otherwise, but these do not diminish the power of the film and its story. This is a brilliant counterpoint to Clint Eastwood’s 2014 film, American Sniper; which glorified the killing aspect of war.

Hacksaw Ridge is available on DVD and various online streaming platforms. Check out the trailer below:

Hidden Figures (2016): Touching Unsung Heroes (Review)

The three hidden figures relaxing

Directed by Theodore Melfi, who co-wrote the screenplay based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, (Allison Schroeder was the joint author of the screenplay), Hidden Figures The Help can be seen as goes to NASA.  It peripherally tackles the same issues of inequality of race and looks at the double struggle that these real-life protagonists faced as women.

The film, and presumably the book, really has one message underneath the touching and inspiring stories of these three remarkable ladies: Education is the real key to equality. At least it was back before IBM and it’s temperamental keypunch cards and the advent of home computing. Back in the day, that university degree made the difference for intelligent women who would have been trapped in the world of “The Help” without it.

(The talented Octavia Spencer also appeared in”The Help.” The 2011 film, which also starred Viola Davis and Emma Stone, as well as Bryce Dallas Howard, also attempted to show what being black, and a woman meant in the shameful days of a segregated South.)

NASA did not see colour, however, and hired a great many black Americans to work as “computers.”  History backs this up but it also glosses over the contribution that these particular women made towards winning the space race. This was initially a one-sided contest that began in 1958 when the Russians took to the skies in an attempt to control space be getting there first.

Hidden Figures stars Spencer, as the self-taught computer “expert,” Taraji P. Henson, plays the mathematical wunderkind who grows up to become a crucial part of the early days of NASA; Katherine G. Johnson and Janelle Monáe is Mary Jackson, the first black female allowed to study at a white school (she then went on to be the first female engineer at NASA).

Kevin Costner is Al Harrison, the man tasked with getting those “All the Right Stuff” astronauts off the ground and getting ahead of the Russians. Jim Parsons (from The Big Bang Theory) plays a snotty character who very reluctantly accepts the new computer, Ms. Johnson to his team and Kirsten Dunst is the disagreeable Vivian Mitchell, a woman who tries very hard to hold Spencer’s character back. 

Melfi gives us an accounting that is clearly embellished in places, like the very funny and pertinent scene with the policeman at the start of the film, but it may not be too far off the mark after all. For example, Harrison’s frustration at the treatment of his math genius is played out with a simple scene.  Al smashes the “coloured” restroom sign off the wall and with a look of distaste removes another sign from Mary’s segregated coffee pot.

Hidden Figures is about much more than the racial issues of the day. It is also about the looming change in society with the new IBM computers, the move of other technology to a new high and life in a segregated world. (This too would change, but not without a lot of blood, sweat and tears.)

What the film does best is give us a front-row seat at the business end of NASA. (On a sidenote here, the film allows for two splendid cameo performances from Glen Powell, better known as Chad Radwell in Fox’s “Scream Queens” and Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, who worked with Monáe in the Academy Award winning film, Moonlight.)

Hidden Figures may be the shorthand version of Shetterly’s book, as many have claimed, but it tells its story well. The time period looks authentic, the performers do not put one foot wrong and the film manages to be touching and, in spite of knowing how the first mission of John Glenn ended in real life, throws in a touch of suspense.

The film is a full 5 star effort. Any movie that can induce a lump in the throat while also evoking anger and sheer joy at the advancements made by the heroine’s in this recounting of a hidden history, earns every accolade it gets.

This was, apparently, a labour of love for all concerned and rightly so. It was a story that needed telling and Melfi, along with everyone else involved with this project, did a brilliant job presenting it.

Masters of Sex: The Eyes of God – Season 4 Finale (Review)

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It is all change for Masters and Johnson in the season four finale of Masters of Sex.  “The Eyes of God” sees the end of one marriage and the beginning of another. Libby finds her true calling at Woodstock and Abe is more than willing to follow. Nancy throws one last monkey wrench into the offices of Masters and Johnson and Scully throws in the towel.

The finale was a real mixed bag.  The Art and Nancy storyline ended badly for all concerned. Art snitches on Nancy after learning that she lied about his not being the father of her baby.

Gini and Bill takes swift action to stop Nancy from opening a clinic and using their techniques. They also tackle Bob Drag and remind him about their contract.  Art leaves Nancy after finally realizing that he had sacrificed his happiness to stay with a woman who did not love him.

Nancy, in an act of vindictive cruelty, turns Barton against the man he thought of as a son for years by giving him a tape where Virginia talks about conversion therapy for homosexuals.

Art’s decision to leave was the best one, his wife seemingly was only ever going to be concerned with her own satisfaction, full stop. When Bob Drag learns that Art is now free, he kisses his former doctor in the men’s room.

Dressen wastes no time in telling Virginia that Bob is a practicing homosexual, which voids the work done and using Drag as patient zero in their book.

