Monthly Archives: May 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: MAD MAX FURY ROAD

MMPOSTER

DIRECTED BY: GEORGE MILLER

STARRING: TOM HARDY, CHARLIZE THERON, NICHOLAS HOULT, HUGH KEAYS-BYRNE

There has been a thirty year wait for Mad Max to return to cinemas, for years the fourth movie has languished in development hell. Many long term fans must have wondered if it would ever really happen and when it was finally announced if it could ever live up to the hype and nostalgic love for the originals.

What no one could have foreseen was director George Miller giving audiences not just one of the greatest action movies ever made but also one of the most subversive, a film that defies every expectation and shows the rest of Hollywood that they seriously need to up their game.

In the last thirty years Miller had directed only three films, all for children Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two and Babe: Pig in the City. Yet he managed to convince a major motion picture studio to give him $150 million to make a new Mad Max. You at home may think it the usual process to allow a director to return to his own film series especially in the age of film makers like George Lucas and Peter Jackson who wield huge control over the films they make. Yet Miller does not have their kind of clout but still managed to convince the executives he was the man for the job. Perhaps the cocaine mountain that the Hollywood higher ups live under was running low the day this was signed off. He could have been replaced with a gun for hire who would have pumped out a cheap and cheerful by the numbers action film which just happened to be called Mad Max, luckily for audiences the stars were in a different alignment.

In an era of endless remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels and spin off’s before release people were asking what was this film. Where did it fit in? Would there be a new origin story? Time for the second piece of subversion, its none of them. It doesn’t bog you down or waste 45 minutes on set up, a guy named Max is alone in a post apocalyptic world and he is driving the same car Mel Gibson drove in the old movies. Got it? Good lets get on with the action.

And it is action from the start. Action staged in a manner that many won’t expect with the iconic car the V8 interceptor sent rolling through the desert in the opening minutes. This isn’t what’s supposed to happen but you should know by now that Miller isn’t playing by the rules. And he breaks the biggest rule of all by making his title character and leading man into the sidekick in his own movie. Yes its true, Max doesn’t say much, he isn’t always centre of the action and he doesn’t always save the day. That honour goes to Charlize Theron who is the star of this film and the focus of the next point of subversion.

Charlize Theron as Furiousa

Charlize Theron as Furiosa

Action movies usually feature damsels in distress, women are generally there to be drooled over and swept into the arms of the hunky hero. She maybe feisty but by the moves end she’ll grow to love him and they kiss right? Nope not here, Theron plays Furiosa a woman on a mission. She drives a huge rig and while heading out on a supply run for uber bad guy Immorta Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne who was the iconic baddie Toecutter in the original) she veers off into the wasteland. Its her journey that is the focus, what she is protecting and where she is trying to get to. Yes eventually Max joins her on the journey but he is there to help and their relationship is built on trust and mutual respect of survival abilities. At no point are they mooning over each other. Theron is regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world but she isn’t here for eye candy purposes, with shaven head, missing forearm (which she has replaced with a mechanical construct) and sporting a scar from being branded like cattle she is given free reign to play a character who is strong and determined. Her missing forearm is never mentioned in the movie an empowering fact for any viewer who may also be an amputee (fetal or otherwise).

Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne)

Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne)

Subversion continues when her cargo is revealed. She is fleeing to a supposed safe haven with a group of beautiful young women who are supposed to produce the offspring of bad guy Immortan Joe. Now you might expect these women to be helpless and ready to fill the damsel in distress role but again Miller isn’t interested in your expectations so much as confounding them. These women are beautiful but they don’t just sit there and scream, they use weapons, they help on the war rig, they have conflicts and behave like you would want female characters to behave more often in films. The American cartoonist Alison Bechdel introduced the world to the Bechdel Test,a three step guide to how women are under represented and encounter sexism. To pass a film must contain the following

  1. The movie has to have at least two women in it,

  2. who talk to each other,

  3. about something besides a man

If you are reading those rules and thinking no big deal go back and watch a dozen action films and you will see how many of them fail miserably to pass this in fact don’t limit it to the action genre as it applies to the majority of films.

