Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

0514_Hardy-Fury

DIR: George Miller • WRI: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris • PRO: George Miller, Doug Mitchell, P.J. Voeten Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae • DOP: John Seale • ED: Jason Ballantine, Margaret Sixel • DES: Colin Gibson • MUS: Junkie XL • CAST: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

 

In a post-apocalyptic world of sand, dirt and orange hue, we find our hero, the one they call ‘Mad’, on the run from a gang of cheering, war-painted men bounding along in enormous vehicles. In spite of his efforts to escape, Max (Tom Hardy) is captured and brought to the town of Citadel. The leader of Citadel is Immortan Joe (clad in a Bane-like mask), who claims himself to be the redeemer of the townspeople. But not all are happy with his leadership and when a truck headed for the local gas town takes a detour, Immortan Joe sends out a war party. The driver of the truck is a warrior called Furiosa (Charlize Theron), whose life is about to collide with Max’s with full force.

From the opening sequence’s fast-motion shots, rapid editing, and hallucinogenic flashbacks of a child, we quickly realise one of the main objectives of Mad Max: Fury Road is to create a visual experience. From the opening shot, director George Miller (whose other major credit, beside the Mad Max films, is Happy Feet, oddly enough) drops us straight into Max’s world. As our protagonist stands by his car looking out on the desert horizon, a two-headed futuristic lizard slithers past. A voiceover informs us that human instinct has been reduced to a single motive – survival. It is a simple premise that has been brought to the big screen time and time again, but it is utilised effectively here nonetheless.

Having George Miller direct this reboot was definitely the right call. Having directed all three of the previous instalments of the franchise – Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) – this is a world that Miller knows like the back of his hand. What’s more, with Fury Road being produced thirty years after the last Mad Max instalment, Miller is allowed to realise his vision to a bigger and better extent than ever before, mostly as a result of the major enhancements that have been made in computer generated effects since. At the same time, Miller does not rely on CGI or use it in an annoyingly overextended way either, and the production design of costumes, sets, make-up, etc. is essential and brilliantly accomplished in the capturing of this futuristic vision. The vehicles, locations and action sequences are more imaginative than any of the previous Mad Max instalments. Not only that, but Fury Road also stands out as one of the best action movies that has been produced in years.

There are car chases and explosions aplenty. The action is non-stop and the choreography impressive and often surprising. The characterisation is also right on point. Whether Hardy is better than Gibson at playing the enigmatic hero is debatable, but Charlize Theron shines as the strong-willed Furiosa while Nicholas Hoult is a hoot to watch in the role of the crazy but endearing Nux. Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also starred in the original Mad Max, is brilliantly grotesque and terrifying as the villain Immortan Joe with sidekick Nathan Jones, aka strongman competitor Megaman, on hand as the muscular brute Rictus Erectus.

Whether the viewer is young and unfamiliar with the Mel Gibson version of the films (young people should really be required to watch some of these films in school…), or prepared and willing to go back to this post-apocalyptic insane future, Mad Max: Fury Road is a thrilling, immersive experience for all.

 

Deirdre Molumby

 15A (See IFCO for details)

120 minutes
Mad Max: Fury Road is released 15th May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road – Official Website

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A Million Ways to Die in the West

A-Million-Ways-To-Die-In-The-West-Movie

DIR: Seth MacFarlane • WRI: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild • PRO: Jason Clark, Seth MacFarlane, Joseph J. Micucci, Scott Stuberf • ED: Jeff Freeman • DOP. Michael Barrett • DES: Stephen J. Lineweaver • MUS: Joel McNeely • CAST: Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, Seth MacFarlane

I was nervously excited when first I heard that Seth MacFarlane would turn his hand to live-action parody. I enjoy parody with affection; think The Cornetto Trilogy or even Family Guy’s Star Wars spin-offs, which George Lucas himself was so happy with he let them use the music. I was slightly more nervous when I learnt MacFarlane would be tackling the Western genre. Would saddles blaze?

Saddles do not even smoulder.

Arizona, 1882: Everyman Albert Stark (MacFarlane) loses his sweetheart Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to Neil Patrick Harris’ moustache enthusiast. Albert mopes about with his mate (Giovanni Ribisi) until Charlize Theron arrives in town and provides Albert with a man-makeover, let’s hope her husband Clinch (Liam Neeson) doesn’t arrive before the third act. That would be inappropriate.

