Mad Max: Fury Road

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Release: Friday, May 15, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: George Miller; Brendan McCarthy; Nico Lathouris

Directed by: George Miller

For a lesser population, what a lovely day it is indeed, a day in which a franchise is reborn. To anyone else not attuned to what was once a legitimate excuse for Mel Gibson going crazy, Mad Max: Fury Road feels like what a Michael Bay action sequence wants to be when it grows up.

Before dealing with the flack I’m going to inevitably receive for that comparison, may I remind you that Bay, despite himself now, has a knack for building enthusiastic, explosive entertainment. Whereas the aforementioned splurges on expense, George Miller ingeniously . . . well, he splurges too actually. Except here a $150 million budget is appropriated toward some mind-blowingly technical stunt work that is liable to leave most breathless, begging for more.

Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is seen at the film’s deceptively quiet open recounting his days of hardship via a gruff narrative, briefly reflecting upon a troubled past before being snapped up by a passing horde of baddies, undoubtedly the inspiration for some of this year’s most popular Halloween costumes. Behold, the War Boys. He is taken to a strange and desperate civilization known as the Citadel, a relative oasis presided over by the tyrannical King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who keeps most of the communal water and greenery to himself and his minions.

Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, a shaven-headed, fearless amputee with a face covered in soot, finally has had enough of living in such conditions. She goes rogue, fleeing the Citadel in Joe’s ‘War Rig’ and down an indistinct but narratively significant path of sorts, bound for a better way of life. On board the Rig are Joe’s Five Wives — a collection of beauty that recalls Bay’s casting sensibilities. But Bay doesn’t go for talent, really. He just stops at ‘good-looking.’

Perhaps that’s the only thing Joe cares for as well. Enraged by the knowledge of their escape, he sicks the War Boys on the Rig, igniting a thunderous and violent chase across remote desert landscapes and into a sand storm that makes The Perfect Storm look like a gust of wind. Valleys become death gauntlets, their outer limits patrolled by bikers who are expecting a shipment of gasoline be delivered by Furiosa in exchange for her safe passage through. As sure as a Michael Bay car chase, more disaster awaits there.

Miller and Bay are both adrenaline junkies — the former addicted to cartoonish madness; the latter to closing the gap between CGI spectacle and cinema-related migraine. One of these addictions is healthier (at the very least, artsier) than the other. But the constant raucous atmosphere can be overwhelming for newcomers to this depraved world of half-dead humans clinging to life however they can. For a good portion of this ride Max is used as a blood bag to nurse Nux (Nicholas Hoult) back to . . . uh, health. And one of the Five Wives is very pregnant. This isn’t a thinking man’s movie, but if there’s one thing Fury Road is adept at other than delivering non-stop thrills, it’s showing humanity’s will to endure some crazy shit.

With Hardy replacing Gibson in the titular role, one that strangely bears less significance when put beside an iconic Charlize Theron, Fury Road threatens to abandon its cult classic status, exploding into potential box-office behemoth territory. Despite an outrageous, gothic dress code this costume design will likely remain one of the hottest topics of the summer. Maybe all year.

Apparently The Avengers: Age of Ultron is still playing in some theaters. Well, now there’s a new kid on the block and his name is Mad Max Absolutely Ridiculous. Decorated in war paint, yelling at the top of his lungs he demands you know his name. After spending two hours with him you aren’t likely to forget it. Perhaps that’s the most significant distinction between these auteurs of the action spectacular.

When you realize you left the GPS at home . . .

When you realize you left the GPS at home . . .

4-0Recommendation: Decidedly one-note when it comes to plot, Mad Max: Fury Road is still a unique experience — brutal and relentless action combined with beautiful visuals and a gung-ho spirit that fails to dwindle. Having seen the originals isn’t a necessity but I’d imagine it would help round out Max’s character more. Action junkies and fans of George Miller’s brand of filmmaking must see this movie. It’s a curious thing, too: there are two films coming out later this year (one this summer) with as much potential to deliver the goods and both indisputably appealing to larger audiences, but I wonder if these films will be as successful in recruiting new fans as Miller’s latest has been.

Rated: R

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “Hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.southfloridafilmmaker.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Release: Friday, May 1, 2015

[RPX Theater]

Written by: Joss Whedon

Directed by: Joss Whedon

In the chaotic and climactic final twenty minutes a wistfulness arose within me, and though I didn’t let it fully disengage me from one of the year’s most ambitious CGI spectacles I was annoyed I let it happen. I knew it was going to, though. That feeling that, after all of this battling against the hype machine, this was it. This was all it could have been.

