Category Archives: Film

Mad Max: Fury Road

Theatrical release poster

82.5% Apocalyptic, surreal, exhilarating.

As with Mad Max 2, this latest instalment of the Mad Max franchise presupposes no prior knowledge of the preceding movies. The term “reboot” has been applied to it, which is perhaps fair enough. Having a new star as the titular character (Tom Hardy) lends credence to this view. As with Mad Max 2, Fury Road begins with a voice-over narration setting the scene. In Mad Max 2, that voice was some nameless man, acting as a teller of the myth of Max. In Fury Road, it is the voice of Max himself. Mad Max 2 struck me as more mythic, but Fury Road does not eschew this approach but it does appropriates other stylistic genres.

Perhaps the driver of this story is a variation on the story of The Iliad…all Hell breaks loose when the wife of a powerful man goes walkabout…off the reservation, so to speak. There seems to be more emphasis on a picture of a post-apocalyptic society here than in previous Mad Max films, although perhaps Beyond Thunderdome did delve in to this aspect…it’s just that I remember very little of of it, apart from that cage-fight setting etc. Early on in the film, at least, it’s more about creating a sense of place and society than focusing on Max. Most of the movie is one long, frantic, car/truck/motorcycle chase sequence…which might sound like a bad thing but director George Miller makes it exhilarating…although perhaps falling short of the standards he set in Mad Max…which happened to be more introduction to the franchise and made me conclude as a child that he had outdone Hollywood (later watching the first movie in the series was a disappointment, I have to say).

How does Tom Hardy fare in the role? In this, he seems a marginal character a lot of the time…an accidental/incidental hero, if you will…low intensity often, too. He looks buff compared to the lithe Mel Gibson in the first three movies. His accent seems a bit weird too…I can’t remember if I found it to sound South African at times…or maybe that was one or two other characters? Some of the other characters have weird accents too…either they’re not nailing what they’re going for, or it’s just a mixed bag of accents. Max’s costume accessories at times recall his role in The Dark Knight Rises. Sometimes Max’s predicament puts in mind James Bond being in a similar, outlandish circumstance.

In this mad world, it’s good that Max isn’t the be-all and end-all. Quite a lot screen time is spent on Charlize Theron’s character…the fancifully named “Imperator Furiosa”. One has to give Charlize great kudos…I doubt that any other actor has taken The Method to such an extent as to have their forearm amputated for the role! She is, in a way, a rival to Max’s myth.

Also impressive about the film is the cinematography and style of it all. The sea of humanity early on in the film, the aesthetic, which seems to draw on such diverse sources as “Beneath the planet of the apes” (perhaps…foggy memory!), underground American horror films about the backwoods people and Freaks…etc.etc.etc. The refugee camp aesthetic has a distinct looking cast but I don’t think that they have the memorability of the goons in Mad Max 2, with the likes of The Humungus, Wez and The Feral Kid (although he is not a goon!). Let’s not forget The Gyro Captain in that latter camp too!

Some really impressive visuals can be found in the dust storm sequence, which seems positively of The Apocalypse and one setting which brings to mind wastelands enchanted by an evil spell…a la “Lord of the rings” or “Excalibur” like. The latter setting has a surreal feel to it in stark contrast to its stark, monochrome colour palette.

Perhaps for the first time in this series, the “mad” part of the title character seems to be literalised. He has demons which torment him. To be honest, I wasn’t sure where to place these in the chronology…before going into this movie, I suspected that it was set some time after the events of the original movie and perhaps before or after the events of the second. Max has numerous flashbacks which unsettle him. I did wonder if one of the faces I saw was meant to be the Feral Kid or another was meant to someone from the first movie…but the age of the character in the flashback I Fury Road made me doubt that…although the original movie isn’t clear in my mind. It might very well be possible that the events of the flashbacks could be fodder for a sequel to Fury Road…assuming that they haven’t been covered in the prior movies.

