Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

FRD-08534.JPGCaptured by the War Boys of Citadel, a small oasis lost in the wastelands of what used to be Australia, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is condemned to have his blood harvested for injured warrior Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Before the transfusion can begin, however, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) flees the Citadel aboard a tank truck containing despot Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) “prize breeders” — wives Splendid (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Capable (Riley Keough), Cheedo (Courtney Eaton) and Toast (Zoë Kravitz) — drawing Joe and his War Boys out of the city in pursuit. Chained to the front of Nux’s vehicle, out in front of the fleet, the transfusion now in progress, Max’s only chance of survival is to escape his confines and join the women on the rig before either he runs out of blood or Nux runs out of luck. With a cargo of gasoline as well as women, it’s not long until hunting parties from rival territories Gas Town and Bullet Farm join the chase.

Ostensibly the fourth film in George Miller’s Mad Max franchise, albeit at something of a remove from the original trilogy by virtue of a recast lead actor (Hardy taking over from Mel Gibson) and a recycled villain (series veteran Keays-Byrne returning in a new role), Mad Max: Fury Road is more of a soft reboot. No longer an independent, under-the-radar antipodean oddity, the latest instalment has been financed by Hollywood with a high profile cast and exponentially bigger budget. Remarkably — and refreshingly — that seems to be the full extent of the compromises enacted by Warner Bros. While notable enough simply for having swerved the traditional backlash against belated trilogy-cappers that befell Indiana Jones and John McClane, and which dogs all remakes, however honourable their intentions, Fury Road is even more impressive for running circles not just around the usual skeptics and cynics but also the Cannes Croisette. There is more originality on display in this franchise film than there is in most standalone features.

Although it’s initially a little jarring to see Miller’s uncompromising vision writ large, the grinding of gears is so intrinsic to a film such as this that it soon becomes second nature when watching. Max may be mad but Miller’s film is maniacal; from the manic edits to the frantic pacing, the returning director builds a momentum that doesn’t let up for a single moment. This is a film in which fade-outs signal the passing of minutes rather than months, in which characterisation takes place at pace or not at all, and in which characters give blood/fight baddies/blast out guitar riffs while strapped to the front of supercharged muscle cars. That the chase not only continues but intensifies through swirling sandstorms, crumbling canyons and cloying quagmires only goes to show how insane it eventually becomes — in a no-holds-barred drag race to the finish. It’s hard to think of another live-action movie that can match it in terms of surrealist scale and spectacle — at least until that Fast & Furious/Doomsday crossover exactly nobody is asking for — and it’s telling that for years Fury Road was actually mooted as an animated movie, albeit one that doesn’t deal in love interests and daddy issues.

Seventeen years in the making, Mad Max has had plenty of time to balance impeccable style with unexpected substance. As is so often the case with supposedly studied dystopian fiction, the film deals with an underclass railing against dishonest dictators, but Fury Road is a little more nuanced than that. The characters aren’t simply trying to topple a tyrant; they’re attempting to overthrow a patriarchy. Both Max and Furiosa receive essentially the same billing, both in the opening credits and the title of the film itself, in which the two are separated only by a colon. Interpreted literally as a route travelled in anger the fury of the film’s title is clearly that of Furiosa’s and her four female compatriots; but read metaphorically it could just as easily relate to a road of furies — as in the creatures of Grecian myth, embodied here by those selfsame five. As if the women aren’t depicted as dominant enough (Max is never much more a passenger aboard the rig), he is at one point shown to rely upon “mother’s milk” — and he isn’t the only one. Unfortunately, while Furiosa flourishes onscreen, and both Huntington-Whiteley and Kravitz are given fleeting opportunities to prove themselves and flesh out their characters, the two other wives don’t make quite the same impression.

While commendable for his conviction, only time will tell whether Miller’s refusal to compromise has cost his film commercially. Like Drag Me To Hell, itself a solid but by no means sensational success at the box office, it’s at some points so crazed that it’s actually comical — more rumpus than riot. It is clear throughout, even at its most unlikely and over the top, however, that there is method to this madness.

4-Stars

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Locke (GFF 2014)

LockeIvan Locke (Tom Hardy) has a busy night ahead of him. A Welsh building contractor, Ivan is facing the biggest concrete delivery of his career — the biggest, in fact, to ever take place in Europe — and yet he is driving in the opposite direction, instead heading to a hospital in London to see a woman he barely knows named Bethan (Olivia Colman). Between calls to the office, where Donal (Andrew Scott) is working on Ivan’s behalf to ensure the delivery goes precisely to plan, and Bethan, Ivan also tries to contact his wife, Katrina (Ruth Wilson), who is at home with their two children (Tom Holland, Bill Milner) waiting to watch a football match with her absent husband.