And of course it was; it makes sense. Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron may be the much-anticipated follow-up to that most grandiose uniting of superheroes from far-flung corners of the globe but in the end it is still just a movie. At two hours and twenty minutes it’s a lot of movie but even that kind of length ends up shortchanging those who have built this up in their heads as some kind of singular event. I honestly put the blame on Joss Whedon, though. Maybe if he hadn’t made Marvel’s The Avengers such a spectacular escape little old film fans like me wouldn’t have unfairly begun wielding our hopes and expectations like a shield of vibranium against which the man would have little hope of defending himself.

The one thing he won’t have to hope for is a solid box office presence, though. That’s perhaps the only thing that’s guaranteed about his new film.

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AGE OF JAMES SPADER

Age of Ultron arrives at a time when superhero movies have . . . okay, forget that. Instead: yay, summer! Rather than detangling the network of superhero film reel that’s enabled this one to happen, I think it’s best to cut to the chase and talk all things artificially intelligent and Hydra-related. Whedon wastes no time in appealing to our appropriately elevated adrenaline levels by introducing the gang kicking ass and taking names in the remote European nation of Sokovia, the location of a Hydra outpost. Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) has gotten a hold of Loki’s scepter and is using it to experiment on humans. His most notable creations become Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who take pleasure in being the collective thorn in the Avengers’ collective side.

Following their successful stand against some of Hydra’s henchmen, the Avengers return to headquarters and celebrate, but only briefly. Given Stark’s affinity for constantly tinkering with his creations he uses the A.I. he and Banner discover within the scepter to jumpstart his long-dormant and secretive Ultron project, a program he believes will be humanity’s best chance of living in a safer world.

Amidst one of the more memorable scenes — Thor ribbing his companions into trying to lift his hammer knowing full well none of them will succeed, only to be gobsmacked by Steve Rogers’ ability to actually influence it ever so subtly — a worst case scenario rears its ugly head as Ultron’s sentience rapidly exceeds Stark’s ability to control it. Ultron (voiced by James Spader) quickly deduces people are no good; that the only way Earth will be safe is to eradicate them. One thing I was impressed by was how my cynicism was put in perspective in the face of a vengeful, ten-foot tall robot with evil red eyes.

If there’s anything that bundles together Age of Ultron‘s dizzying number of thematic and physical ambitions it’s the notion that not everything created by a billionaire genius can be controlled. Not by him, and not even by Whedon. The arrival of a one-of-a-kind android in Spader, whose own image rather disappointingly supersedes that of his on-screen counterpart, heralds an age in which over-ambition, even born out of purely good intentions, very well might mean the downfall of everything. That’s obviously not going to be the case for the MCU. Still, this bloated sequel is not the joyride its predecessor was.

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SUPERHERO FATIGUE V. SUPERHERO INDIFFERENCE

In propelling the complex mythos and relationships that have endeared millions to this lone property into the future, Whedon has incidentally obligatorily spawned an environment in which everything is expected to get more and more extreme. Unfortunately that’s kind of an issue that can be traced back to the Avengers’ cinematic birth in 2012. How the Infinity War sequels are supposed to top this is anyone’s guess, but there is no doubt Marvel will demand it from the Russo brothers. I suspect we are yet to enter the darkest days facing our fearless heroes, and if this middle film is a barometer of anything, it’s solemnity.

But like Man of Steel and The Amazing Spider-man, just because the story takes a darker turn — these properties are, after all, reflecting a reality that seems to be growing ever more hostile — this doesn’t discount Age of Ultron‘s potential to be an enjoyable summer getaway. Rather, I have found it easy to forget about that potential, and much more challenging to be as enthusiastic as Whedon’s canvas continues spreading to include lesser-known players, heroes who are admittedly cleverly worked into the picture, but who don’t mean as much if you haven’t done your Avengers homework. (And I am referring to the comics.) There’s something about the hatred Ultron directs primarily towards Tony Stark and secondarily to the human population at large that screams ‘classic movie villainy,’ yet the same can’t be said about Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch’s decision to shift loyalties.

Perhaps my detachment from the Maximoff twins, in particular, stems from my failure to be entertained by Elizabeth Olsen trying on a Russian accent. Equally distracting is Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Beach Boys hairdo. These two needed their own cinematic introduction before showing up in ostensibly pivotal roles here. The Vision means little to me, although his . . . odd genetic make-up is something to behold. If this all sounds like a personal problem, that’s because it likely is. Whereas some are experiencing the inevitable ‘superhero fatigue,’ I find I may have accidentally banished myself to the realm of superhero indifference.

What Age of Ultron ultimately assembles (and stop me when this sounds familiar) is an overstuffed extravaganza that tries, mostly succeeding, to incorporate as much of the popular Marvel legacy as a single film can handle before breaking and before turning off as many of its several hundred million viewers as possible. It’s the epitome of blockbuster in a blockbuster age. It’s a mighty compromise between getting really technical and remaining lowest-common-denominator entertainment. I feel as unique as the Avengers are, they deserve something not quite as mundane.

