Australian screen icon Mel Gibson is arguably at his best when embodying a protective and powerful father figure. We’ve seen it in his previous works The Patriot, Ransom and Braveheart and now we get the pleasure of a return to such roots in his latest comeback attempt Blood Father (2016). Having been caught up in a string of personal and public problems, the star’s atmospheric action-drama serves as redemptive piece for both character and actor, questioning just how far a man will go for forgiveness. Despite a number of flaws, including the monotony of treading the same beaten path as many before it, Blood Father is equal parts a hidden gem, full of charismatic central characters and amped up action.
An adaptation of Peter Craig’s novel of the same name, Blood Father is a stunning film stuck in the shell of a B-Grade movie, full of clever characterisation and dynamic dialogue. Its plot is simple enough, following the relationship between ex-con and recovering alcoholic John Link and his estranged daughter Lydia. Used to finding comfort at the bottom of a bottle, Link is struggling to stay sober and maintain a life on the straight and narrow, as a simple tattoo artist living in a beaten down trailer park alongside his sole friend and sponsor, Kirby. Just one year out of jail his world-weary life is upturned once again though, when he receives a call from his missing 17-year-old, who has got herself into a spot of trouble after shooting her drug-dealing boyfriend in the neck. When both cops and cartel come a-calling for her, Link must rely on his old friends and foes to find a way to protect her and prove that blood really is thicker than water.
The relationship between the two leads is clearly the standout of the film, as Gibson and Erin Moriarty share quips back and forth in a genuine and endearing interplay. Where there is blood, so too is there banter and heart-warming humour. A number of great supporting characters help fill-out the film too, from Diego Luna’s sleazy boyfriend Jonah, to Thomas Mann’s quirky motel clerk Jason. Out of the bunch the only gripe comes from the under-use of William H. Macy, whose character Kirby receives about as little growth as the weeds in the scenic desert setting. Gibson meanwhile is perfectly cast, with art imitating life for the man who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for the better part of this century. The film is not just his redemption, but is a look at what happens to the bruised and broken men Hollywood discards. Just as Link is a tortured soul, a man who has misplaced his own purpose as easily as he has lost his daughter, so too is Gibson wandering and waiting for the chance to payback on his penance.
The humour in Blood Father is as off-beat as the film itself, with Link musing over the destruction of his old beat-up Chevy Nova, not minutes after he was berating it for not starting. Even when the characters are in peril, they still hang hard to such heart, laughing over something as simple as the colour of one’s hair. Gibson has always made his money from his ability to shrug off any situation with a sarcastic swipe and there is certainly no shortage of that here. While most of the humour hits home, the film does fall flat on some accounts. At times the stark transition between the style and themes is more jarring than poetic, leaving you wondering just how much of a hand the studio had in post-production editing. This is never more obvious than when dealing with the supporting cast, with both Thomas Mann and William H. Macy’s scenes seemingly slimmed down to better encompass a shorter and more succinct story. While it certainly alleviates the boredom, we never feel like it quite hits the heights it should have.
Marking his first English language film since his 2001 remake of Assault on Precinct 13, director Jean-Francois Richet paints a glorious picture with his choice of cinematography though, from the sprawling sun-splashed deserts through to the stark and sterile lights of the cities. It’s strangely other-worldly, with more than a decent nod to the nostalgia of times past. Sure there may be tumbleweeds blowing down the street, but it’s the sort of place where we would never laugh at such a thing. As the bodies begin to pile up and the adrenaline-fuelled action sequences splatter across the screen, Blood Father leaves us with a sad, sinking feeling, rather than the quiet optimism of mainstream box office blockbusters. And despite the darkness that slowly spreads over the film, there’s nothing more magical than a film brave enough to show that not every story has a happy ending.
Shockingly violent and undeniably brutal, Blood Father catches you off guard when you least suspect, with more than enough double-crosses and dramatic deaths to keep viewers entertained. Despite its obvious flaws, in its simplistic story and been-there-done-that attitude, there is a lot to like and even a little to love in this latest crime caper. For those sitting there on their pedestals, hiding behind their blinkers and ready to let the film fall of their radar thanks to Gibson’s antics, it’s a damn shame. Despite bearing the scars both mentally and physically, he is as willingly as ever to give it his all, for whoever is still patient enough to be watching. It might be a grimy and meandering action-drama that punches above its weight, but just like what Link says about Lydia, Blood Father is every loser’s lucky day.
