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Review: The Singing Detective

Written by Dennis Potter and directed by Keith Gordon, “The Singing Detective” is an adaption of the television mini-series of the same name in the late 1980’s. This was Robert Downey Jr’s initial starring role after his drug rehab issues in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. In fact Mel Gibson, who also stars in this film, helped to finance Downey’s involvement with “The Singing Detective” which follows Downey as Dan Dark, a pulp fiction author with a severe case of psoriatic arthropathy, a crippling disease of the skin and bones. During this latest flare-up of his disease Dark lays in his hospital bed in crippling pain dashing out mean spirited insults as fast as he can unleash them. He’s not in a good place physically, mentally, or emotionally. He frequently has feverish daydreams and hallucinations wherein his mind mixes reality with plot points and characters from his first novel, The Singing Detective. He has lost his anchor to his own past and sometimes misrepresents his past as one involving characters of his own creation, and other more recent events as a mixture of casting himself in the lead role of his story as a gumshoe detective that doubles as the lead singer of a 1940’s styled swing band.

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It’s definitely a strange combination of storylines and ideas, but in an odd and hallucinatory way, it kinda works. Dark can go from listening to his doctors discuss his illness and various procedures to imagining the various health experts bursting into song and dance as he’s whisked away on his wheeled bed through a heavily choreographed musical number ripped right from Hollywood’s golden age. His imagination knows no bounds though and his mind can bounce from overly sexualized dance numbers to himself dancing and singing onstage to a shootout between himself and the two criminal henchmen portrayed comedically and threateningly by Adrien Brody and Jon Polito. The weight of the story comes into play once Mel Gibson’s Dr. Gibbon is introduced, a psychiatrist known to play to the eccentricities of his patients. It is through his eventual work with Dr. Gibbon that Dark realizes that the inciting event of his childhood was witnessing his mother have sex with his father’s business partner, forever forging a deep mistrust and fervent paranoia of love and sexual connection.

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Dark’s main interests lie in his assumption that his ex-wife Nicola, played by the always brilliant Robin Wright, has had affairs with a man that Dark imagines as looking exactly like his father’s cheating business partner (Some actors play different roles throughout the film). She visits Dark in the hospital to bring up the news that his old screenplay adaption for The Singing Detective has attracted attention from a producer in Hollywood, but Dark only assumes the worst at first, she’s clearly looking for information from him so that she might steal his work and reap the dividends. Slowly, and after much prodding, Dark begins to lessen the sting of his verbal venom and ease into healing from the work with Dr. Gibbons. His body begins to gain strength and his lesions begin to recede. Not before his hallucinations all begin to combine and further warp his own interpretation of reality though. This film is an interesting exercise in telling a story through the perception of one character as his imagination informs his world and therefore shapes how he interacts with the people in the real world around him. Robert Downey Jr. steals the show for the most part, his cantankerous spirit here is most likely pulling from some of his own self discovery through rehab, lashing out at first before coming to peace in understanding himself and the process of healing. Though that’s pure speculation on my part. Mel Gibson hides in plain sight here as Dr. Gibbons in heavy make-up with a calm and guiding demeanor, differentiating this performance from most of his previous work.

There can be some painfully apparent lip-syncing for the musical numbers, but again, as most of the film is from Dark’s paranoid and warped perspective I can give that aspect some slack as oddities play into a lot of the scenes. Part homage to Noir crime films, part musical embracing a pastiche of classic Americana, and part self discovery through medical rehabilitation, “The Singing Detective” can be an array of jumbling tones and ideas at times, but shown through the prism of our wounded author Dan Dark, we get a unique if somewhat underwhelming film that’s worth a watch at the very least.

Final Score: 1 vocal gumshoe and 1 bedridden writer 

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Review: Hacksaw Ridge

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is the true story of Desmond T. Doss’ actions during World War Two in which he volunteered for duty as a conscientious objector to serve as a medic on the battlefield. Doss was a seventh-day Adventist that held to his strong beliefs, particularly “Thou shalt not kill” and throughout the film we’re given context as to why someone that won’t even touch a rifle signed up for war. It essentially comes down to Doss’ unbreakable conviction, strong beliefs, and his downright Captain America-esque sense of duty.

