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.

The Expendables 3

August 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford
Directed by: Patrick Hughes (“Red Hill”)
Written by: Sylvester Stallone (“Rocky”) and Creighton Rothenberger (“Olympus Has Fallen”) and Katrin Benedikt (“Olympus Has Fallen”)

The movies in “The Expendables” series should be tons more fun than they actually are. They should be winking so much at the audience that you think they’re in some sort of distress. After all, why gather up all these action movie old timers and various MMA stars in the first place if all you’re going to do is throw them into a plot that seems leftover from some direct-to-Netflix action flick they’d be starring in anyway even without the combined ‘80s star power of your Stallones and Schwarzeneggers? Not that a spoof mentality or comedic take on the genre of ‘80s action cheese is what this assemblage of actors should aspire to, but man, would it kill the filmmakers to turn out something a touch less dour and routine?

The third film in the franchise opens with Barney Ross (Stallone) leading his team of grizzled warriors on a mission to rescue their long-lost compatriot Doc (Wesley Snipes) from a prison train. After busting him out, the Expendables are sent by Drummer (Harrison Ford, snoozing) to take down a villainous warlord revealed to be Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson, digging into the role with glee) who also happens to be a cofounder of The Expendables. When his team fails, Barney fires them and decides it’s time for some new blood, soliciting Kelsey Grammar to recruit a quartet of bland youngsters who are promptly captured. So once again it is time for the old dogs–plus Antonio Banderas as a scene-stealing newcomer—to save the day and take out the bad guy.

The premise, even if it is worn out by the third film in the series, of having “action” stars of generations past (though I’m not sure Kelsey Grammar and Antonio Banderas really count at all) team up for a fresh take on a tired genre is ripe for a good time, but alas, the only people that seem to be having any fun with this material at all are Gibson and Banderas, with Gibson making his case to be a big Hollywood star again, provided he go hat in hand and apologize for his past insanity. But that’s neither here nor there, and even crackling turns from Gibson and Banderas can paint over the fact that supposed ringer Harrison Ford is so incredibly disinterested in the whole affair that he plays one confrontation scene with Stallone while standing perfectly still. Ford’s attitude was likely “Who gives a shit?” It feels like that sentiment is the defining characteristic of the whole movie.

Machete Kills

October 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Danny Trejo, Demian Bechir, Mel Gibson
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez (“Machete,” “Sin City”)
Written by: Kyle Ward (debut)

Despite being San Antonio-born and a champion of Texas filmmaking, director Robert Rodriguez’s work traditionally hasn’t done much to inspire local pride. While he seems like a swell guy to make movies with—based on some of the cool, eclectic casts he’s managed to put together—the end results range from mediocre to downright embarrassing. Even high points like “Sin City” and the original “Spy Kids” were undone by muddy plotting and crummy visuals. The low points, like all the rest of the “Spy Kids” films and “The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl,” well…they’re completely awful.

Rodriguez, though, seems to have settled into a groove as of late, releasing the low-budget B-movie side of his personality that he’d tried to tamp down. The first trip down this road was “Machete,” famously spun into a feature after beginning life as a fake trailer. While not completely successful, the sense was Rodriguez was finally growing more comfortable in his own skin. In the sequel, “Machete Kills,” Rodriguez confirms he’s ready to finally embrace the fun of batshit insane cinema.

“Machete Kills” picks up with Danny Trejo’s badass ex-Federale Machete Cortez losing his partner/lover in a raid gone bad. A summons from the President of the Untied States (Charlie Sheen, going by his birth name Carlos Estevez) saves Machete from the clutches of a racist Arizona sheriff determined to to hang himself an illegal immigrant. Soon Machete is charged with stopping a Mexican madman (Demian Bichir, wonderfully nuts) with a missile pointed at Washington D.C. Along the way, Machete has a rendezvous with Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), tangles with a gun bra-wielding madame (Sofia Vergara), and is pursued by El Cameleon (Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas), finally culminating in a showdown with Mel Gibson’s villainous Voz.