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Caitlin Fitzgerald as Libby Masters

Libby’s week long sojourn at Woodstock changes her life and Abe’s. She has enrolled at Berkley to study law, much to Bill’s chagrin, and while it causes a bit of a problem initially, it is soon ironed out.

Abe tells Libby that he will uproot his life, quite a bold move in those days, and will follow her anywhere. He really does love the ex Mrs. Masters and as Libby tells Abe, evidence seems to indicate that she loves him as well.

There are a few hiccups along the way to Gini and Bill getting married. Guy volunteers to be their wedding planner and gets quite carried away. At one point he rings Hugh Hefner and arranges to have the wedding at the playboy mansion.

Virginia’s parents come on for the intake process. Bill talks to the couple while Gini listens in.  For her mother this is the last straw, she leaves full of indignation at the questions asked and Gini’s dad tells her that the marriage is now officially over.

Later Virginia meets with her mother and they talk. It turns out that both parents are more happy now they have decided to split up. In a surprise move, Dody stops by to see Bill as Gini is leaving.

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Nancy tells Barton about the book.

Barton backs out of being the witness for Bill and Gini’s wedding after learning about the conversion plan. He also threatens to fight Bill with every resource available.

Gini waits anxiously for Bill who turns up just as she starts to leave. He has asked Guy to witness the ceremony and they finally get married.  When they leave a photographer is waiting and takes their picture.

Outside the courthouse a group of photographers take their picture. Libby reminds them all that they are “Masters and Johnson” not Dr. and Mrs. Masters. Bill looks decidedly perturbed by the whole thing while Gini smiles broadly.

Masters of Sex has been on top form this season.  Lizzy Caplan gave it her all and knocked a number of her performances right out of the park.  Annaleigh Ashford also managed to hit a series high with her storyline.

Kudos are in order for the entire cast. All the actors  were impressive and noteworthy for a number of reasons. Beau Bridges proved conclusively that his brother Jeff does not have all the chops in the family.

In terms of guest star performances, Sarah Silverman was brilliant as the doomed Helen. Niecy Nash also gave one hell of a performance as Louise. 

The Showtime jury is still out on whether or not Masters of Sex will return for another season.  With season four doing so well dramatically we can only hope to see more next year.

CAST:

Guest starring Michael O’Keefe as Harry Eshelman, Frances Fisher as Ethel Eshelman, Danny Jacobs as Bob Drag, Kelli O’Hara as Dody and Beau Bridges as Barton Scully. 

Masters of Sex: Night and Day – Paying the Price (Review)

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This week in Masters of Sex quite a number of things come full circle. “Night and Day” sees Bill and Gini finally deciding where they stand with one another. Art learns a devastating truth about his relationship with Nancy and Libby makes what may be a life altering decision.

The bottom line with every situation on this episode is that someone must pay a price for their actions.  Whether it be indiscretions, in the case of Gini’s father, or having an open marriage, like Art and Nancy.  In this episode Bill and Gini may well have discovered that they can be a couple, while their two business colleague’s marriage may well be over.

Masters of Sex was a heartbreaker this week. Focusing on Art and Nancy the episode revealed that the love of Art’s life never wanted to marry him.  Among the many lies that Nancy told her husband, including her callous mirroring of his unhappiness at their marital arrangement, the worst was her lie about the pregnancy.

She tells Art that the baby’s father could be anyone of a number of sexual partners.  Later, when he sees her talking to Sully about aborting the pregnancy Art listens to the tape recording and learns the heartbreaking truth.

The baby is his.

Nancy wants to get rid of it to keep her options open. She wants to be able to leave the relationship whenever she wants. Art listens to this and learns the sad truth. This too is another price to pay, not for the open marriage, but for knowing about the tapes and listening in on a private conversation.

This revelation may well affect their defection to New York to open a rival business.  Art has already spoken to Bob Drag but that was before he learned the truth about the baby.

Gini’s father wants to receive counseling from Bill and brings her mother along for Gini to talk into participating.  At lunch with mom, she learns about a long term affair her father was having and it upsets her.

Later she and her father do the intake questionnaire. This sequence had to be, hands down, the oddest and most uncomfortable to date in the show.  There cannot be many people who could face helping their parents solve sexual issues and even less who could handle one of their parents being unfaithful.

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Libby gets an epiphany.

Libby and Abe get caught up in Woodstock.  As the lawyer and lawyer to be try to get out of the world’s biggest traffic jam, Libby has an epiphany. She decides to take a detour and attend the concert.  Abe may, or may not, join her but it does not matter. Libby has realized that she needs to dream big.

Louise’s fall off the wagon is interrupted by Bill. He tries to help his friend and mentor (at A.A.) but she is accepting of her fate. She may eventually climb out of her misery but right now she needs the punishment. The two drink and dance together and it is another heartbreaking scene.