There is a moment approximately twenty minutes in to Locke when it becomes clear that the action is never going to leave the inside of Ivan’s car. To begin with this is reasonable cause for concern; Tom Hardy is certainly convincing as a cement expert, but as characters go it’s safe to say that he’s not the most dynamic. Eventually, however, Ivan’s predicament becomes suddenly vital, and his list of contacts transform from vague voices on the end of the phone line to complex and compelling characters in their own right.

Locke isn’t the first movie to incorporate telecommunication into its narrative — both Phone Booth and Cellular relied on characters communicating almost exclusively by phone — but in not treating this device as a gimmick the film certainly gets some points for originality. Locke isn’t about the car phone, it’s about the relationships in Ivan’s life and what each individual one reveals about his personality. The most telling conversation doesn’t even take place over the phone, but is instead an imagined, one-sided diatribe with his deceased father.

Hardy is astonishing in the role, holding his audience’s attention throughout. Ivan is for the most part calm and collected, but on occasion betrays a vulnerability and uncertainty that stems from his own father issues and his determination to redeem the Locke name. While Ivan may have accepted his predicament, those around him are far from ready to deal with the consequences. The different facets to his character make Ivan interesting, but its his frustration at everyone else that makes him so sympathetic. His bosses anger, his colleague’s confusion and his wife’s hurt all seem obscene in the calm of Ivan’s car, and you become not only invested but defensive as you see him attacked from all angles.

A high-concept thriller with a difference, Steven Knight’s Locke is sober, understated and character-driven. Don’t let the subdued atmosphere put you off, however, as Hardy’s performance ensures that it is just as tense and urgent as any other.

4-Stars

Lawless (2012)

It’s Prohibition-era Virginia, and Bondurant brothers Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) are struggling in their illicit bootlegging business as the authorities vie for a percentage of their profits. As Jack attempts to court the disapproving daughter (Mia Wasikowska) of a local preacher aided by best friend Cricket (Dane DaHaan), Forrest finds himself falling for ex-burlesque dancer Maggie (Jessica Chastain). However, when a new special agent (Guy Pearce) arrives on the scene and Jack, tired of playing second fiddle to his brothers, crosses local gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) with moonshine of his own, profits quickly become the least of the brothers’ worries. Read more of this post

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Blamed by the citizens of Gotham for the death of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart – in flashback) eight years previously, Batman has been retired from duty while Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) exiles himself in the family manor with only butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) for company. The truth is that Batman is no longer needed, the city’s streets the safest they’ve ever been thanks to the Dent Act, a precursor to peace-time that has left the police growing complacent and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) racked with guilt over the hidden truth behind Dent’s demise. Both are therefore caught off guard by the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked monolith who has been rallying an army in the city’s sewers. When Batman is dragged out of retirement by a mysterious cat-burglar (Anne Hathaway), a collision course is set that could spell the end of Gotham once and for all. Read more of this post

This Means War (2012)

Having failed to foil an international sale of weapons of mass destruction while on covert deployment in Hong Kong, a case which resulted in the death of their target’s brother, FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and Tuck Hensen (Tom Hardy) find them grounded upon their return to headquarters. When his partner scores a date online, FDR offers to bail Tuck out should the evening prove a bust, and positions himself in a video store around the corner from the chosen restaurant. Unwittingly, however, he finds himself chatting up the same girl when she stops by to rent a movie on her way home. With both men now vying for the affections of Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon), a gentleman’s agreement forged almost as quickly as it’s forgotten, they use the equipment at their disposal to make sure that they are the one who comes out on top.

For McG, the much maligned director of such contemporary classics as Charlie’s Angels and, er, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, This Means War must have been one big balancing act. Ostensibly breaching the perky gender divide with its perfect ratio of action to romance, the film also had to paint FDR and Tuck as equally worthy candidates for Lauren’s affections without making her out to be some sort of easy, unsympathetic whore. You know, like FDR. This is Hollywood, after all, and sexism is still the name of the game. If This Means War succeeds at anything, and my God that’s a big if, it is in pandering to just about every demographic going, with its infantile narrative, it’s pretty cast, its numerous explosions and its near-puritanical approach to profanity.

