Mad Max: Fury Road **** (out of 5)
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Riley Keough, Nathan Jones, Josh Helman, and Hugh Keays-Byrne
Written by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris
Directed by: George Miller
If you’ve ever been to an art gallery, maybe you can relate. When I browse art, it’s clear that some pieces are great, and I appreciate them for that. That isn’t to say I’m moved to form an attachment, nor do I care for them beyond a passing glance. I feel much of the same towards Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a very well-made action film, occasionally fun, always weird, and daring, but I certainly don’t care to remember it. Can I consider the film to be a masterpiece, or George Miller to be a visionary? I’m sorry to disappoint, but this franchise’s third sequel never “breaks the mold” or sets new standards for action films. It just happens to be a superb action movie, with superb parts that I’m going to easily forget. Here’s a thought- were audiences ever really clamoring for another Mad Max film? Did the “Thunderdome” really leave us yearning for more? No, but I suppose if an iconic character exists, and the opportunity to unload more tales of apocalypse on an apocalypse-starved society presents itself, why not? Fury Road will certainly give those hungry for a heaping of nihilism a bellyful of joy.
Max himself is basically the same guy thirty years after we last saw him. He doesn’t really want to be a part of the aftermath of civilization. He just wants to survive. That’s fine for us; after all, we don’t need another hero (see what I did there!). He’s on the scene, he appreciates the struggle of the good guy, but he doesn’t have much to say or do. Well, he occasionally hallucinates, but that’s about the extent of his ‘madness’. Max will defend himself to the death, and in the process will likely take out a dozen or so foot soldiers. For a film entitled Mad Max, however, you’d think it would, well, center around that character and his struggle. It’s simply not his struggle, and as wonderful as Tom Hardy can be, a multitude of actors could have played Max. He’s captured by the soldiers of the despot Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, the same actor who portrayed the lead villain in the original Mad Max), and held as a prisoner/perverted version of a blood bag. This need for blood comes from Nux (Hoult), a dying “War Boy” doing his best post-apocalyptic Jack Skellington cosplay.
In the meantime, one of Immortan Joe’s warriors has attempted a daring escape with his five wives in tow. I suppose it’s not hard to imagine why Imperator Furiosa (Theron) went rogue- what with the forced malnutrition of most everyone inside the ‘citadel’, the forced milking of childbearing aged women, and Joe’s generally disgusting nature, what’s not to like? Furiosa drives the ‘War Rig’, a mythological beast of a vehicle. It’s like something out of a twelve-year-old boy’s pre-pubescent dream: armored to the nines, equipped with secret switches and compartments, molded from several cars, tractors, and tanks, sucking up all sorts of gasoline, spewing forth oodles of noxious fumes, and eating your Prius for breakfast.
The War Rig is wonderful, but not as much as its’ driver. The hard-boiled Furiosa yearns for the ‘green land’ of her youth, a place where grass grows and water flows. Nothing will stop her, not even a convoy of War Boys ordered to search and destroy. Nux has been enlisted to drive in this convoy, believing to serve a higher purpose, and hoists poor Max on his vehicle like a drip chamber from a nurse’s nightmare. The feverish pursuit of Furiosa across the ‘Wasteland’ sees a legion of muscle-bound psychopaths use every trick in the spiky, armored car playbook to bring her to justice, but will it work? In the frenzy, Max battles with, then finds himself aligned with Furiosa toward a common goal- escape.
None of this plot really matters, though. There are explosions to enjoy, faces to tear off, sharp things to pierce people, and mega-ton boulders that crush cars! In all sincerity, George Miller is due some credit. He’s made a fun film, and despite a lead character that no one cares for, he’s made up for it in other areas. The film is stunning to look at. Miller and cinematographer John Seale shoot the desert as if it isn’t full of bland, khaki tones and lifelessness. Fury Road is also a film with a great deal of odd character, and odd characters, a clear hallmark of the franchise. Think of the catalog of names: Rictus Erectus, Toast the Knowing, Cheedo the Fragile. Really? Think of the societal norms we witness: the ‘chrome kiss’ given to War Boys on the verge of death, the wives wearing metal chastity belts adorned with fangs, the post-apocalyptic ‘drummer boy’ leading the war cry with his awesome ‘flame guitar’, and even Immortan Joe’s odd body armor.
