Review of reviews: Film
Directed by Mel Gibson (R)
A pacifist becomes a war hero.
Mel Gibson’s new World War II drama is a picture “alive with grim vitality,” said Stephanie Zacharek in Time. Ten years after the actor-filmmaker was arrested for drunk driving and went on an anti-Semitic tirade that threw his career into a downward spiral, he’s returned to directing, dramatizing the true story of Desmond Doss, a World War II medic who singlehandedly rescued 75 other soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa. A convincing Andrew Garfield plays Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who refused to carry a weapon for religious reasons but threw himself into the heat of horrific combat anyway. Gibson shows us bodies torn in half and rats eating the faces of the dead; his approach is “not for the faint of heart.” But while Hacksaw Ridge lacks subtlety, it is “brutally effective,” said David Calhoun in Time Out New York. Gibson’s masterful re-creation of Okinawa features “some of the most violent battle scenes ever committed to film,” and from the movie’s midpoint on, it’s impossible to look away. The action is almost sadistic, though, said Ben Croll in IndieWire.com. Eventually, you can’t help noticing that you’re watching “the most paradoxical of features: a movie venerating pacifism, made by a man pathologically beguiled by violence.”
Directed by Scott Derrickson (PG-13)
A cocky surgeon finds new power in the mystic arts.
In the long line of recent Marvel superhero movies, this latest entry is “the most visually dazzling by far,” said Oliver Franklin - Wallis in Wired.co.uk. “It’s also funnier and more balanced than much of the recent catalog,” and it pulls a few dependably watchable stars into the Marvel universe. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character, an arrogant surgeon who journeys to Nepal seeking healing after he cripples his hands in a high-speed car crash. A bald Tilda Swinton serves as his guru, and when she opens Strange’s mind to the existence of alternate dimensions, the visual magic erupts with the first of several kaleidoscopic sequences “that could swallow you whole.” Still, “is set-dressing enough when the core story is so painfully familiar?” asked Bryan Bishop in TheVerge.com. Here, the tale of an egotist who finds enlightenment and then joins a world-in-the-balance battle is also hampered by a rapid pileup of confusing mystical concepts. The actors, and a dash of “high-IQ wit,” make most of that mumbo jumbo digestible, said Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly. In the end, Doctor Strange isn’t just thrilling in a way many superhero movies are. “What makes it unique is that it’s also heady in a way most Marvel movies don’t dare to be.”
Directed by Jim Jarmusch (R)
A tribute to the godfathers of punk
Jim Jarmusch’s new documentary about Iggy Pop and the Stooges is “nearly as tame as Iggy was wild,” said Mike D’Angelo in AVClub.com. A “pretty straightforward rock doc” complete with the intercutting of performance footage and talking heads, Gimme Danger leaves tough questions aside to instead focus on the making of the band’s three hugely influential proto-punk albums: The Stooges (1969), Fun House (1970), and Raw Power (1973). Iggy, now 69, opens up on camera about his trailer-park upbringing in Ann Arbor, Mich., and about how his heroin habit derailed the band. Even so, the film proves “downright prim” in its treatment of Iggy’s selfdestructive engagement with sex, drugs, and alcohol, said Stephen Holden in The New York Times. “You don’t see it. You only hear about it.” That said, Gimme Danger is “plenty entertaining,” rich in moments of “foaming-at-the-mouth musical fury.” Besides, there’s purpose in its conventional approach, said Glenn Kenny in RogerEbert.com. Jarmusch is trying to win converts to his belief that the Stooges are rock’s greatest band ever. For a history lesson, the movie “rocks hard—it can’t help it.”
New on DVD and Blu-ray
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Criterion, $40)
Think of Robert Altman’s 1971 anti-Western, now remastered, as “a precursor to HBO’s Deadwood,” said The Wall Street Journal. The iconoclastic director “turned the Western genre on its head” with this tale of two frontier brothel owners squeezed out of business by a mining monopoly.
The Infiltrator (Broadgreen, $30)
This crime drama gave Bryan Cranston the chance to deliver his “most subtly layered film performance to date,” said the Los Angeles Times. As a customs agent infiltrating a drug cartel, he rekindles “the familyman decency and treacherous ambition he merged so brilliantly in Breaking Bad.”
Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (Sony, $35)
The all-female Ghostbusters reboot didn’t win over skeptics, but “it’s hardly a bad film,” said the Los Angeles Daily News. The new Blu-ray edition gets the most out of stars Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and the rest by including outtakes, extra gags, and behind-the-scenes featurettes.