Hacksaw Ridge is, on the surface, the best war movie in years

Gibson’s dramatic license needs to be revoked

War is a staple of cinema. Since the days of Méliès, Pathe and Edison there has been a desire for films to show what most people will have never seen. Before the invention of cinema, and for some time afterwards, there was no way to see what a battle really looked like. The only interpretations available to the public were in paintings and the written word. War battles gave silent filmmakers an easy shortcut to making something that is fantastical, out of this world, and intensely visual: the people who are dressed differently are the bad guys, the people who fall have been shot. Storytelling is at its core about binary oppositions, about positioning a subject that represents one ideal against a subject that represents the opposite (light side v dark side, nature v technology). This structure is neatly laid out in war, the armies even wear different colours to aid the process. War films in the early days, however, were a guessing game, less based in reality than what we know now. Once wars took place in a world where photo and filmography existed newsreels and photos from the front line allowed for a clear evidence of something that had thus far consisted mainly of eye witness testimony.

Hacksaw Ridge is a real war story about Desmond Doss, a medic who served in WWII at the battle of Okinawa. As a true to life story it has its foot placed firmly in the realm of reality. Andrew Garfield plays the medic, who was a conscientious objector who volunteered himself to support the war effort on the field as opposed to back home. The opposition of the film however, comes not from the opposing side of the war but from the American side, where Doss is refused the right to serve while remaining pacifist and not touching a gun. Here, the binary opposition comes from pacifism v pugilism.

The film is somewhat disjointed due to its clear separation into three acts, the home life section which plays like Forrest Gump’s romance with Jenny and sets the story in motion. The second act is a traditional army training tale that draws influence from Full Metal Jacket and plays out like The Secret War of Lisa Simpson, followed by Doss facing possible court-marshal for his pacifism. Finally, the film becomes an out and out war film a ’la Saving Private Ryan. The film is oddly structured, facing pacing issues by indulging itself too much in its first act and saving all its violence for the final act but all in all the final battle sequences are built up to well with sufficient characterisation driving our desire to see Desmond Doss succeed.

I did have problems with the ending of the film however, detailed here. The film has a positive message of staying true to what you believe in and honours the peacekeeper, yet at times seems to revel in violence and destruction in a way that is at odds with the moral baseline of the film. There are also issues with the film being somewhat too emotionally manipulative, containing a rushed romantic plot that is filled to the brim with clichéd lines of dialogue and many moments where the film stops to state how you should be feeling at the time. The film is brilliantly directed and the visuals do their job so well that words are not always needed yet are always used. In addition, our main character is somewhat too idealised, with no discernible flaws aside from his pacifism. Yet that can be forgiven when a film is made to honour a real-life hero, but it also does appear that the main aim of the film is to win awards.

Andrew Garfield has been nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Desmond Doss and it’s not hard to see why, he imbues the character with a sweet naivety that radiates from his goofy, overactive smile. He remains naturalistic and believable as the only American soldier that isn’t brimming with testosterone. Other performances are straight forward and unflashy and serve to highlight how clearly Doss is in an unfamiliar environment.

The film is an achievement in production design, creating an intensely believable and gritty battleground that has a great sense of space and danger. Plaudits must go to the sound design team, that manages to create a magnificent, breathing 3D world in the final act of the film. Bullets hit as hard as possible, explosions won’t let up and the danger the soldiers face is elevated because of the intense sound within.

Recommendation

Hacksaw Ridge is a film that will play to large audiences, there is not much to use to take away from it on a surface level. It is brilliantly crafted, slickly designed and impressively layered, every facet of the film exudes effort. Where it falls apart is in its generic story beats, however they are executed well enough to excuse themselves.

I, personally, have issues with the unnecessary over-dramatization that is applied but I believe most people will not. If the occasional historical inaccuracy can be forgiven then this is a great film suitable for everyone with only odd pacing and a weak romance subplot to hold it back.

Trainspotting 2 sacrifices affecting moments for laughs a little too often

T2 has all the usual problems that all sequels do

It’s an audacious strategy to release a sequel to a twenty year old film. The sequel is a strange beast. In 2017 the possibility hangs over any moderately successful film like a black cloud, threatening to disrupt the legacy or integrity of what was once a finished piece. Yet by cobbling together the original cast, director and original author (Irvine Welsh’s Porno is a sequel to the book Trainspotting) the Trainspotting sequel was shaping up to be one of those mould breaking exceptions.

Sequels are at their most fruitful when they take place in an unreal world, Aliens, Terminator: Judgement Day and LOTR: The Two Towers stand out as the most effective sequels as they have a mythology to build upon. The issue with a Trainspotting sequel is that the film was more character driven, it was a look at the people on the lowest rungs of society rather than a look at the society itself. The issues that arose came from the problems that these characters faced due to the poor life choices, it was all very personal. Whilst Ellen Ripley faced demons and Sarah Connor had her issues, these films told higher concept stories above the personal drama. Trainspotting is a self-contained world where nothing the addicts do will affect the world outside of their own circle, it is not a film which lends itself to sequels.

The film follows up with Renton (Ewan Mcgreggor), twenty years after leaving Edinburgh, coming back home and reuniting with his old group as a clean man. Robert Carlyle’s Begbie is in prison, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is extorting money and running a pub and Spud (Ewen Bremmer) is still living the life of a junky. Renton teams back up with Sick Boy in a scheme to turn his pub into a spa/ brothel but there are still tensions in the group regarding his betrayal of the group at the end of the first film. This leads to chase scenes (like in the first film), bar brawls (like in the first film) and the group being terrified of a murderous Begbie (like in the first film)

This is all to be expected, as I said, the sequel is a strange beast. Things must be revisited otherwise it is just another film with the same characters in. Trainspotting 2 revisits the events of the first in an interesting way, it contains almost all the same events only shuffled about and recreated in a different light. A friend described the film as a remix of the first, this rings true when you look at the structure. It’s not hard to imagine the first film plotted out on post-it notes, them being randomly jumbled into a new order and the story of the second being fleshed out around that skeleton.

