Author: rickshaibani

HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Sir Doug Nicholls

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Doug Nicholls was born on December 9, 1906, at Cummeragunja Reserve, a small Aboriginal Australian community in rural New South Wales. The youngest of five children, Nicholls grew up surrounded by cattle and sheep stations and attended school at the local church mission.

By the age of 13, Nicholls was working for his uncle as a hand on a local farm, where he was known for his charming, boyish personality and strong work ethic. The young Nicholls showed plenty of athleticism, catching on with the Tongala Blues, a local Australian rules football club across the Murray River in country Victoria.

Eventually, Nicholls got good enough at footy in order to try out for both Carlton and North Melbourne – two teams in the Victorian Football League (VFL) – in 1927 at the age of 21. While Nicholls briefly played for Carlton’s reserves squad, his lack of height (5’2″) worked against him and he eventually chose to leave the club in favor of the Northcote Dragons Football Club, a team that competed in the Victorian Football Association (VFA).

Nicholls was able to work his way into the Dragons’ starting lineup by the 1929 season, and was eventually selected by Fitzroy, a well-established VFL club, in 1932. Known for his exceptional speed and ability to make smart decisions with the footy, Nicholls soon became a crowd favorite, although he was also subject to locker room taunts due to his ethnicity. It wasn’t until teammate Haydn Bunton befriended Nicholls that the young Aborigine felt like he belonged. In 1935, Nicholls became the first indigenous player to play for the Victorian state team.

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Nicholls also used his athletic talents to help fellow Aborigines, as well as raise funds by organizing footy matches to support Australian troops during WWII. He was also named the inaugural chairman of the National Aboriginal Sports Foundation. Following the death of his mother, Nicholls began to take an interest in the ministry, becoming a Church of Christ member after getting baptized in 1935.

While Nicholls wanted to serve in WWII, he was eventually released from his duties in order to help the Fitzroy community, including many Aborigines who suffered from alcoholism. In addition to his Christian ministry work, Nicholls became a social worker and was a voice against the alcoholism and gambling problems that he felt were plaguing his community. He also helped set up hostels for abandoned children, built vacation homes for poor families, and was also a field officer for the Aboriginal Advancement League. Many people admired Nicholls’s enthusiasm and charisma, and he eventually became the minister of the first Aboriginal Church of Christ in the country.

In 1953, Nicholls received a great honor when he was recommended to be a part of the Australian contingency that attended Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. This never materialized, but the recommendation specifically highlighted the positive community activism that Nicholls had been doing (he did eventually help welcome the Queen when she toured Australia in 1970).

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Among other career highlights, Nicholls was chosen as a member of the Father’s Day Council of Australia due to his work with youth, met Pope Paul VI at the Ecumenical Conference held in Melbourne in 1968, and ultimately was the first Aboriginal Australian to be knighted, in 1972. Nicholls was also the first Aboriginal to hold high office, when he was elected Governor of South Australia in 1976. However, he served only five months in office before resigning due to poor health.

Nicholls passed away on June 4, 1988, at his home in Mooroopna, Victoria. He was 81 years old and survived by his wife of 39 years, Gladys, in addition to three kids and three step-kids.

A state funeral was widely attended, and a life-size statue of Nicholls was dedicated in 2006 at Parliament Gardens in Melbourne. In addition, Nicholls remains widely influential in sport – the Australian Football League recognizes his achievements every year with the annual Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round, which celebrates the Aboriginal impact on the game of Aussie rules.

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Rugby League vs. Rugby Union – a comparison and history

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Rugby is an exciting full-contact sport that was founded in England in 1823, when a schoolboy named William Webb-Ellis became bored with kicking a soccer ball and decided to pick up the ball and run with it. This event resulted in the formation of what was called rugby, because it was founded at Rugby School in Warwickshire. However, the sport was not formally organized in a national competition (the Rugby Football Union, or RFU) until 1871.

Rugby quickly took off in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, and also developed a large following in the colonies of Australia and New Zealand. However, some important socioeconomic differences began to be revealed as the game spread.

Youngsters who played rugby in school were generally from upper-class families. They strictly played the game for fun, as players were not allowed to play professionally at the time.

However, rugby players in the northern parts of England – specifically Lancashire and Yorkshire – were the common people, mainly blue-collar workers. As such, they simply couldn’t afford to take significant time off work in order to play rugby, and their teams suffered because of it. Therefore, these northerners decided to devise a scheme to get paid professionally.

As rugby began to take off in northern England, the southern amateurs didn’t like that these would-be working-class professionals up north were trying to be compensated. In 1892, the RFU disciplined Bradford and Leeds – two northern rugby clubs – for paying players who had to miss work. However, the RFU was already paying southern players who had represented England abroad, such as the 1888 rugby team that toured Australia.

The furious northerners argued that the RFU had shown blatant favoritism towards the southern clubs, as well as stacking the deck against them in games and not giving them representation on any sport-related committees. In response, the RFU banned professional rugby teams nationwide.

However, all was not lost for the northerners, as they had created their own league in 1888, featuring a dozen teams. They called themselves the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU). The two sports officially separated in 1895, with the south becoming rugby union and the northerners sticking to what is now known as rugby league.

