action, films, fucking awful, meh, reviews

Tuesday’s Reviews – Proud Mary (2018)

taraji-p-henson-proud-mary-015_star_rating_system_1_and_a_half_stars I didn’t know anything about Proud Mary when I watched it this week. I genuinely don’t think I’ve heard anything about it but it sounded like the kind of thing that could be quite fun. As much as I’d like to use my cinema viewing as a chance to make a stand against gun violence given the current climate in American, I’m a bit of a sucker for a good action movie. My inner 12-year-old boy comes out every time there’s a decent gunfight or car chase. It’s the only reason I continue to watch all of the godawful Transformers movies. Robots, check; guns, check; fast cars, check. It’s got it all but a decent script and a good cast. In spite of everything, there will always be a part of me that thinks that movie characters who are super handy with a gun are cool. It’s like smoking. On screen it looks totally badass but, in reality, it’s really harmful and awful. Gun control is a real issue and I do believe that Hollywood has a need to be careful with how they portray guns but, at the same time, I really love a good gunfight. Which is the very reason that I actually watched Proud Mary despite knowing nothing about it. Well, that and the fact that Taraji P. Henson is an absolute legend.

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action, badass, best fight scenes ever, Cold War, films, fucking awesome, fucking weird, Germany, James McAvoy, reviews, women

Tuesday’s Reviews – Atomic Blonde (2017)

Okay, let’s get the awkwardness out of the way as soon possible, shall we? Charlize Theron is fucking perfect. It’s entirely possible that the only reason I had any interest in this film in the first place was because of this perfection. However, I grew to really want to see the film for itself. It looked liked everything great about the Bourne and Bond franchises but with a female lead and 80s soundtrack. I mean if anything’s guaranteed to get me excited then it’s that. Despite appearances, I’m a huge fan of great action films. Anyone shooting their way out of a situation or beating people close to death gets me super excited. Not in anyway that anyone needs to worry about. I mean I’m not repressing my secret urges to start my own fight club or anything. I just like watching actors fight other actors in screen. Before I saw the film, I watched a behind the scenes video concerning one of the films major action sequences. I’ll be honest, it made me feel things that previously only the sight of Tom Hiddleston’s face had been capable of. Watching Charlize Theron performing her own stunts is now the greatest thing I’ll ever see. If I ever have a near-death experience I want to see that video flash before my eyes instead of my life. She’s a fucking badass. In my mental list of top female badasses, Theron is now competing with my beloved Gwendoline Christie for top spot. Now that’s a fight I’d love to see.

Getting into the spirit of things, I’m listening to ‘Blue Monday’ as I write this review. After all, Atomic Blonde is so wonderfully 80s that you could genuinly believe that you were watching a classic music video. Well, if it wasn’t for all of the super realistic violence. Director David Leitch has gone with a seedy and dark neon aesthetic that really shouldn’t work as well as it does. It’s a sign that this film is, when all is said and done, more about style over substance. Don’t get me wrong, this is a super cool and great looking film but I can’t say that I was overly blown away by the plot. Leitch, after all, is a former stunt coordinator so it is the action sequences that really stand out here. Everything in between just feels like filler. I found myself dozing off a bit every time Charlize Theron and co. got all talky and less punchy.

