Archive for George Miller

Striking Down the Unroadworthy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-01-31-22h23m06s150

Wrote this last year after enjoying MAD MAX: FURY ROAD — we watched all the previous MAXES, I wrote this, and then forgot to publish it. Now I’m thoroughly sick of staring at it in my Drafts section, I’ll finally punt it out there.

***

So, we finally watched all the MAD MAX films, in the wrong order. Fiona hadn’t seen any, and I had seen MAD MAX II: THE ROAD WARRIOR on VHS and the first film at my school film society when I was 17. FURY ROAD got us all pumped up and fuel-injected and we thought it was time to catch up. Oddly enough, my teenage self hadn’t been all that taken with the first film, so we left it to last. But in the interests of clarity, I’ll take them in order here.

vlcsnap-2016-01-31-22h24m11s39

MAD MAX — first seen at my school film society — has all the strengths and weaknesses in position already. The action is hairy and scary and impressive and the ruthlessness is total. The movie menaces a child in the first reel and kills one to motivate the last-act carnage. Max’s wife isn’t killed, just horribly wounded, and then allowed to completely disappear from the movie, and the series. Maybe he likes Charlize Theron in the latest film because she reminds him of his wife’s missing arm?

Throughout the action the movie contrasts Max’s heteronormative family values with the rampaging psychopathic polyamorous biker gang led by Toecutter (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Keays-Byrne) who are equal-opportunities rapists. “A woman! My favourite!” remarks one. Director/doctor George Miller takes a bully’s gloating delight in their depravity and laughs along with their jokes, which I think is what I disliked about the film first time.

vlcsnap-2016-01-31-22h23m23s89

Max and his sex-sax-playing wife actually play at Tarzan-and-Jane, and like that previous screen couple, they have an unimaginative way with baby names: their’s is called Sprog.

I don’t remember the cartoonish eyeball-bulge moment, played twice in the film. Either it was censored from our UK print or it went by so fast I convinced myself it never happened. Or I suppressed the memory and Miller should start paying my therapist bills.

mad-max-2-music-box

The second film is an exponential leap in budgetary terms, and also in bringing in the self-consciously mythic aspect of the series. The ending is particularly fine in this respect, unearned by the preceding action — the Gyro Captain’s going to make a terrible tribal leader, obviously. The weird lack of continuity between films — no series save THE PINK PANTHER has survived so much surreal garbling — already creeps in, but is less overt. Miller’s skill with actors seems to have actually regressed, with this movie brimming with lousy supporting players cast for their appearance. Emil Minty as the Feral Kid is good though.

Isn’t he YOUNG? Mel Gibson is actually too boyish in the first film, struggling to appear bad-ass enough or convincingly tormented until his descent into nemesis mode at the end. He has just enough gravitas by the time of the second.

Once more, though, the film is far more in love with its bad guys, and can’t quite bring itself to give the hero much to do or say — only at the climax is there a clear imperative to get his arse in gear.

vlcsnap-2016-01-31-22h40m50s61

The third film is probably the most dated, since its budget now allowed Miller and his co-George to really indulge themselves, so we get more sex-sax, Tina Turner, some dubious hair for Max, and a bit of a Frankie Goes To Hollywood vibe. Everything at Thunderdome is a bit confused, with baddies who aren’t bad enough, fighting other baddies, and Max stuck in between without a clear role. Once we get to the “Jesus in leather” part, the high concept that made the film worth making to Miller, with Max as messiah leading a tribe of semi-feral children from the wilderness, things pick up. The Riddley Walker devolved dialect of the kids is inspired, and it’s only when you start picking at it that you realize the whole thing makes no sense at all — how long have these kids been here?

vlcsnap-2016-01-31-22h38m18s80

So the third film is the least satisfying and most naff, but also has a lot of the best bits of the series, with the epic, mythic ending of film 2 extrapolated out so as to occupy considerable screen time. In the first film it’s a really cool grace note at the end of a silly, nasty romp. Here, it’s almost substantial. The post-apocalyptic poetic is a major thing in literary sci-fi, but rarely gets a look-in at the movies. Surprising that the most brutal, comic-book and nonsensical post-apoc flicks should also approach the sublime most nearly.

