Blood Father

August 12, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna
Directed by: Jean-François Richet (“Assault on Precinct 13” [2005])
Written by: Peter Craig (“The Town”) and Andrea Berloff (“Straight Outta Compton”)

Setting aside for just a moment the strange and harrowing ways in which it happened, it remains something of a distinctly American cinematic tragedy that, beginning in 2006, the world lost anywhere from 4-10 years of potentially prime work from Mel Gibson, as big and exciting a movie star as ever there was. To date, comeback bids have (understandably) skewed dark, alternately recasting the twinkling-eyed, roguish hero of “Maverick” (man, remember “Maverick?!”) as a criminal (“Get the Gringo,” “Machete Kills,” “The Expendables 3”), a depressive alcoholic (“The Beaver”), or a man on a full-tilt, burn-the-world-down revenge-bender (“Edge of Darkness”).

Jean-François Richet’s “Blood Father” — based on co-screenwriter Peter Craig’s eponymous novel (which, in a striking bit of coincidence, was published less than five months before the infamous Malibu DUI arrest that more-or-less started this whole thing) — efficiently combo-wraps all three in the personage of John Link (Mel Gibson), a gruff, buff, bored ex-con and former Hell’s Angel who dutifully attends AA meetings and maintains his parole terms in the meager hopes of living out his remaining years on the outside. This middling goal is put into sudden and significant jeopardy, however, by a single, last-resort phone call from Link’s estranged and oft-drugged-up daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty): Bad, bad dudes are after her for shooting her badder-dude, cartel-drug-runner boyfriend, and she needs a few grand to get lost. Unsure what to believe, he, nonetheless, scoops her up without hesitation — but when said dudes bring the hunt to his doorstep, Link fights back, old habits and reptilian brain function are dusted off, and the chase is on.

The driving premise and structure here aren’t especially new: It’s the same proven sensitive-and-charismatic-’90s-actor-turned-grizzled-vengeance-and-violence-machine formula that these days has “Field of Dreams”‘s Ray Kinsella slamming heads in car doors, say, or Oskar Schindler ramming faces with fire extinguishers. Movies, though, are so very often less about the “what” than the “how,” and it’s the “how” here that works — and works well. Very well, in fact.

I never saw “Edge of Darkness,” or Gibson’s turns in the “Expendables” or “Machete” franchises. The last time I saw the erstwhile Max Rockatansky in a theatrically released film, in fact, was 2011. But “The Beaver,” frankly, didn’t prepare me for “Blood Father,” one of the most unexpectedly kinetic, entertaining, limbically thrilling small action films I’ve seen in a long while. The action is sudden, hard, and impactful, the sort that raises eyebrows, widens eyes, crams your mouth into a tight, silent little “O.” The dialogue is clever, laced with satire, and sharply crafted, but not too much so; in spots, appropriately, it’s lightly reminiscent of Shane Black (which is almost always a good thing, in my book). It’s something akin to getting slammed about in the backseat of a leather-seated, steel-backed muscle car, and Gibson and Richel have a firm grip on the wheel. As Link, Gibson is in fine form: An introductory monologue feels a hair rushed or movie-ish, but thereafter he’s flawless. Regret; warmth; weariness; cockeyed humor; stubborn intensity; that familiar, mercurial spark — these pour forth in equal measure as he flits and swirls from one to the other as organically as ever, as organically as anyone ever has. Indeed, the film is bolstered by able, full performances: William H. Macy as a hoot of an AA sponsor, Michael Parks as a thinning but menacing former colleague. Erin Moriarty acquits herself well as Link’s troubled daughter, and provides an effective energetic and emotional counterpoint to Gibson’s heavy, leathered growl. The film, though, is Gibson’s to carry — and carry it he does.

Am I pushing the point here? Writing emotionally? Maybe. I mean, no: I genuinely think Gibson is excellent as Link; he brings to it what few, if any, could. But there’s something else at play. “Blood Father,” the first Gibson-led piece I’ve seen in a half-decade, both opens and salves a wound I’d long been burying, perhaps somewhat subconsciously: I, as a moviegoer, as an audience member, as a ’90s kid, have missed Mel Gibson. A lot.

