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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X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

 

X-Men Days of Future PastReleased: May 23, 2014. Directed by: Bryan Singer. Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender. Runtime: 133 min.

X-Men of the old age and the new age team up in the franchise’s most outstanding and most ambitious film to date. I am ecstatic to report that this film doesn’t disappoint. Simon Kinberg writes the characters into such a sound and absorbing atmosphere that is honestly impossible to resist. He writes the screenplay so well with some phenomenal pacing that never let’s your attention span waver. The story follows Wolverine (Hugh Jackman in a strong outing) as he goes back in time to prevent an occurrence that will create a weapon that could wipe out mutants and humans alike. 

What is perhaps most impressive about Kinberg’s screenplay that he is able to pace the film so well, that it never let’s your attention waver. He is also able to make up for past mistakes. For a time travel film, the plot is easy to follow – and mildly simplistic. That is not to say that it’s nothing short of brilliant, however. This is a true treat for comic book fans and the casual movie-goer because it balances vibrant and intelligent entertainment with great storytelling. It’s fascinating to see James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart give different takes on the character of Charles Xavier in the same film.

It’s such a treat to see Charles Xavier at a time where he didn’t quite know where he was a person. It’s great to see Logan and future Charles guide him, in scenes that are so well-written. The humour hits on every mark, even in dazzling action sequences. There’s a scene-stealer found in Evan Peters’ Quiksilver, who I think might be worth the price of admission alone. Back to James McAvoy: He gives such an interesting and vulnerable performance as Charles Xavier. It reminds us that, as a character, even the most intelligent people can lose their way. I think it adds such a great layer to the character of Charles. It’s also interesting that Charles chooses his legs over his powers. Nicholas Hoult portrays Hank McCoy/Beast, and I thought the creature design for him is stronger than in First Class

Also great is Michael Fassbender as Magneto as a young man. Even when Charles and Magneto are on the same side, Erik is like the mischievous Loki of the X-Men universe. Fassbender is still charming as the character. Jennifer Lawrence brings it as the younger Mystique. She is confident as a character who has also lost their way after parting from Charles, a person in her life who has always tried to guide her. That aspect also gives Charles an appealing layer. Mystique is so interesting this time around, and I am so glad to see the character in the spotlight in these youngster X-Men movies. I always thought her characterization was mildly weak in the original trilogy, and I just feel honoured getting to see her grow as a phenomenal villain that feels extremely easy to relate with. She also looks so much better with shorter hair. The diverse Lawrence is the right actress to tackle the role.

It’s fantastic to see the X-Men franchise back in its right form. Bryan Singer is the man to do that because of his touch in the original franchise. He brings his style to the original characters, and with the help of Matthew Vaughn’s wit, Singer is able to keep the great style that made X-Men: First Class so damn great. It’s also really fun seeing these superhero flicks drop the F-bomb each time. I don’t think this feels completely like a super hero film. It feels like a great action film boasting on-point storytelling that audiences everywhere can enjoy. It’s a great feeling. One reason why the X-Men universe is my favourite amongst comic book movies, is because of its compelling character work.

There’s not one boring character. The villain in this film is mastermind is Doctor Boliver Trask, a mastermind trying to get a weapon project called Centinnels to protect against mutants. He is portrayed by Peter Dinklage, a small man with a booming presence. He plays a smart and effective villain. There’s also never a boring action sequence. By the way, this film features some of the most memorable action sequences put onto screen this year. The opening scene is just crazy good. It’s delightful seeing all of these original characters take the screen again, too. It follows that with a bunch of nifty action sequences that boast phenomenal direction by Singer. 

I cannot wait to see this near-perfect film again. It might leave you with a few questions, but I can’t take any marks off for that. It’s a time-travel film, and sometimes that gets confusing, but I think it handles its concepts with brilliance. The third act only gives you the most questions, but I think they’ll be answered in later films. There’s just one thing that I had to question during the third act: Was there a major league baseball stadium in Washington in 1973? (I learn the team moved to Texas in 1971, so the stadium wasn’t being used for baseball.)

I guess the facts aren’t important, because how the stadium plays into the story is just outstanding. My questioning of that factual error is just me being a logic monster. I was also disappointed by the fact we don’t get to see any more action from Banshee or Azazel from First Class. At least it makes up for it with a lot of great new mutants. The film is visually dazzling and just all-around enjoyable. See it, and see it often. This is the film that demands the most views out of the franchise thus far, for its entertainment value, emotional connectivity, and sheer brilliance. 