This film comes to us from the original Mad Max himself, Mel Gibson. In truth this film is the perfect fertile ground for Gibson and a comeback to Hollywood barring his interest and acceptance back into the fold. Here is a tale that is an excellent example of the duopoly of American thought that Gibson himself exemplifies in his own work. It is a love affair between religious idealism and gratuitious violence in all its glory. Of the thrill of battle, and yet the horrors of war. Gibson’s film repertoire shows this in spades, from ‘Braveheart’ to ‘The Passion of The Christ’, to ‘The Patriot’ and back again Gibson loves to focus on characters that stick to their foundations- no matter the trials they are set to endure. This film is one where Gibson gets to have his cake and eat it too. There is a clear and foreboding sense of intensity from the first sequence shown so that we know beforehand of the terror our plucky protagonist will go through, whereby staying true to his convictions, salvation awaits on the battlefield as they say. While this film deserves at least an academy nomination, possibly even best picture or best director material, I’d be surprised if it came to pass as Gibson remains on Hollywood’s hit list for his sins of the past.

While the initial build up to the second half of the film, the part Gibson gleefully awaits, can be a bit “Aw Shucks” in its 1950’s idealism at times, the simmering underbelly of humanity’s capability of grisly horror lies consistently below that veneer. Although the film wanders close to cliche in certain moments the character of Doss is the anchor of the film, portrayed earnestly by Andrew Garfield, as his character grows on you with his insistence and true to himself charm. There are, however, moments when you’re left wanting just a little more to each character and the intracacies suggested within them. Doss’ courtship of Dorothy is almost too straightforward in its portrayal, this being the bit where the film wants you to become attached to our weaponless warrior, and for the most part- it works. The film doesn’t weigh itself down by doing so though as the American scenes of the film help to ground the audience for the hellfire that is to come.

The acting throughout the film was surprising, humorous, powerful, and well executed. Andrew Garfield surprised the hell out of me personally, I wasn’t the biggest fan of his Peter Parker portrayal in the last set of ‘Spiderman’ films, but here Garfield can lean into that wide eyed enthusiam and benefit from those experiences as he never spreads it so thick that it becomes unwatchable, or even uninteresting. What sets his performance out here is his consistency throughout the film. The Character never breaks from what we would expect from him. It is an impressive role for the young actor and if he doesn’t get the oscar nod for this film he may be getting another shot with Scorsese’s upcoming ‘Silence’ as well. Hugo Weaving, as the father of Doss, wallows drunkenly in the cemetary of his long lost brothers in arms, and scours among his family with his own buried sorrow that came from his war. He is the source of Desmond’s deep seated morals against violence that we see in several flashbacks (including a fight between brothers that turns dark quickly) to give Desmond’s firm decisions context. Once we get to the bootcamp sequences the film opens up in scope as we’re introduced to his fellow soldiers to be. Sergeant, ‘Sarge’, Howell surprisingly portrayed by Vince Vaughn (An odd, but impressively solid choice for the character) doles out nicknames, barks orders through training sessions, and gives Desmond Hell once our protagonist is outed as a conscientious objector. The whole cast of Doss’ fellow soldiers are well rounded and feel realistic, a few of these men will likely get more roles off of their appearance here. Lastly Sam Worthington rounds out the cast with his performance as Captain Glover, a stern and unyielding leader who sometimes sounds a wee bit Australian. In all seriousness though his presence is a nice edge to compliment Vaughn’s marginally softer authority role.

Once the cast reaches the shores of Okinawa the film gears up for the slaughter to come. Save for ‘Saving Private Ryan’ this is likely the most brutal and unforgiving set of war sequences put on film. This half of the movie is where the film shines brightest. Throughout the chaos of battle, and the quiet moments of horror sparsed inbetween, Doss serves as a field medic and narrowly avoids the carnage sweeping around him as he hauls wounded soldiers to makeshift operating tables in the dirt. Here we find an unflinching look at war and what it can do to a man, how it scatters a team, how fear can grasp once proud men and shatter them to pieces. It is a stark and bleak view that may halt a few moviegoers considering signing up for duty. Once the need for a retreat is obvious the group climbs back down the shear cliff of Hacksaw Ridge we find our hero Doss alone and finally asking of God “What do you want of me?” and in turn a wounded soldier cries out for a medic from the smoke and fog of war. Once Doss has his mission he brazenly runs back into the hellfire of falling bombs and missiles to drag his men to the cliff and then lower them with a makeshift rope and pulley system. In the end he saved roughly 75 men by himself. After rejoining with the survivors Doss and company raid the Ridge in one last glorious romp through the trenches. Here Gibson make use of unique camera shots and choices that revel in the glory of battle as kinetic energy sweeps across the screen while the men fight on to take Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa Japan.

