Hacksaw Ridge

Posted on November 3, 2016 at 5:39 pm

Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) called himself a “conscientious supporter.”  He wanted to support the troops fighting in WWII; he just would not touch a gun. And so, after brutal bullying and assaults and a court-martial, he was permitted to “go into battle without a gun.” And so, as a part of the “Liberty Battalion” of Army’s 77th Infantry Division, he went into one of the most dangerous battles of the war, with no weapons, just a Bible and some syringes with morphine.

Mel Gibson‘s first film as a director in a decade combines themes he returns to again and again: personal courage in the face of overwhelming odds, sacrifice for others, inspiration, faith, and very graphic, agonizing mortification of the flesh. The first half of the film introduces us to Doss, growing up in Lynchburg, Virginia with an abusive, alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving), falling for a pretty nurse (Teresa Palmer), and wanting to help the war effort without killing anyone.

Then there is an extended section covering basic training, with a tough but not humorless sergeant played by one of the few Americans in the cast, Vince Vaughn. It sweetly and sometimes amusingly harks back to the classic WWII films, with assorted characters from very different parts of the country are thrown together and a tough sergeant who whips them into shape with insults and threats, but everyone knows it is really for their own good, to teach them what they need to know to survive. There is no category for a regular army guy who says he cannot even touch a gun. They do everything they can to get him to change his mind or leave the military, but he will not give up. He’s a guy who will walk an extra two miles because he likes the woods. He knows who he is and what he believes.

And then, he is in battle. And again, he will not give up. “Just let me get one more, Lord,” is his prayer as over and over, 75 times, he heads back into enemy fire to pick up wounded men — including two Japanese soldiers — and carefully lower each one over a sheer cliff with an improvised pulley.

The scenes in battle are as harrowing as any ever put on screen. We are in the midst of utter carnage and chaos. Gibson knows how to create a visceral experience to make us understand just how extraordinary the rescue mission was. In an interview, he once said that he hates war, but loves warriors. Both are evident in this stirring tribute to a true hero.

Parents should know that this film includes extremely graphic and disturbing wartime violence with grisly images of wounded and dead soldiers, bullying and a brutal beating, domestic violence, and a car accident. Characters use some mild language.

Family discussion: How does the sergeant prepare the soldiers for war? How does he promote teamwork? What should the military do with “conscientious supporters?”

If you like this, try: “We Were Soldiers” and “Sergeant York”

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Posted on November 3, 2016 at 5:26 pm

Copyright 2016 Dreamworks
Copyright 2016 Dreamworks

“Trolls” is pure delight, lots of jokes, great music, and a surprisingly wise take on the elusive quest for happiness. Plus, it has that Justin Timberlake song that’s like pure sunshine.

It is tricky to make self-consciously adorable characters happy without being sugary, but it works because they understand the difference between happiness based on generosity, honesty, and courage and pleasure, based on sensation.

The characters are inspired by the so-ugly-they’re-cute troll dolls with the colorful poufs of hair invented by Danish sculptor Thomas Dam (DreamWorks has now bought the company, making the film something of an infomercial for the toys). The trolls all about sunshine, parties, singing, dancing, cupcakes, glitter, scrapbooks, and scrapbooks frosted with glitter. They have fitbit-style wrist bands reminding them every half hour that it is hugging time. The trolls are led by benevolent King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor), who saved the trolls from the monstrous Bergens twenty years before, and his irrepressibly cheery daughter Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick).

The Bergens are as naturally unhappy as the trolls are happy. The only way the Bergens have ever found to feel happy is to eat the trolls. Once a year, they would raid the troll tree and gobble down as many as they could. King Peppy led them to a secret place where the Bergens could not find them, courageously risking his own life to make sure there was “no troll left behind.”

Poppy decides to have a party to celebrate 20 happy and peaceful years since the trolls escaped from the Bergens. Branch (Justin Timberlake), the one pessimistic troll, warns her that a loud celebration might attract the attention of the Bergens, but Poppy insists. Branch is right — the Bergen chef (Christine Baranski) has been searching for the trolls for 20 years, and the party fireworks lead her to their new home. She captures some of the trolls and Poppy, mindful of her father’s example, goes off to rescue them.  Branch, who had predicted the Bergen threat and spent all his time creating a shelter while the other trolls were hugging and singing, had planned to wait out the invasion alone. But Poppy invites the other trolls to hide out there, and Branch agrees to go with her.

And so there is a journey and (literally) colorful characters along the way and once in Bergen-land, where the rescue effort is complicated but ultimately aided by the trolls friendship with a Bergen scullery-maid with a crush on the young king. Her name is Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) and she agrees to help the trolls if they will help her get the attention of the king.  There’s a makeover that is half mice in “Cinderella” and half Cyrano de Bergerac. I worried that the film was buying into old-school notions that a girl has to be made over to attract and please a man, but the film is clear that Bridget that she may get a confidence boost from the makeover but she needs to be honest with her crush about who and what she is.  And it was very good to see the movie’s honest engagement with the idea of happiness.  Even with daunting and scary challenges, a positive attitude can inspire you and those around you. Even the saddest loss does not mean that you lose happiness forever.  And the greatest happiness comes from being close to those we love.  Hugs and music and dancing always help, too.

Parents should know that this film includes fantasy/action peril. Some trolls are eaten by the Bergens, with one especially sad loss of a character’s grandmother.

Family discussion: What do the trolls know about happiness that the Bergens don’t?  What is the difference between pleasure and happiness? What is the hardest part of trying to be happy?

If you like this, try: “Megamind” and “Despicable Me”

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3D Animation Fantasy For the Whole Family Musical

The Bible Verse from “Hacksaw Ridge”

Posted on November 2, 2016 at 9:33 pm

Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” opens with a Bible verse that provides setting and inspiration for the true story of Desmond Doss, a WWII medic who braved enemy fire to bring 75 wounded soldiers to safety.

It is Isaiah 40:28

Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

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