The narrative isn’t exactly anything new or exciting. Set just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Theron plays MI6 agent, Lorraine Broughton, who is sent to Germany following the mysterious death of a fellow agent. His murder also resulted in the loss of a crucial list revealing details about a whole bunch of spies, which may or may not be in the hands of a double agent. You know, that all too familiar maguffin we’ve seen causing problems for governments countless times before. Broughton’s contact in Berlin is David Percival (James McAvoy). He’s a super shady and completely unreliable person who always looks like he’s up to no good. It gets a bit of energy thanks to inevitable tension surrounding Berlin at the time and the fact that the KGB always turn up to spoil our heroes fun. 
However, there is little about this plot that makes it worthy of being placed alongside such brilliant action sequences. I mean if you really stop to think about the various motivations at play here, things will start to fall apart quite quickly. Then there’s the annoying way the plot is presented. Lorraine tells the story of her time in Berlin in a flashback as she is being interviewed by her superiors. It’s a feature that really doesn’t work. It adds very little to overall storyline except to add on an unnecessary additional layer of intrigue. If anything, it only highlights how convoluted and complicated the main story is. It also takes away time that could have been spent creating more character and depth. Throught the film it always feels like the plot isn’t really a key player in the proceedings. It’s more like the thing that is needed to break the fight sequences up.
Which is probably a good thing because if you had constant action on this scale it would, probably, blow your mind. You may not be able to remember about the a Stasi officer played by Eddie Marsan and you may be a bit hazy about the final identity revelations at the end. However, the action sequences are presented with an amount of realism and care that the rest of the film is kind of lacking. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that they are the best action sequences I’ve seen for ages. Take the sequence that is presented as a single-shot take, which sees Charlize Theron fighting her way in and out of a Berlin building using anything she can grab as a weapon. The action moves up and down stairs and ends in a thrilling car chase. It has been created thanks to much editing trickery but that doesn’t mean it is anything other than breathtaking. It is moments like that that make it okay that the narrative is so forgettable.
Although, it is the realism of the sequences that I found most exciting. Theron performed her own stunts and everything you see her do on screen is wonderfully realised. It’s not necessarily unusual to see women kicking ass in films but it is rare to see it done at this level. Lorraine gives some great punches but she takes just as many, if not more. Her opponents are all beefy Germans and there are moments where he pain is obvious. Atomic Blonde may be referred to as the female James Bond/ Jason Bourne but she is so much more. Charlize Theron is, perhaps, the only woman who would be able to pull off such a mammoth task as this film. Despite the pummelling she receives, the audience is never in any doubt about Lorraine’s skills. Everything Theron does on screen, including just walking into a room, oozes badassery on a monumental scale. I say, fuck Tom Hiddleston, we have our next James Bond here. And she’ll do it all wearing uber stylish high heels.
action, Ansel Elgort, car chase, Edgar Wright, films, fucking beautiful, great soundtrack, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, reviews

Tuesday’s Reviews – Baby Driver (2017)

I’m of an age that means I remember the 2003 music video that paved the way for Edgar Wright’s current hit movie. I’m not bragging: the song is pretty shit and the I can’t imagine that anyone’s missed the band that much. Still, the video is amazing. Not only does is feature The Mighty Boosh (Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt), Nick Frost and Michael Smiley but it’s just great fun. For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure Noel Fielding plays the getaway driver who can only tell the time through track lengths. Whilst waiting for his fellow criminals to rob the bank, he rocks out to the song so he knows when they’ll be done. It’s a great premise that I always felt could have been taken further. Thankfully, so did Edgar Wright and he gave the world Baby Driver. Before we go into the review I want to take a minute to talk about the name. If I hadn’t known this film was connected to Wright then I doubt I’d have seen it. The title gives the impression that it’s going to be nothing more than a sequel to last years’ lousy looking animation Boss Baby and nobody needed that. On the face of it, Baby Driver is a film with a lousy title that stars the kid who died of cancer in The Fault in our Stars. It’s a huge testament to Edgar Wright that it managed to look so fucking cool.

You can tell Baby Driver is going to blow you away from the opening sequence. It is a 6 minute sequence of pure awesome as our mysterious getaway driver rocks out in his car as he waits for his cohorts to rob a bank. Then, in time with the song, the coolest car chase you will have seen for a while kicks in. It’s an exciting sequence that is not only soundtracked by a kickass song but carefully laid on top of it to create something supremely cinematic. All of the tracks in the Baby Driver soundtrack have been carefully chosen so that everything works in harmony to produce something that is more akin to ballet than it is a typical action film. This ain’t no Fast and Furious wannabe. This is nearer to an art form. Yes, that is both a melodramatic and kind of pretentious statement but it is also true, goddammit. Edgar Wright hasn’t made the kind of car chase films that are good because they are so over-the-top and ridiculous. Baby Driver is car chase film that’s good because it’s, you know, good. I defy anyone to watch it and not love it.

Well, except for the title obviously. Something that comes from the getaway driver himself, Baby (Ansel Elgort) and not from any weird connection with Alec Baldwin animated films. Baby is a young man whose poor judgement has lead to him getting caught up in a life of crime. Owing crime boss Duke (Kevin Spacey),  Baby becomes his go-to driver for all of his big scores. He’s something of a lucky charm and, boy, can he drive. He constantly listens to music to drown out the incessant ringing in his ears that he sustained in a childhood accident that killed his mother and father. It soon becomes clear that Baby is not going to be able to leave his life of crime once his debt is repaid, which is unfortunate because he has dreams of driving off into the sunset with the young beautiful waitress he barely knows. Deborah (Lily James) is the light at the end of Baby’s seedy crime tunnel and the start of his road to redemption. If he can just get through one final score.