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SIMILARITIES BETWEEN LEAGUE AND UNION

The two codes of rugby have the same basic ideas:

  • Players can run forward with the ball or kick the ball forwards, as long as it touches the ground first (a drop-kick).
  • Players cannot throw or deflect the ball forwards (a knock-on) and must throw the ball backwards or sideways.
  • Players can score in different ways:
    • try is when a player who has possession of the ball touches it down on his opponent’s in-goal area.
    • A conversion kick occurs after a try and is very similar to an extra point attempt in American football.
    • Players can also score by kicking the ball through the uprights (a penalty goal) or during gameplay (a drop goal). Again, the ball must be drop-kicked on the ground.
  • Both rugby league and rugby union fields are 100 meters long.
  • Both codes have the same tackling rules (anywhere below the shoulders) and similar penalties.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LEAGUE AND UNION

  • Rugby league features 13 players a side, while rugby union is 15-on-15.
  • In rugby union, a try is five points, but it is four points in rugby league. Likewise, a drop goal is worth three points in union, but only one point in league. Conversion kicks are worth two points in both codes.
  • Rugby union places a large emphasis on winning possessions via mauls and scrums, when both teams fight for the ball against each other while holding their teammates tight.
  • In rugby union, a ruck is what happens when a player is tackled by an opposing player. The player who got tackled must let go of the ball, while his teammates push the opposing players away. However, in rugby league, the tackle is uncontested, and the player(s) who made the tackle must retreat ten meters.
  • In rugby union, a team has unlimited possessions and can therefore control the clock. However, in rugby league, a team has only six chances to score a try. On the sixth attempt, a player will usually kick the ball long to the other team, just like an American football punter would. This was designed by the original NRFU players in order to keep the scores close and make sure both teams had even possessions.

These rules may seem like minor differences, but the modern versions of both league and union are very different in practice. Rugby union matches are both brutal and methodical, requiring precise kicks and ball disposals, as it’s all about strategy and knowing what to do to get your team in position to score. Rugby league is much more simple and straightforward, and many American football fans who watch league on TV will be able to follow it very quickly. In order to play rugby league, you must be quick and agile. Union is generally more physical, but also isn’t as fast-paced as league.

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Rugby union is the de facto code played in most schools around the world, and when fans and players talk about “rugby,” they’re generally referring to union. The game is played widely around the world, as it remains a major sport in the UK, as well as in Pacific islands such as New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji. The US, South Africa, Japan, France, and Ireland are some other notable nations that compete on an international scale, either in rugby union or the abbreviated form known as rugby sevens (I played both union and sevens when I was an undergrad at New Mexico State University).

Rugby league is more of a localized niche sport, as only a handful of countries play it. The only country where league is more popular than union is Australia, and it has a particularly large following in the states of New South Wales and Queensland.

In addition, rugby league is widely played in southern France, New Zealand, Wales, the Pacific islands, and the northern parts of England in which it originated. League is also the national sport of both Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands.

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MAJOR RUGBY LEAGUE COMPETITIONS

  • Super League (England/France)
    • Castleford Tigers
    • Catalans Dragons (France)
    • Huddersfield Giants
    • Hull F.C.
    • Leeds Rhinos
    • Leigh Centurions
    • Salford Red Devils
    • St Helens F.C.
    • Wakefield Trinity
    • Warrington Wolves
    • Widnes Vikings
    • Wigan Warriors
  • National Rugby League (Australia/New Zealand)
    • Brisbane Broncos
    • Canberra Raiders
    • Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
    • Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
    • Gold Coast Titans
    • Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
    • Melbourne Storm
    • Newcastle Knights
    • New Zealand Warriors
    • North Queensland Cowboys
    • Parramatta Eels
    • Penrith Panthers
    • St George-Illawarra Dragons
    • South Sydney Rabbitohs
    • Sydney Roosters
    • Wests Tigers

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MAJOR RUGBY UNION COMPETITIONS

  • Premiership Rugby (England)
    • Bath
    • Bristol
    • Exeter Chiefs
    • Gloucester
    • Harlequin F.C.
    • Leicester Tigers
    • Newcastle Falcons
    • Northampton Saints
    • Sale Sharks
    • Saracens
    • Wasps
    • Worcester Warriors
  • Super Rugby (Australia/New Zealand/South Africa/Argentina/Japan)
    • Blues (New Zealand)
    • Brumbies (Australia)
    • Bulls (South Africa)
    • Cheetahs (South Africa)
    • Chiefs (New Zealand)
    • Crusaders (New Zealand)
    • Force (Australia)
    • Highlanders (New Zealand)
    • Hurricanes (New Zealand)
    • Jaguares (Argentina)
    • Kings (South Africa)
    • Lions (South Africa)
    • Rebels (Australia)
    • Reds (Australia)
    • Stormers (South Africa)
    • Sunwolves (Japan)
    • Waratahs (Australia)
  • Top 14 (France)
    • Aviron Bayonnais
    • Union Bordeaux Bègles
    • CA Brive
    • Castres Olympique
    • ASM Clermont Auvergne
    • FC Grenoble
    • Lyon OU
    • Montpellier Hèrault
    • Section Paloise
    • Racing 92
    • Stade Rochelais
    • Stade Français Paris
    • RC Toulonnais
    • Stade Toulousain
  • Currie Cup (South Africa)
    • Blue Bulls
    • Boland Cavaliers
    • Border Bulldogs
    • Eastern Province Kings
    • Falcons
    • Free State Cheetahs
    • Golden Lions
    • Griffons
    • Griquas
    • Leopards
    • Pumas
    • Sharks
    • SWD Eagles
    • Western Province
  • National Rugby Championship (Australia)
    • Brisbane City
    • Canberra Vikings
    • Country Eagles
    • Melbourne Rising
    • Perth Spirit
    • Queensland Country
    • Sydney Rays
    • Western Sydney Rams
  • Mitre 10 Cup (New Zealand)
    • Auckland
    • Bay of Plenty
    • Canterbury
    • Counties Manukau
    • Hawke’s Bay
    • Manawatu
    • North Harbour
    • Northland
    • Otago
    • Southland
    • Taranaki
    • Tasman
    • Waikato
    • Wellington

Who Killed Captain Alex? (2010)

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This film might just be the most unique thing I’ve ever seen.

