MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

May 17, 2015

 

mad max Greetings again from the darkness. Thirty years have passed since we last saw Mel Gibson donning the leather in 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which was of course, the third in the franchise after Mad Max (1979), and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981). Over the years, rumors have persisted that writer/director George Miller was going to add to the franchise and take full advantage of today’s high-tech movie making techniques by securing the budget necessary for a true blockbuster. It may have taken 3 decades, but Mr. Miller’s dream is realized with his $100 million version (compared to $300,000 budget on the first one) that will undoubtedly satisfy the Mad Max fans, while also reminding the industry what an action movie can be (Michael Bay’s corneas may burst into flames watching this).

Tom Hardy plays Max Rockatansky, a loner haunted by a tragic past seen only through millisecond flashbacks that occur at both inopportune and opportune moments. Hardy has the physicality to pull off the role, but despite the title and the history, this film belongs at least as much to Charlize Theron who literally drives the story as Imperator Furiosa. Tired of living under tyrannical rule, Furiosa frees a group of “breeders” played by Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough (Elvis Presley’s granddaughter), Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton. Their plan is to escape across the desert (well, everything is desert these days) and return to Furiosa’s childhood home known as “the green place”.

This is pretty much a two hour chase sequence featuring monster vehicles, soaring motorcycles, massive gunfire, screen-filling explosions, and enough stunt work to amaze even the casual movie-goer. All of this is accompanied by ear-bursting high-octane music courtesy JunkieXL (the first Max films were scored by Brian May of Queen). Some of this “music” is raw heavy-metal shredding occurring live on one of the chase vehicles – quite a sight and sound gag. It should be noted that stunt work is the surprise here. These days, most movies rely on CGI effects, while Mr. Miller mixes an extraordinary number of old school stunts with the compliment of CGI for such things as an overwhelming sandstorm and Ms. Theron’s mechanical arm. It’s a fascinating blend of old and new.

John Seale certainly deserves mention. He is an Academy Award winning cinematographer for The English Patient, and has also been DP on films such as Rain Man, Witness, Dead Poet’s Society and The Firm. He has four Oscar nominations and is not the first cinematographer one would think of when putting together a huge action film; however, the choice pays off in what is a beautifully shot film – both in space and close up scenes. It brings an element of propriety to what on the surface appears to be out-of-control, non-stop chaos.

The post-apocalyptic look and feel is accented by periodic splashes of color that prevent the usual bleakness from others in this genre. Many will be surprised at the minimal dialogue, but the straightforward plot removes any need for extended conversations from folks simply trying to survive.

Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) may be the most interesting of all characters, and probably has the most lines of dialogue (while still not saying much). He is a slave caught up in the dream of serving his master, while then re-discovering a modicum of humanity buried somewhere deep inside. Fans of the series will also cheer the presence of Hugh Keays-Byrne who plays the very striking Immortan Joe, and also played Toe Cutter in the original film 37 years ago.

Filled with nostalgia and respect for the original series, this fourth entry also provides a new palette for a new generation of fans. The biggest change comes from the focus on strong women who are out to change, or at least escape, a world rotted by the male lust for power. It’s difficult to say insanity rules this world, because so little sanity exists that rational beings are non-existent.

George Miller will always be known as the creator of the Mad Max series, but we shouldn’t forget that he also directed the Happy Feet movies, as well as Babe: Pig in the City. Perhaps those two personalities allow him to create a world as crazed and chaotic as we see in his latest Max film. Mostly we can feel happy for him that he was afforded the opportunity realize his filmmaker dream … a nice reward for 30 years of patience.

watch the trailer:

 

 

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TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

July 2, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I pride myself on being a fan of many different types of films – everything from World Cinema to Super Heroes.  However, it would be unfair to analyze, critique or compare a Transformers movie to any “normal” movie. Being somewhat limited in scope by the source material, director Michael Bay, delivers what the fan of the series want … full scale noise and all-out action.

While Mr. Bay admitted that part two of this trilogy was lacking much (an understatement), it appears his efforts to improve part three come not from a script doctor, but rather by tossing in some familiar Hollywood faces: John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey and Ken Jeong. Oh, and we also get Bill O’Reilly, an odd sequence with legendary Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin (the second man to walk on the moon), and the best surprise – Leonard Nimoy voicing Sentinel Prime.

 Most of the same key players are back: Shia LaBeouf as Sam (friend to Optimus Prime), John Turturro (having cashed in on his 10 min of fame), Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson as soldiers, and Kevin Dunn and Julie White as Sam’s parents in a couple of throw away scenes that cost much less than the CGI that dominates the movie.

While I remain an avid opponent to 3-D, this film offers a few of the best uses since Avatar. Unfortunately the dimmed coloring offset the benefits and continue to annoy me. Just remove your glasses periodically and you can easily see how much brighter the colors are without the 3-D muting. Such a shame.

 Michael Bay knows explosions. And there is no shortage on display here. We get plenty of rock ’em sock ’em action and the military is on full display, especially with some pretty cool skydiving tactics. Heck, we even get Frances McDormand as a power-hungry bureaucrat. For those who know Chicago, the familiar sights abound. The Wrigley Building plays a vital role, though it still bothers me a bit to see a skyscraper destroyed. I will say the tilted office is not even close to the cool factor of the rotating hallway of Inception, though the effort is appreciated.

 The battle of the robots is what (lots of) people pay to see and the 40 plus minute final battle is something to behold, even if it drags on entirely too long. And I can’t fail to mention that the lack of presence of Megan Fox‘ character is explained a couple of times as having “dumped” Sam. Sam has rebounded nicely with Carly, played by supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who looks just fine in a $200,000 Mercedes, a slim white dress or conversing with an injured villainous robot. Yes, one must maintain a sense of humor during this movie.

The use of slo-motion, the ties to the space program, and the connection to Chernobyl are all a bit heavy-handed, but this is a Transformers movie, not a documentary. And the actual transformation of these guys is still one of the coolest on screen moments you can find … even if the story and dialogue will have you desperate for brain resuscitation when the movie finally ends.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of Bay-splosions!

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you just can’t believe the same guy (Peter Cullen) who voices Optimus Prime, also voice Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh fame