Mel Gibson, all is forgiven. His extraordinary fact based drama Hacksaw Ridge is a stunning, well made anti-war biopic about an American army medic Desmond T. Doss who never touched a gun during WWII but became the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Freedom. The action, much of it bloody, takes place as US troops attack Japan at Hacksaw Ridge and meet with fierce opposition. They climb a 60 foot cliff face to fight over and over again to get within firing distance of the enemy, but suffer severe losses each time. US naval ships fire driving back the Japanese giving them the window to reach the top and fight. What Doss (Andrew Garfield) did when the battle was over was absolutely incredible. I won’t spoil it for you, but he single-handedly rescued 75 wounded men and got them down the cliff – alone – before the Japanese came back. Wait till you see how he did it. The film, as Gibson films tend to be, is extremely graphically violent, reflecting the realities of war. It is a top notch drama, character study and philosophical exercise and looks at the military and war from the point of view of a man who stood up for his beliefs against all obstacles. I smell nominations.
Benedict Cumberbatch is Stephen Strange a leading New York neurosurgeon with attitude as, whose undoing ironically is the making of him. Marvel superhero Doctor Strange. Strange loses the use of his hands and is completely unhinged by it, and turns to the mystic arts and sciences for healing. He heads to a monastery in Tibet run by uber Amazon monk Tilda Swinton but he’s too arrogant to accept what her lessons. He eventually comes around and begins to heal, and realises her now has superpowers. Rachel McAdams is his former love, for now at least, his colleague at the hospital and his conscience. They still have feelings for one another but find it difficult to interact. She realises she enables his weirdness. He may be brilliant but he can’t communicate with regular folk, even the ones he loves. His exploration into his emotions, his mystical powers and transformation is an interesting arc. However his developing skills come at a cost, no one can be trusted. The film’s fun, formulaic and eye-popping. If you’re prone to reacting badly to constant strobing disco lights, stay away. It’s not a jewel but any means, but its good enough and a nice travelogue.
Thirteen year old Mongol / Kazakh girl Aisholpan is the first female in twelve generations to train an eagle and become a bona fide The Eagle Huntress in her native Mongolia. Her nomadic family depends on meat and fur caught by trained eagles which are revered, worked hard and released after seven years’ service. It is an honour to be part of the eagle hunters’ line, but the elders poo-poo her as a real hunter because she’s female. Aisholpan trains hard and undergoes unimaginable difficulties hunting in the mountains in deepest winter, and goes on to win the annual National Golden Eagle contest over veteran male hunters. Personal note, Aisholpan came to TIFF for the film but because she doesn’t speak English I couldn’t interview her. But I did meet her and she is a ray of sunshine with a wonderful spirit. She has the biggest smile I’ve ever seen with the rosy cheeks of a healthy simple outdoor life shining. Her eagle has a six foot wingspan and weighs fifteen pounds. To get to the contest Aisholpan rode her pony 100 km with the eagle on her forearm. This is uplifting, beautiful and encouraging. Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley exec produced and narrates.
Trolls is an all-ages dream! I saw it with a horde of youngsters early on a Saturday morning and even without coffee I was enchanted and had a whale of a time! It’s a sweet, sassy, colourful and heart warming story about Poppy (Anna Kendrick) whose positive attitude saves her fellow Trolls from certain death. Sounds grim, right? It is at times as when Branch (Justin Timberlake) decides the happy, innocent Trolls will never survive an attack by the Bergens. The Trolls are a happy breed, and in mortal danger one day a year when the unhappy Bergens eat as many Trolls as they can so they can experience a little happiness. It takes a woman to save them! There is so much for all ages. Older viewers will enjoy the soundtrack, for instance, there is an hysterical scene in which Branch tells Poppy to leave him alone because he likes the sound of silence, she pulls out a guitar and sings Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence! There were so many adult jokes crammed in there alongside intelligent and encouraging entertainment for kids.
Jim Jarmusch’ doc on Iggy Pop Gimme Danger is raw and rough tracing the punk rocker’s history from boyhood to today, no punches pulled. Like his music or not he’s always been a compelling figure in the world of pop culture. He has been influential in creative ways, music, style, art and in the zeitgeist. Stories about his unusual sex life circulated a lot in the 70s and his hard draining, hard living ways. It’s fun to see him in later life being interviewed in his laundry room waxing philosophical on what he meant to do, what he actually did and how he exceeded his dreams. He says Soupy Sales recommended using 25 words or less in a letter so he applied that to his songs. He thought it was a nice antidote to Nobel Prize Winner in Literature Bob Dylan whose songs were boring “blah blah blah”. Good doc. Weird, nostalgic experience.
Peter and the Farm (on VOD) Take a sixties hippie artist/philosopher give him a farm to go back to the land – de riguer in the sixties, watch all the hippies go back to the city and become lawyers and leave him there. Now in his seventies, Peter is still running the farm and his herds of goats, cows, chickens, but brutal precision yet much love. His wife left him and no wonder – he’s fascinating conversationalist and has many interests but he’s hard, stubborn and a suicidal booze hound. There are a few tough scenes in which he shoots animals he can’t use anymore. His hired man who comes around once in a while to saw wood and checks in on him every night to make sure he hasn’t killed himself. Talk about the hippie dream gone way too real. But hats off to him for sustaining it all these years, alone and poor and caring so much. He says he loves the farm more than his own life. An eye opener.
A Place Called Home from Australia is my new crush. It’s a brilliant series available on Acorn TV and PBS starring that incredible Australian actress Marta Dusseldorp who by the way, stars in three concurrent major series down under, Janet King, as a hard headed lawyer, Jack Irish, a crime caper with Guy Pearce and A Place called Home, a fifties period piece domestic drama and very much in the Downton Abbey mode. British in its fifties problems of racism, war shock and recovery, there are many gripping storylines and it moves like the wind. Storylines focus on an aristocratic family and the little village they rule. Dusseldorp is an ex-pat returned home as a nurse, accused of being in cahoots with the Commies in Italy, of having an abortion and other things too vile to mention. Someone’s even planning to kill her. She’s awesome, always says the right thing to fix any situation even when the local cop is grilling her plus she’s whip smart and good. Terrific series now entering its fourth season.