Who Killed Captain Alex is a 2010 independent action film made by director Isaac Nabwana Godfrey. It was filmed entirely on location and released on DVD several years ago, after being made for $200.

Not $200,000. Not $2,000.

Two hundred dollars.

But more on that later.

I originally found out about Who Killed Captain Alex via the YouTube channel I Hate Everything (IHE). In case you aren’t familiar, IHE (real name Alex Horton) is a UK-based YouTube personality known for his deadpan comedy and humorous criticisms of films and pop culture trends.

One of IHE’s main series is “The Search for the Worst” – where he dissects the bottom 100 movies as rated by IMDB and attempts to find the worst movie ever made. Who Killed Captain Alex was on the list, but IHE took a different approach than usual, given the context of the film and how it was made. He ended up being fairly impressed (you can find his review of the film on the IHE YouTube channel).

Who Killed Captain Alex is very amateur-looking on a technical level, but that’s of little consequence due to the entertaining insanity of the film itself. The plot obviously focuses on the death of the eponymous Captain Alex, whose surviving group of commandos and mercenaries have been leading a fight against the fierce Tiger Mafia and its boss, Richard. Following Captain Alex’s death, Richard’s brother is captured and he mounts a guerrilla campaign in order to exact his revenge.

The film features outrageously choreographed stunts and kung fu fights, and while its meandering plot is a definite negative, the film is so entertaining and bizarre that you can’t help but smile. Given the insanely small budget, it’d be easy for Nabwana and Co. to use that as an excuse not to try their best. But they’re clearly having so much fun that all the significant flaws are footnotes. It soon becomes pointless to critique all of the technical flaws due to how fun and crazy it becomes.

And hey, for an amateur indie film, the cinematography and editing aren’t as bad as you might think, and I was actually fairly impressed with the sound. The acting isn’t great, but it’s passable. Given that Who Killed Captain Alex is shot entirely on location without any controllable conditions, the decent sound and editing are actually pretty admirable. Who Killed Captain Alex is silly, ridiculously entertaining, and quite charming, because it never takes itself seriously. These people are having so much fun, even though they thought no one would see their films.

One of the things that may or may not be a deal-breaker for English-language viewers is the presence of the so-called “video joker”, or VJ. Unique to Ugandan cinema, the VJ is essentially the MC/movie commentator, similar to what the guys do on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 or Rifftrax. 

The VJ can be a little annoying at first, but I feel like he’s actually very helpful and funny, considering that the plot is somewhat confusing at times and the characters speak the Luganda language with English subtitles. Still, I know that some moviegoers don’t like commentary on films at all, so not everyone will fully embrace this aspect.

Who Killed Captain Alex is one of the craziest movies I’ve ever seen, and in the best possible way. So I had to find out more information about Isaac Nabwana Godfrey, the writer/director.

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As it turns out, Nabwana is a prolific Ugandan filmmaker based in Wakaliga, a slum on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, Kampala. No one had ever heard of Nabwana when the trailer for Who Killed Captain Alex went viral on YouTube several years ago, advertising itself as “UGANDA’S FIRST ACTION MOVIE.”

But Nabwana has been making micro-budget films as a self-taught director for many years. He has no practical experience in directing and has never even been in an American-style movie theatre before. Several years ago, Nabwana took a computer repair course in college before he was forced to drop out due to lack of funds. While working as a bricklayer and masonry specialist, Nabwana was able to slowly raise money to purchase his own Sony camera. He purchased computer parts secondhand, building his own computer from scratch in order to edit his films.

Many of Nabwana’s previous films are lost in cyberspace, because he simply doesn’t have enough data on his hard drive to hold files for more than one movie. Given that he lives in a third-world country with inconsistent electricity, Nabwana does the best he can to edit all of his movies and eventually screen them to his friends and family.

Nabwana never thought that any of his films would ever be seen outside of his village. He estimates that he has made roughly 30 short or feature-length films, but Who Killed Captain Alex was the first to attract worldwide buzz. They’re calling themselves “Wakaliwood” and are trying to continue their prolific output by making more films, especially action movies. Their end goal to is start Uganda’s first action movie studio and get more actors and crew members to join their team. Since they went viral, Wakaliwood has been profiled in BBC articles and a Vice documentary, and they’ve even screened from of their more recent films to American and European audiences.

Before they went viral by accident with Captain Alex, Nabwana and his cast and crew went door-to-door in Kampala – sometimes in costume – selling their DVDs. Eventually, once they gained international notoriety, they started up their own website (www.wakaliwood.com) and launched a Kickstarter. Who Killed Captain Alex even has an epilogue in which Nabwana, standing in his village, introduces himself to audiences, promotes the website and Kickstarter page, and dedicates the movie to his recently deceased grandmother.

