Review: Dodgeball

I know you. You know you. And I know you know that I know you.

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On the surface, you wouldn’t expect a comedy sports movie about Dodgeball to be a commercial success. But on opening weekend in June 2004 it comfortably beat out the opening weekend of Spielberg-Hanks’ The Terminal, grossing over $11 million more. A true underdog story.

The film centres around Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn), an incompetent gym owner with a don’t try can’t fail outlook on life. After not collecting membership fees for 13 months along with a slew of other blunders, his gym Average Joe’s is at risk of being foreclosed. That is of course if he can’t come up with $50,000 he owes in 30 days.

Across the road in the shrine to insecurity that is Globo Gym, owner, operator and founder White Goodman (Ben Stiller) awaits to demolish Average Joe’s to make way for an auxiliary parking lot. Suffering from a severe case of Napoleon complex, he surrounds himself with massive, muscly men called Laser, and Blazer, and Taser, and all kinds of azer’s.

After a car wash to build up some funds results in them actually losing money, the group of misfits that make up the members share a drink, ready to concede. Suddenly, and in the exact perfect moment, one of the members remembers an advertisement in Obscure Sports Quarterly magazine about a professional Dodgeball tournament. The prize for the winner? $50,000. Following an embarrassing loss turned win by disqualification in their qualifying match they make it to the finals in Las Vegas, picking up dodgeball legend Patches O’Houlihan in the process to be their coach.

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Dodgeball is a film that really should not be as good as it is. Vaughn and  Stiller both give fantastic performances throughout, in particular this was much needed for the latter after his lacklustre leading role in Starsky & Hutch. Stiller plays a parodical role of a self-loving gym addict teetering on the edge of a mental breakdown, and Vaughn is his usual charismatic self, acting as a Captain, steering the ship through a sea of silliness and slapstick.

While the humour was thick and fast and for the most part hit their mark, the jokes coming from Rip Torn’s character Patches were overly crass and was the only blemish on an otherwise spotless film. Thankfully he is killed off in an incredibly ironic way which goes some way to making up for his actions prior.

Contrastingly the funniest character during the film was a barely recognisable Jason Bateman as Pepper Brooks, sitting next to Gary Cole as two dodgeball commentators. Their chemistry and polar opposite personalities lead to some of the most hilarious exchanges with Bateman personally delivering many highly quotable lines.

This movie looks like it was almost as funny to shoot as it was to watch with numerous surprising cameos and a relentless humour that will bring you back again and again. There may not be any deep underlying meaning or character depth, but then again, does a film about throwing rubber balls need all that? It’s a bold strategy, one that I think pays off.

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Review: Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge represents Mel Gibson’s triumphant return to directing after a decade away from the chair

Ten years after the release of the critically acclaimed Apocalypto, Mel Gibson reaffirms his position as a top director in explosive fashion with his latest picture, Hacksaw Ridge. Exploring the incredible true story of Desmond Doss, a self-proclaimed ‘conscientious collaborator’, as he wrestles with both his religious beliefs and his comrades, who view those beliefs as cowardice.

The title of the feature originates from an important tactical location, nicknamed Hacksaw Ridge during the Battle of Okinawa. This is where the majority of combat scenes take place. Before any action begins, we are informed of multiple failed attempts to take the ridge, each time getting pushed back by the relentless Japanese army. Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) regards Hacksaw as the key to winning the war: ‘We take Hacksaw, we get Okinawa. We get Okinawa, we take Japan.’

Interestingly, the tone shifts dramatically and instantaneously when they arrive on Okinawa. There are certain parallels that can be drawn between this and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. For instance both have two very distinct halves. The first, a pre war training segment where we see the protagonist battle with his will, and the second, with the characters thrown into the heart of battle. Gibson’s work however employs a melodramatic style throughout the film’s opening, presenting life as almost idyllic. An unfaltering love story hindered only by his veteran father, who drowns his sorrow in alcohol to the detriment of his family, played fantastically by Hugo Weaving.

On the topic of acting, there were a slew of surprisingly convincing performances. Andrew Garfield, in his second and his best religious lead of 2017, seems to have ditched the Spider-Man typecasting with this Oscar nominated display. By far the most unexpected revelation though was Vince Vaughn as the initially hostile but ultimately compassionate Sergeant Howell. Perhaps the most memorable scene involves Vaughn’s character assessing the new recruits at the barracks. Using the wit reminiscent of some of his previous comedic roles such as Wedding Crashers and Dodgeball, he attempts to break them down through well-aimed character abuse.

Several times throughout the film, Gibson, like in his other films, fetishises violence. Being by far the worst offender of his catalogue, once the war begins, the slaughter is never far behind. The camera always lingers just a moment too long on the destruction, sadistically teasing the audience, even the eruption of flames from the flamethrower is alluring. This exaggerated romanticism contradicts the anti-war message the film otherwise overwhelmingly attempts to convey.

Hacksaw Ridge adopts traits common to vintage war films juxtaposed with modern special effects for the gory detail. It ends by showing interviews from Doss and those he saved, a poignant reminder that this is a true story, and the atrocities we see on-screen affected real people who fought and lost their lives to protect ours.