My casual reading of the series is that the first movie was set in a remote, violent community. Some time between the events of that movie and the second, some sort of global catastrophe occurred which brought mankind back to a primitive, dog-eat-dog state. Speaking of which, there are some nice, seeming references to Mad Max 2…from the truck driven by Furiosa (is that where this movie’s title derives from?) to a nice nod to the dog food scene…but turned up to 11 (something the squeamish may want to close their eyes momentarily for!).

To be honest, I would have been happy for Mel Gibson to reprise his role as Max and I didn’t really need “name” overseas stars brought in, but Charlize is probably less of a marked choice than Tina Turner in Beyond Thunderdome (although she had a couple of great songs on that movie’s soundtrack!).

I’d place this movie behind Mad Max 2 and above Beyond Thunderdome, which I saw before rating movies at places like this. It’s an exhilarating ride. Notes to self: Pretty lame lines on posters for this film. I.e. “What a lovely day” and “The future belongs to the mad”…seems like the PR guy’s mother phoned those ones in! Music as if from a melodrama at times Dedication to two Professors in credits…who? Found the guitar guy bit a bit silly! “Cars that ate Paris” type car too!

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The general

A silent, black and white film which has some laughs.  65%

 

The General poster.jpg

Despite being the major creative force in this movie (looking at Wikipedia’s entry for this movie now, I seem him co-credited for roles such as director, producer, script writer and editing) Buster Keaton seems to humbly list himself in last position as far as the acting credits go, even though he is the lead actor in this movie.

In this story Johnnie Gray (played by Buster) is a railway engineer (…um…’just’ a train driver?) in America’s South. It also happens to be set in the spring of 1861. For non-Americans, that date may not mean much, but no doubt most Americans would recognise it as the time when the American Civil War broke out (very early on in the movie, at the train station Johnnie pulls into, you do see two young black males carrying luggage…it certainly doesn’t seem like the South is a Hellhole for black people…but then again, you don’t see anymore blacks afterwards). When his love interest Annabelle Lee (played by Marion Mack) wonders when Johnnie will enlist to fight for the South after seeing her father and brother do so, he goes to great lengths to do so, to some comedic effect. Marion makes for a feminine and attractive co-star. Keaton himself makes for physical prowess and derring do in his performance.

Being an ancient comedy (i.e. being in black and white and silent to boot), I think that the humour is no doubt dated for modern audiences (or at least adult ones), but I did chuckle more than once for its duration. E.g. when Johnnie contrives to be alone with Annabelle when there are two young boys inside the mansion with them (I have no idea who those two boys were meant to be…and it’s also quite weird in how Johnnie and Annabelle first meet…it’s by no means clear they are meant to be a’courtin’). The other scene which made me chuckle was when Annabelle takes it upon herself to do some sweeping on Johnnie’s train (which is called “The general”, hence the title) at a rather odd moment. A few seconds after that event, there’s a bizarre moment between him and her. Anyway, the humour for the most part is of the “slapstick” variety.

The Wikipedia entry for this movie mentions that there are different versions of this movie which have different running times. The version that I saw was screened on ABC1 (Australia) on 06/01/2014) at 1:50 a.m. Of course I PVRd it to watch later, as well as the cult Australian movie “Stone” which preceded it. Yet to see the Australian movie though…and I saw “The general” some weeks after I recorded it…and am writing this review weeks after seeing it too. Anyway, in case the following information helps identify which version of the movie that I saw, the running time from go to whoa is 75:30 minutes length. The score features a lot of piano solo music to it…I’m assuming some of the score references a funeral march piece one time, and I can definitely hear “The teddy bears’ picnic” later on…it’s played on a constant loop for a while and later on it is used to comedic effect at an apt moment. There is one scene where the advancing army of the North gets a jaunty score…which makes me wonder if this was a later version of the movie.

“The general” has a cast of 100s at times and the cinematography is nice at times…with shafts of light breaking into a forest. There’s also a probably a good example of special effects ‘magic’ in one scene where you see a lightning flash. For one scene with a shot of a train on a high bridge, I did wonder if that was a model, but I could see figures moving inside of it, suggesting it was not a special effect.