You can view Who Killed Captain Alex on YouTube, or buy a cheap DVD on their site, as well as Wakaliwood posters, t-shirts, and autographs. The Kickstarter isn’t operational anymore, but they do have a Patreon where they raise funds for the action movie studio and for distribution of their other films.

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It’s honestly so cool and touching to see how sincere and dedicated these Wakaliwood guys are. They had every excuse in the book to throw in the towel and make something lame or lazy, but they have a larger-than-life passion for the filmmaking process, regardless of money or resources. It’s admirable that, in a world where big-budget Hollywood action movies are getting churned out conveyor-belt style, that there are still people out there who love art for the sake of it – no paycheck required.

I tip my hat to Nabwana and his team of action movie goofballs. Given that they have to ration clean water and don’t even have consistent electricity or plumbing, you wouldn’t expect them to be able to do what they do. There was even significant unrest in Kampala at the time of filming, with some crew members and cast fearing for their lives due to violence in the area.

But they still made a film. So why can’t you?

  • Released 2010
  • Written, directed, produced, shot, and edited by Isaac Nabwana Godfrey
  • Executive Producer – Alan Hofmanis
  • Music by Vicent Kizito
  • Commentary by VJ Emmie
  • Starring William Kakule, Ernest Sserunya, G. Puffs, Isma Kasumba, Muhammed Faizat, Dauda Bisaso, Prossy Nakyambadde, Muhammed Kavubu, Swaib Ssenkugu, Bonny Kaggwa, Sumaiyah Nassali, Lukyamuzi Musomesa, Farouq Kakooza, David Musisi, Musoke Ssalongo, John Bosco Kasirye

HACKSAW RIDGE (spoiler review)

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I’ve already reviewed Hacksaw Ridge previously on my blog, but I rented it at my local Redbox recently and decided to rewatch it – and yes, it’s just as incredible the second time. I’d like to go a little bit more in-depth with this movie, which I regard as one of the best of 2016.

In case you missed it, Hacksaw Ridge grossed over $175 million worldwide, received six Oscar nominations (winning two), got a 10-minute standing ovation during its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and was listed as one of the top ten films of the year by the American Film Institute. It’s also a big comeback for its director, Mel Gibson, and has further cemented its star, Andrew Garfield, as a major Hollywood A-lister.

As mentioned in my original review, the plot revolves around the extraordinary true story of Desmond Doss, an Army medic who felt duty-bound to enlist in World War II – but as a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, he refused to fire a weapon or carry a gun into battle. He ended up saving the lives of 75 men and became the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The film’s first half shows Doss’s childhood and upbringing in rural Virginia, including his relationship with his parents and brother. Doss is raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist, avoiding all forms of violence and attempting to live his life according to his Christian beliefs. He also has a difficult relationship with his father Thomas, who served in WWI and suffers from PTSD and alcoholism.

One day, Doss comes to the rescue of a man whose leg has been crushed by a car, saving him by using his own belt as a tourniquet. After helping take the injured man to the hospital, Doss offers to donate some blood and begins to chat with a pretty nurse named Dorothy Schutte. They take a liking to each other and soon start a relationship, while Doss, intrigued by the medical field, wants to enlist in WWII and serve as an Army medic.

During basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Doss refuses to touch a weapon, drawing the ire of his superiors, Captain Glover and Sergeant Howell. They attempt to get Doss kicked out of basic training via a Section 8 psychiatric discharge, but he insists that he can serve as a medic while retaining his pacifist beliefs. Doss’s fellow recruits abuse him mentally and physically, considering him a coward. Despite encountering many hurdles, Doss relies on his faith in difficult times and is eventually allowed to serve in the Army without being rifle-certified.

The second half of the film focuses on the Battle of Okinawa itself. The Americans are attempting to reclaim the island from Japanese forces, and the key to doing that is to take the eponymous ridge and beat back the Japanese soldiers guarding it.

Easier said than done.

The film’s battle sequences are uncompromisingly graphic and harrowingly realistic; they might even be better than Saving Private Ryan. I can’t even describe how many times my jaw dropped during the Okinawa scenes and I actually lost track of the body count very quickly. The cinematography and editing are exceptional at capturing this visceral battle. We get to see the atrocities of war up close and personal, especially the real physical agony of Doss’s duties – while having no method of defense. Doss’s constant refrain is “Please, Lord, let me get one more” as he continues to head into the fray, rescuing his buddies, surrounded by flying bodies, explosions, and bullets. Even when his unit is forced to retreat for the night, Doss stays up on the ridge, tending to the wounded and carrying them back.

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One of the most powerful moments in the battle sequences is the culmination of Smitty’s character arc. Smitty (played by Australian actor Luke Bracey) is a hardcore, alpha-male soldier who has been one of Doss’s frequent tormentors, mocking him for his perceived cowardice. However, after seeing Doss rescue numerous men in the first assault on the ridge, Smitty sees the young medic’s value. The two men share a foxhole that night.

Smitty admits that he “learned how to hate quickly” growing up in a Brooklyn orphanage. Drawing upon a traumatic event in his childhood, Doss explains why his rejection of violence is an integral part of his faith and worldview. Smitty begins to begrudgingly give Doss some respect.

In the next assault on the ridge, Smitty is mortally wounded. And this tough guy is finally shown to have vulnerability, simply saying, “Doss, I’m scared” as Doss bandages his wounds and gives him a shot of morphine. Doss is then shown crying when he carries Smitty back down the ridge, knowing that his friend won’t make it. It’s such a simple and poignant scene that could have easily been overly melodramatic, but Gibson and his actors execute it so well.