Rating: 3 Grizzled Gibson's out of 5
One of the scariest statistics about shark attacks is how they most often occur in less than six feet of water. Not only that, but according to the International Shark Attack File from the Florida Museum of Natural History, of last year’s 164 recorded shark attacks 98 of them were unprovoked. The most frightening piece of information about sharks though, is the commonly overlooked statistic that there are at least 28 other animals more likely to bite you than these razor-toothed foes. It’s safe to say that this last tidbit was overlooked for Sony’s latest menacing monster flick The Shallows (2016). Thankfully too, with director Jaume Collet-Serra crafting a tense and taut thriller that plays on society's deepest and darkest fears. Although realism and common sense make way for picturesque landscapes and gut-wrenching glee, Collet-Serra’s strong cinematography and edge of your seat action provide audiences pure popcorn escapism.
The soft sound of the ocean swell lulls us into The Shallows, with the film opening as a young boy discovers a Go Pro in the surf of a seemingly deserted Mexican beach. An innocent and unnerving scene soon turns sour when he replays the footage, catching a glimpse of the man-eating shark who will menace our main protagonist Nancy for the next hour and a half. Reeling from the recent death of her mother, the med-school dropout is restless, lost and seeking to regain her fighting spirit. Visiting a secret beach Nancy soon finds she is not alone after she is tugged beneath the surface. Critically injured and stranded on a rock shelf as the tide begins to turn, Nancy must use her wits to outsmart the great white shark and make it to the nearby buoy. But when it becomes apparent that help may not arrive, survival of the fittest begins to take on a whole new meaning.
As an Australian the most annoying part of the film is the fact Nancy defies three of the most crucial rules about avoiding shark attacks. Number one – never swim at dawn or dusk. Warned about it when she first arrives at the beach, Nancy still tries to catch one last wave before the sun sets and that is arguably why she winds up in the predicament in the first place. Secondly, she swims right up to a whale carcass, which was not only visible, but swamped by birds and bite marks. Lastly, she defies the never swim alone mantra, when her friend bails on her at the last minute and her two surfing compadres decide to call it quits for the day. However, this is not a film making its money off the logical, as other survival thrillers like 127 Hours (2010) did. Instead it takes pleasure in the visual, with a number of stellar action and establishing scenes. Notably there is the first pull-back to Nancy mid-wave, a dark silhouette shrouded in the curl of the water behind her. It’s not the two-note soundtrack tactic that Jaws (1975) took, but it’s an interesting method all the same. Similarly, despite a limited script the acting is as visceral as the visuals, Lively proving to be breath of fresh air in comparison to her Gossip Girl (2007) days. Like her husband Ryan Reynolds in his flick Buried (2010), majority of the film rests on her shoulders alone and she carries herself well whether she be surfing, swimming or screaming.
Filmed in Australia, on the beautiful beaches of the Gold Coast, the movie is sure to hit closer to home for many Australians. Especially after the spate of shark killings that have occurred off our beaches in the last decade. But the cinematography is a visual monster all by itself and one that demands to be seen on the big screen. To say it is beautiful is an understatement, with stunning overhead shots that soar above crystal clear seas and smooth ethereal underwater scenes. There are a few moments where time drags, as the filmmakers set up the scene and amp up the anticipation for the inevitable attack. However creating contrasts are what survival stories are all about. Close ups of surf straps and rubbery wetsuits are all-important to understand just how versatile they can be down the track. Best of all, the camera itself acts like a shark, its leering gaze drifting towards Nancy’s legs to create a deliberate attempt at audience discomfort. There is a trade-off though in paying too much attention to the landscape, with the film sometimes losing the fear and ferocity of its main attraction.
On a serious note, one must acknowledge the potentially dangerous flaws with such a flick, considering its misrepresentation of sharks. Just as Jaws spawned an interest in popularizing the recreational killing of sharks and vilified the creatures of the deep, so too does this movie treat them with little respect. Despite being an endangered species and one that rarely interacts willingly with humans, the shark in The Shallows is represented as a revenge-fuelled predator, more intent on knocking women off whales than feeding on the plentiful bounty its blubber would provide. What the film does point out though is how overfishing can push these creatures closer to human territory. It’s a shame Hollywood can’t sell science instead of fear in their films.
The Shallows might not be in the same league as Jaws, but you can feel it chomping at the bits to honour it. It even has the same slightly corny humour, with the best part of the film a bird aptly called ‘Steven Seagull’. The faithful friend is easily interpretable as a sign of Nancy’s late mother and it’s a heart-warming touch considering the lack of real backstory provided. Although the film adds little to the already established shark genre, it’s a rollicking ride and a throwback to classic edge-of-your-seat thrillers, where you can smell the saltwater, taste the seaspray and feel the searing sun on your face. Just what we all need before summer rolls in and we wonder whether it’s safe to enter the water.