In an era in which critics and commenters have lamented that the old-guard Movie Star is dead, it’s significant to be reminded what they look(ed) like. Gibson’s performance is great, but even more refreshing is the experience of being back in a story he’s leading me on, with all the quicksilver confidence, charisma, vulnerability, and impishness I remember so very well and so fondly. And it makes me happy, but sad, as well. As Link (and Gibson) intones, frankly and not-un-self-consciously, hands fidgeting with what appears to be a sobriety coin, during that opening AA monologue: “I did a lot of damage. Lost a lot of people along the way. … But you can’t be a prick all your life and then just say, ‘Never mind.’ You know. I can’t fix everything I broke. All I can do is not drink. So I won’t do that today.”

There’s a seeming mea culpa element to almost every role Gibson has played since 2006. By design, surely. He plays broken men, damaged men, “bad” men. In some ways, he always has, but it’s different now. Gone are the romantic leads, the lightheartedness. Gone are the “good guys with a little bit of damage in ’em, just enough to be fun.” “Blood Father,” at least, casts him as the antipode: “Fuck-up with a sliver of hope, looking for redemption.” “What Women Want” and “Bird on a Wire” seem far, far away.

I truly, truly don’t mean to minimize the pain that was caused by the real-world actions of Gibson the man. I truly do not. I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m doing so, and if it does, I’m sorry. It’s not at all my intention. Hurt is hurt is hurt; it should not be ignored or diminished. Nor do I mean to attempt to pass judgment in any way on a man I’ve never met. God help any of us who is judged publicly and/or primarily by anything but our best days. And even then. Certainly, like it or not, Gibson is giving it another shot: “The Professor and the Madman” casts him opposite Sean Penn in a long-gestating project based on a book subtitled “A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.” The “Apocalypto” helmer is back in the chair for the intriguing-looking “Hacksaw Ridge,” though the trailer gives him the Affleck treatment, eschewing his name in favor of “From the Academy-Award Winning Director of Braveheart.”

It’s been a long time. There are questions, and the easy answers aren’t easy.

All I know is I’ve missed Mel Gibson, the movie star, and “Blood Father” gave him back to me, for a short while. Thank you.

Diego Luna – The Book of Life

October 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

With Día de los Muertos right around the corner, actor Diego Luna took some time to talk with me about why after all the trick-or-treating is completed on Halloween, families should spend a couple of hours at their local movie theater watching his new animated film “The Book of Life,” which is inspired by the vibrant Mexican holiday and it’s traditions. In the film, Luna, 34, lends his voice to the character Manolo, a bullfighter and aspiring musician trying to win the heart of his true love Maria while two spirits wager a bet on whether or not he can do it.

During our interview, Luna, who can be seen next year in the new Mel Gibson film “Blood Father” and who is currently directing his next film “Mr. Pig,” talked to me about what it’s like to finally be able to share a movie he’s worked on with his kids and why a day like Día de los Muertos has always been so important to him. We start off, however, by talking about doing something in a film he never thought he’d do: sing a Radiohead song.

What were your initial thoughts when you found out director Jorge Gutíerrez wanted you to cover Radiohead’s song Creep for the film?

(Laughs) I went through many thoughts. First, I thought I was never going to be able to do it. But then there was a part of me that said, “Yeah, you should try it! This is the only chance you’re going to ever get to do it the right way.” I mean, it made complete sense for the film. It was part of what my character needed to say. I was very excited to do it.

Have you ever tried to serenade a girl like that? If so, did it work?

(Laughs) No, I’ve never done that. That’s what is so great about film. You get to do stuff you would never be capable of doing in real life.

Since this is the first animated film of your career, what did your kids think about the movie and hearing your voice coming from this character?

My son is six years old, so he is the right age for The Book of Life. He was really into it. He understands all the themes. It’s great because this is the first time I get to share my work with my kids. Even my four year old [daughter] loved it and watched it from beginning to end. Both of them came with me when I recorded the voice, so they understood the process. This film was perfect to share with them. My daughter now has the doll of Maria and plays with it.