Andrew Garfield is very good in this role. We see some film clips of the real Doss at the end of the film, and Garfield, in addition to the facial resemblance, really nailed the cadence of Doss’s walk and his charming country-boy personality.

Garfield was moved by the script and stated that he was drawn to Doss’s spiritual convictions. Previously well-known for playing Spider-Man, Garfield embraced the fact that he could play “a real-life superhero.”

“The fact that this man, who’s built like me, dragged men across the most rugged terrain under gunfire, the possibility of mortars and shells, and then lowered them down a 75-foot escarpment, not just once, but 75 times. It’s that kind of divine help,” Garfield remarked at the film’s premiere.

Garfield, a Brit, also does an excellent job with Doss’s thick southern accent. It’s common for actors to overdo regional accents like this – having grown up in Virginia and knowing how some people talk, I was initially afraid that the accent would come across as cheesy or overdone. But the real Doss had an extremely strong drawl, and Garfield nailed that part of the character, too. It’s worth mentioning that Doss’s son, Desmond Jr., saw the film at its premiere and was moved to tears by Garfield’s portrayal of his father.

“Mel makes films that, I think, get to the core of our humanity, and I think that everyone leaves his movies feeling deeply moved,” Garfield said in an interview.

Aussie actress Teresa Palmer was so excited to have the opportunity to work on Hacksaw Ridge that she auditioned simply by taking a video on her iPhone. After not hearing back for nearly a month, Palmer eventually got a Skype call from Gibson saying that she got the part of Dorothy Schutte Doss.

Meanwhile, Bracey read the script and was moved to tears. “I called my agent and said, ‘I’ll play a tree in this movie – anything just to be a part of it.’ Then I put myself on tape and luckily Mel responded to it,” Bracey said.

The entire film was shot in rural New South Wales – including the Blue Mountains, the outskirts of Sydney, and other locations. The filming schedule was only 59 days – half of the time Gibson had to shoot Braveheart. But the actors involved were always game to attack each day with intensity. “Everyone knew the importance of the story, and there were no egos on set,” remarked Bracey. “We were all aware of how lucky we were to be a part of this.”

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And now onto the man behind the camera.

I’ve long been a fan of Mel Gibson as an actor, but especially as a director. His love of slow-motion shots is on full display in Hacksaw Ridge, and the sheer epic scale of the entire film is very Gibson-esque, echoing Braveheart. Simon Duggan’s cinematography really gives the film a genuine period piece feel that is difficult to recreate.

Apocalypto was actually the last film that Gibson had directed before Hacksaw Ridge, back in 2006. I was a big fan of Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, but Apocalypto is a criminally underrated, beautifully-shot action film that deserves more praise.

The reason I bring it up is because this film feels like it takes the best elements of all of Gibson’s best-known films – the heroism and inspiring tone of Braveheart, the in-your-face graphic violence of Apocalypto, and the powerful spiritual themes of The Passion.

However, Hacksaw Ridge is also a departure for Gibson, because the protagonist doesn’t engage in any violence himself – in fact, quite the opposite. That’s what makes the film so incredible: the fact that a skinny young man who was so far out of his element in every way still managed to save so many people. World War II represents the polar opposite of Doss’s values, but he still knows he must serve the best way he knows how. “While everyone else is taking lives, I’m going to be saving them,” Doss tells his skeptical father early in the film.

Film critic/YouTube personality Chris Stuckmann (one of my personal favorites) said in his video review of Hacksaw Ridge that he saw another review from a prominent critic which claimed that the movie contradicted its message by glorifying violence, even though its protagonist doesn’t believe in violence. Stuckmann responded:

I personally don’t feel that way; I think that this film depicted its war scenes almost like a horror movie. They are terrifying….the battle scenes in this movie are frightening and brutally realistic. Nothing has been held back, and nothing about about it seemed Hollywood-ized or glamorous. The message is ‘This happened. This sucked. But here’s one guy who tried to do something good.’

Gibson himself stated that his goal was to show the brutality of war, adding that he was very pleased and moved to see that groups of veterans had enjoyed watching Hacksaw Ridge, and that he hopes that the film can shed light on PTSD issues. As Gibson put it – hate the war, but love the warrior.

This story is truly amazing on multiple levels. But, alas, there are a few historical inaccuracies that I’d like to address (warning: spoilers).

  • Gibson actually modified the film’s ending, believing that audiences would find it too good to be true. In reality, Doss did not kick a grenade away from his fellow soldiers, wounding himself with shrapnel in the process. Actually, the story was even more amazing than that. Doss was, in fact, wounded in the legs by a grenade, but had to wait five hours before his fellow medics could reach him, during which time he dressed his own wounds. While Doss was being carried back to safety by three stretcher bearers, they were attacked by a Japanese tank. Doss crawled off the stretcher to a more seriously wounded man and insisted the others evacuate that soldier and then return for him. While waiting for the stretcher to return, Doss was shot by a sniper as another soldier attempted to come to his aid. This caused a compound fracture in his arm, for which he improvised a splint using a rifle stock before crawling 300 yards to an aid station for treatment.
  • Another plot point that I heard had confused some audiences was the controversy surrounding Doss not being allowed to graduate basic training without being rifle-certified. Hacksaw Ridge never explicitly states it, but the Army did have a procedure for conscientious objectors in place at the time. The film adds to the tension by showing Doss being court-martialed for insubordination, until his father steps in and declares that, under U.S. law, his son’s pacifist beliefs are protected under the First Amendment.
  • Other devout Adventists who served in WWII were classified as A1-Os, meaning that they were willing to serve in various capacities without carrying a weapon. The issue with Doss is that he wanted to directly serve on the frontlines with no weapon, which was unprecedented. Many other Christian pacifists – including Adventists, Mennonites, and Quakers – had volunteered as medics or nurses in previous wars without issue, but never in a combat unit.
  • The film also depicts Doss as being part of a unit that is sent straight to Okinawa. In reality, Doss had already served in battles at Guam and in the Philippines before he rescued 75 men at Okinawa. Doss himself estimated that he saved about 50 at Hacksaw Ridge, but some eyewitnesses claimed he saved 100 or more. Therefore, when Doss was given his Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman, they split the difference at 75. During all three battles (Okinawa, Guam, and the Philippines), it is estimated that Doss saved over 300 men combined.