What I believe the film will be known for most is the creation of Furiosa. Theron plays her like a warrior; not a female warrior, but a warrior. She doesn’t align with Max out of a need for romance, he doesn’t save her, and they both pound on the enemy. She’s an equal, a partner if anything. You could argue that Max needs her. Theron is so good as Furiosa, the clear hero of the film. She’s the best action leading lady I’ve seen in some time, and deserves a place in line with Ripley, Trinity, and other characters I’m likely forgetting. Then again, she’s no stranger to challenging the norm for women on-screen (see Monster, Young Adult, Snow White and the Huntsman).
Let’s go a bit further and state that ‘blurring the lines’ of gender matters, and Miller and Theron have put their best face forward to ensure that happens. As I understand it, Miller enlisted the help of The Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler to shape some of the film’s characters. I suppose that made enough of a difference, as the film’s best characters, the ones with the most moral of centers, are all women. They’ve always been capable of leading an action film, though, and I’d argue women are better at it. Ellen Ripley is still, eighteen years after her last appearance, the best action character. Calm your mind, gents. I’m certain that the feminists are not taking over your action films. However, women can and should be just as efficient at leading an action film as men, and be just as damn exciting doing it.
If we can separate ourselves from the need to consider an excellent action film “groundbreaking” or “legendary”, or from calling George Miller a “master”, we can enjoy Fury Road for what it excels at. It’s a 120-minute playback of an adolescent’s dreams, complete with just enough violence, explosions, nudity, language, and cool stuff to keep it fun and not depraved. Just enjoy the Doof Warrior, as he shreds his flame guitar into battle. Enjoy watching monster trucks collide across the plains of desolation. Enjoy Furiosa’s mad dash to reclaim her childhood and restore something pure about this future world. Then, like I have already done, forget about it, and move on to something that does warrant more than your Saturday afternoon’s attention.
Good morning, everyone! This week brought forth a great many new trailers, which I haven’t reviewed in some time. Let’s amend that now:
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: It’s difficult to find a love story in theaters without bumping into young adult adaptations or Nicholas Sparks’ B-Sides. Alas, we may be up for a treat with this, if the trailer is any indication. Jessica Chastian and James McAvoy star as lovers. This isn’t your standard love story, however, and appears to borrow from the broader theme of perception from films like “Sliding Doors”. This literally seems to be two separate stories- from Chastain’s and McAvoy’s point of view. It’s an interesting experiment in the examination of relationships, with two leads that are immensely capable. With an excellent backing song in the trailer (that I cannot identify as of yet), it looks rather incredible, and built quite a buzz at film festivals. Co-starring Viola Davis, Bill Hader, and William Hurt, this arrives in theaters (hopefully everywhere) September 26, 2014.
Fifty Shades of Grey: I’m sure that somehow, this film, based on the infamous novel, will hold deep resonance with female crowds. I, however, could care less. I have sincere doubts that the film, despite the buzz surrounding it, will truly break any new ground, nor do I believe it will inspire rational discussion amongst couples about exploring sexuality. Instead, I wonder what the purpose for this entire project is, but I had better hold my tongue, lest I invite criticism from those in love with the books/the idea of the books. If nothing else, the film seems to look nice, and promises to make everyone uncomfortable/hot and bothered. It is, after all, the most watched trailer of the year thus far, even shy of a week old. Starring the wooden-looking Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, “Fifty Shades” opens on February 14, 2015. How exciting. Oh wait- the trailer advertised a new version of Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love”?!?! Well NOW I’m interested. (Vomit)
Nightcrawler: If you ask me, Jake Gyllenhaal can do anything. “Enemy” is one of the better films of the past ten years, dumbfounded audiences notwithstanding. In “Nightcrawler”, he’s playing a slimy-looking investigative reporter that just might also be a completely insane serial killer. Gyllenhaal absolutely exudes charisma/creepiness in this trailer, and one must give him credit for being daring- after all, not many actors in their prime would consistently look for smaller, riskier projects like he does. At some point, I would have to think that he’ll get recognized on a broader level through the Academy, but that’s not necessarily important. “Nightcrawler” arrives in theaters (I imagine in a smaller capacity) on October 17th, 2014.