At the same time, what else could I have expected out of a summer movie? While I don’t feel like my expectations turned on me as drastically as Stark’s program did him, like him I am reluctant to admit it was pretty much my fault. . .

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3-5Recommendation: Featuring Whedon’s trademark comic relief and ability to weave together multiple story lines, Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron unfortunately might signal what has been coming down the pipe for a long time. It’s a film of excess but also a film that minimizes enjoyment to pack in as much information and spectacle as possible. Diehards will no doubt lap this up. Anything less though, are sure to find things that could have been much better. A recommended watch in the large format, but unlike the first one I can’t say you need to see it twice in such a fashion. There is a mid-credits scene that you should stick around for.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 141 mins.

Quoted: “Everyone creates the thing they fear. Men of peace create engines of war. Avengers create invaders. Parents create children, that will supplant them.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.moviepilot.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Man of Steel

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Release: Friday, June 14, 2013

[Theater]

You could sit and argue all day whether what’s inscribed on Superman’s chest is an ‘S’ or a symbol of hope, but it should take little to no time at all coming to the conclusion that the epic new blockbuster from Zack Snyder (who directed 300) is just that — epic.

Unfortunately the term ‘epic’ and similarly lofty descriptions are often two-sided coins, and have this tendency to invite criticism more than they do praise since these words conjure up the idea that nothing has been or will be coming close to this particular standard, at least not any time soon. Hyperbole is so easy to use when describing superhero films and in particular, the reboots thereof, and I really don’t want to go into this review using a boatload of them; however there is almost no other way. This film is just so intensely visual and action-packed it is a total manifestation of that one word.

This is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to talking Man of Steel. Grand in its scale, sprawling in its running time, and ambitious in its execution of a relatively simple plot, it seems as though Snyder has bitten off a little more than he could chew with this one. Only so much can be gained out of a bombastic vision: Michael Bay (and I’m not comparing this movie to a Michael Bay movie, just to clarify. . . ) sacrifices even halfway decent dialogue and character development for the sake of spectacle and CGI parties because that is his style. He’s become a lightning rod for criticism in that regard. Christopher Nolan (who operates in a producer capacity for this adventure) bases his characters in reality and lets the action speak for itself, thus making it more authentic and believable, as opposed to the sheer awe factor that comes with an excess of exploding shit. Other directors have their own styles that define works possessing various other strengths and/or weaknesses. But here, Snyder seems to be throwing everything including the kitchen sink at Man of Steel, hoping that whatever sticks sticks firmly. Well, some does and some does not.For all of the film’s surprising shortcomings, the more critical factors worked in its favor, leaving only details (some may say big details) to be left as questionable.

For all of the film’s surprising shortcomings, the more critical factors worked in its favor, leaving only details (some may say big details) to be left as questionable.

Snyder begins the film in spectacular fashion, focusing on a Krypton that is falling apart due to the planet’s unstable core. In the midst of all the panic, we bear witness to Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer) giving up their only child so that he may live elsewhere in the universe, free of the destruction of his home world. It is a heartbreaking moment and a heck of a way to start things off. The journey to Earth is also compelling and this transitional scene manages to connect our two worlds as succinctly and brilliantly as I (and I’m sure scores of years-old fans of Superman) had hoped.

When we cut to a scene that’s obviously years after his crash-landing in Kansas, we see a fully grown and disheveled looking man (Henry Cavill) who at once appears displaced and lonely. He’s working as a sea fisherman, which is pretty much one of the most isolated jobs I can think of off the top of my head.

Despite the following sequence being a hodgepodge of flashbacks and flash-forwards, this hectic arrangement of scenes allows us to really get a big-picture perspective of how this incredible individual is adapting to our world. Indeed, I’ve read more than a few reviews that indicate relief that we are spared the “growing-up” First Act, which could have just as easily been used here. Where he’s been and who he has tried to be is vital to the story Snyder has gone with here. We are experiencing a more honest characterization of Superman, and it’s just the earlygoing here. (At least, I’m assuming there’ll be sequels — plural.)

These early days — that is to say, pre-General Zod invasion — build interesting drama, but not in an overt way. The scenes in which young Clark Kent (I love that adoptive name, by the way) and his “father” Jonathan (Kevin Costner) talk about his place in the world are wonderfully written, and they really help contribute to a growing list of reasons why we should love and care about Superman….er, rather, Clark’s life and what the future holds for him. “You’ll have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be,” he tells Clark, who’s just recently been hassled by some bullies from school. There is a poignancy in these small moments that really help carry and build momentum to the spectacular action sequences that still lay ahead — you know, the stuff that probably most of us are going to see this movie for.