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Growing up in Lynchburg, Virginia, I would occasionally hear the name Desmond Doss. In high school, I remember seeing that the section of U.S. Route 501 that runs through Lynchburg had been renamed the Desmond T. Doss Memorial Expressway in honor of him. Growing up, I loved history, but I wasn’t terribly informed about local war heroes and had no connection to Seventh-Day Adventism. Therefore, I was unaware of the true story behind Doss’s heroism, his faith, and his humility.

To put into context, Doss’s story was something that had eluded Hollywood’s grasp for many years. The real Doss never viewed himself as a larger-than-life figure and didn’t particularly care for Hollywood movies. Many producers had come and gone over the years, trying to recreate this incredible tale of faith and duty and translate it to the big screen.

Stan Jensen, a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, had tried to drum up support within his denomination for a movie about Doss, eventually enlisting the help of producer Greg Crosby, who met with Doss personally in 2001 and convinced him that making a movie about his heroism was the right thing to do. Eventually, Doss relented and appeared in a documentary called The Conscientious Objector shortly before his death in 2006 at the age of 87.

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Producers David Permut and Bill Mechanic became involved in the early 2000s, trying to secure finances and distribution rights for a film about Doss. After Doss’s death, the film rights were acquired by Walden Media, but they wanted the war violence to be PG-13 level, which severely disappointed Mechanic, and he spent many years trying to buy the rights back.

Gibson originally said no to the project when he was sent a script, but eventually reconsidered and decided to move forward with the project (coincidentally, he had done the same thing with Braveheart many years earlier). Given Gibson’s controversial status in Hollywood at the time, money was hard to come by, and the producers had to get creative with procuring the finances.

Eventually, Hacksaw Ridge was green-lit with a budget of $40 million after Permut and Mechanic took advantage of film tax incentives in Gibson’s adopted home of Australia. In addition to Mechanic, Permut, and Crosby, the film was also co-produced by Gibson’s long-time colleague, Academy Award winner Bruce Davey.

I’m so very glad I got to see Hacksaw Ridge and write about it in-depth here. If you haven’t seen the film, watch it now; you won’t regret it. I’m happy that a true hero like Doss finally had his story told accurately onscreen, and it’s great to have Gibson back making films steadily. I hope that this film continues to have a profound impact on many people.

  • Directed by Mel Gibson
  • Screenplay by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight
  • Produced by Terry Benedict, Paul Currie, Bruce Davey, William D. Johnson, Bill Mechanic, Brian Oliver, David Permut
  • Starring Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Bill Young, Richard Pyros, Milo Gibson, Luke Pegler, Ben Mingay, Michael Sheasby, Jim Robison, Andrew Sears, Sam Wright
  • Director of Photography – Simon Duggan
  • Music by Rupert Gregson-Williams
  • Edited by John Gilbert
  • Production Designer – Barry Robison
  • Costume Designer – Lizzy Gardiner
  • Casting by Nikki Barrett
  • Rated R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence, including grisly bloody images.

AWARDS

(wins are in bold)

  • 6 Oscar nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing)
  • 3 Golden Globe nominations (Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director)
  • 5 BAFTA nominations (Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Makeup & Hair)
  • 13 AACTA Award nominations (Best Film, Best Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Hair & Makeup)
  • 7 Critics’ Choice Award nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Editing, Best Hair & Makeup, Best Action Movie, Best Actor in an Action Movie)
  • 9 Satellite Award nominations (Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Best Art Direction/Production Design)
  • 2 SAG Award nominations (Best Male Actor in a Leading Role, Best Stunt Ensemble)

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: China

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As one of the biggest media markets in Asia, China has long been a target for Aussie rules as authorities look to spread the sport abroad to new nations. Given the large Chinese population and their well-established enthusiasm for many different sports, they would seem to have a fertile ground for a grassroots footy following.

China has embraced footy at a breakneck pace, as the first recorded game of Aussie rules was played only 13 years ago. The Beijing Bombers – a team made up of Aussie ex-pats in the Chinese capital – were established in 2004. They eventually grew a big-enough audience to help kickstart a local competition with three other teams in the Beijing area. In more recent times, the cities of Shanghai, Dongguan, and Guangzhou have also started up local footy clubs. Some other smaller cities , such as Xinjiang and Suzhou, currently lack any senior level footy competitions, but have a history of supporting teams at the junior level in local schools.