In favour of this movie is the good, easy to follow narrative structure and the way that the captions linger on the screen even when there is the occasional slab of text, making it less stressful to read the dialogue before it disappears.

One thing of interest to note about this movie is the fact that in it, it’s the South (as represented by Johnnie et.al) which is the ‘hero’ of the movie. This relates to my earlier query about whether the score for the advancing Union army was a later inclusion.

This is my first Buster Keaton movie. As an Australian, I have to point out that having seen this movie now, I can definitely see the homage being paid to Keaton by the Australian comedian Frank Woodley (of “Lano and Woodley” fame…in fact, they made a sit-com together as well, “The adventures of Lano & Woodley”). I was very impressed with his 2012 sit-c0m “Woodley” and found it funny and sweet. He leans on the kind of minimalist slapstick humour utilised by Keaton in this movie. In any case, I suppose I’m saying that if you are a fan of Keaton’s work, I can recommend “Woodley” at least…his other work/tv shows are too foggy in my memory to recommend.

Saving Mr. Banks

Humour, pathos, reality. 100%

Saving Mr. Banks Theatrical Poster.jpg

An amusing and entertaining account of the protracted efforts of Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) to acquire the film rights to the novel “Mary Poppins”, by Pamela (Mrs!) Travers (played by Emma Thompson. No, not “Hermione” from the Harry Potter movies!). The reasons why his efforts are so protracted become evident throughout the movie.

Firstly, I have to confess to never having seen the movie nor read the book. Truth be told, it took me ages to work out who the titular character was! Now that I have the seen this movie, exploring the source material and more seems worthwhile.

“Protracted”…well…Mrs. Travers sort of comes across as a female version of Basil Fawlty in this movie (of the famous U.K. sitcom “Fawlty Towers”)! She is brusque and has the manner of a stern, toffee English woman. Mrs. Travers is consistently and insistently brusque throughout the movie and most amusing for that. That being said, seeing as how “Fawlty Towers” never found favour in the U.S., it might be hard to picture American audiences being much amused by her. There is some nice, subtle humour in the performances of those Mrs. Travers has to work with in the movie…the would be song writers for the film “Mary Poppins”…I recognised one from the U.S. version of “The office” (B.J. Novak).

If Mrs. Travers was nothing more than a female Basil Fawlty, then I suppose I might not have enjoyed this movie so much. Thompson, however, brings a great sense of pathos to her role. She is a woman who miserably carries her cross with her all the time. Not having read her book, I wonder how much of a ‘disconnect’ there is between the author and her creation.  Having seen a few award bait movies recently, I can’t say that any have particularly grabbed me. As Travers does have a narrative arc or sorts and displays multi-dimensional emotions, I think Thompson deserves a Best Actress award. The recently held Golden Globe awards gave that honour to actresses in “American hustle”, but to me “Saving Mr. Banks” is the superior movie and Thompson a more deserving recipient (I have no idea if Thomspon was even nominated in those awards).

Tom Hanks is also recognisably Tom Hanks in this movie, but it didn’t detract from his performance. Seeing as how positively I responded to this movie, I would be generous in giving him a Best Actor award. Seeing as how this movie is made by Walt Disney Studios, it’s no surprise that his representation is imbued with a vaseline glow. I was trying to recall what the controversy was with him, so I looked him up on Wikipedia to see if it was mentioned there…it is…anti-Semitism and racism. Of course, I doubt if a movie of this sort would really have any business delving into that aspect of his character.

What is good about this movie is how it attempts to ground Mrs. Travers personality with her childhood experiences. To me, it seemed to provide a basic level of insight into her, which wasn’t harsh. Without having explored this aspect myself, it seems to me that the film does provide some sort of explanation for the relationship between her book and her childhood experiences. Perhaps I would have liked more insight into the relationship between her childhood experiences and the woman she became…they seem pretty tenuous in the film, but then again I’m not sure psychonalysis would be of much help here. It’s just my sneaking suspicion that there is more to her adult form than what we see in the movie. This aspect is intriguing to me.