Young Ones: It says something about the state of post-apocalyptic films that when I watched this trailer, I saw right past that aspect and focused on a number of good-looking, talented actors talking about irrigation. That’s almost as exciting as “Star Wars” trade disputes. Sure, there’s more going on here than just water problems, for Michael Shannon again appears to be emotionally torn, Elle Fanning really wants her man but can’t have him, Nicholas Hoult looks a bit seedy as an inventor/suitor, and it takes place in something of a dust bowl. Oh, and Shannon guzzles gas at one point. I’m sure there will be plenty of style, but I’m not entirely sold on the substance for “Young Ones”, opening October 17th, 2014.
Sharknado 2: The Second One: There’s something almost noble about SyFy’s attempt to beat our collective intelligences into submission. After all, the first “Sharknado” film last year was so immensely popular that they tried a theatrical release. It comes as no surprise that they would drink from our vast well of stupidity for another go around. No matter how you approach this ‘film’, as ‘fun’ as this concept may be, or how much delight we could take in the cheesy, “C” movie material, I cannot get past the thought of water creatures existing, much less attacking, without being able to breathe. Science, entertainment, and culture will take a break for two hours starting July 30th, 2014 (tomorrow).
Tusk: Kevin Smith. A man that I respect, enjoy listening to, and should appreciate more, has made a horror film about a man (Michael Parks) so obsessed with the walrus that he wants to turn people into them. If that seems odd, watch this trailer and believe. Parks is that guy, a chameleon of an actor simply chewing the scenery. Is it a genre film? Possibly, but it might also simply be a fantastically weird character study. What a magnificent trailer. Add the fact that hit-maker studio A24 is making this, and I’m completely on board, despite my problems with other Kevin Smith films. “Tusk”, co-starring Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, and Haley Joel Osment (yes, him) opens September 19th, 2014.
The Death of Superman Lives- What Happened: Does anyone remember the failed Superman film of the late 1990’s? Tim Burton was far into the process of directing a Superman movie with Nicolas Cage as Kal-El. I kid you not. That part doesn’t interest me- what does is the story behind its’ failure, and this documentary promises to reveal the larger story surrounding one of the bigger films that never was. The trailer also shows Cage in costume, with longer hair, and some spectacular test footage, along with excellent concept art. From the early drafts by the aforementioned Kevin Smith, and the seeming lack of interest from Burton, I’m pumped. As of now, this doc has no release date, as it was entirely crowd-funded, and now needs more money.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2: 2010’s original was a surprisingly funny comedy, playing coy with our sense of 1980’s nostalgia with a wry sense of itself. John Cusack was a big part of that, which makes his absence from this trailer appear even more glaring. Director Steve Pink has worked with Cusack multiple times, including the original, further adding to the discussion of why Cusack isn’t here. Regardless, this trailer is extremely funny; but one must worry that Craig Robinson can hold up the film all by himself. Co-stars Rob Corddry, Clark Duke, and Adam Scott often wear out their welcomes quickly on-screen. “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” is well-placed for counter programming on Christmas Day.
“The Man With the Iron Fists”– (**) There’s an old saying : “If you’re going to make a Quentin Tarantino movie, it’s best that Quentin Tarantino directs it”. Alright, so that’s not true, but it should be. Q only “presents” this movie, and Wu Tang Clan alum RZA wrote, directed, and starred in this passion project, which doubles as an homage to surreal Kung Fu cinema of yesteryear. The words ‘passion project’ should make something sound like the beginning of a beautiful thing. In this case, however, a silly threadbare story, which is what most martial arts films have, isn’t elevated to a coolness or beauty that good or great films of its kind have.
Unlike “Kill Bill” and other similarly toned exploitation films, the startling moments of gory violence and extreme action didn’t work for me. The eye-gouging, scalping, and heart-piercing in Tarantino movies startle us, but seem right at home in the context of the film. RZA tries that with his film as well, but it’s startling in a silly way. Instead of giving an uncomfortable guffaw after one unfortunate soul’s chest is split open, I just rolled my eyes. Russell Crowe (I’m not sure what he saw in this role) does his best to chew out a supporting gig as a dangerous mystery man trying to enjoy his vacation of debauchery. It’s not nearly enough, as this film turns out to be more goofy than I think it intended.