With all this talk of Max, Furiosa and the crew another important character is still to be mentioned. Joe has an army of War Boys, shaven headed, pale skinned and kept barely alive by blood donors. Early on Max finds himself tethered to one by the name of Nux (played by Nicholas Hoult) but once freed he sees the truth of Joe’s rule and joins the rigs crew, even finding time for a few romantic beats with Capable (played by Riley Keough). In the trailers he was sold as the psychotic bad guy so his arc proves to be incredibly satisfying and yet again goes against what you might think would happen to him.

Nux (Nicholas Hoult) and Capable (Riley Keough)

Capable (Riley Keough) and Nux (Nicholas Hoult)

The more insecure reader might be wondering if all this gets a bit heavy handed, are these messages being shoved in your face? And the answer is yes they are, is this a bad thing? Absolutely not because they are being shoved in your face through the vision of an almost two hour chase through a blasted wasteland! This is a not a film that feels the need to stop and tell you how important it is, the telling is done through the visuals as you are catapulted into the carnage. When the few brief stops do come its to help the story along and also introduce a further bunch of new characters, a group of mature and elder women riding motorcycles in the desert who just happen to be crack shots with their rifles!

Yet all these glorious factors are just part of the whole package as to what makes this film brilliant, another praiseworthy aspect has to be the production design. The vehicles, the locations, the costumes. Everything has been heightened to ridiculous levels but nothing feels to much or out of place it all feels right and like a natural evolution of where society might go after its fall. When the rig is being chased through the desert by Joe’s army and one of his vehicles has six drummers on the back, a stack of amplifiers on the roof and a heavy metal guitarist whose instrument shoots flames you never once think this is to much, because you can’t help but think how fucking cool it all is.

guitar

Another problem action films have fallen into in the last twenty years is their tendency to cut everything so quickly and shake the camera so much you can barely take in what’s happening. Here you see everything with plenty of beautiful wide shots showing the full extent of the carnage and crashes yet Miller knows exactly when to cut to a close up or crash zoom to a minor detail. You’ll want to watch again and again, not because of what you missed but because of what has been crafted, the astonishing level of detail and the non stop adrenalin of it all.

Vehicular carnage is taken to another level

Vehicular carnage is taken to another level

Yet another strength is what the film doesn’t tell you, fictional narratives can live and die on their world building, the establishment of which can either suck you in or leave you cold. Once again Miller plays this to perfection, who knows why Joe wears his armour, where do the War Boys come from? Do you get answers to these questions, no you don’t but you don’t need them. You can tell he is evil, you can see the Boys are treated as disposable, this is a film that shows you rather than tells you. But then it also does the reverse of this, Furiousa says she wants redemption, she has obviously been party to horrible things and right then you would expect the flashback scene. Only it never happens, let your imagination run wild, it can be more fun sometimes.

So should you watch Mad Max Fury Road? Yes you should and then you should watch it again, you should show it to anyone who claims to be a film fan. This is not just a motion picture its a significant moment in popular culture that will be praised for years to come. Simply superb.

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Up, Up and Away

SUPERGIRL PILOT EPISODE REVIEW

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DC have been on a hot streak recently with televisual adaptations of Arrow and The Flash. Can Supergirl join them in the category of must watch programming? With the unofficial (but rumoured deliberate) leak of the pilot episode online lets take a look at what is in prospect for the first female led superhero series this decade.

What’s immediately apparent is the pace, this is a show that does not believe in hanging around but throwing you straight in. After a brief but spectacular prologue showing young Kara Zor-El escaping the destruction of Krypton we quickly learn that though she was to protect her most famous cousin when they reached Earth. A problem with her space capsule means she slept in space for twenty four years though she did not age. Drifting through the Phantom Zone (a bad part of the universe where criminals are sent) she eventually makes it to Earth to find her cousin grown into adulthood and having taken his place as Superman. He places her in the care of a couple of scientists (played by Helen Slater and Dean Cain, a lovely touch) who she will be raised by as an adopted daughter alongside their natural born child Alex.

Kara escapes the destruction of Krypton

Kara escapes the destruction of Krypton

This all happens in the space of a few minutes but the direction is clear and the editing excellent so you don’t feel like you are being rushed through events. Cut to Kara (played by Melissa Benosit) as an adult, working at Catco Media in National City. Her job as a Personal Assistant has her fetching coffee, being put down by her boss and generally feeling flustered by life in general. She keeps her appearance plain, sensible clothing and hairstyle and less than flattering pair of glasses.