If I do have one criticism of the film, it is that it appears quite obscure on her family’s story. It wasn’t clear to me what Mrs. Travers’ father did for a living before he moved his family to the middle of nowhere in Australia. Did he have to change jobs? Also, there is a scene with Mrs. Travers’ mum (when she is also a child) where her mum pockets some liquor at the clothesline. Was that drink for her? Or was she hiding it from her husband? More clarity would have been appreciated here.

There was one scene which I appreciated in this movie…after a moment of crisis between Mrs. Travers and Walt, Walt travels to England to see her. He connects with her on a human level, I felt, and displayed empathy with her. The less pleasant scene (although it is played for laughs) comes later, when Mrs. Travers returns to see Walt, unexpectedly. It seems an affirmation of what Mrs. Travers might have imagined their relationship to have been all along…merely mercantile (on his part).

This movie portrays Mrs. Travers as having her D.N.A. (so to speak) all over Walt’s movie. Since the movie is regarded as a classic, it seems her efforts were entirely positive and beneficial to Walt’s movie, perhaps? In which case, she’s hardly deserving the scorn that she draws at times, right? If she hadn’t of been so insistent on her vision for the movie, would have it been as so unutterably awful as she imagined it could have been?

On reflection, it also seems to me that Mrs. Travers is, in fact, a kind of unintentional heroine of this Disney movie. Recently my Duckduckgo (a search engine) app had an interesting news story feed on it…via the “filmschoolrejects” website. The story was called “6 things the film industry does not want you to know about”. Number 6 concerned studios stealing scripts…poor script writers submit a script and an eerily similar one gets made into a movie later on with no compensation for the original script writer. I say “Bravo!” to Mrs. Travers! A true hero!

If the movie’s script isn’t just basically the conversations transcribed verbatim at the time from tapes, then I’d also give this film a best Script award. It’s also my personal Best Film so far.

I did entertain the notion of scoring this movie 95%, then 95+% (which is my threshhold for giving a film 10/10 on sites with a scoring function. But then I thought “Sod it!”. It’s near perfect and perfect enough.

American hustle

Dry, arch comedy with a straight face.

72.5+%

 

File:American Hustle 2013 poster.jpg

 

The basic story in this movie is relatively straightforward…a couple of con artists (Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld and Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser) are nabbed by an ambitious F.B.I. Agent (Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso) who promises not to charge either of them so long as they can help him catch bigger criminals by using their skills as con artists. Irving and Sydney agree to this…Irving’s wife Rosalyn (played by Jennifer Lawrence) isn’t really privy to all of Irving’s activities…illegal or adulterous. The start of the movie informs the viewer that “some” of the movie is based on actual events. Presumably accuracy hasn’t been kept at the expense of good fun.

During the movie I frequently laughed out loud as the situation went from bad to worse for Irving and Sydney, or the stupidity of Rosalyn later in the movie (Lawrence shows a talent for character based comedy in this movie). Despite this humour, the movie did strike me as being a dialogue driven piece…a wall of dialogue. It’s also 138 minutes long…putting those two things together, it was quite demanding of your attention, perhaps at the expense of just providing pure entertainment. It’s not exactly intellectually taxing, just demanding of your attention. Even though I don’t usually watch movies again, the thought of watching this movie again due to its demanding nature made me think that I wouldn’t want to do that again in a hurry. I’d have to wait a decade, maybe. The way the characters relate to eachother perhaps has a ‘Brooklyn’ vibe to it. Maybe some people might find that taxing too.

A way that the movie attempts to keep you intrigued is by making you question the motives of the various players…are Irving and Sydney using each other? What is real? Where does the con begin and end? Who’s conning whom? This may provide pleasure for some as a viewing experience.