“Evil Dead” (2013)– (**1/2) For some reason, the powers that be decided to remake the original “Evil Dead”, a film that’s very well-known, and is just awful. I know that people love Bruce Campbell and the original “Evil Dead” trilogy, but putting myself through those films was an experience I can’t imagine doing again. Why in the world would I watch a remake then? I was admittedly intrigued by the marketing campaign, which boldly declared the new film the “most terrifying film you’ll ever see”. I figured anyone brave enough to stamp that on their poster must be serious about their movie, so I bit.
Amazingly, this isn’t a disaster. The plot is typical, and vaguely resembles the original, as friends meet at an abandoned cabin for a weekend getaway. This time around, though, it’s not all fun and games for the young adults, as Mia (Jane Levy) aims to get sober with a little help from said friends. Of course, this means she’s the most vulnerable of the group. That works out quite well for the freshly unleashed (and conveniently nearby) demon, or hellspawn, or whatever one might call it. So far, so typical. What works for this movie is the constant onslaught of gore and doom, which made me consistently uncomfortable; what didn’t work is that the filmmakers expect the sheer presence of said gore and explicit violence to work as a fear tactic. At no point did I experience fear. The possession/demon story line isn’t new anymore, and it isn’t enough to scare me. I’m wondering if instead of a remake, a prequel might have been a better idea. After all, the opening scene of the film was the most effective part, and a further look at the wretched story of the demon sounds more intriguing than Hell on Earth. I suppose the claims of the marketing team aren’t accurate, but it is watchable, an accomplishment the original trilogy failed to achieve.
“Warm Bodies”– (***1/2) Of the three movies I’ve seen in the past ten days, this is by far the best of them, even if it falls short on occasion. If you haven’t heard of it, imagine the main ideas for “The Walking Dead” and “Safety Not Guaranteed” colliding with “Romeo and Juliet”. In other words, this is a quasi-indie zombie romantic comedy with heart. I’m sure that helps.
Nicholas Hoult (“About a Boy”, “X-Men: First Class”) stars as a zombie who’s conflicted with the state of affairs in the post-apocalyptic world he’s in. Why a reanimated corpse has any cognitive function at all is a mystery to me and the film, but I digress, for the film wouldn’t exist otherwise. In a particularly grisly attack on the living, this zombie is overtaken with an urge to protect someone- the lovely Julie (Teresa Palmer, the Australian equivalent of Kristen Stewart). So, he removes Julie from the situation, and takes her back to his ‘place’. Again, why a zombie would have living quarters is perplexing, but it does give the plot a chance to advance. The zombie doesn’t remember anything from his past, but can speak (kind of). Through that, an unlikely relationship develops between Julie and ‘R’, as she christens him, and while he continues to protect her, he starts to undergo changes.
The changes I’m referring to are where the film really takes off. Imagine being dead, or completely isolated from living society, and then someone makes the effort to understand you, despite the inherent danger and disgust involved. No matter how dead, depressed, or isolated you might be, the film illustrates in a quirky way that love, or the energy of loving feelings, can bring anything back to the light. Other zombies that ‘R’ feasts with began to feel similarly, especially the one played by Rob Corddry. I would have liked this better without him in it. Corddry is a scene-stealer, like Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler before him, but in a bad way; he’s always got to “Corddry it up”, and it doesn’t fit in this movie.
We’ve seen unlikely couples on film before, from Romeo and Juliet to Jack and Rose, and the pairing of ‘R’ and Julie qualifies as one of them, albeit not as legendary. There’s also a demanding, militaristic father (John Malkovich), the head of the living resistance, who would never accept a zombie- right? This all comes to a head, of course, because the change in zombies coincides with an increasing discontent amongst the ‘bonies’, a sect of the undead that’s “too far gone”, and even kills their own kind. Add that up, and of course there must be a final battle of sorts. All in all this is a good film, with a lot of quirky humor, and surprisingly, a lot of heart. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like on a grander scale, where the history of the zombie plague was at least hinted at, and the science of viruses and the undead were taken seriously. I don’t think that was ever the intention, but nonetheless I saw an even better movie hiding underneath. It’s possible that the original storyteller, author Isaac Marion, simply wished to use zombies as a metaphor for how we live our lives today. Are we basically zombies, and do we need to periodically reconnect with the world around us to regain our humanity? I can see that being possible.