While the original “Machete” struggled under the weight of cramming social commentary regarding immigration in with ridiculous action and gratuitous nudity, “Machete Kills” doesn’t waste time on any of that bullshit. Equal parts satire and parody, “Machete Kills” piles on the craziness with reckless abandon from the get-go, kicking things off with a grainy, scratchy trailer for a space-faring sequel to a film that isn’t even in pre-production. Despite a saggy middle section of the movie that makes it feel much longer than its 107 minutes, “Machete Kills” is arguably the best Robert Rodriguez movie yet. Until “Machete Kills Again…In Space” hits theaters, anyway.

Edge of Darkness

January 30, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston
Directed by: Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale”)
Written by: William Monahan (“The Departed”) and Andrew Bovell (“Strictly Ballroom”)

“Edge of Darkness” is what Mel Gibson does best. This revenge film is overly-written in a number of places, but Gibson knows how to deliver some of the most intense scenes as an actor. Here, he channels his rage into one very believable man with a vendetta. It’s gripping despite its flaws in its storytelling.

Mel Gibson – Edge of Darkness

January 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Interviews

Mel Gibson is no stranger to movies with revenge themes. In 1979, he starred as the title character in “Mad Max” where he sought vengeance against a gang of bikers who murder his family. In 1995’s “Braveheart,” he led his Scottish countrymen into a war with England after an English sheriff kills his wife. In 1999’s “Payback,” Gibson went after his former partner-in-crime and ex-wife after they shoot him and leave him for dead.

In his new film, “Edge of Darkness,” based on a 1985 British TV series of the same name, Gibson, 54, stars as Thomas Craven, a Boston police detective who is searching his daughter’s killer and gets caught up in a web of political corruption.

Before “Darkness,” Gibson focused his talents behind the camera. In 2004 he released “The Passion of the Christ,” which earned him critical acclaim and kick-started controversy about his religious views. Two years later, Gibson introduced audiences to Mesoamerica in the underappreciated film “Apocalypto.”

During a phone conference with me, Gibson talked about why he chose “Edge of Darkness” as his next acting role, how he handles controversy centered on him and joked about what would actually push him to the edge of darkness.

Why did you decide that “Edge of Darkness” would be the film you would return to as an actor after eight years?

It affected me when I read [the script]. One always looks at [the] story first. Is it a compelling story? Can I understand it? Can I bring something to it? I’ve got three more projects lined up at the moment. This one in my opinion is one that was worthy to go to work on It was a story that I liked.

How did your real-life role as a father affect your role in the film?

I think parenthood informs so many things about us. Once you have a child, you’re never quite the same again. You begin to see your own mortality and you begin to have hope for the next generation. You have to be able to pass along something to the next bunch that has value so they can keep propagating the race and the species of humanity. It makes you aware on certain levels and affects what you do on screen, especially if you’re dealing with the loss of an offspring, which is one of the worst nightmares I can imagine.

Martin Campbell directed the film and the original series, which you are a fan of. Was there more pressure on you to get the essence of his vision right since he is so close to this story?

I think the essence of his vision is essentially the same. It’s a very human story involving heightened circumstances. As for the rest of it, it has to change according to the times. I think he adapted it very well. It reminded me of why I liked [the original series] in the first place.

Was it difficult to get back into acting mode and let go of Mel Gibson the filmmaker?

It’s all part of the same engine that drives something. One has to know when to bite one’s tongue and stay out of someone else’s business and vision and give them that creative space. The great thing is [that] having done all those other aspects of the business provides you [with] a great deal of empathy for all of the parties involved. I actually felt bad for [Campbell] some days. That’s pretty hard to do.

As someone who is no stranger to controversy, would you rather people focus on the work you produce rather than all the other things off the set that might overshadow it?

People can focus on whatever they want to focus on. It’s not really a function I have any control over anyway. It’s a pretty pointless want. I just get out there and I work. People can take it for what it’s worth. That’s their prerogative. I’ll just go about working and trying to make art. It’s just the way things are.

What would personally drive you to the edge of darkness?

Press conferences and when someone borrows your dental floss. Nuclear winter’s another good one. That would put you in a pretty dark spot.

Tell us a bit about the Viking movie you’re going to do with Leonardo DiCaprio.

I don’t think anyone has done the Viking movie right yet. I’ve seen a lot of Viking movies, but they really don’t do it for me. I’m gonna put the V back in Viking. I’m gonna blow your fucking mind. It’ll be the biggest punch in the balls you’ll ever get.