Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road - 2015

"Mad Max: Fury Road" - 2015
Dir. by George Miller - 2 hrs.

Official Main Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Now this is a dystopia I can get behind!  Sure, I dig a good dystopian movie from time to time, and they're all usually dusty and ragged and jerry-rigged worlds, but rarely do you see something like "Mad Max: Fury Road," where the world has evolved into something truly horrifying (and spellbinding).  Although the premise isn't new ("The Road Warrior" covered some of this, once upon a time), the visuals certainly are, from top to bottom.  The visual aspect of this film is so strong that the story is nearly irrelevant, other than as a road for the frequent clashes between groups to follow.

Max (Tom Hardy) is a haunted man with a past and a bad-ass car, the Interceptor.  But he's quickly set upon by the War Boys, captured, and turned into a blood bag (which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like - the lowest classes in this film are used solely for the fluids they can produce).  When Furiosa (Charlize Theron) makes a break for it with Immortan Joe's (Hugh Keays-Byrne) harem, Max is strapped to the front of a war chariot vehicle, and the War Boys set out to capture Furiosa and Joe's concubines.

All of that isn't necessarily important; this isn't a plot film.  "Mad Max: Fury Road" does what comes rarely in film, and what frequently only comes from truly bizarre or surreal works: this is an experience.  You can dissect the plot, the action, the acting, even the movie poster, but it all comes second to what the experience of watching this film feels like.  And it truly feels, man.  There are truly epic sights, like the War Boys' hometown, which feature giant earthen towers containing all the good stuff (like water), and the wretched who live below, who are periodically given a few drops of water while being warned not to love it too much, lest they resent its absence later.  There's a giant (and I mean giant) sandstorm, which was in the trailer, so I'm not spoiling anything.  There are endless waves of inventively welded-together vehicles; if you have any weakness for cars, this movie is going to blow your mind.  Most of all, there are two full hours here of insane, bespoke, impressive sights that really put you in the middle of the endless fighting and racing through the desert.

In tone, "Fury Road" feels a lot like "The Road Warrior," but with the time to create every nook and cranny from scratch, and the budget to make it a reality.  As is the norm for the Max movies,  there's no CGI in any of the stunts, and you can feel the difference.  I'm not prioritizing one over the other, but when real-world stunts and action are performed and performed well, there's a tangible difference from even the best CGI.  And that's the big deal about "Fury Road."  It's hard to explain exactly why it was so exhilarating; telling you that it's non-stop action for two hours might sound numbing, but it wasn't.  Telling you that the action was top-notch doesn't really get that across.  Telling you that there is originality oozing out of every pore of the film doesn't get across how awesome something like the war guitar guy is to see.

"Mad Max: Fury Road" is completely gonzo, over-the-top, violent, crazy, inventive, original.  I need to see it again on a big screen just to try and catch some more of the details that I might have missed the first time around.  It delivers on everything that the trailer promised.  It's an experience.  You should probably go see this, if you're on the fence about it.  If you're not, "Pitch Perfect 2" came out this week, too, and people seem to like that one.

4.5 / 5 - Theatre (3D)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron - 2015

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" - 2015
Dir. by Joss Whedon - 2 hrs. 21 min.

Trailer #3

by Clayton Hollifield

Well, I think my streak of seeing Marvel movies is just about over.  No, not because of "Avengers: Age of Ultron," it was just fine.  Instead, I saw trailers for both "Ant-Man" and the "Fantastic Four" reboot, and I'm pretty sure I'll be giving one of those a big ol' pass.  FF, in particular, looks brutal.  But we're not here to talk about those films, we're here to talk about the official sequel to one of the biggest-grossing, most-beloved action films in recent years.  And it was pretty good.  I didn't like it as much as the first, or even as much as the first "Iron Man" and "Thor" films, but I did like it.  I think, once some time has passed, and another Avengers film comes along, that this will come off better, and as part of a longer story being told.  Right now, it's much like the second "Star Wars" film, in that it's the "bummer" film, and until another movie in the series comes out, it's the final word on the story.

The Avengers start off avenging, crashing Baron Strucker's (Thomas Kretchmann) party and liberating Loki's wand-thingy from the grips of evil-doers.  Tony Stark (Ghostface Killah Robert Downey, Jr.) borrows the wand for a few days for some research, which means trying to understand how Asgardian technology works.  Ultimately, after bonding over being mad scientists, Stark draws in Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to help with the research, as there's a bit of a time crunch before the artifact is to be returned to Asgard.  The goal: artificial intelligence, in the form of something that will help prevent something like what happened in the first Avengers movie from happening.  The actual result: a crazy robot named Ultron (voiced by James Spader) that wants to, well, you know exactly what a crazy-ass robot accidentally created by Iron Man and the Hulk is going to want to do.

So, I wasn't kidding when I said this was the "bummer" film in the series.  Part of that is that the events in the first Avengers film have had lasting effects (Iron Man, in particular, has had difficulty in processing all of it), but part of it that one of the opponents they have to deal with, the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), has the power of killing positive vibes and forcing people to wade through their own personal nightmares.  This leads to one of the best action sequences, the thing that should have been built around in it's own film, putting fright and fury into the Hulk, which results in even more of the carnage that Dr. Banner has been trying to avoid and atone for.  The message of the film is very much that people are often their own worst enemies (and that everything is better when you're part of a team, if you can manage to keep that team on the same page), and messages have to be felt and understood, not just explained to people.  That means that everyone on the team will have to suffer in their own heads (which also leaves open the door for some stellar character development, where you kind of start to understand what it is exactly that motivates each character).  These scenes aren't easy viewing, but they are good filmmaking.

Big action films need a couple of things.  Big action pieces (check.)  Big stakes (check).  Bringing back as much of the cast as humanly possible (check - the only people that were really missing was Pepper Potts and Natalie Portman's character, and they were both discussed within the plot, so I don't think we're to assume that Ms. Portman and Ms. Paltrow have been written out of the series).  Once you get past that stuff, it helps if you can sympathize with the characters, even if they're on opposite sides (check).  And maybe if there wasn't another Avengers film, I would have liked this one better.  The big issue was that the first Avengers film felt epic (and not in a internetty way, in a Homeric way).  The action sequence at the end of that one was exhilarating and exhausting in a completely satisfying way, and hit upon something that I rarely see in films (how fighting for something, even something worthwhile, can wear you down to your very soul, and leave marks that can't be seen).  Even though the stakes in "Age of Ultron" were large, it never felt epic in the same way.  It was a giant battle, but felt on an individual scale.  And the result never really felt like it was in doubt.

From where I'm sitting, "Avengers: Age of Ultron" felt more like another one of Marvel's admittedly pretty damned good string of solo character films that like another event film, like the first "Avengers."  That means it was still good, all the things that you would have enjoyed about the other combination of characters are still there (like the character interactions and fast-paced dialogue), and it didn't break the string of enjoyable Avengers-related films.  But things might look different five years from now, if there's a third Avengers film and more story with these characters.  I leave open the possibility that "Ultron" will feel more like an important, but down chapter in the longer story when the whole deal is wrapped up.  I do not leave open the possibility that the new "Fantastic Four" film is going to be any good whatsoever, though.  That's straight doo-doo.

3.5 / 5 - Theatre (3D)