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It’s clear that mainland China has taken a liking to Aussie rules, but both Macau and Hong Kong have also embraced the sport. Footy was first played in Hong Kong back in 1990, while Macau footballers first competed in 2009. The Hong Kong Dragons are one of Asia’s most successful teams, regularly participating in major city tournaments and also boasting a strong Auskick program for kids.

In 2005, Tianjin (a sister city of Melbourne) began to organize a competition through the Tianjin Normal University. This was largely due to the efforts of the AFL (via the Melbourne Football Club) and the former Lord Mayor of Melbourne, John So, a Chinese Australian who was born in Hong Kong.

China’s national team is known as the Red Demons and consists entirely of Chinese nationals. They have played at the 2008, 2011, and 2014 International Cups and made their way up to the Division II level in 2011, where they beat India, but lost to Fiji and the joint Israeli-Palestinian team. In 2014, the Red Demons returned to Australian shores and finished in fourth place with a nice win over Finland and losses to Canada and New Zealand.

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Back on the the mainland, there has been growth in promoting Aussie rules as both a spectator sport and a participation sport. In 2010, an exhibition AFL match was held at Jiangwan Stadium in Shanghai, drawing an impressive crowd; the following year, a Chinese AFL academy was founded, too. While other areas of Asia have seen more immediate success in terms of establishing footy as a major enterprise, there is still much potential with China, primarily due to the Aussie expat influence, as well as increased TV exposure.

And coming up very soon – on Sunday, May 14th, 2017 – the AFL will return to Shanghai when the city will host the first ever AFL premiership match outside of Oceania. The Port Adelaide Power will take on the Gold Coast Suns at Jiangwan Stadium; AFL officials have already stated that the game has been sold out, and are optimistic that a game in China could become an annual occurrence.

AFL CHINA

  • Beijing Bombers
  • Dongguan Blues
  • Guanzhou Scorpions
  • Hong Kong Dragons
  • Macau Lightning
  • Shanghai Tigers

CHINESE IN THE AFL

  • Les Fong (played 1973-1987) – Fong was an athletic playmaker for the West Perth Football Club in the West Australian Football League. Kicking over 330 career goals, Fong was also a long-time team captain, earning the well-deserved nickname “Captain Courageous” for his passionate style of play. He later became a coach in Perth.
  • Dannie Seow (played 1986-1990) – Originally from the suburbs of Melbourne, Seow is of Chinese descent on his father’s side and played two seasons with both Melbourne and Collingwood. In between his stints with those two clubs, Seow also briefly entertained a career in American football as a wide receiver before returning to Australia in 1989.
  • Wally Koochew (played 1908) – Koochew was born to a Norwegian mother and a Chinese father in Melbourne, becoming the first ever VFL/AFL player with Chinese roots. Despite battling discrimination, Koochew played the 1908 season for Carlton and was known for his strong, accurate kick. He passed away in 1932 at the age of 44.
  • George Tansing (played 1908) – Another early example of Chinese Australians playing the game, Tansing played one season with the Geelong Cats.
  • Lin Jong (played 2012-present) – Jong, a Melbourne native, is the son of an East Timorese-Chinese father and a Taiwanese mother. A speedy, versatile footballer, Jong first played footy while attending Brentwood Secondary College. and also played for the Oakleigh Chargers in the TAC Cup. He made his AFL debut in 2012 for the Western Bulldogs and was elevated to the senior list in 2014.
  • Chen Shaoliang (played 2016-present) – Shaoliang originally played basketball as a youngster before moving to Aussie rules in 2012. After a promising test at the AFL combine and a successful run as the Red Dragons’ team captain, Shaoliang was selected as an international scholarship player by Port Adelaide in 2016. This makes him the first Chinese national to ever be signed to an AFL list.

Boy (2010)

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In the summer of 1984, a young Maōri kid has the adventure of a lifetime and learns about his elusive father. 

Boy (James Rolleston) is an 11-year-old who lives a rustic life in Waihau Bay, a small village in Bay of Plenty, a region in the North Island of New Zealand. His mother is dead and he’s never met his biological father Alamein (Taika Waititi), so Boy lives with his grandmother, his cousins, and his timid younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu), who believes he has magic powers.

Boy naturally yearns to know more about his dad. He imagines him as a war hero, a sports star, and many other fantastical stories. Boy is also a massive Michael Jackson fan and dreams that his dad will take him to a concert.

In between pining for a relationship with his dad, Boy deals with school bullies and struggles with his feelings for his pretty classmate Chardonnay (RickyLee Waipuka-Russell). When his grandma has to go out of town for a funeral, Boy is left in charge of the house for the weekend.

And then his dad comes back.

Alamein has apparently escaped prison with his two bumbling friends, who are part of a would-be biker gang and are hoping to locate some buried money. Alamein meets his two sons and tells them that he’s searching for buried treasure and he needs their help. Boy is thrilled that he can finally have a real relationship with his dad, but Rocky is more reluctant. Boy continues to want to believe that his dad is who he wants him to be, but is eventually forced to reconcile his view with reality.

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I had heard many positive things about this film before deciding to buy it on Amazon. Boy is the brainchild of writer/director/comedian Taika Waititi, whose other work I’ve admired. I saw Boy awhile ago and absolutely adored it.

Independent comedy-dramas are nothing new, but Boy really does break new ground in many different ways. It’s a very moving coming-of-age story with tons of humor and heart. Boy is easily relatable as a kid who is lonely and lacks fulfillment, living a simple life in a small town and navigating the road to adulthood.