While McG might have been sure not to offend his audience, however, he has taken an equally conservative approach to trying to entertain them too. There are a few witty lines peppering the script (Lauren: Oh, I think I’m going to hell. Her best friend Trish: Don’t worry. If you’re going to hell, I’ll just come pick you up), but largely it all boils down to clichéd bumper sticker philosophies and the two leads expounding their love for one another at literally every available opportunity. Of course, you rarely get a full exchange between characters, as McG will compulsively throw in an exploding table, a few eye-gouging quick edits cut to a montage before anyone says anything too intelligent or revealing.

Outside of his trigger-happy grasp, the poor film clings on to its central love triangle for dear life. Chris Pine has by now perfected his cocksure onscreen persona, bringing a variant of his James T. Kirk to the role while Tom Hardy follows rom-com tradition with a bumbling British accent. Reese Witherspoon, meanwhile, tries her best to aid audiences in finding some way of relating to a kooky product testing executive, clearly making the most of her time in this: her First Proper Action Movie. She’s even given something half kind of interesting to do during the film’s explosive finale. With the filmmakers having apparently forgotten that the usually reliable Til Schweiger is even in their movie, it’s left to Chelsea Handler to steal the show as the no-nonsense Trish, however, and I would have quite happily exited the film with her, afloat in a roadside pond.

Affable more than memorable, amusing rather than funny, This Means War is somewhat of a step in the right direction for McG, one he was in desperate need of after 2009’s utterly joyless Terminator: Salvation. With the amount of effort expended by all to make the rickety contrivance at the film’s centre hang together, however, you will invariably leave the cinema wondering if it was actually worth it.

Ten 2012 Movies I Could Take Or Leave…Preferably Leave

With the year mapped out and the requisite drool reserves allocated to each of the releases I am most highly anticipating, I am left with a near-equal list of movies I don’t care much for at all. The cinematic landscape for the coming year is awash with bile, as Judd Apadow returns with another hateful bromance, Christian Bale’s career survives to let him grumble another day and G.I. Joe gives Development Hell the slip for a completely unnecessary second instalment. While other critics have their evil eyes set firmly on the upcoming 3D rerelease of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (let it slide, world. It’s time to make peace), I have other, decidedly less enticing things on my mind. Namely: Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill.

Man on a Ledge

Hollywood has had its fair share of the-clue-is-in-the-name film titles, with Snakes on a Plane, Cowboys & Aliens, We Bought a Zoo and (*spoiler alert*) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford all springing immediately to mind. Man on a Ledge, however, manages to be so remarkably uninteresting that it instantly stands out from the crowd. We’ve already seen Man on Wire, after all. Sam Worthington wasn’t even interesting in 2010, the year in which he inexplicably starred in all of the movies, only Avatar surviving uniform dismissal by virtue of director James Cameron’s extraordinary vision and all of those flashing pixels. How he has been chosen to front another movie after the dismal Clash of the Titans is beyond me, even if all Summit Entertainment expect him to do is stand on a ledge. I bet he doesn’t even jump.

Jack and Jill

The latest Katie Holmes movie is never something to get particularly excited about, there was nobody camping overnight to see Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, but Jack and Jill takes this barely concealed indifference to a whole new level. Joining Lady Cruise on this occasion is Adam Sandler. And Adam Sandler. Apparently labouring under the delusion that The Nutty Professor I & II (along with every other Eddie Murphy movie produced in the 90s) was actually funny, Sandler has cast himself in the dual roles of Jack and Jill Sadelstein for little reason other than to herald some impending apocalypse. Shoot me please. In one eye for every character played by Adam Sandler.

Safe House

I’m sorry, but is it just me or have we seen this movie before? Like everything else in his back-catalogue, Ryan Reynolds stars as a low-hitting ubermensch who we – the imperfect masses – are supposed to root for simply because he is adrift in a completely fictitious job. Watching Ryan Reynolds under normal comedic circumstances is always trying enough, but the prospect of sitting through two joyless hours of him trying out his serious face opposite Denzel Washington (WHAT ARE YOU DOING, DENZEL WASHINGTON?) is nearly too much to bear.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

I don’t know about you, but when Nicolas Cage was first cast as the flame haired, leather-coated vengeance demon Johnny Blaze, I caughed a little bit of sick into my mouth. I’m sorry, what?? Naturally, the first Ghost Rider movie – with its boring story and Eva Mendez – was utterly terrible, and for the past four years we have been permitted the right to pretend that it was never in fact allowed to happen. Tasked with essentially rebooting the franchise, however, the filmmakers have somehow managed to make the same mistake AGAIN and have returned Cage to the role for another go at the character. Also, after Drive Angry, shouldn’t this really be Ghost Rider 3?