In the end this a solid war film with a lot going for it. While there is clearly a religious influence inert in the main characters motivations it is never pressed upon to the point of revulsion for anyone not agreeing with the notion. It is a respectful motivation that is just as earnest as Doss himself was. Everything from the pace to the color palette is well considered and contemplated. The action is expertly directed and shot. All in all, if this sort of movie appeals to you, you’ll likely fall in love with this flick.

Final Score: 4.8/5

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Possibly Unpopular Opinion: Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson has become by his own choices in life both an amazingly competent director and actor, but by the same hand he has also made some severely poor choices in his personal life at varying times of distress. My argument here is not to convince anyone to forget the things he said, but to understand not only the context of those situations, but that he apologized profusely, and has not committed such grievances since that time. Plus, outright dooming an actor for previously unwise decisions isn’t always the right way to go. Think about it, if we hadn’t all given Robert Downey Jr. a second chance the Marvel Cinematic Universe would either look very different than it does today or not exist at all. So with that lets explore why Mel Gibson should be considered an icon in the world of film.

Mad Max. It feels strangely poignant to come full circle with the renewed interest in Gibson’s original Road Warrior, albeit in the new flesh of Tom Hardy. “Mad Max: Fury Road” was an insanely impressive feat of filmmaking, but George Miller started the character off decades ago and was Gibson’s first major role in movies. The original Mad Max movies combined insane stunt work, gripping visuals and score, with the quiet charm subtly imbued in Max through Gibson’s emoting in an intense and gritty post apocalyptic setting. If you haven’t seen them, I highly suggest it, “The Road Warrior” in particular is one of the best sequels of all time in the new and exciting ways the Max’s world has expanded to become even more mad than the original. In fact, for a taste, check out this link below* in it IGN dissects one of the initial scenes in the sequel that sets the tone for the rest of the film.

After the success of the Mad Max movies Mel Gibson became a a sought out figure in the movie making business. His next major role came in the form of Martin Riggs in “The Lethal Weapon” movies. Likely the best of the “Buddy Cop” action flicks Gibson does a 180 from the solemn and deadly, yet speculative, Max to the absolute balls to the walls unpredictable bolt of lightning that is Riggs. Nothing but testosterone and one liners “Lethal Weapon” is truly a product of its time, and it is a damn fun time. Throughout the four movies Riggs and Danny Glover’s Roger Murtaugh get into all sorts of collateral damage, high speed car chases, and plenty of fists are thrown, and bullets fired in the name of taking down the bad guys. Not exactly high level acting, but oh so much fun. **If you haven’t (somehow) seen any of these movies yet I’ve linked the trailer for the first entry in the series below, it’s wonderfully 80′s and oh yes, plenty of neon wide font graphics to boot!

It’s after this period that Gibson ascends to greatness in my opinion. In ”BraveHeart”, pretty much the greatest thing Gibson’s ever done, he portrays William Wallace in a historical epic set in 13th century Scotland. The film depicts the Scottish revolt against the iron-fisted rule of the English led by none other than Wallace himself. The film was a critical and commercial success for Gibson’s directorial debut netting him the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography Oscars among others. I could go on and on about “Braveheart” but trust me, if you haven’t seen it, stop reading this right now, go watch it, and come back in three hours for the rest, believe me, it’s worth the runtime. Again, here’s the trailer*** just in case you need persuading, I’d link you to the great speech at the end, but if you haven’t seen it, you need to build up to that moment for the initial viewing. Here I will also include the trailer for “The Patriot” **** Mainly because its essentially just “BraveHeart” in America, but don’t let that stop you, its a damn fine historical war epic like its Scottish predecessor. Gibson’s acting in the Patriot might also be slightly better than his previous efforts, I say this because he is really, really good in several scenes and I would challenge anyone that claims Gibson can’t act to watch this movie in entirety because it gets tearfully emotional and powerful at times. Another solid performance to add to Gibson’s repertoire.

After this period things get somewhat sticky for The Lethal Weapon with the lucrative, yet disappointing “Signs” and “The Passion of The Christ”. Some of you out there might love these two movies, but here is the speed bump in quality content for me concerning Mel. “Signs” wasn’t really his fault, and I’ll give the movie some credit, there are times it works with its scenes setting up tension. However, that Shyamalan twist with the water was just too silly for me,

*SPOILERS!*

Why would those aliens invade a planet mostly covered by the one substance that can kill them?! You can make all the “That’s why they were only in the cornfields invading people” arguments you want, but guess what? Farmers use water every god damn day to WATER their crops!! I mean, c’mon, WE’RE mostly made out of water!!! Ugh. Okay, so that was mostly aimed at the terribleness of Director M. Night Shyamalan, but I digress, you lost me on that acting choice Mel.