Score: 95/100

 

 

X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men FirReleased: June 3, 2011. Directed by: Matthew Vaughn. Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence. Runtime: 132 min.

X-Men: First Class opens with what opened the original X-Men, but Matthew Vaughn adds his own stylish direction to it and extends the story. It introduces what motivates Erik Leshnerr (a.k.a. Magneto) and the main villain – Sebastian Shaw, portrayed by Kevin Bacon – from the get go. How Erik delves into her powers is through pain and anger, it’s shown through a heartbreaking sequence, mostly for Erik. I like it when a film gets right into the narrative. I think it compels from the opening scene – and it’s nice to see how Charles Xavier was good friends with Raven Darkholme (Mystique). 

The film then skips to 1962 after staying in 1944 for the opening fifteen minutes. The plot concerns Shaw, who is attempting to start World War 3 in 1962. Charles Xavier, and Leshnerr, team up with the CIA to stop the villains, and they recruit a few cool heroes in the process. I had only heard of Beast of the ones they recruit, but their powers are cool. I especially like Banshee’s (Caleb Landry Jones) sense of humour. Havoc (Lucas Till) is a bit of a total dick at times. The sequence where Xavier shows them how to control their powers is engaging and fun. Matthew Vaughn’s style and the excellent camerawork gives the film an extra fun layer, and engages one’s attention even more. 

I think setting this origins story in a very cool age is a smart choice, and Vaughn depicts the style of the age really well. It’s a sort-of Cold War/Cuban Missile Crisis film, and it seems to set up an imaginative way of how the Cuban Missile Crisis was started in this universe.The film’s also visually compelling. Prior to Days of Future Past, this is the franchise’s most engaging narrative thus far. It’s great to experience the chemistry shared between James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Leshnerr. Some of their clashes in opinions are heartbreaking, but necessary.

The two share a great scene together where Charles shows Erik to find out how to use his power – finding a balance between rage and serenity. What he does to show him how to do it is mesmerizing and emotionally charged. I seriously think it’s some of the strongest acting of the franchise shown in that simple scene. James McAvoy brings charm to his role, and a calm attitude; while Fassbender gives a sometimes chilling performance as Magneto. My favourite characterization for the film is for Mystique/Raven. She’s still coping with fitting in, as she has to use half of her concentration to stay beautiful all the time. It seems like a real struggle; because other mutants can hide and blend in easier than her and Hank McCoy, who has feet that are like an extra pair of hands. Nicholas Hoult (as McCoy) and Lawrence share strong scenes together. What Magneto says at one point about Mystique is thought-provoking: “How can society accept you, if you can’t accept yourself?” 

The only boring characterizations are for the CIA characters, largely Oliver Platt’s Man in Black Suit. Rose Byrne’s Moira gets decent characterization, but apparently humans are boring. I think Kevin Bacon is good as the big baddie Sebastian Shaw. He’s critical to Erik’s development. I like his power, but it’s also very lame when he can just flick someone and send them flying, because he absorbs so much energy. (He receives weird visuals at times, but weird in a good way.) At times, he is brilliant and super cool – and the introduction to his power is one of my favourite scenes. My favourite baddie in this film is Azazel – he is so cool. There’s a baddie called Riptide who is boring because I just saw him as a male Storm, and he doesn’t get an ounce of characterization. He’s dressed in a suit and he looks cool, but I don’t remember him having any dialogue other than nodding in agreement. At one point, I thought he might be an angel and Azazel a devil, and they might act those little dudes who show up on someone’s shoulder in a moral dilemma. Geddit? January Jones is awesome as Emma Frost.

One thing is certain: Matthew Vaughn handles his characters as well as Bryan Singer, and lightyears better than Brett Ratner or Gavin Hood. With the film’s great sense of humour and engaging atmosphere, Vaughn directs the franchise back to greatness – and helps re-invent it with a compelling story, too. There’s an endless amount of great sequences, even ones that aren’t primarily action-packed. This is my favourite film of the franchise and it features a great pace and a strong finish. The dazzling film has a musical score that complements the feature well, and it also has some great visual effects. At one point, the visual effects are mesmerizing discovery. They’re sometimes out-of-this world. I am just left astounded by the atmosphere Vaughn is able to create. This is how you make an origins story. 