The Three Stooges

Having no doubt acclimatised to Development Hell during its decade-long stay, The Three Stooges aims to update the mid-20th Century sketch comedy of the same name for contemporary (read: even stupider) audiences. Boasting a plot that, for all intents and purposes, makes you want to kill yourself, the film focuses on Moe, Larry, and Curly, who inadvertently stumble into a murder plot, and wind up starring in a reality TV show while trying to save their childhood orphanage. I’m not even joking. Did I mention that it stars Sean Hayes from Will & Grace?

Battleship

Do you remember Battleship? It was the tactical, grid-warfare game that you could play on a page of squared paper if you really wanted to; the one that the Grim Reaper challenged Bill and Tedd to during their bogus journey. Do you remember the aliens? No? Oh, wait, that’s probably because there were no aliens. Hear that, Hollywood? NO ALIENS! Regardless, an upcoming adaptation housed at Universal Pictures is set to pit Liam Neeson, Rihanna and their boat against a myriad of extra terrestrial invaders. Naturally, the filmmakers were inspired by the financial success of MICHAEL BAY’s Transformers trilogy, and therefore, naturally, the film is going to be headache-inducing nonsense.

Snow White & The Huntsman

While most might laud Snow White & The Hunstman as fairest of them all in this, the year of the seven dwarves, I am forced by my utter hatred of this infernal darker is better movement to side with Mirror Mirror, however soul-shittingly awful it might appear to look. While it is impossible to get too riled by the absense of happy-clappy show tunes (the original fairy tale was, after all, a completely different beast), the rampant miserableness and unfathomable presence of body armour on show in the film’s trailer nevertheless have my heckles up. There’s already one Twilight movie due this year, we really don’t need another.

Ice Age 4: Continental Drift

The release of a new Ice Age, Blue Sky Entertainment’s flagship property, has always ranked pretty low on my must-see list. About as historically accurate as The Flinstones, the franchise proposes a history in which early man appears only initially, dinosaurs dawn AFTER the ice has melted, and a saber-toothed squirrel has continued adventures despite having been frozen in ice at the end of the first instalment. With nothing left to do but pair off the remaining characters (who wrote this, JK Rowling?), the ice age itself having ended whole movies ago now, this is one series of films that is practically begging for an extinction event.

The Dark Knight Rises

Oh shoosh, you must have seen this one coming. While it might indeed be the hype and the inevitably of the automated acclaim that I am dreading more than the actual movie (nobody’s suggesting this will be worse than Jack and Jill), there is still no denying that I would like nothing more than for Christopher Nolan to trot off back into the shadows and take his blasted interpretation of Batman with him. Now three movies in and not a single superhero in sight, I have spent the last – oh I don’t know, how long has it been since the last one? – listening to fanboy after fanboy ejaculate over every smidgeon of news pertaining to Bane, Catwoman and when the teaser for the viral for the trailer might hit. I just don’t care.

Halloween 3D

Torn arbitrarily between whether to include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D or Halloween 3D on this list that nobody will read (or if they do, they will unlikely get past the previous entry), I finally settled on the latter on account of how unscary I have found the entire franchise to date. At least the story of an inbred maniac who wears the faces of his victims held interest over the course of a few movies (and even the requisite remake), Halloween, however, has been tedious from pretty much the beginning. A man named Michael Myers – ooh, the guy who played Shrek? Wearing an inside-out Captain Kirk mask? Scary – stabs babysitters with a knife. The end. Any acclaim received by the original Halloween movie was courtesy to John Carpenter’s direction, and John Carpenter’s direction alone. The fact that this one hasn’t even started filming yet just says it all.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Er…

Well…

So, yeah.

I’m sorry. I really am. And not just in a ‘you walked in to me, but I’ll apologise anyway…since you’re not going to…to fill this awkward silence’ kind of way, either. I’m genuinely, earnestly sorry, and I really, truly hope that you can forgive me, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It wasn’t you, it was almost definitely me.