“There are a lot of inconveniences to yachting that ordinary people don’t know anything about.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on October 13, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-10-13-08h17m12s114

Rudy Vallee’s observation about a life on the ocean wave in THE PALM BEACH STORY might very well be echoed by Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman in DEAD CALM, which I finally caught up with. Director Phillip Noyce is someone I haven’t really bothered myself about — I found his lauded QUIET AMERICAN dull, more faithful than Mankiewicz’s re-Americanized version but simply tedious to watch, and I never persevered with SALT, despite its refreshingly coherent action scenes. And I promise to never watch SLIVER or PATRIOT GAMES.

But this one finally tempted me, viewed as a George Miller movie (he produced) rather than a Noyce one. It feels tightly storyboarded and has been pared down until the backstory squeaks, a mere vestige of some now-lost subplot. The really intense suspense is in the first half, I found, but like such films as Hawks’ THE BIG SLEEP, it builds up such goodwill that you don’t notice if the last half isn’t as strong. I enjoyed MAD MAX: FURY ROAD as much as the rest of you, and it’s prompted me to revisit the Miller back catalogue.

vlcsnap-2015-10-13-08h12m39s202

Never get on a boat with Billy Zane, by the way. Just some friendly advice. Think about it.

Nicole K, still sporting her original birth face at this point, is both photogenic and convincing, while staunch Sam Neill is dominant enough to suggest a deeply-buried thematic level the film never quite gets around to pinning down. His advice to his spouse that she must forget their dead child and move on to their new life is uncannily echoed by Zane later in the film as he urges her to stop thinking about her drowning husband and devote her attentions to him.

vlcsnap-2015-10-13-08h12m09s158

But it’s the nasty thrills and elbow-gnawing suspense that mark the film out as attention-worthy. Miller has always been not only unafraid to kill men, women, children and dogs, he has practically insisted upon it — you can see his entire career as a preparation for LORENZO’S OIL, just so we’ll take that movie’s fatal childhood disease seriously. Trust him, he’s a doctor.

Bad panty continuity. Nicole stips off to seduce Zane, then climbs straight on deck wearing only a jacket — and is suddenly sporting tighty-whities. Did Noyce seriously say, “No one will be looking at her ass, they won’t notice”? Fiona reckons Nicole just didn’t want to spend the rest of the movie bare-ass (Zane clearly DID). I guess her character just generated panties by sheer willpower. I can’t help feel the movie offered a few later opportunities for the character to don grundies. You can’t rush into these things.

vlcsnap-2015-10-13-08h15m21s25

Now all we need is the Orson Welles version. I don’t mind if it’s not finished, or not very good — TOO MUCH JOHNSON convinces me it’ll be interesting anyway, and the less work it undergoes at the hands of others, the better.

Sub Sub

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2015 by dcairns

madmax In Theodore Roszak’s novel Flicker, there’s a movie entitled SUB SUB, which is presented as the climactic achievement of cinema — a quadrophonic acid-trip caveman movie full of rape and violence with a deafening non-stop rock score. The book’s semi-serious conspiracy theory suggests that cinema is a Cathar conspiracy to prepare us for the end of the world. Cinema as anti-life equation. I do sort of believe this. I think art and religion are both ways of dealing with the consciousness of our own deaths. George Miller’s triumphal return to big-screen carnage, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD feels a lot like SUB SUB. It has a bit more humanity, to be sure, but in its high-octane relentlessness, its constant grotesquerie, its deafening onslaught of mayhem, it is the kind of movie it’s easy to imagine alien archeologists unearthing from the ruins of our civilisation, screening, and saying “Well of course these bastards became extinct: they were making things like this.” It was suggested by someone or other that our ability to imagine post-apocalyptic scenarios does not seem to make us better at avoiding the kind of behaviour that will lead to apocalypses — instead, it just feels like a dress rehearsal for the inevitable. madmaxi If the Tasmanian Devil ram-raided FELLINI SATYRICON, or the characters of THE BED SITTING ROOM discarded their “mustn’t grumble” British inertia, OD’d on bath salts and invaded Namibia, the results would resemble this dirt-caked pile-driver of a film. George Miller doesn’t need 3D to punch his audience in the face. Astonishingly, a film which steamrollers over the action movie competition of beardless youths like Bryan Singer or Matthew Vaughn, is directed and photographed by septuagenarians, and costume designed by a nice lady who used to do all Merchant-Ivory’s films.