Can’t say that I knew how to interpret this movie…initially I missed the introduction explaining that it was partly based on a true story. Without that knowledge, I was wondering whether the movie was a comment on the Hollywood factory (e.g. Bale putting on the bat costume, pretending to be a superhero as a kind of con) or a metaphor for the American dream…in the guise of reinventing oneself to reach higher…if that is indeed the American dream…I’m Australian…I don’t know these things. If the latter, maybe that has something in common with the novel “The great Gatsby”, which is regarded as a classic in America and has also been turned into a movie…multiple times. Would still be inclined to think that on some level this movie is ‘saying something’ about the American experience, beyond merely fictionalising a true story.

Another thing that struck me was how often the look of the characters reminded me of other people in movies or tv or real life. E.g. when I caught the start of the movie, with Irving elaborately doing his hair, I was reminded of Tom Cruise in “Tropic thunder”, I think it was; Jeremy Renner as Carmine Polito reminded me of a young Liberace perhaps…or that kind of Teddy Boy look…if that is the right phrase; Louis C.K. as Stoddard Thorsen reminded me of Bill Bailey (the English comedian); one guy kind of reminded me of a young Michael Douglas; there’s one mob guy who kind of had a George Clooney in “O brother, where art thou?” look to him (that I don’t remember these character’s names just reflects on how demanding of your attention this movie is); Bradley Cooper in one scene (or two) reminds me of Kevin Kline’s turn in “A fish called Wanda”. Sort of related, perhaps Bale channels Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in his performance at times. Jennifer Lawrence sort of reminded me of Renée Zellweger in her looks at times…but maybe that’s just me?

Speaking of self-referential moments…I got the feeling that a member of the crew had the same surname as the lawyer who appears in the end of the movie…something like “Tellegio”…if that is the case, perhaps it’s a sort of in-joke or something? Maybe there’s more of that too?

There is some good 1970s music etc. in this movie but it’s not quite in the same league as “Boogie nights” on that front, which was stacked with the kind of songs I love from that era.

“American hustle” is a true ensemble work and I suppose in a year in which no particular movie or performance has screamed “Award!” to me, the extra yards Christian Bale has put in to perform his role (putting on a lot of weight, by the looks of it…assuming it’s not a fat suit), he’d be as worth a winner of a Best Actor award as anyone else. In other movies of his I’ve seen it occurred to me that he was often overshadowed by minor characters in star vehicles for him, like The Dark Knight (Heath Ledger’s brilliant turn as the Joker) and Terminator: Salvation (Sam Worthington’s character Marcus Wright was more interesting than John Connor). It’s perhaps ironic that Bale may win an Oscar in a movie/character which isn’t a ‘star vehicle’ for him. Unlike Batman, Irving is an interesting character…more filling and nutritious, acting chops wise than the caped crusader.

One last thing…the ending…I did wonder if the film took a morally dubious stance on the targets DiMaso was chasing…i.e. not sure that I share those sentiments.

The day of the Doctor (50th anniversary special)

Clever boys. 85+%

Poster Day-of-the-Doctor.jpg

 

As all Who fans (Whovians…!) would know, this feature length episode of the famous serial was screened around the world at the same time yesterday (6:50 a.m. Australian Eastern Daylight Savings time on 24/11/2013). In fact, perhaps in a first for the series, it even got a short run at the cinemas…and is still playing today, at least (25/11/2013). I passed on the opportunity to see it in the cinema – in 3D no less! – due to feeling trepidation at how good it would be plus having to fork out $25 for the ‘privilege’. Turns out that this episode is in fact one of the best ever, right up there (in my estimation) with the classics of the revived series, like “Blink”, “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The empty child” (that last one only got bumped in my estimation after seeing it in repeat some years later). No doubt there are many classic stories of the “Classic” series, but I saw them as a child and hesitate to list them here.