You see, I was going to read the book upon which you were based. I really was. But then stuff just sort of came up, and kept coming up until one day I walked into the bookshop – all distracted, like – and accidentally bought Bill Bryson’s Home by mistake. It was very good, but it wasn’t you. I was unprepared, you see. I’d watched the loosely related episode of Star Trek: Voyager ten years ago and thought I’d be fine. But I was wrong.

I thought you seemed amiable enough, don’t get me wrong; I mean, you were very pretty and suitably respectable, and I thought your impression of Gary Oldman was impeccable. However, while you had the cigarette smoking and suit-wearing down to an absolute t, you sort of lost me ten minutes into our time together. I realise you were trying to be brief, to be your own beast, to impart the most essential information while leaving out the bits that could be skipped, but I just couldn’t follow your logic. I didn’t feel part of the conversation.

I want to give you another chance though, if you’re willing to have me? I’ll go away and read the book; after all, I’ve only got about three chapters left of the one I’m currently reading, Christopher Brookmyre’s Not The End Of The World. You know, it’s really rather good. And then I’m all yours. I know we got off to a bad start – I was so fidgety and you were just talking so fast – but I do want to get to know you. Everyone else speaks so highly of you, they really do, and I genuinely wish I could see you through their approving eyes.

So I’m sorry that I thought you were uninteresting. I’m sorry that I thought you were confusing. I’m sorry that I thought you completely wasted about half of your amazing cast. I can’t wait to see where you came from, Tinker (can I call you Tinker?), how much you’ve changed; and for you to then prove me wrong.

FILM NEWS: Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy join The Dark Knight Rises as Catwoman and Bane respectively

This is not yet another wooping praise of Christopher Nolan’s casting decisions for his trilogy-ending Bat-film, The Dark Knight Rises, the man has always had a very good eye for actresses and actors; I am the first to admit that Liam Neeson can be incredibly good, as can Heath Ledger and Cillian Murphy. Similarly, I am a huge fan of Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy, finding Love and Other Drugs and Inception incredibly enjoyable. However, I have found that while Nolan peppers his film’s with substantial talent, he sets about wasting his actors with relentless abandon.

I am not a fan of Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, I like my superheroes super and my superhero movies brimming with awesome fun. I find Nolan’s forays into the genre incredibly dull and tiresome, his clunking excuses for humour and blinding pursuit of realism a subversion too far for a once-passable character in the hands of Tim Burton. I love Hellboy‘s irreverent sarcasm, Spider-man‘s witty asides and the sheer likeability of Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass; but while each movie has its respective dark moments, they find the time between frowns to remind you why the character was so popular in the first place.

To date, Christopher Nolan has created a growly Batman who wouldn’t know a smile if it lumbered him with Bat-nipples, a Scarecrow who is repetitively mugged of his deserved place in the limelight and a complete dud of a Ra’s al Ghul. Sure, Heath Ledger was impressively psycho but having defeated a swarm of ninjas and saved Gotham from a certifiable biohazard, it was a bt of a step down to watch Christian Bale struggle to defeat one man and his cumbersome neurosis. It took guts to kill off the film’s (distractingly re-cast) heroine before movie’s end, but she was such a faceless character that the sacrifice failed to make any impact whatsoever – particularly in light of the truly moving death of Hit Girl’s Big Daddy half way through Kick-Ass. I choked up.

However, there is yet hope. While I still maintain that Batman Returns is the greatest Batman movie ever made – largely down to Michelle Pfeiffer’s delightfully sassy Catwoman – this new casting news at least shows that the character is in good hands. Finally, a super-villain who threatens to get past Bale’s irritating growl and evoke some semblance of emotion from his boringly stoic Batman. Similarly, Hardy was easily the best thing in Inception, his banterous Brit giving the audience at least one character to care about amid a wardrobe of identi-kit suits. He hardly has much to live up to (Bane’s last appearance on screen was in the much maligned Batman and Robin) but threatens to give the character the live-action treatment he probably deserves.

While I’m still far from excited about this sequel to 2008’s “Best Superhero Movie Of All Time” (puh-lease!), I live in hope of a Christopher Nolan directed Batman movie which isn’t a chore to watch. Sure, they are technical achievements on many levels, but they lack any beating heart or entertainment value. Maybe the character did need a reboot after George Clooney hammed him up good-and-proper, but I have yet to be convinced that what he needed was a fun-ectomy. Having settled on a feline-empowered thief and a superpowered hulk, however, perhaps this time Batman and his ridiculous costume won’t look so out of place in their own movie.