Which looks tricky thanks to the team he is paired with. The supporting cast that the director has brought together is nothing short of fabulous. Kevin Spacey is the perfect mix of menacing and matey towards Baby and is an imposing figure over the entire narrative. Jamie Foxx is at his most unrestrained as the dangerous and paranoid thief Bats. Finally, the insanely handsome Jon Hamm moves Buddy from loveable rogue to deadly criminal without any difficulty. This is a far cry from Mad Men and it’s bloody great! The only let down is Lily James but that really has little to do with her. The focus here is on Buddy so Deborah never gets the chance to be anything but the perfect girl Baby needs her to be. She has no depth or context. She’s basically a blank slate on which Baby can project his feelings about his past.

If I absolutely had to find a flaw with Baby Driver then I would say it is the narrative. It’s chock-full of every action cliche in the book. From Baby’s tragic backstory to Deborah’s lack of one, it is hardly the most original or exciting plots. There are few moments at the end that seem like weak attempts to tie off loose ends and I could have done without Kevin Spacey’s final act U-turn. But that’s just me forcing myself to be objective. There is nothing about Baby Driver that ruin the over all appeal and excitement. This is a film that isn’t based around a script but around the songs that knit-together to create a brilliant canvas to build on. The film flies when it’s just Baby behind the wheel with music pumping into his ears. Anyone who can not enjoy the moments when gunfire expertly syncs up with drum beats is simply crazy. It is only in the hands of a director like Edgar Wright that a young criminal with hearing problems and mommy issues can work. He makes you care about him and showcases his charms. He makes the business of emotive, high-octane action seem effortless. This is kind of film that countless people will try and copy in years to come but none of them will ever compare to this. I’m going to be so bold and say it’s the film of the year.

action, films, fucking funny, fucking sweet, fucking weird, future, Kurt Russell, post-apocalyptic, review, Steve Buscemi, TBT

TBT – Escape From LA (1996)

One of my biggest fears before watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last week was the change in Peter’s parentage. In the comics, Quill is the son of the Spartoi J’son. He’s a complicated character who eventually becomes a villain who puts a bounty on his son’s head. I can see why Marvel and James Gunn wanted to find an easier solution. That solution, as we now know, was to introduce Ego to the MCU. It initially like a bit of a risk but Kurt Russell’s character quickly became the most memorable Marvel villain in years. He revealed a super dark and sinister side and rocked Pete’s world for ever. Kurt Russell is fantastic in the role and it only got me keen to rewatch some of his classics. Now, it’s not like I have the greatest knowledge of all of Russell’s career but I know what I like. And what I like is Snake Plissken. He’s the gruff, rough anti-hero who rocked an eye-patch way before Samuel L. got in on the act. It might not be Russell’s finest hour but the two Escape films are some of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.

The 1981 film, Escape from New York is one of John Carpenter’s best films. It’s a weird mess of an action film set in a futuristic New York city. It’s a fantastic watch and is brilliantly headed up by Kurt Russell as wanted criminal Snake Plissken. It’s writer/director teamed up with the actor to write a sequel that was released 15 years later. It’s safe to say that the sequel didn’t quite live up to the first film and audiences were left feeling disappointed. And I can kind of see why. On the face of it, Escape from LA is nowhere near as good as it’s predecessor. However, it just happens to be one of the best pulpy type parodies of all time.

For his return, Snake Plissken goes on a very similar journey to his last one but, this time, he’s in LA not New York. Genius. At the film opens, we learn that an Earthquake has left part of Los Angeles covered in water and the rest has been cut off so the worst members of society can be shipped off and left to their own devices. The rest of America is controlled by a Theocrat who believes it was God’s will to forsake the people of LA. When his daughter hijacks Air Force 3 and steals the codes to a series of satellites that can control and destroy every country in the world’s power supply. She then heads to island to meet her lover, its de facto ruler Cuervo Jones. Snake is charged with getting the codes back without worrying about the president’s daughter. If he doesn’t, the criminals stuck on the island will revolt and destroy the world. Oh, and the deadly virus that has been injected into Snake’s system will kill him.