This too is someone paying the price. Louise is still paying for her decision to drive while intoxicated the night her husband became partially paralyzed. As Bill says in another meeting, Louise, like so many others who attend, needs the bad feeling.

By the end of the episode Gini has come to the church where Bill’s A.A meeting takes place. (Guy tells her where Bill is.) They talk and Bill finally reveals that he is scared of entering into a relationship with Gini.

Gini  explains that she is also frightened and as they sit there, they begin to alternatively recite classic marriage vows in one of the most touching scenes ever. These two obviously belong together and at long last they have accepted the fact. (Masters and Johnson were married in real life, although it ended in divorce.)

Masters of Sex was all about paying the price this week. It was also about heartbreak and learning truths that maim and destroy the seeker. Art was the one we felt most for in this episode.

While sighing at Gini and Bill finally getting it right, we simultaneously grieved for Art and Nancy. Never have a couple been so wrong for each other for all the worst reasons. We cannot judge Nancy too harshly for wanting her freedom but we can hate her a little for lying to Art.

Masters of Sex airs Sundays on Showtime. This episode “Night and Day” is the penultimate one of the season. The season finale will air next Sunday. Tune in to see if Betty returns to work and what Art will do with the truth he learned this week.

CAST:

Guest starring Michael O’Keefe as Harry Eshelman, Frances Fisher as Ethel Eshelman, Danny Jacobs as Bob Drag and Niecy Nash as Louise.

Narcos: Al Fin Cayó! – Finally It Ends (Review)

Netflix Narcos

After an incredibly long build up, Pablo Escobar is brought down. But not until Javier is sent back the the USA. Judy Moncada drops a dime on the DEA agent after being forces to work for the government as an informant.

Escobar is now living in an small townhouse and the only man he has left is Limon. Fat, bearded and wearing flip-flops instead of shoes, the richest criminal in the world has now hit rock bottom.

The final episode starts with Pablo imagining he is the president of Columbia sharing a  celebratory spliff with the former El Presidente. His family sing happy birthday to him in his new prison, his latest hideout.

It has taken a long time to get to the last moments of Pablo Escobar. While the Netflix show is classed as a biography, clearly the final day of Escobar’s existence is based on the whim of a typewriter  and the imagination of the show’s writers. (Except for the rooftop deaths suffered by Pablo and his lieutenant.)

Poetic license has Pablo swanning around town, giving a Columbian cop his dropped lighter and speaking to his dead brother Gustavo on a park bench.  Escobar eats an ice cream and looks to be pondering his last moments on  earth.

The radio conversations with Tata are more realistic and probably give  a better idea of what Pablo was thinking and planning even as the police and Murphy were getting closer to killing him. Tata pleads with her husband to surrender.

She knows Pablo well and appeals to his egotistical side by saying he would  be like Nelson Mandela. Humorously, when Pablo repeats this to his one remaining soldier, Limon has no idea who Mandela is.

President Gabaria has made it clear that he wants Escobar dead. Martinez’ son messes up the first time he finds Pablo’s location but makes up for it the second time with a sighting.  Escobar has gotten so careless that he stands in the window while making plans with his wife.

Tata is getting desperate and Hermilda; Pablo’s mother,  leaves the hotel suite while Escobar’s wife stays and tries to convince him to surrender to the authorities.  She has even lined up an interview with the press.

Ironically Tata is reading off the journalist’s questions when the police and Murphy finally find Escobar. The running gun battle, where it seems that both Limon and Pablo have magic pistols that never run out of ammunition, ends with both men being shot on a rooftop.

This then is a pretty accurate presentation of the reality; the rooftop deaths, as this is what really happened to Pablo and his last lieutenant.  In Narcos, Murphy is right there when it all happens and the episode recreates the infamous picture of the DEA agent and the police posing for a picture with the dead drug lord.

Narcos has now told the story of Pablo Escobar, over a two season arc and will now move on, presumably, to the Cali cartel. In the show, Javier is in front of what he believes to be a disciplinary board. He did, after all, pass information to Los Pepes.

It turns out that he may well be sent back down to Columbia and Bogota to help bring down the “gentlemen from Cali.”

An interesting point is made during the last few moments where Javier learns that he is not in trouble after all. The man chairing the review explains that the entire time the DEA and the Columbian police force were trying to take down Escobar, the amount of cocaine smuggled into the US increased.

Narcos has been approved for two more seasons. It may take on the Cali cartel next season or possibly the new kids on the block, Los Pepes.  Pablo Escobar was the starting point of the series.

Wagner Moura was beyond brilliant as Escobar and his costars, Holbrook and Pascal packed a punch with their characters as well. This was an addictive biographical look at Escobar. With the real life footage included throughout it gave the proceedings a feeling of truth, despite the license taken by the medium in the retelling of Pablo’s rise and fall.

Kudos to the series creators; Carlo BernardChris Brancato and Doug Miro as well as the entire cast and crew for delivering an excellent project.  May season three rush to our screens as soon as possible.

Cast: