Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Title: Mad Max: Fury Road. Released: May 15, 2015. Directed by: George Miller. Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult. Runtime: 2 hr.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is the fourth film in the popular Australian post-apocalyptic franchise. It’s a sort-of  reboot and a solo installment, merely referencing films previously in the franchise. It’s a re-imagining from George Miller, updated to where Max’s deceased child is a few years older than in the original.

The child actress is creepy, assisted with visuals – especially when her head flashes into a skull. If you aren’t familiar with the story of Max Rockatansky (portrayed by Tom Hardy, replacing Mel Gibson), he used to be a police officer in this post-apocalyptic world where his wife and child murdered.

George Miller simply portrayed Max’s past in the film’s prologue. It’s a time-friendly idea where we learn that the world is run by blood and oil, where Max operates on the most basic human instinct, to survive and evade the scavengers that occupy hostile territory of The Wasteland.

Max - Fury Road

Tom Hardy as Max. (Source)

Max searches for a righteous cause, which he finds after he is captured by war dogs of the ruthless leader of Citadel, Immortan Joe – portrayed by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also starred as Toecutter in 1979’s “Mad Max.”

Joe’s a wicked villain – ruling over Citadel’s people with water, which he calls Aqua-cola. It has been in serious decline since the apocalypse, where it has turned his people into dehydrated near-humans. They have decaying skin, something a bit worse than those in “The Book of Eli.”

His motivation is to keep power over his people, which is threatened when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a war rig driver who takes a run to Gas Town to trade Aqua-cola for guzzaline, betrays him and takes his wives with her. What ensues is an amazing series of chase sequences to get Furiosa and his most prized wives back to Citadel.

Max gets in the mix by also wanting to evade his capturers and was transfusing blood to Nicholas Hoult’s Nux, who steals a few scenes. I also thought the fact that the war dogs wanted to go to Valhalla in the hall of Asgard was a great concept.

Max’s character doesn’t seem to be strictly the Max of the ‘70s and the ‘80s, prolonging the initial chase for about a minute before toppling over and being captured; where the Max of yesteryear would have gave a bigger fight. It seems like a way to preserve time and get right into the heart of the plot. His character is interesting, being hunted by scavengers and haunted by those he couldn’t protect. They come to him in visions, which adds an intriguing quality.

Humour is added to the film occasionally – in the form of simplistic visual gags and one hell of an awesome guitar player called the Doof Warrior (portrayed by musician iOTA), shredding a fully operational flame-throwing guitar on an 8-wheeler, while sporting a red onesie. Suffice to say, the character design is so creative. The score is also super fun.

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. (Source)

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. (Source)

Even though Max’s name is on the film, Theron’s Furiosa absolutely rules this movie. She’s defiant, independent, and mercilessly bad-ass.

Her intentions are noble – to search for redemption, as well as bring hope and a brighter future to the wives in Citadel that haven’t seen a good life. Their hope takes form in where they’re going, a place called the Green Place.

Furiosa’s an empowering female character and her relationships with the wives and between the wives – including actresses Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Zoe Kravitz and Riley Keough – adds a heartwarming quality that has been absent from the “Mad Max” franchise. Furiosa’s character occasionally reaches poignancy, which is effective for a film with limited dialogue.

That’s because the sole focus of “Fury Road” is being one gigantic car chase, and it’s a cinematic, visually pleasing spectacle, where by the end of the chase, people rarely end up on the same vehicle they started on.

There’s about 15 minutes where someone isn’t in a car and there’s rarely a time to rest from the non-stop action, as even when the rig needs to take a break, the oncoming enemy convoy just makes the need to keep going more urgent.

Some may be turned off by the fact that there isn’t a ton of dialogue. The storyboard and action sequences were created before the screenplay, and then it seems the writers figured out the logistics. But the stunts are magnificent and the narrative is compelling. It’s creative and the ride is pure madness, and Miller’s universe immerses.

4 stars

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The Lazarus Effect (2015)

Released Feb. 27, 2015. Directed by David Gelb. Written by Luke Dawson, Jeremy Slater. 1hr., 23 min.

With rushed execution, The Lazarus Effect has a premise taken from Biblical origin that intrigues but an execution and narrative that bores.

Zoe, a sometimes creepy Olivia Wilde, and Frank, Mark Duplass, are the head of an experimental scientific team that originally specialized in studying neurological patterns in coma patients. It quickly turned into an experiment where they revive deceased animals just to perfect a formula that could be a revolutionary innovation for healthcare professionals that could give them more time to bring someone back to life.

It’s an underground formula where they’re experimenting using a government-approved grant, but they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be. It heightens aggression and make animals display bizarre behaviour when they’ve been brought back. In an extreme situation, they bring Zoe back to life out of Frank’s undying love for her.

In its winning horror premise, it’s great on paper. In its execution, it truly doesn’t make a lick of sense. Zoe’s brought back and she starts displaying even stranger behavior than the dogs that have been brought back. She has heightened senses and powers that could be cool enough for a super hero flick – but things quickly go awry.

Donald Glover as Niko. (Source)

Donald Glover as Niko. (Source)

There are ideas of what might lie after death and that’s an interesting aspect of the film, but where Zoe was is only vaguely touched on. The screenplay is predictable in its occurrences and way too rushed for its own good. There are some scenes that are almost good, but way too many that will just leave you scratching your head.

The character with the strongest characterization is the central anti-hero, Zoe. She has these horrible memories that constantly haunt her, which adds something remotely interesting to the narrative.

Something silly in the film is the utilization of an opera song that is meant to instil fear and anxiety in viewers, but just ends up being quite laughable. The film just isn’t scary in the traditional sense, but is alright at building tension. It’s just far too quickly forgettable for its strong cast also including Donald Glover and Evan Peters, playing far too basic characters. Sarah Bolger’s performance is mildly enjoyable, though, and Olivia Wilde a bit too unconvincing.

One good thing that came out of the project is the fact that it at least isn’t filmed in found footage. There is a documenter present, character Eva portrayed by Sarah Bolger, and since the premise did seem promising enough; it was able to get enough funding to warrant a strong production quality. For a demonic flick, it’s one of the more creative premises to come out of the sub-genre, but the god-awful execution can’t save it.

1 star

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Run All Night (2015)

Released March 13, 2015. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Starring Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman. Written by Brad Ingelsby. 1hr., 54 min.

Vengeance and a father’s love pair up on a long December night

Featuring a visually pleasing style and packing a surprisingly emotional punch, Run All Night will please anyone looking for a concise narrative that happens over one long night.

Fate pits best friends Jimmy Conlon, portrayed by Liam Neeson, and Shawn Maguire, Ed Harris, against each other in a deadly situation when Jimmy is forced to kill Shawn’s son to protect his own kin. Maguire’s son Danny, the up-and-coming supporting star Boyd Holbrook (A Walk Among the Tombstones), kills a pair of Albanians in a local gang after he tries to bring drugs to the family business. The entire situation is a product of Danny’s insolence and need for independence – to handle a problem on his own, like his father suggested. Surely, this is not what he meant.

His father is a legitimate business man, also known as a New York mafia boss, who won’t bring drugs back to his city after he had a bad experience amongst his workers once before. Michael, portrayed by RoboCop’s Joel Kinnaman, comes into this when he drove the to-be-murdered Albanians to Danny’s home. He is a limousine driver and family man, with a seriously estranged relationship with his own father – a former hitman for Shawn Maguire.

Now Jimmy is retired, but his nightmares of those he has killed have not rested. He’s drunk and tattered, playing the flawed hero he seems to play at least once a year nowadays, notably in 2014’s Non-Stop and A Walk Among the Tombstones.

Common as Andrew Price. (Source)

Common as Andrew Price. (Source)

Hey, if it works, it works. It feels even more familiar here, however, since this has such a similar style to Non-Stop, which director Jaume Collet-Serra also helmed. It has a different framing – New York circa Christmas time, but it’s about as much of a Christmas flick as Die Hard. There’s also a prominent NHL game in play throughout – the New York Rangers versus the New Jersey Devils, perhaps to display the city’s culture. It later works cleverly into the screenplay, which is written by Brad Ingelsby, writer of 2013’s Out of the Furnace. Similar settings, scenes and tone make this more familiar.

Run All Night isn’t memorable because of its originality, but because of its emotionally interesting narrative. Jimmy will largely do anything to protect Michael and that shows a father’s love for his son, even if they don’t know each other well. However, Michael’s bitterness towards his father becomes so sporadically extreme, that the character is sometimes too unlikable.

Liam Neeson as Jimmy Conlon. (Source)

Liam Neeson as Jimmy Conlon. (Source)

During the quicker action scenes, the editing becomes hectic. That’s one of the weaker technical aspects of the film; but the redeeming cinematography is smooth.  The action scenes work because they are fun and have personality. But there are scenes that don’t work – like uninspired bouts of ruthlessness just so it can show that these characters can be brutal. Or a bathroom brawl for lack of realism, since they make a lot of noise – and how does no one hear the commotion in the commode in a crowded subway station?

A fun antagonist includes a hitman portrayed the Oscar-winning Common. He’s called to be robotic and calculated as Andrew Price, but ends up being the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of assassins, particularly when he’s called to put on his nice guy act, and then he becomes monstrous. Vincent D’Onofrio portrays Detective Harding, an antagonizing, prejudiced officer who has been gunning for Jimmy “Gravedigger” Conlon for years. His assumptions of Jimmy and his son are sometimes downright mean.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra does bring his best action film yet to the table. He expertly deals with themes of regrets in life through Conlon, largely signified through a repeated line with former bestie Maguire, “Wherever we’re going, when we cross that line, we’re going together.” It’s fascinating that a family member’s death because of intense circumstances can cause him to be so vengeful, but the way that writer Ingelsby doesn’t delve into it well enough causes him to be more basic than he could have been. Collet-Serra handles the emotions well and builds great tension throughout.

3 stars

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Get Hard (2015)

Released: March 27, 2015. Directed by Etan Cohen. Starring Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie. Runtime: 1hr, 40 min.

Get Hard might be a rip-off of other films, but it isn’t flaccid.

The Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart comedy borrows elements from 1983’s Trading Places, where the two primary characters come from jarringly different worlds. Ferrell’s James

King is a Harvard-educated millionaire who just made partner at his place of work.

It’s not crystal-clear what he actually does for a living, but all you have to know is that early on the film, he is arrested for multiple counts of fraud and embezzlement and is sentenced to ten years in prison.

An intensely biased judge gives him the harshest possible sentence at San Quentin prison, because white collar citizens like King have been getting away with light pleas for far too long. This is probably the film’s most frustrating and uninspired occurrence.

Anyway, King meets Kevin Hart’s Darnell Lewis and assumes he has went to prison because of his race, perceived lack of education and social standing. He seeks his help in training him in his expertise in surviving prison. Darnell only agrees because of his need for money to buy a new home to get his family out of a dangerous Californian neighborhood.

And of course, he really hasn’t been to prison and has to base his “How to survive prison” tips on black stereotypes and vague advice from his cousin Russell, portrayed by T.I., who has connections in prison with his gang called the Crenshaw Kings.

Darnell means well and he’s just trying to make some money, but these two characters are really in the same boat in how little they know about prison – King is just a bit more ignorant about the subject of prison, and general sensitivity, than Lewis.

I think that’s why the dynamic works – that neither of them know what they’re doing – and allows it to be a bit different than the 2007 Rob Schneider vehicle, Big Stan. Basically, this is a blatant, stereotypical rip-off of that lacklustre film, but it builds on it with a stronger cast and a more interesting story.

Kevin Hart gets a few of the film’s biggest laughs and there about five hilarious scenes. The film’s at its best when it simulates a yard scene where gangs fight over basic ownership of King. It is also quite funny when King tries to get in touch with his hip hop side and adopts the persona of Mayo.

Ferrell is good, if sporadically awkward. He was better in 2010’s The Other Guys as his soft Allen Gamble, at one point stepping into the role of a pimp called Gator. The character in that film is funnier and better developed, though Ferrell does have his moments as a character reviled by many, especially his at-home helpers.

King’s bank accounts are frozen, and the only reason they stay behind to still work for him is to get back at him for the general mistreatment. King does deserve some empathy for his entire life being turned upside down, and losing an incredibly sexy fiancé portrayed by Community’s Alison Brie, whose shallowness is portrayed by her being more upset by a ruined party than her fiancé being arrested.

To be fair, that party did have John Mayer in a mildly amusing cameo, where he goes on live television to sing about the monstrous King potentially getting sexually assaulted in San Quentin. If that doesn’t convince you to at least rent it, I don’t think anything will.

2.5 stars

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Unfinished Business and an unfinished screenplay

Unfinished Business review: Misleading marketing leads to disappointment

Starring Vince Vaughn, Dave Franco, Tom Wilkinson. Directed by Ken Scott. Written by Steve Conrad. Released March 6, 2015. 1hr., 31 min.

Unfinished Business unevenly mixes raunchy comedy with family drama that one wouldn’t expect from the advertised film.

The forced family drama is better anticipated from an afterschool special. It was surely a poor attempt to compensate for a weakly structured narrative. It’s a basic plot following Vince Vaughn as a bland protagonist, Dan Trunkman. He quits his job and starts his own business, called Apex Select, selling swarf, a type of metal. A young buck and an old crypt keeper follow him into the venture, in a spontaneous recruitment that only happens in the movies. The young buck, Mike Pancake (Dave Franco) was just interviewing and only has sales experience from Foot Locker; The crypt keeper, Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) was fired because of his age.

From left, Mike Pancake (Dave Franco), Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) and Dan Truckman (Vince Vaughn) prepare for a cheer in a Dunkin’ Donuts, where their business venture started. Unfinished Business was released on March 6, 2015. Photo by Nicole Revelli. (Source)

From left, Mike Pancake (Dave Franco), Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) and Dan Truckman (Vince Vaughn) prepare for a cheer in a Dunkin’ Donuts, where their business venture started. Unfinished Business was released on March 6, 2015. Photo by Nicole Revelli.
(Source)

Mike’s last name is a recurring joke where Vaughn’s Dan prefers that he doesn’t say it because it throws the clients’ focus. It’s a desperate joke that works once or twice. Franco plays a simple man. His energy and gleeful naivety, especially when he sees breasts, is charming enough to work. He always has a kid in a candy store look on his face, likely because he’s mentally challenged – a character aspect that’s never developed. His performance works because it borders on naivety and pure stupidity.

Franco is the strongest of the group, so it’s baffling that they had to give him a recurring joke crutch. Vaughn, the weakest link and lead, probably needed it the most. It’s not that his character wasn’t a nice guy, it’s that he wasn’t interesting or very funny. He’s what glues the team together at their worst points, like when their old boss Chuck Portnoy (Sienna Miller) shows up and interferes with their business deal. She interferes on a business deal with some sort-of big firm. That doesn’t get explained well, either. The supposed-to-be a one day business trip turns into a exploit-filled business trip to Berlin. There’s sporadic raunchiness, where they only compiled the trailers from the party scenes to sell it to a younger demographic.

They showed enough pointless female and male nudity, in a rather awkward bathroom scene, to get an R-rating slapped on it. Though, it was an interesting creative choice to spotlight a Berlin gay fetish festival rather than the defining Oktoberfest. I suppose it makes the film unique in its own way, but very basic thematically. The film tries to depressingly portray the idea that if you work and travel too much, you’re going to be super unhappy. Adding to the depressing quality, there’s a large focus on relentless bullying. Much like Ken Scott’s previous film Delivery Man, this has heart but no comedic momentum. Scott brought his appreciation of family drama into a film where it was unwelcome.

Score: 38/100

Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) is in the forefront of a cast shoot of stock photographs.  Source

Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) is in the forefront of a cast shoot of stock photographs.
Source

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Dumb and Dumber To (2014)

Dumb and Dumber To, IMDbReleased: November 14, 2014. Directed by: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly. Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Laurie Holden. Runtime: 1 hr., 49 min.

In 1994, ignorance was bliss for Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey). In 2014, it’s still endearing, and they maintain the same level of innocence but they are more obnoxious. They make arm fart noises and try to get the crowd to call the speaker a nerd at a sort-of TED talk. It misses, though the joke could be their harsh misjudgment of the situation.

Harry (Jeff Daniels) is still the innocent one. Daniels is able to fall back into his character, even though he seems rusty until ten minutes pass. After twenty years, that’s expected. Lloyd still puts his needs before anyone else, dead or alive. Carrey is occasionally over-the-top, but he has a blast portraying the character. The film is kept alive by the actor’s chemistry when there are periodic, unfunny lulls.

After twenty years, a Lloyd, who now looks like a hermit, is at a mental hospital. He’s upset about not getting with Mary Swanson and he has been sitting in a wheelchair with a blank stare into nothingness. It turns out, he has been joking this entire time to prank Harry.

Harry needs a kidney and thinks he needs it from a family member and not just a blood type match. When he finds a letter from old flame Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner) that states she is pregnant, he sets off to find the daughter he never knew. And meanwhile, he can hit her up for a kidney.

Lloyd is attracted to the daughter and decides to tag along. They find her in El Paso, Texas, after stopping in Maryland at her house. They meet her adoptive father and have to hand deliver an important invention that she forgot to bring. The pair get mixed up in a murder plot where they are one of the targets.

It’s formulaic, but in the spirit of the original film. I can understand that the Farrelly brothers want to emulate the intense success of the original cult pleasure, but comedy sequels have proven time and time again that it’s difficult to recreate the magic twice. The writers actually repeat five jokes from the original. They largely follow the original’s premise to a tee and it disables any room for innovation because of that.

Some repeated choices are charming – particularly the repeated song of the Apache Indian’s “Boom Shack-a-Lack”. It’s a pleasant, nostalgic moment. I do like some music decisions by the film’s composer, the band Empire of the Sun. Songs like Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” are obvious, but effective. They tie scenes together.

Harry gets a fantasy sequence which depicts what type of father he would have been to Penny. Lloyd’s fantasy sequence is just as violent as the first one – where his fantasy of being with Penny mirrors his one with Mary Swanson.

The defense of his girl’s honour is still creative. The daughter, Penny, portrayed by Rachel Melvin, is dumber than a doornail. Melvin can’t display much talent because she is give a character with very little depth. The character’s stupidity isn’t endearing – it is more often annoying.

Lloyd and Harry treat Fraida Felcher with a distinct meanness, which just isn’t in good spirits. The joke is that the beautiful young woman experienced the reverse ugly duckling and changed into one. The Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden portrays a character named Adele who is married to Pinchelow. She doesn’t get any depth. She works with a sneer throughout but doesn’t get any laughs.

Rob Riggle is the main villain. He plays two characters – a handyman named Travis and then his twin brother, Captain Lippincott, a military figure who has camouflage expertise. This enables cool displays of make-up and great attention to detail.

When the film’s humour misses, it’s awkward – like a kid trying too hard to be funny. It’s frustrating when the Farrelly brothers take the joke too far, it’s like they don’t know the boundaries of utter grossness. They might be going for a shock factor but it’s unnecessary.

The humour doesn’t have that shadow of intelligence behind the stupidity like the original. Much of the jokes don’t flow as well as the original because the plot isn’t quite coherent.

The most negatively astounding thing about the film is that the entire narrative falls apart at the end within a matter of ten minutes. It’s frustrating because many plot aspects are forfeited for either convenience or for a half-assed joke. It makes the road to the end completely irreverent. It’s a creative decision that I will never be able to get behind.

Score6/10

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Dumb & Dumber (1994)

Released: December 16, 1994. Directed by: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly. Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Lauren Holly. Runtime: 1 hr., 46 min.

The cult favourite Dumb & Dumber put the Farrelly brothers on the map. It was also part of Jim Carrey’s first breakout year of a trio of films that made sparked his great career, along with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask.

For me, it is definitely the definitive road trip film. It’s a buddy comedy about two complete idiots, Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) who travel cross-country to Aspen, Colorado, in pursuit of one of Harry’s limousine passengers, Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly).

She purposely left her briefcase at the airport as ransom payment for her kidnapped husband. It was meant for thugs – Joe Mentalino (Mike Starr) and J.P. Shay (Karen Duffy). When Christmas grabs the briefcase, the goons mistake him for a “professional” or an FBI agent and not just a love-struck buffoon.

Both Lloyd and Harry have lost their jobs. Harry was a pet groomer who recently spent his life savings turning his car into a sheepdog. With no jobs or reason to stay in Rhode Island, Lloyd coerces Harry into a road trip to Aspen to deliver the briefcase to Swanson, who Larry later thinks is named Samsonite – the brand name on the briefcase.

The thugs learn of their intentions and pursue them, but not before they take decapitate Harry’s pet parakeet, Petey. Both Larry and Harry think his head falling off is from old age. The two idiots need some cash for the road after Lloyd was robbed. Lloyd hilariously sells miscellaneous items, including Petey, to a blind adolescent named Billy, who lives in their apartment building.

Billy misconstrues the bird as simply quiet, and it becomes a bit of a sensation on the news and one of the film’s funniest moments. The clever humour about two guys being stupid as they can be won’t be for everyone.

Surely, their sheer stupidity can become frustrating, but it’s the joke. If you like two guys getting in a lot of misunderstandings, you are sure to laugh. If you are one of those people who are continuously frustrated by that one incredibly stupid character on every sitcom, avoid this. The two protagonists are that type of character and their daftness is the ongoing gag.

The plot isn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it’s good enough for a simplistic road trip buddy comedy. And for the film’s tone and the protagonists, it fits very well. It’s funny when just about everyone they meet overestimate them.

Thugs think they must be special agents – and never for a second do people consider them just being the idiots they are. Even Mary mistakes Harry’s stupidity as intentional humour. She also thinks that their orange and sky-blue tuxedos are an ironic joke.

There are plot inconsistencies. Why does Lloyd pack mittens and think there are Rockies when at first he thinks Aspen is in California and calls it a warm climate?

But their misadventures along the way make it largely worth it. I, for one, was hooked by the first gag. Limousine driver Lloyd crawls back to the passenger seat of his limo to hit on a beautiful woman. He asks her if she is from Jersey and she says she is from Austria. He then tries to impress her with an Australian accent, which just perfectly captures his stupidity early on.

Score8/10

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