Score: 90/100

Warm Bodies (2013)

Warm BodiesWarm Bodies

Release Date: February 1, 2013

Director: Jonathan Levine

Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: Cold body. Warm heart.

Finally, this gives both Zombieland and Twilight fans a chance to come together and watch a movie in peace!

Warm Bodies is told from the fresh point of view of a zombie, the highly unusual R (Nicholas Hoult), who goes around an airport, occasionally having almost conversations with his best zombie bud, M (Rob Corddry). Their zombie group runs into a human group ran by Perry (Dave Franco), boyfriend of the main girl, Julie (Teresa Palmer). After Perry gets killed, R is immediately attracted to Julie, and he brings her to his home in an abandoned airplane. They soon form a bond, R wants to become human again, Julie begins to change his heart for the better, and their relationship might just rattle the whole lifeless world as they know it.

One of the only similarities between this and Twilight is they are both Young Adult novels. The girl is also attracted to a supernatural sort-of being, even though zombies are the norm in the post-apocalyptic world they are living in. One thing that is hard to comprehend of this human-supernatural being relationships: Are these girls that desperate that they have to resort to the basically dead? As soon as one guy sparkles in the sunlight or puts on a little make-up, do they seriously immediately develop tendencies of a strange branch of necrophilia?

Anyway, the film is also romantic, and the similarities to Twilight basically stop there. This is a testament of human connection. Julie begins to teach R how to actually live, and because of this, he opens up to her and learns how not to be dead. He learns how to talk, and he learns how to feel and dream, something that is extremely unorthodox for a zombie. One thing that helps him be more human is this: In this specific world, when a zombie eats a victim’s brain (R keeps Perry’s as a snack food), they absorb their feelings and their memories; the little slide show of memories in their head is as close as they get to dreaming.

Speaking of those memory flashbacks, they give a chance to show visuals in the film. They aren’t very good, they come off as hypnotic and fairly headache-inducing. They’re a cool attempt, sure, but they’re hard to admire when one has to squint at the screen. One other thing that is irritating about the feature is that zombies only grunt, and cannot form words… So any huge fan of zombie flicks may be wanting to scream: “OH! THE HORROR! THIS ISN’T RIGHT! THE DEAD DON’T TALK!” The film may be altogether unrealistic, but it doesn’t stop it from being fun.

Other than Twilight, this film has similarities to over zombie flicks, like Zombieland. They are both quite funny, and this could be seen as the next best zombie date movie. One thing that is similar to TV’s The Walking Dead is the hiding the human scent trick, where zombie blood is smeared on humans. Also, this has many similarities to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, something that is evident in the characters’ names themselves. There is a balcony scene that mirrors that of the play, and that is the biggest similarity. The love is forbidden, even when R hopes it to be true. The two things getting in their way: Julie’s father, a military leader of the world named Grigio (John Malkovich); and Boneys, a skeleton being that all zombies eventually become. These are the two main conflicts, and, fortunately enough, they don’t make the film crowded or really distract from the story at hand. The Boneys actually add some real intensity to the feature, and they get one good scare, but they’re so CGI’d to a point of no scary return. If one of these guys came up to me in alley, I’d just look for a computer to unplug.

This isn’t a perfect feature because it doesn’t take full advantage of its fresh premise. It piles on a few predictable moments, but it still does an admirable job. If Jonathan Levine wasn’t behind this with directing and adapting the novel by Isaac Marion, it might not be the surprise hit turns out to be. I cannot compare the book to the film, but the laughs Jonathan Levine manages to generate are great. If you can find humour in R’s unique commentary of gaining human attributes and becoming a real boy, you’ll enjoy this a lot. If this zombie staring awkwardly at others is your type of comedy, you’ll be smiling like crazy. However, while Hoult generates a many yuks, and Palmer proves sexy enough to get this guy’s heart beating again, and Analeigh Tipton (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) generates a few laughs, Corddry gets the biggest laughs with hilarious one-liners.

In a nutshell: Warm Bodies proves to be 2013’s zombie date movie. It gives a fresh spin on the genre with it being narrated by the zombie (who comments things like, “Boy we move slow, this is going to take a while*”).Without a lot of solid competition, it also proves to be the one of the best films of the year. With a fine use of an ultra cool premise, this is a solid flick that could have been a little better. Maybe more Malkovich would make this astounding instead of just really good…

*They run when they attack, so I must ask… Why can’t they just fast-walk everywhere?

80/100