We meet media mogul Cat Grant, played by Calista Flockhart who is on fine form as a bitchy take no prisoners power loving boss. Also introduced is IT guy Winn (played by Jeremy Jordan) who is rather smitten with Kara though she gently mocks him for the alien investigation website he writes. The final employee we meet and most significant is James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), tall and handsome this is a fresh portrayal of the character and his reinvention totally works as he contrasts perfectly with the bumbling and unsure Kara. James has met Superman and with a knowing tone describes his friendship with the Man of Steel to Kara. The interplay between the two actors is pitch perfect here and their scenes are charming to watch.

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Winn, IT expert and alien website writer

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Cat Grant, media mogul

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James Olsen

Back home Kara chats to her adopted sister Alex about her frustration and how she feels she isn’t living up to her potential having not used her powers in years. Their conversation is cut short as Alex catches a flight to Geneva but the plane has a problem and is set to crash. Kara sees her chance and seizes it, charging out into the night she takes flight and in a spectacular scene rescues the place bringing it safely to rest in the river. The special effects here are excellent and the rain pattern on the camera lens is a nice touch.

Kara is thrilled and celebrates in a very human way by watching herself on television while eating pizza! It’s good to see that even aliens love pizza. Her joy is cut short as Alex chastises her for exposing herself. This might seem rather ungrateful as Kara just saved her life but it will make sense as the episode progresses. Arriving at work the next day Kara finds she is the number one story though her identity is safe as the only photos taken are to low resolution to identify her.

Alex, concerned sister

Alex, concerned sister

All good heroes need a good villain to come up against and now we meet our antagonist. Vartox (Owain Yeoman) is an alien disguised as a regular truck driver, he is ordered by his off world superiors to kill this emerging hero and with axe in hand he goes looking for her.

The pilot strikes an excellent balance when it comes to tone and after the menace of the bad guy we go to a cute montage sequence showing the evolution of Kara’s costume and her powers. Winn helps her with both sending her out to various crimes as she eventually settles on an outfit. The final form including the famous S symbol which is her families coat of arms.

Costume evolution

Costume evolution

It's not an S, it's my families coat of arms

It’s not an S, it’s my families coat of arms

All seems right with the world as she embraces her powers but this is cut short as she is captured by a shadowy government group called the Department of Extra Normal Operations. They are tasked with monitoring and combating alien activity and are led by Hank Henshaw (David Harewood). The department was set up after Superman arrived on Earth and they have Kara’s ship. Her craft was responsible for accidentally dragging a Kryptonian prison ship to Earth and her sister is revealed to be working at the Department.

Feeling frustrated and betrayed by those closest to her now is not the time to go out fighting super villains but of course Vartox calls her out and they have a showdown at a power station. The fight scene here is incredible with both unleashing their strength to trade punches and crash through walls. Kara might be incredibly strong but she has no experience and is about to be finished off when Alex shows up to save the day with a bombardment of missiles from a helicopter. The action is again brilliantly staged and the production team have achieved wonders on their budget.

Kara is having a crisis of confidence but reconciling with her sister she is presented with a recording of her mother which was hidden in the ship. This is the catalyst she needs to fully embrace her powers and use them to help others. A final showdown with Vartox beckons and their rematch is even more spectacular as they battle it out on a desert highway. She doesn’t win just because of her physical strength but by combining that with an inner belief which is boosted by the love of her sister. The emotions are pitched perfectly so it never feels like it is tipping over into melodrama.

It’s a breathless forty five minutes of television but the pacing is excellent and the mixture of action and character development feels just right. The final scene reveals more about the oncoming big bad which should provide even more exciting drama for the rest of the series. Melissa Benosit is perfect as Supergirl, she is charming, humble, confident and self doubting in equal measure. It’s refreshing as well that she is not saddled with a romantic interest a cliché the production team have done well to avoid. Yes she is struck by how handsome James is and has Winn mooning over her but the focus is firmly on her and not a man she needs to make her whole. It may not be the most original piece of television hitting as it does many familiar beats but it is all done with such heart that only the most cold hearted cynic could fail to gleam any joy from it.

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Up, up and away

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Hopefully when the series starts properly it will be a huge success and prove that female led superhero television and movies can be popular and empowering to female audiences.

Supergirl is set to be broadcast Winter 2015