Clark/Kal-El’s departure from Krypton does not go unnoticed, though. The impossibly angry and powerful General Zod (Michael Shannon) soon emerges from the cloak of deep space and delivers a chilling message to the human race. Unfortunately his message goes the cliched, blockbuster route and is only but one example of some of the glaring weaknesses of the Goyer/Nolan script. It goes a little something like this: “Hand over the suited hero, or we destroy the planet.” The foreshadowing of a gigantic scene of violence and chaos is less than subtle, to say the least.

Even with a star-studded cast, including those behind the cameras and the ones responsible for the script, there is a lot left to be desired in moments that are not filled with an incredible amount of CGI. The Lois and Clark relationship is neither as accurate nor as compelling as I was hoping for, and we still are plagued with a lot of the cheese-factor as it pertains to bystander reaction and the general mass confusion of the populace of our world, as told by the blank expressions set on only a few faces — some military leaders, the staff at the Daily Planet, for example. I thought we would be past this with a cast (again, referring to more than just those on-screen) as talented as this.

Even with a star-studded cast, including those behind the cameras and the ones responsible for the script, there is a lot left to be desired in moments that are not filled with an incredible amount of CGI. The Lois and Clark relationship is neither as accurate nor as compelling as I was hoping for, and we still are plagued with a lot of the cheese-factor as it pertains to bystander reaction and the general mass confusion of the populace of our world, as told by the blank expressions set on only a few faces — some military leaders, the staff at the Daily Planet, for example. I thought we would be past this with a cast (again, referring to more than just those on-screen) as talented as this.

There is also no holding back during the massive fight scene that comprises the climax of this film (a.k.a. the Third Act; seriously, the final showdown must be at least 45 minutes in length). The action does get a little numbing. How many skyscrapers can we count where Superman and Zod crash through at lightning speed? Though this may seem like a trivial complaint, the end of the film suffers from a bit of a bloated ego — mostly as a result of Snyder thinking this needed to have the most grandiose of grandiose send-offs when in fact there is likely going to be more installments under the guise of Man of Steel. Don’t get me wrong — seeing what Superman is fully capable of in this particular case was exhilarating. But to a point. The film could have benefitted from some editing; somehow seeing him disappear under the harsh laser of Zod’s impressive ‘World Engine’ just didn’t do much for me when everything leading up to it has been just as insane.

There is one thing that has been overlooked quite terribly, though. There’s a consensus about this film’s lack of humor or discernible “warmth” to the script, or even to the characters, that distances Man of Steel from it’s theoretical potential. Such is simply a gross oversight and misses the point of this film’s purpose: bringing Superman back full-strength and true to the character. He’s human, but not really. He’s invincible, but not really. He’s a member of planet Earth, but. . . not really. Notice how none of these are really descriptions of Tony Stark, Spider-man (at least the Tobey Maguire version), nor the Green Lantern — the likes of which Clark Kent is most definitely not.

Wit and the inescapable buddy-buddy relationships in other action films don’t have much of a place in Man of Steel. Superman walks alone; this is part of the motif not just for this 2013 version, but of any of the films made. This movie’s title alone suggests a ‘colder,’ more dispassionate atmosphere, and is evidenced by the immediate introduction of General Zod who commands as much screen time as Henry Cavill’s God-like physique. Realistically, the world is a cold place. While I thought there could have been a few more happenstance laughs (Nolan does that quite nicely in his Dark Knight saga) sprinkled throughout, the purpose here is not to be funny. It is to drop those jaws to the floor.

It’s just too bad that most of that comes from the magic of special effects, and is not the result of incredible scriptwriting in conjunction with impressive action. So. . . ultimately, is the final product successful in the sense that it lived up to the record-levels of hype building up to its release? That’s very easy to answer: no it isn’t. Is it a good film? Most definitely. It’s epic and sweeping. We go to so many places within this film, and so easily too. It may be easier to overlook some of the many flaws within the narrative for some people and harder for others. Opinions are going to vary widely, but there’s no denying the size and beautiful grandeur of Snyder’s vision.

The director may have set his sights a little high going into this project, and he’s also no superhero who can shoot lasers from his eyes (which would be badass). But his film has taken an awfully hard bashing, more so than it deserves. If there was this much anticipation going into this film and the result is a mediocre 57% on Rotten Tomatoes, then there’s no telling what the damage will be with expectations for the next installment. . .

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4-0Recommendation: While it’s not vintage Christopher Reeve, this is a film that holds nothing back with energy and visual splendor. The best way to enjoy this film — and although it’s probably impossible to avoid seeing extra spoilers or reveals by now — is to go in with an open mind. Make your own opinion on this new take on Superman. Highbrows and perfectionists, yes, are going to be in varying degrees let down. The casual moviegoer is going to be blown away. The ratio of the latter to the former is something like 10:1, so it’s important to keep that in mind as you watch this behemoth unfold.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 143 mins.

Quoted: “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com