As far as “Passion of The Christ” goes, Gibson may know how to direct a movie well (remember Braveheart?), and technically he might be a genius because of the rampant religious fanaticism that fueled the box office for this movie, but is it really even a movie? I say no. It’s literally just two hours of Jesus getting his ass kicked, brutally. Then they do what we all know the movie was leading up to, and crucify him. I know, I know, but hear me out, if you have essentially no build up to the brutality, why do I as the viewer care? “He’s JESUS though!” I digress, in the realm of the story, you need to give me something more than just a hell of an ass whooping for that long, demi-god or trinity member status does not make up for a lack of substance. Also, I haven’t seen that movie in forever so maybe I’m just being too harsh here, but I really did not care for it at the time.

Fast forward a few years and you have a wildly different movie come from The Road Warrior’s creation, “Apocalypto”. This was a return to directing form for Gibson, done entirely in subtitles and extremely intense once the action sets in motion, this movie was a return to Gibson’s previously well mined storyline arcs of “The little man gets pushed and he pushes back harder for his freedom”. The story takes place in undiscovered central america during the height of the Aztecs rule. The story centers on a small tribe that is torn apart by the imposing rule of the warlike Aztecs. They invade and kill whoever imposes them while gathering young men for rituals and slaves, then they simply leave the small children behind with their village burning and their dead lying about the place. Nasty. One young man of the captives has a wife left safely behind in a well and throughout the rest of the film he is simply trying to return to save her and his young child. It gets rather heart-poundingly extreme from there and I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you, but there is a scene where the main character essentially just runs for days while being relentlessly pursued! Check it out, again, trailer below. *****

So, what has he been up to lately you ask? After a few years passed since his public meltdown/racist/anti-Semitic episode, and everyone cooled down, Gibson returned to several acting roles. Notable mentions here being his quirky yet charming role in Director Jodie Foster’s romantic dramedy “The Beaver”. I’m including it here to showcase Gibson’s range, but also, it really was a heartfelt quirky charming bit of a movie.Not his best work, but a good deviation nonetheless.****** He’s also starred in several smaller projects like “Get The Gringo” and “Edge of Darkness” but they were more or less just “ok” genre pieces. The crazier titles he’s been a part of since then include his villainous roles in “Machete Kills” and ”The Expendables 3″. Both are ridiculous but fun in different ways and if you enjoy a good mindless action flick, they’re both worth a watch. The third Expendables entry may have under performed massively at the box office (though that may have been due to the film leaking a full two weeks before the release date) but its still chock full of sizzling action sequences, and Gibson gets to chew some scenery and he looks like he’s having a hell of a time with Stallone and the rest of the gang, here’s a bit of dialogue for fun!******* Machete Kills even has Charlie Sheen as the President of the United States. Tiger Blood does wonders for the campaign trail I suppose.

What’s next for this controversial character? It could seemingly be anything at this point in time. My point here is that if we can all let Tom Cruise get back into the business and prove his entertainment value once more a la “Edge of Tomorrow” or “Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol” then we should all at least give him a shot when he does try for something worthwhile. Robert Downey Jr. has been publicly rooting for Gibson to be involved in the Marvel cinematic Universe, and I’m just saying, how cool would it be if he turned out to be Star Lord’s father? Take my money please. Until he does something bigger and better he’ll most likely do bit acting jobs that he’s sees as somewhat lucrative or at least a good bit of fun a la “Machete Kills”, there’s even a rumor that he’ll reprise his role for the third movie, “Machete Kills, in Space” I’m not kidding, check the IMDB link below. Personally I hope he continues making solid acting or directing choices because he’s proven that if he cares about a project and really puts his blood, sweat, and tears into it, then it’ll turn into a great film. He can do it. We might just have to let him.

*http://www.ign.com/articles/2015/05/23/action-analysis-the-road-warrior

**https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUorM4nTX7k

***https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtO3CsleMDg

****https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5u1am7pmrw

*****https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngWBddVNVZs

******https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBDJebGQTaw

*******https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhZ1xdInaPY

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000154/