This is awful. When serious films fail to this extent it is often funny but when your aim is to be funny the failure seems all too serious. The whole film feels like sitting through a dinner party with David Brent knowing you’ll have to ask him for a favour at some point. At one point Albert literally stops the action to explain a joke he has just made.

I could banter on extensively about the many (million) ways A Million Ways bothered me but that would likely get as boring as the film. I counted six laughs:, a cinema snack I’d like a go at (sugared butter shavings), a cameo too good for this film and a psychedelic sequence narrated by Patrick Stewart in the entertainment corner. At a stretch that will soak up six minutes of this dull-fest, which borders on two hours. It’s Alvy Singer in the Old West without the loveable neurosis. It’s low-brow humour with no wit or reason-for-being.

It’s a million ways to tell the same bad joke. In the West. Don’t listen.

Donnchadh Tiernan

16 (See IFCO for details)
115 mins

A Million Ways to Die in the West is released on 30th May 2014

A Million Ways to Die in the West– Official Website

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Cinema Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

DIR: Rupert Sanders • WRI: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini • PRO: Sarah Bradshaw, Helen Hayden, Sam Mercer, Palak Patel, Joe Roth • DOP: Greig Fraser • ED: Conrad Buff IV, Neil Smith • DES: Dominic Watkins • Cast: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron

Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron act up a storm in this alternate take on a classic Grimm Fairy tale. Thankfully Snow White and the Huntsman is not the 1950s-style housfrau romance we all remember but is delightfully darker, more violent and a smidgeon more feminist than its Disney predecessor.

A young Snow White’s free-spirited existence is altered forever when her mother passes away. Not long after, her grieving father and his troops manage to defeat a mystical army only to free their beautiful captor, Queen Ravenna. Enamored, the lonely/randy King Magnus plans some shotgun nuptials and ends up receiving a nasty wedding present from his new bride in the form of a dagger through the heart.

Under the rule of this powerful witch the state of the Kingdom rapidly deteriorates and Snow White is locked away for years (amazingly without even a hint of psychological trauma). On one of her long chats to her evil, melty mirror, Ravenna discovers that Snow White’s beauty and innocence is a threat to her tyrannical reign, so she sends her brother, Finn to the dungeon to kill the Princess. However, Snow White escapes in true Shawshank style and goes on the run with that handsome Huntsman and Finn on her heels.

The film’s selling point is definitely the stunning visuals; there isn’t a single shot that isn’t striking, stylish or downright beautiful. From majestic fight scenes, sweeping shots of snow-covered scenery, an avatar-esqe magical forest and some really spectacular effects; the only thing that really lets the side down is some Lucas-grade CG fairies.

But alas, Snow White and the Huntsman is all style and only a spoonful of substance. There’s a disappointing lack of tangible character development, with the majority of the backstory consisting of tired clichés. In fact, if it weren’t for the sheer talent of the cast, notably Theron and (I‘m surprised to add) Stewart, the film would have been as flat and unengaging as the dwarves attempt at comic relief.

Gemma Creagh

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

Snow White and the Huntsman is released on 1st June 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Young Adult

DIR: Jason Reitman • WRI: Diablo Cody • PRO: Diablo Cody, Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick, Jason Reitman, Russell Smith, Charlize Theron • DOP: Eric Steelberg • ED: Dana E. Glauberman • DES: Kevin Thompson • Cast: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson

A film about a woman returning to her hometown to win back a childhood sweetheart isn’t a new idea. In fact, it’s something of a cliche. But with this in mind, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody team up again and go at it, anyway. The results are, much like the titular character, varying wildly between sweet, cute – near saccharine – to searingly honest and frighteningly real. Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, a thirty-something divorcee who is living a charmed life in Minneapolis. After receiving an e-mail about her teenage sweetheart (Patrick Wilson) and his first-born child, she drops everything and returns to her hometown in an attempt to win him back. There’s one catch – he’s happily married.