The film when looked at on its own merits is wonderfully funny, colourful and vibrant. It makes the most of dramatic lighting and shadows, one scene of Spud holed up going cold turkey makes particularly good use of shadows to demonstrate torment. The neon green light that seems to follow Sick Boy around amplifies the constant expressions of disgust that plagues his face. The film is constantly placing characters within interesting frames and filming them from odd angles, close-ups and canted angles galore. It’s jarring and a bit overused but for the most part it works. However, it does seem as if the film is trying too hard at some points to replicate the effects of the world bending of the first. One scene of a coke fuelled football argument is inspired and creative but the film does not revisit the reality bending with the same passion again, making it seem as if a scene left over from the first film rather than a cohesive piece of T2.

Trainspotting 2 is an uneven film that leans a little too heavily on the goofy side. The original was a dark comedy with moments of surreal horror (you know what scene I’m referencing), the sequel is almost entirely comical, and there are no real moments that stun or creep out. This could be due to the lack of heroin use in the film, something which was a cornerstone of the first is absent from the second. On many occasions the film does well to establish drama only to have it fizzle away into nothingness, the apparent resentment between Renton and Sick Boy never really pays off after having a lot of time spent on it, Spud’s recovery is glanced over and Sick Boy’s cocaine habit is just background noise. Potentially affecting moments are sacrificed for comedy a little too often and the dynamic of the group remains unchanged for the most part. It is a little too self-indulgent in its praise and reverence for its forebear, the fact that the film ends on a recreation of a shot from the first shows how little the filmmakers believed this film would have any impact.

Recommendation

A sequel is a sequel and it cannot avoid its fate, they will almost always be lesser when they ride the wave of the original and T2 is guilty of this. Yet it performs admirably considering the wealth of factors working against it. It is, on the hole, a laugh out loud story filled with likeable characters featuring well written dialogue and constantly interesting cinematography.

Trainspotting is a modern classic. T2 is a good film, a solid sequel and an enjoyable comedy. Ultimately it inherited the humour and characters of the first, but not the punch.

Feudal Japan is a terrifying playground in Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo teaches valuable lessons in film veiwership against a stunning backdrop

‘If you must blink, do it now.’ These words are spoken at the start of Kubo and the Two Strings by our protagonist and set the tone for the rest of the film, which talks to its young audience in a straight forward and non-patronising way throughout. ‘Pay careful attention to everything you see no matter how unusual it may seem,’ it begs active viewing, to watch it intently, to notice all the little details of the world and piece them together. ‘If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.’ It is a story about stories, and it drills home the simple idea that a story is nothing without people to hear it. A moral that lends the film an air of sadness due to its current box office shortcomings, having the lowest opening of any of Laika’s previous films (Coraline, Paranorman, The Boxtrolls)

From the very first scene this movie marvels in its visuals and doesn’t stop until after the closing credits. The opening scene fills the screen with wild walls of water, harking back to Hokusai’s Great Wave, which influences every aspect of the film’s design. The world of the film makes Feudal Japan a playground, mixing the mythological with the traditional, placing secular magic side by side with notes strung from a three stringed shamisen that propel origami stage plays.

Kubo is the type of film that transports you to a completely new world, one that is never overly explained but is always dense and detailed in the background. Scenes that take place in ‘the far lands’ are filled with elegant background details that are left to the viewer to interpret, ‘pay careful attention to everything you see, no matter how unusual it may seem’. The history of the world is only spoken about, stories are told of the great Samurai Hanzo but never shown through flashbacks, they are left to the interpretation of the viewer and their surrogate Kubo. The stories of the world are how you make it and you really get the impression that the actions of Kubo and friends are creating a story that will be told about in the same way that stories of Hanzo are lauded around crowds.

But where the movie really excels is in its design. The stop motion is so smooth it can sometimes go unnoticed, but the craftsmanship can be spotted in any frame if you pay attention. The villains are incredibly villainous and nightmarish in a way that would stick in a kid’s mind. There are battle scenes within the film that are loaded with a sense of grandeur, that feel like Zelda boss battles.

I have a keen interest in chidren’s entertainment and the way that the essential morals need to be intertwined with a complete story. The limitations of the media lead to interesting choices and compromises. Kubo impresses me with the way it deals with danger and light horror, it puts you in mind of earlier generation kid’s movies like The Neverending Story or Labyrinth, which blend imagination and fantasy with an undercurrent of real danger. The brutal treatment of the characters has a real weight to it. There is a moment in Kubo that takes place on a ship in the middle of a storm where I was genuinely concerned for Kubo, Monkey and Beetle’s lives for separate reasons, and this is a feeling I didn’t have while watching any Pixar movie (with the exception of Toy Story 3). The film builds a sense of greatness, dread and stakes while still maintaining its small scale charm, it has few characters so it fleshes them out nicely and keeps the story feeling self-contained and familiar along with a grand overarching plot.

Recommendation

Go see this movie, give it your money, let studios know that this is the type of entertainment that is needed for kids. Real danger, high stakes, iconic design that will last that is not just loaded down with pop culture references and cutesy talking animals.

The film transported me as a grown up and should last for years in the mind of any children who see it. Scare your children, teach them a lesson.