I’ll briefly deal with the plot before having my say about the revived series versus the Classic series. The revived series at some point began mentioning some cataclysmic war between the Time Lords and one of the Doctor’s great adversaries, the Daleks. It comes to light that in one regeneration, the Doctor ended that war (“The Time War”) by destroying every last Dalek as well as his own home planet (“Gallifrey” ) and people (“Time Lords”). This movie finally provides more information on that narrative which had only previously been alluded to. No doubt it is common knowledge that at least two regenerations of the Doctor feature in this movie (the current one, played by Matt Smith, and the previous one, played by David Tennant) due to the promotional art for this release…as seen in the graphic for this review. We also see the unDoctor (responsible for ending The Time War), played by John Hurt. This narrative device (i.e. multiple Doctors appearing together) has been deployed a handful of times, starting in the Classic series..actually, all of them were in that series…until now. Did come across information yesterday (i.e. 24/11/2013) explaining that this device was always assocatiated with significant anniversaries for the series. I do know that there is a (mutual?) admiration society between the creator of the classic “Buffy the vampire slayer” series (Joss Whedon), and the people behind the revived Doctor Who (Russell T. Davies, I think). In fact, I do remember buying some of the early “Buffy” comics which contined on the story from the final episode in that great tv series. One of those comics references Doctor Who via the inclusion of a blue police box in one scene. It would please me to think that Whedon would absolutely love this movie…but then again I do suspect that he would love even those episodes of the revived series which I undoubtedly hate.

On its own, “The day of the Doctor” is a terrific piece of entertainment. For those with a good knowledge of the Classic series and the revived series, it offers up many treats. Like the best of Whedon’s “Buffy” work, it is funny and witty and poignant. One of the best episodes of the revived series, no doubt.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten the bouquets out of the way, time for the brickbats. Part of the promotions for this movie feature the slogan “This changes everything”. That philosophy pretty much sums everything I hate about the revived series. Watching the revived series, I reflected on how it lacks compared to the Classic series. As I remember my childhood experiences watching the original series, I can now reflect on that and sum up the philosophy of the stories you got in that…”This changes nothing”. Davies’ philosophy seems to revise the history of the original series as well as making a franchise out of it, in the manner of Marvel Studios. He also pitched it more towards the American market, which was bad for it, I think.

For example, it seems to me that Davies had it in his head that the Classic series lacked strong female characters, so he would ‘rectify’ that. However, I feel like reminding him of the great Leela, from the Tom Baker years as the Doctor in the Classic series. Or Romana Mk.II, perhaps. Davies also seems to think that he could ‘rectify’ the absence of family for the companions in the Classic series. Watching Davies’  work it seems clear to me that the Classic series had it right all along…seeing as how boring and cringeworthy those scenes in the revived series were.

Don’t even get me started on those stories which had bits I wish I could get UNIT’s memory eraser to do its worst on me…episodes where folksy songs are sung to the glory of the Doctor (and Donna), that one where everybody on planet Earth chants the Doctor’s name and phones on him on their mobile phone. FFS!!

Nor does the Classic series have companions who usurped the importance of the Doctor…which the revived series does with monotonous regularity.

If I could define what I like the best about “The day of the Doctor” is how it rectifies its own missteps. With those above instances in mind, I wish we could have an “It was all dream!” resolution. This is the next best thing…well, close enough. I like what this movie has done and am favourbly disposed towards this series for its new journey. Now, if oly we can somehow off River Song from this journey…

Just in passing, I’ll note:

* Similar stories in the Classic series had the newer Doctors deferring to the First Doctor. I like how Matt’s Doctor is pivotal in this story.

* Didn’t like the Curator of the gallery aspect of the story…this seems an ill-conceived paradox which should have been avoided.

* It’s odd that the Time Lords (like the General and Hurt’s Doctor) use the word “God”.

* Also odd how Tennant’s Doctor calls the TARDIS “he”…after all, I think it may have been in his tenure that the TARDIS is personnified as female!

* The scope of “Rose” goes beyond what the narrative says of her.

* Marvellous eyebrow acting from Joanna Page as Queen Elizabeth I in her “body of a weak and feeble woman speech”. Page took a page from the definitive portrayal of QEI in “Blackadder II” by Miranda Richardson. Fortunately her character doesn’t go The Full Miranda, as that would be a fool’s errand.