Rating: 3 Teeth out of 5
Suicide Squad Review - A shamble of a script destroys one of the superhero genre's most promising blockbusters
When a film as promising as DC and Warner Bros’ latest venture Suicide Squad (2016) winds up as nothing more than a cacophonous burst of light and sound, it can be considered not just disappointing, but downright criminal. Bad pun aside, the fifth superhero offering of the year misses the mark big time with beyond poor pacing, cementing 2016 in the history books as the one for DC’s downfall. While it is easy to praise Marvel’s meticulous control over their films now that they are nearly thirteen pictures deep into their shared universe, what puts their cinematic comic-book adaptations a step above their DC competition is the fact they can hold their own as both standalone and interconnected action pieces. Unable to tread the fine line between pandering to fans and boldly stepping outside the box the studio wants to put you in, the Suicide Squad gang unfortunately wind up more a bland band than dream team.
It’s hard to describe the film’s storyline, as it is at once both painful and pointless. To emphasize this fact we need only look at the first few minutes, with disastrous director David Ayer not even able to figure out where the title should go, splashing it haphazardly across the screen smack bang in the middle of a scene. It only gets worse from there, with the whole first half of the film based around the exposition of our titular team, telling those who have never heard of DC’s ‘Worst. Heroes. Ever’ just how they came to be who they are. We’ve got Will Smith’s straight-shooting father Deadshot, Margot Robbie’s lovestruck fangirl Harley Quinn, Jay Hernandez’s hot-headed El Diablo, Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje scaly and surly Killer Croc and Jai Courtney’s beautifully bogan Captain Boomerang. Titled Task Force X, the team are assembled to takedown a nasty ‘terrorist’ in mid-town, who just happens to be an evil entity known as Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). Things only get stranger from there, but by then we’re almost three-quarters of the way through the film and are too busy wondering why we haven’t seen more of the action sequences we’ve been promised.
Sadly, not even a soundtrack that spans Eminem to Creedence Clearwater Revival can save this pieced-together picture. Although it looked bright and stylish in the lead up to its launch, with eighties music blaring in its trailers, ultimately Suicide Squad lacks the same smooth or slick style of its Marvel movie counterparts. Where they ooze charm and clearly have a dedicated group of writers pouring over every last detail, DC instead are rushing their creations right into the ground. So far, the studio has failed to deliver us even one decent film in their extended cinematic universe, trying too hard and focusing on dark and violent tones. Like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) comic timing goes right out the window in this film as well, as jokes hang half-finished in an awkward and agonising silence. Majority of the film’s failures though can be boiled down to David Ayer’s belief that he alone could deliver DC a shining star. Seriously, did no-one in the executive team think to question a script centred on a gang of villains calling themselves ‘family’ after just hours together? Nor ask about the inclusion of absurd story-splaining lines like ‘The Joker and Harley Quinn are gone’?
One thing Suicide Squad does deliver on however is its psychedelic tone. Bright colours pop on screen as the costumes and cars accentuate the comic book origins of the story. If only the film had remained focused on that element however, instead of pushing audiences to their limits with countless flashbacks and slow-motion moments. These are about as confusing as the film’s treatment of women, with the most prominent badass characters, Enchantress and Amanda Waller, both played by what was once the stereotypically ‘fairer’ gender. Despite that, the main marketing girl, Harley Quinn, gets punched and paraded around, part of an abusive relationship that evokes an ethically ambiguous tenor to the film. Even Katana (Karen Fukuhara) who is one of the most normal characters of the bunch is rarely heard speaking for herself, instead smothered into silence and a sidekick role by Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman).
Despite boasting one of the biggest and best ensemble cast’s in recent years, hardly any of the characters make it out of Suicide Squad as more than one-dimensional set pieces. One character is so neglected the filmmakers forget to introduce him, despite being a prominent part of the marketing campaign, imbuing him with the worst talent imaginable, before he is thoughtlessly killed off mere minutes into the second act. And no, I’m not even talking about Scott Eastwood nameless soldier, who suffers a somewhat similar fate. Notable exceptions to the trend include Robbie’s Harley Quinn, who is delightfully unhinged and loveable at the same time. Similarly, Jared Leto’s version of the Joker is neither terrible nor exceptional, but is instead criminally underused. Crazy and chaotic he has down pat, now all he needs is more development in the way of his clown-y comedy in future films. Best of all though is Jai Courtney’s quintessential Australian larrikin Captain Boomerang. Drinking beers in the middle of a fight, inappropriately asking girls out and brawling bad guys, this movie certainly marks his comeback from critically panned performances in A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) and Terminator Genisys (2015).
In the end, Suicide Squad leaves audiences with only a raft of unanswered questions. Like the who, what, where and why surrounding Delevingne’s Enchantress. And whatever happened to the cute pink unicorn Captain Boomerang carried around? Most importantly though, we are left wondering whether there is any way to get those two hours of our lives back. Perhaps Wonder Woman (2017) or Justice League (2017) can turn the tables back for DC, the potential is undoubtedly there to be tapped into. The only way that will be possible though, is if they stop trying to compete with the Marvel monster and realise there is enough space for two great superhero franchises in this world.
Rating: 1.5 Anti-Heroes out of 5
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