What do you remember about your own Día de los Muertos experiences growing up in México? Was that something you grew up celebrating?

Definitely. My mother died when I was two, so Day of the Dead was a good tool to help me handle the absence of my mother. It helped me talk to people about what “dead” is. I think the beautiful thing about [Day of the Dead] is keeping memories. We can keep people around us by not forgetting about them. That idea is useful when you’re trying to explain to a kid what it means to have to say goodbye to someone.

Two years old is such a young age to lose your mother. I’m sure you didn’t understand or don’t even remember what was happening during that time. When did you realize your mother was actually gone?

It was throughout my life and realizing that other people had a person like that in their life and I didn’t. It was by talking to those who loved her and by being around them that made it feel like she was still around. In a way, I represented the memory of my mother, too. Those people made it clear to me that she was a great woman. They felt a responsibility for me to experience the presence of her. I was only two years old. I was so little. I don’t remember my mom. It’s only through the memories of others that I get to remember her.

As you got older, was there anything specific you would do for her on Día de los Muertos?

We would do an altar and put up flower and all the stuff she liked. Even today I do it and put up pictures of her. I want my kids to have that experience of having a grandmother from my side [of the family]. I want Day of the Dead to remind them that they come from somewhere.

Although Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration, do you think Americans understand what makes this holiday so special to Latinos?

Yeah. Death is a very universal subject. We all understand what it means to lose someone and what it means to not have someone around. I love the idea of Day of the Dead and how that idea can be applied anywhere. It’s about celebrating someone.

Yeah, I think this is one of the only Mexican celebrations that translates over well to the U.S. and keeps the traditions. I mean, holidays like Cinco de Mayo and Deis y Seis de Septiembre usually seem to be just reasons for people to party rather than celebrate what the day actually means, no?

Yes, but not just for the states. I think it happens through the whole world. I think people want to be a part of something big like this. It’s a nice way to embrace other cultures and all our differences. It’s a day that even if you don’t celebrate it the same way others do, you can still connect. It’s interesting today how people can connect to other cultures though films. My kids watch Japanese animated films and love them. That’s not something I got the chance to do when I was little.

I know Día de los Muertos is a tradition for you and your family, but how much of it do you actually believe in? I mean, it’s a wonderful way to celebrate the memory of someone, but do you also believe that souls of the departed actually come visit their altars on the day and enjoy the gifts left for them?

I do! I mean, it’s a tradition, but none of us really know what is to come [after death]. We can imagine and fantasize about it, but no one knows. But we cannot forget about those who are not here anymore. We cannot forget about where we come from and who we are. Who we are is definitely defined by those people who were here before. It’s a tradition, but it’s also something very powerful that matters to the people who are here now.

What would you hope people left for you on your own altar so you could enjoy in the afterlife?

Pictures of my kids. I’ve never been happier than when I am around my kids, so I would want to see all their pictures.

Next year you’re going to be staring in a film called “Blood Father” with Mel Gibson. In the past, Mel has fallen out of favor with Hollywood for some of his personal issues. Do you think it’s time he’s given another chance in this industry to prove what he can do? Should people look past the things he’s said and done and stop punishing him for it?

I don’t know. I mean, I didn’t really think about that when I got involved with the film. I was just excited about getting the chance to work with someone I admire. I think he’s done enough to always be celebrated. I think you should be judged by your work. That’s what [actors] do. Everything else is what others bring up. At least for myself, I’d like to be remembered for what I have done professionally. I have to say, I had a great time and experienced something making [“Blood Father”] that I never had the chance to experience. It’s a very amazing film.

What did you learn as a director making “Cesar Chavez” that you’re going to take with you into your next project, “Mr. Pig?”

Well, I think the stories in film are told by the language of the actors. In “Cesar Chavez,” I had the chance to work with fantastic actors. My biggest tool as a director is that I can communicate with actors. I have to make choices as a director. A lot of stuff has to happen before you start shooting. But after that it’s all about the actors. It’s always an experience to get my ideas into the hands of talented people.