mad-max-fury-road

Production process: for over a decade, the film was waiting to get made, existing, like The Bible, without the benefit of the written word — instead, Miller papered a room with a storyboard by comic book wiz Brendan McCarthy, himself a MAD MAX fan whose punk armageddons of mutation and madness prepared him perfectly for this descent into the maelstrom. It’s in some ways the most comic book movie ever, with character simplified mostly to design and cool names (Imperator Furiosa, Rictus Erectus) and basic, primal motivations. Max hardly speaks. Engine noise and the choral freak-out of Junkie XL’s score are privileged over dialogue (weird that I enjoyed this earsplitting sensory pugilism and then, due to my noise phobia, couldn’t walk into a busy pub to discuss it — movies have SOUND DESIGN but real life can be intolerably garbled). madmaxx Miller insisted that, anamorphic cinematography be damned, the subject of interest in every shot had to be dead centre, so that the eye didn’t have to rove around to catch what was going on. He was going to cut shots into second-long blipverts, and play some of his action as fast as six frames per second, so the tardy eye was never going to have a chance if everything wasn’t always in the same space. You’d think this might lead to visual dullness, but at the manic maximum overdrive sustained almost throughout, such a thing is impossible. Fatigue is certainly conceivable, and will depend on your tolerance for sweaty brutality and desperate urgency, which never flag. You just have to keep up. Logic is present only in the characters’ basic sense of direction — from almost the start, the world of Miller’s films hasn’t made a lick of sense. In a world where petrol has run out, everyone spends all their time driving around. Don’t let it worry you. More problematic was always the use of homosexual and disabled characters as monstrous villains. Here, it’s a little more complex — Miller, a former doctor, still has a love of physical deformity, but this is evenly parcelled out amid good and bad characters. Charlize Theron, the film’s real lead character, has a prosthetic arm, and Nicholas Hoult is extravagantly decorated with scarifications and a couple of bulbous tumours (with smiley faces inked on them). Sexuality has been entirely displaced by the necessity of procreation on a dying globe, and the exercise of violence is the only means the bad guys have for getting their jollies. “no unnecessary killing!” yells one of the babes Max and Imperator are rescuing at one point, but fortunately for the sensation-seeking multiplexers, a very large amount of killing proves to be completely necessary. madmaxresdefault (2) Miller pays hommage to ozploitation films past, borrowing the spiky Volkswagon straight out of THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS and strapping Max to the front of a speedy car like a live hood ornament, just like Cassandra Delaney in FAIR GAME. It’s just one way in which Max, hung in a cage and milked of blood by the bad guys, is treated more like a leading lady than Theron. He’s not as objectified as he might have been, though, and the film also loses homoerotic points by dotting its shirtless “warboys” with hideous goitres. The two groups of women show the extent to which Aussie commercial film has/has not moved on from its blokish origins. First, Max stumbles upon a kind of bikini carwash wet T-shirt competition among the lingerie models, then he meets a commune of leathery Germaine Greers. In this way the movie can have its cheesecake AND eat it AND spit it in your face while laughing maniacally. mad-max-trailer Even if the characters are hinged cardboard, Theron in particular invests some actual humanity in the proceedings. Miller’s long-standing tendency to cast for physiognomy means he’s saddled himself with slightly more lingerie models in lead roles than a proper film should have. The guy with brittle-bone disease or something, who looks like a jester’s bladder, is such an extraordinary human special effect in himself that I wouldn’t mind if he couldn’t act, but Rosie Huntington-Whitely isn’t really artistically excusable. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is as immersive and toxic as the extraordinary HARD TO BE A GOD, and the only thing separating Russian art film from Australian-American action film is the propulsive narrative drive — a straightforward sense of mission grounded in character. Someone said that the film borrows the structure of Keaton’s THE GENERAL, and it’s true enough — a long chase one way, then a long chase back, using the same terrain in new ways. Keaton gains added variety from the fact that in the first chase, he’s after the Northern spies and in the second, they’re after him. Here, it’s basically Max and Furiosa being pursued all the time. I’m slightly bewildered to hear of friends rushing to see it a second and third time. I enjoyed myself, but I’m uncertain as to how repeatable the experience is, and do I want to do that to myself again? I don’t think I’ll discover hidden depths. But I can’t wait to own a copy so I can pick it apart in the comfort of my own home…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 693 other followers