The script, written by Diablo Cody, isn’t her usual teeth-grinding type, filled with hammered-in pop culture references and so forth. Instead, it’s probably the most realistic and honest script she has ever taken on. Each of the characters, from Charlize Theron’s ‘psychotic prom-queen bitch’ to Patton Oswalt’s doughy nerd, are fleshed out and written with such depth and precision, they feel completely believable. There’s a good chance you’ve met or known a person like Charlize Theron – all designer clothes, low morals and all self-regard. But what makes the character so believable is that it doesn’t just stop there. As the story progresses, it reveals just how deeply unhappy her character is – and why she is this way. The same goes for Patrick Wilson. What initially begins as a two-dimensional character with little depth, it soon becomes apparent that he isn’t all that he’s made to be. The film also delves into why Charlize is so enamored by him, why she’s drawn to him and why she feels she deserves him. As mentioned earlier, this is easily Diablo Cody’s best script. She cleverly eschews her usual pomp and goes for a human story with human dialogue – not the usual Kevin Smith-esque stuff she’s churned out in the past.Charlize Theron gives one of her best performances in recent years and proves why she’s one of the best actresses working today. It’s a sign of that talent that she can make a character completely unlikable in almost every way and still make you root for them. Theron gives an incredibly human performance throughout the film and has more than enough comedic timing to work with. It also shows her comedic range; here showing her sarcastic and bitter side with generous aplomb. Patrick Wilson, although not given a huge amount to work with, does well and performs admirably. The real scene-stealer is Patton Oswalt, here playing the conscience that Charlize Theron’s character doesn’t have. While it’s not a stretch for him to play an affable nerd, the trick is to do without it being painfully obvious or stereotyped. Oswalt does it impressively well, delivering far above what you’d initially expect of someone that was on MADtv at one point.

Jason Reitman is working with familiar material here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the hands of another director, this film could have been a schmaltzy comedy with Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey. Instead, it’s an honest appraisal of adolescence unfinished and what it means to be a fully-rounded adult. Young Adult may be that loathsome thing, a dramedy – but it is very much a real film and a real story.

Brian Lloyd

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

Young Adult is released on 3rd February 2012

Young Adult – Official Website

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The Road

The Road

DIR: John Hillcoat • WRI: Joe Penhall • PRO: Paula Mae Schwartz, Steve Schwartz, Nick Wechsler • DOP: Javier Aguirresarobe • ED: Jon Gregory • CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Garret Dillahunt

Having loved Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for its contradictions of hopelessness and overwhelming sense of hope, I was awestruck to hear that Hollywood had chosen the perfect actor and perfect director to pull off the adaptation. The story follows The Man (Mortensen) and The Boy (Smit-McPhee) as they venture through America in the aftermath of some unnamed disaster which has wiped out all vegetation, all animals and most of humanity. They wander towards the coast and the film rambles with them keeping with the episodic structure of the book. This is not a film with a plot, but rather a film that tells the simplest of stories packed full of meaning and humanity.

One of the strongest points of The Road is the complexity of its central character The Man, played with ferocious grace by the outrageously talented Viggo Mortenson. His desperation is hidden under his resourcefulness and is only truly shown through his fear of other people and his harsh lack of mercy on whomever they meet along the way. However, our sympathy is won by his tenderness and genuine love for his son. He is so desperate to keep his son safe that there is nothing that he does not deem a threat. He is probably right, but at times it is difficult to stay on his side. Since the death of The Woman (Charlize Theron), which is briefly outlined through flashbacks, both Man and Boy truly feel her absence in every way. There is the sense from The Man’s gruff manner that there is something about a woman’s tenderness that cannot be replaced. Despite all attempts to keep his son safe, the maternal nurturing hands of The Woman is needed profoundly by both Man and Boy. The casting of Mortensen, an actor whose endless masculinity has long been exploited by David Cronenberg, and the glowingly beautiful Charlize Theron highlights the primal differences between the two genders and states quite beautifully the function of both in humanity.

The cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe merges beauty with ugliness seamlessly. The palette of grey and beige never becomes anything less than riveting. He paints a world covered in a mix of ash and snow with black skies and manages to take our breath away. Aguirresarobe’s eye for desolate beauty is clearly well partnered with John Hillcoat, director of The Propostion, a masterclass in that very thing. Between them, this pair create a world so nightmarish that the determination of Man and Boy to survive seems all the more poignant. We can only ask ourselves if we would be so keen.

The character of The Boy is a fascinating one. He was born after the cataclysmic event so he has never lived in a world where anything existed but fear and suffering. His wide-eyed wonder at the slightest thing is touching to behold. A scene near the start where he innocently stamps through a pile of money and jewels on the ground, unaware that such things ever held any worth effectively bangs this idea home. He stares, amazed, at a mounted deer head, as he has probably never seen an animal in his life. In one scene his father asks: ‘You think I come from another world, don’t ya?’ And he really does.

