On DVD & Blu-Ray: February 21, 2017


It has been a decade since Mel Gibson directed his last film. Almost as much time as there was between Braveheart and Passion of the Christ, but in this latest interval Gibson has unfortunately become more discussed for things besides his filmmaking talents. With Hacksaw Ridge, the story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss who refused to kill people as a Conscientious Objector, Gibson is very much back in the playing field he seems comfortable with. That said, Gibson seems to have also taken the time away to pull in other influences for his art as many of the early scenes here in which the director develops and builds the character of Doss with actor Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, The Amazing Spider-Man) feel as if they were constructed to be a love letter to Hollywood's golden years. This, of course, deeply contrasts the usually stark and brutal tone that Gibson's films take on, but don't fret as those qualities are sure to come still in Hacksaw Ridge. More, Gibson understands that by painting these early, more serene portraits of where his pacifist of a protagonist comes from he by default makes the bloody and downright horrific war sequences that inevitably take place that much more affecting and that much more powerful. Though somewhat working at odds with one another given how realistically and viscerally Gibson paints his scenes of war with a story that more or less condemns such actions these two elements of what we're seeing and what train of thought we're being encouraged to consider come to work in each other's favors. For as quickly as we see how easily a life can be snuffed out and how faithful Doss has to be to trust that he can "run into the hell fire of battle without a weapon to protect his self," and still survive the point is made that the violence of war is senseless and that, after such an experience, most soldiers would likely agree with such a sentiment. Gibson isn't just making a war film to show off how skilled an action director he is or to revel in the gluttony of violence, but more he is using this profusion of blood and gore to align us more with the mentality that Doss brings to the battlefield and why, despite popular opinion, that might not be such a bad thing. The greatest accomplishment of Hacksaw Ridge though, is that it accomplishes relaying such ideas without preaching them, but instead more by standing with its lead character who stands by his principles even in the great circumstances of a world war. Full review here. B

Manchester by the Sea is a simple film made from a rather simple story. Meaning that the narrative is straight-forward and wholly based in the everyday lives the majority of us tend to lead. While these factors certainly make it more relatable than say, something along the lines of Allied, which is technically based in reality, but from which we are so far removed at this point it almost feels not of this world. All of this is to say that in our current plane of existence, Manchester by the Sea feels personal. It is a movie that creates an authentic environment from the world in which it exists. It feels lived-in and to that point we are not necessarily welcomed as much into this halfhearted existence that comes to be the subject of the film as we are wedged into the ongoing crap show that literally and figuratively seems to make up Lee Chandler's (Casey Affleck) life. I find it best to go into most films without much of an idea as to what exactly one might be getting themselves into and while it may be difficult to do that in terms of major blockbusters when living in a world that offers teasers for teaser trailers it is with movies such as Manchester by the Sea where this practice can be exercised to its full effect. And so, I went in more or less blind to what Manchester by the Sea carried in terms of narrative and with only the buzz it garnered out of its Sundance premiere earlier this year to signify that it was one worth watching. No matter if one knows the basic premise or not though, one thing is for certain: one cannot know the whole of the story the film is telling and it is in how director Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret) sets up the present scenario for our characters to operate in and then how he slowly peels back the layers of each of their pasts helping us to understand not only why and how these people have become who they are, but also giving us a glimpse of how far they can go and what the future might hold for them that makes the experience so simultaneously simple yet equally involving. It's a powerful piece of human drama to say the least with bare bones emotions bleeding through on the face of Affleck and every other actor in any significant portion of the movie. Lonergan, as a writer, is clearly interested in digging into the psyches of those who have dealt in tragedy and analyzing the different ways in which we as human beings deal with such surreal, life-altering events. With Manchester by the Sea the writer/director tackles permanent heartbreak to grandly moving results. Full review here. A-

Editing. Editing is key in director Tom Ford's follow-up to his 2009 debut A Single Man titled Nocturnal Animals as the narrative begins by introducing Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) as a woman who seemingly has it all together, but whose world it tears to shreds in less than two hours. It accomplishes such a visceral effect on the viewer due largely to the skill in which it is cut. To unravel the neatly wrapped facade of Morrow's life is to cut back and forth between her present timeline, her past detailing how she reunited and fell in love with first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), as well as the story in which she is reading. The key factor being the story that she is reading comes to her from Sheffield as a novel he wrote that will soon be published, but as it was inspired by Morrow he thought she deserved to read it first. The book, also titled "Nocturnal Animals", is the story of a family on a road trip whose car is hijacked by a band of troublemakers that includes a nearly unrecognizable Aaron Taylor-Johnson where terrible things happen. The representation of this novel as put to screen is what will come to garner the most attention from the viewer as it is high-tension drama filled with moving and effective plot points as well as performances. What makes Nocturnal Animals, the film, more than just a stirring adaptation of the work within the work though, is the foresight it utilizes in the outside stories and how they will influence our reactions to the actions taking place within that most engaging storyline. How is this accomplished though? How are these two outlying narratives so effective in both supporting and drawing from the narrative that undoubtedly holds the weight of the film on its shoulders? Through the editing. The film is cut in such an extraordinarily unpredictable fashion that, as an audience member, when it cuts we are never allowed to know what it might be cutting to. There are even long pauses that fill the screen with darkness designed to make the audience think a certain segment is over only to drop us back into the same story moments later. This unpredictability not only ups the tension in terms of seeing where certain plot strands might go, but in ultimately structuring the story in such a way that when the payoff for everything each of the three individual storylines has been building to finally arrives it hits you. And I mean really hits you. Nocturnal Animals is an exercise in sheer audacity and nearly every one of its risks pays off. Full review here. A

I saw Bad Santa 2 in early December, but can hardly remember a thing about it. I recall it gave a shout-out to Pulaski County in Arkansas which just so happens to be the county I went to school in. This wasn't a huge surprise given Billy Bob Thornton hails from the Natural State, but given it is seemingly the most memorable thing about this delayed sequel and crude for the sake of being nasty comedy I can't say I'd recommend it. But hey, having just written my review for Fist Fight I can't say it's not without laughs as I remember a few things making me chuckle and it may be more up your alley than mine so do what you will with that take away. If you're into ratings I gave the film two stars after seeing it initially which roughly equates to a D

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