Archive for Mad Max: Fury Road

Striking Down the Unroadworthy

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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“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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Futurist Manifesto

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2015 by dcairns

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TOMORROWLAND: A WORLD BEYOND feels like a far more personal film for Brad Bird than his MISSION IMPOSSIBLE sequel, but this also feels like a shrewd strategy: for all its ambitious scale, the Tom Cruise spy-fest was a way for Bird to acclimatize himself to live-action film-making. We know from THE INCREDIBLES that he has a love of futuristic espionage, so it was easy to see how the world of the Impossible Missions Force would appeal, but TOMORROWLAND is unadulterated Bird. Like THE INCREDIBLES it uses entertainment to put over a very personal message. I find Bird’s didactic streak easy to take in part because the things he chooses to preach about are uniquely him: RATATOUILLE really is about food, in a way that no other Disney animated film has been. THE INCREDIBLES was a plea for exceptional people to be allowed to do exceptional things, and Bird doesn’t apologise if that makes him seem elitist — it can be read as a plea for Bird himself to be allowed to do exceptional things.

TOMORROWLAND really is a manifesto, a counter-myth to the doomy dystopias of modern sci-fi (particularly, as the film makes clear, in video games) — when I said in my MAD MAX: FURY ROAD review that modern post-apocalyptic films seem to take apocalypse as inevitable, I seem to have stumbled upon Bird’s theme — TOMORROWLAND puts itself squarely in opposition to everything MAD MAX represents. (That’s as far as you can read without spoilers, and the movie does play very nicely if you don’t know anything about it…)

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The backstory of the film suggests that the technocrats of Tomorrowland have been blasting us with a telepathic signal that makes us realize that the world is in danger, but that instead of galvanizing us into action, it’s depressed us into inertia. The characters in the film decide to fight back with their own message of hope, and it’s quite clear from the film’s narrative structure that TOMORROWLAND is itself that message, the hope-signal from a sunny futureworld, a beacon for us to follow to get to Jetsons utopia.

Points in the film’s favour: it is co-written by Damon Lindelof and yet makes a certain kind of sense, is consistent with itself, and doesn’t vanish beneath an avalanche of unmotivated behaviour and dim-bulb dialogue. Actually, the secret science-cult behind it all are a lot like the one in Lost.

It’s funny.

The acting is really excellent. George Clooney is fine as ever, but the kids are his equal: four REALLY great kids. Britt Robertson, technically an adult, actually (not even a teenager) should be an immediate star. She has to basically embody optimism here. I believed her, all the way.

The design is lovely, capturing that retro-future vibe elegantly and with original touches (the suspended swimming pools!) which nevertheless feel in keeping with the period (an early-sixties vision of tomorrow). There’s a stunning moment when Tomorrowland, seen previously in a vision (which turns out to have been a commercial), is revealed in its run-down, seedy present form.

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Of course, the concept of a scientific elite, or any kind of elite, leaves open the question of what attitude the film should take to the muggles, the mundanes, its own audience. And here the movie encounters one slight difficulty, since, despite locating the cause of mankind’s woes in the old technocrats, it also regards their successors as our saviours. There’s one rather shocking scene where the little android girl (yes: there’s a little android girl) gets smacked by a pick-up truck and knocked flying. The owner of the truck rushes to her fallen form, and his truck is then stolen. He takes off after it, forgetting his victim, who then gets to her feet and starts running after the truck at Jamie Sommers bionic speed. What’s missing is the reaction shot from the old guy who just ran her down — he ought to be comically astonished. Such a reaction would let us off the hook from our discomfort at the thought of some guy thinking he’s killed a kid, and the fact that the movie showed us what LOOKS like a horrible child fatality. It seems like a mistake for the movie not to be interested enough in this background character to use him to defuse that anxiety.

The odd effect of this android kid doesn’t stop there. She’s beautifully played by Raffey Cassidy, but the fact that she’s playing an ageless android who is decades older than her appearance means that we get to see George Clooney playing, essentially, love scenes with a child. Because he’s George Clooney and the scenes are beautifully conceived and written, this isn’t actually icky. But there is perhaps a trace of discomfort again.

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And that’s it for negative comments. Oh, when the heroine is led to a swamp, there should’ve been something IN the swamp of significance, probably, or why would android girl have led her there? Seems like android girl left her this clue and then expected her to stay put. Well, what the hell, the last time a Damon Lindelof script made this much sense was never, so we should be content with the charm and the classically beautiful storytelling and the really appealing characters.

The end credits feature some beautiful animation. Of course the drones in the audience stampeded for the exits, missing all this additional entertainment they had paid for, because it’s the end credits and the movie’s over, innit? Only one teenager, in the seat next to us, stayed. I felt like saying to him, “You’ve passed the test: here’s your pin,” but I didn’t have a Tomorrowland badge on me, just one of Jean Marais as the Beast in LA BELLE ET LA BETE, and I’m not sure how he would have reacted to that. But he deserves a prize. The movie’s point, Bird’s over-arching career-long theme, that some people are special, has some validity. Of course, everybody’s special or unique in their own way. But we should only celebrate them when they manifest it in positive ways, which is all too rare.

Here’s a film which resoundingly passes the sidewalk test and makes you glad of it. When you exit a movie, does the world look different? I came out and was struck by the view from the top of the Vue Ocean Terminal — Edinburgh — ancient, sooty Edinburgh — seemed like a dream city of the Twenty-First Century. Which, in a way, it is.