Despite my ranting and raving and hysteric joy at what I deem to be the perfect adaptation of a perfect book, this film will not be for everyone. Perhaps some might feel it lays the sentimentality on a bit thick. Others may feel that it is aimless and slow. That is up to the audience themselves. What cannot be denied however, is the fragile blend of tenderness and stark horror that this film accomplishes. All I can say is, kudos to all concerned for a job well done!

Charlene Lydon
(See biog here)

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
The Road
is released 8th Jan 2010

The Road – Official Website

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Hancock

Hancock
Hancock

DIR: Peter Berg • WRI: Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan • PRO: Akiva Goldsman, James Lassiter, Michael Mann, Will Smith • DOP: Tobias A. Schliessler • ED: Colby Parker Jr., Paul Rubell • DES: Neil Spisak • CAST: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Eddie Marsan

A dysfunctional superhero movie has always been on the cards. However popular a hero is, it is always when their edge is sharpened or when their anti-hero personalities appear that they seem at their most interesting. To date, the output on this front has been a mixed bag, ranging from the mediocre (Mystery Men) to crimes against humanity (My Super Ex-Girlfriend). Iron Man of course and his alcoholic playboy alter-ego, Tony Stark debuted this year setting a new standard, while fans await with bated breath for Wolverine to make a solo run and of course Watchmen.

With Hancock, as well as the dysfunction, there seemed to be a promise of turning superhero conventions on their head. In needing neither to satisfy a fan base nor concern itself with loyalty to any back catalogue of stories there was potential to mould an intelligent and, more importantly, an entertaining summer blockbuster. With adult themes, sharp humour and characters being the main attraction, it looked as though brave steps had been taken in having the admittedly spectacular special effects play second fiddle to the story. So too the long list of credible directors attached to the project at various stages. The talent that did eventually line out suggested there was substance behind the premise: Will Smith, who has the Midas touch when it comes to the material he chooses, Charlize Theron, normally considered a serious actress who would hardly be slumming it in a brain-dead movie and director Peter Berg, while not having a solid track record, last stood behind the lens for the underrated The Kingdom.

Things begin positively and indeed for a chunk of the running time the movie delivers. Smith is on top form playing a recluse burdened with needing to save the citizens of LA from crime – a group becoming increasingly unappreciative of his efforts as he turns up drunk to save the day and inevitably causes more carnage than that he was trying to prevent. His attitude towards people is belligerent at best, caught in a cycle of frustrations of his own creation. An encounter with Jason Bateman’s PR agent sets the superhero on the road to reform and had this been the sole progression of the movie it could have been a triumph. This is the movie’s high point with some genuinely sparkling humour inter-cut with quieter moments from an excellent Smith, a real character at the centre of the story and all indications are a story of substance might be bubbling beneath the surface.

It is fair to say, however, that the fate of the film is sealed with a kiss. A revelation turns the film on its head, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, undermining everything achieved to that point. The humour and fun in the film is truly truncated for the audience and most certainly the players. Bewilderment is the best description of how to react to the second half of the movie – the writers seem to lose the courage to continue with the enterprise. What seemed new and engaging rapidly develops symptoms of the failings of other such movies. Every recognisable superhero from Superman to Spiderman and the rebooted Batman franchise have followed the standard routine of an exciting introduction to the lore of the hero before tagging on a weak villain plot with varying degrees of success. It becomes apparent that Hancock has followed suit and introduced us to an exciting character before letting the movie unravel under the weight of an extremely ill-judged twist.

The audience restlessly watches as the story turns mythological and gets bogged down in senseless detail that does not sit anyway well thematically. There are illogical character developments – Smith and Theron both loose the gusto in their performances and Bateman, who seems to have some Sisyphean-type commitment to playing sarcastic everymen, feels out of place for the remainder of the film, having been integral to its earlier charm. A hastily cobbled together conclusion hardly matters as the film has languished so badly, failing to deliver on any potential. The insights, wit and playing with superhero standards could have framed a smart story and still found time to demolish national monuments. Instead, the movie’s development is directly inverted to its main character’s reform and as Hancock begins to function better the movie itself becomes a frustrated mess.

Aside from superhero movies, the most apt movie to compare Hancock to is Groundhog Day, a film which took a concept and did not concern itself with the need to over-explain, or indeed explain at all and left its personable characters and story of surprising depth be the pivot for the movie. Hancock disappoints most on this point.

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