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This film honestly portrays the joys and struggles of childhood in a way that few films do. I hate to say it, but if Boy was an American film, it would’ve tried too hard to be quirky. But as it stands, Boy‘s compelling story is both well-told and entertaining, with plenty of dry Kiwi humor to boot. Lead actor James Rolleston is among of the many debutants in this film, and he really is a very talented kid who captures all of his character’s emotions to a T.

Boy‘s cinematography is also really great. Obviously, it’s almost impossible to make New Zealand’s scenery look ugly, but the film really is shot very well. There are even some nice little stop-motion animation bits in Boy, as childhood drawings come to life to funny (and sometimes dramatic) effect.

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Waititi is also very good in his performance as Alamein and is an exceptional director, too. Boy made a massive impact when it was released in 2010 and helped establish Waititi as a giant in Kiwi cinema (the film was actually the highest-grossing New Zealand film ever at one point).

Go see Boy. It’s witty, charming, and emotionally gripping.

Rating: 9/10

  • Written and directed by Taika Waititi
  • Produced by Emanuel Michael, Cliff Curtis, and Ainsley Gardiner
  • Starring James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu, Taika Waititi, Cherilee Martin, RickyLee Waipuka-Russell, Pana Hema Taylor, Cohen Holloway, Moerangi Tihore, Haze Reweti
  • Director of Photography – Adam Clark
  • Music by The Phoenix Foundation
  • Edited by Chris Plummer

Note: this film did not get a wide release in the United States and was therefore not rated. In New Zealand it was given a rating of M (Mature), the equivalent of an American PG-13.

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Samoa

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Although primarily known for producing scores of talented players in rugby union, the nation of Samoa (population 179,000) has a recently established presence in Aussie rules.

The game was first introduced in the Samoan capital of Apia back in 1997, with the country’s governing body being founded the following year as the Samoa Australian Rules Football Association (SARFA). An exhibition match drew an impressive crowd, and the new footy players showed athleticism, toughness, and a natural aptitude for the game.

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Due to Samoans’ rugby fanaticism, the first games of footy were played under hybrid rules, including 15-on-15, restricting certain players’ movement and playing on rectangular rugby fields, as opposed to cricket ovals. This was called Samoan rules and was used as a catalyst to get people involved in the basics of footy. The SARFA also developed a mutual relationship with the AFL’s Western Bulldogs, as Samoa shares the same colors (blue, red, and white) as the Bulldogs’ jumper. Several AFL players visited Samoa for coaching clinics and development camps, most notably Bulldogs legend Brad Johnson.

The country’s international team was originally known as the Bulldogs. They debuted at Australia’s Arafura Games in 1999, where they took home the bronze medal; two years later, the Samoans competed against Nauru during an international test match in Melbourne.

The year 2002 was big for Samoan footy, with Bulldogs being selected to the inaugural Australian Football International Cup. While they only finished seventh overall, this was a major step forward for Samoa, showing that they could compete at a high level against other countries. Also in 2002, AFL games were first broadcast on Samoan television.

The Bulldogs returned to Australia to field a team in the 2004 Multicultural Cup, but lost to the Israeli team in the Grand Final. In 2005, they finished in fifth place at the International Cup, beating Great Britain decisively and scoring a narrow win over Canada, while suffering losses to powerhouses Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.

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The SARFA was reincorporated as AFL Samoa in 2007, and the national team was renamed the Kangaroos in time for the 2008 edition of the IC, mostly due to the influence of Aaron Edwards, a Samoan-born footy player for the North Melbourne Kangaroos. That year, Samoa beat India, but lost again to New Zealand and suffered a disappointing loss to the Japanese team as well.

In addition to Samoa’s historic relationship with the Western Bulldogs, they also share close ties with the Moorabbin Kangaroos, a team in suburban Melbourne that competes in the Southern Football League. There remains an ongoing effort to keep a strong senior league going in Samoa, as footy already has a strong foothold among schoolkids. With the AFL looking to expand their geographic footprint in the South Pacific, they will no doubt have their eyes on Samoa in the near future.

Samoa currently boasts 240 senior players and 132 junior players, in addition to a schoolboys’ tournament and a full-time development officer appointed by the AFL.

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SAMOANS IN THE AFL

  • Karmichael Hunt (played 2011-2014) – Hunt is of Samoan descent on his dad’s side and his mother is a Cook Islander. While he hasn’t directly engaged with Samoan footy on the international level (having been born and raised in New Zealand), Hunt played in the AFL as a versatile midfielder/defender with the Gold Coast Suns for four seasons. Before his AFL career, Hunt played rugby league with the Brisbane Broncos from 2004-2009, and he currently plays rugby union with the Queensland Reds.
  • Aaron Edwards (played 2003-2014) – Born in Samoa to a Kiwi father and Samoan mother, Edwards emigrated to Melbourne, where he played under-18 footy with the historic Dandenong Stingrays team in the TAC Cup. While Edwards played a few seasons with both West Coast and Richmond, his most notable career arc was when he played as a key forward for the North Melbourne Kangaroos from 2007-2012, kicking 122 career goals. Like many Polynesian converts to Aussie rules, Edwards played rugby union as a youngster before picking up a footy at the age of 13.
  • Fia Tootoo (played 2008-present) – A Samoan national who lives in Melbourne, Tootoo plays at the semi-pro level for the Nyora Saints, a team in the Ellinbank & District Football League. Tootoo is also a key member of the Samoan national team.