So, it’s kind of the same story but with some slight changes. However, the film had a larger budget than the first film and is full of all sorts of CGI wizardry. Obviously that looks dated now but, even by 90s standards, it was always falling a bit short. This is much less of a problem than most seem to believe, though. Surely, it’s part of the point? This film doesn’t claim to be the best action film of all time. It’s a film that is determined to have fun with that premise and make it as loud, obnoxious and preposterous as possible. And that’s what is is. It’s not a clever or original film but it’s a film that you can’t help but enjoy. The plot is thin to allow Carpenter to have as much fun in the big set-pieces as possible. Why bother having a complicated plot when you could just watch Snake play basketball for his life? Who needs depth when you can watch Kurt Russell and co. descend over LA in gliders and shooting automatics at the people below?

Although, there is a certain amount of depth to this film. It asks important questions about morality and government that, certainly in this day and age, seem quite prescient. I mean, we’re dealing with a psychopathic autocrat who wants to get rid of the people he doesn’t see as truly American by building a massive wall and stationing guards all the way along it. Anyone who says this film doesn’t have depth or point is a moron. It’s just that every interesting and clever thing this film has to say is hidden behind the cheap tricks and attempt to push the genre to the limits. It’s all wrapped up in garish and fun packaging but this film really is something.

30 years, action, anniversary, buddy cop, cops, Mel Gibson, Shane Black, TBT

TBT: Lethal Weapon (1987)

Everyone knows the score when it comes to buddy cop movies. We’ll be introduced to two police officers and will quickly discover that, unfortunately yet hilariously, the pair are polar opposites of each other. No matter where the difference comes from it will create tension as the pair try to come together to bring down the bad guy. It feels like we’ve seen the set-up in every fucking way possible by this point. It’s a timeless classic that writers will continue to come back to. And who should we blame for this? Well, the idea of the odd couple is an incredibly old one but it was the 80s and 90s that really saw the whole buddy cop thing take off. As we all know, one of the greatest uses of the formula comes in a film that just so happens to be celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year. It’s also a fucking classic film that I really just wanted to excuse to see after watching The Nice Guys. After all, there’s no such thing as too much Shane Black.

On Tuesday I discussed the fact that, for whatever reason, I can’t seem to distinguish between Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson in my head. I know I’m not a big fan of one of them but always forget which one it is. I think the confusion comes from my love of 80s movies. After all, Mel Gibson is the star of some of my favourite action films so I guess I assume he’s the one I love. He isn’t. He’s just the kind of crazy, anti-Semitic guy who rants about everything these days. Yet, once upon a time, he was the unhinged super cop grieving for his dead wife. Along with Danny Glover and thanks to a sharp script from Shane Black, Mel Gibson has become forever linked with the buddy cop genre. 1987’s Lethal Weapon quickly became the template for modern examples of these types of films and was the first in a long line of great scripts from Black. It’s an important movie in film history but, more importantly, it’s also a really good one.

Even though I’ve never been completely comfortable with the opening. Now I’m not talking about the death of a young woman as she falls from her top floor hotel balcony. No, I’m talking about the moment when Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is surprised by his family whilst he’s taking a bath. It’s so fucking weird. I get that it’s his birthday and they want to celebrate but give the man some privacy. Who wants their kids to sing happy birthday as their dad’s dick is on full show? What kind of kid would be okay with that scenario? It’s never sat right with me and it will always make me cringe.

Still, the moments passes and we quickly learn that Murtaugh is nearing retirement age and is looking for a quiet life. Obviously, that all changes when he’s partnered with Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) who, rumour has it, is either crazy or hoping to get sick pay by acting crazy. You see, Riggs has seen shit. He was an expert marksmen during the Vietnam War and is still haunted by his past. To top it all off, his beloved wife has died meaning he’s living alone in an RV. He’s got something of a death wish but fails to finish the job himself. It gives Mel Gibson plenty of chances to stare wildly into people’s eyes and there are several weird and ugly close-ups of his unblinking, crazy expressions. So, why, I hear you ask, is this unhinged man allowed to continue working in law enforcement? Well, he’s just that good a detective, goddammit.

The pair take on the case of the dead girl and discover that the apparent suicide is actually something much darker. The find themselves running from drugs barons and blonde henchmen. Really, the plot isn’t really important. It’s just a generic reason for getting the pair into situations where they must shoot or fight there way out. There’s very little actual detective work but plenty of kidnappings, shoot outs, and terrible martial arts to make up for that. The thing that really matters with Lethal Weapon is Shane Black’s script. He, once again, created a strong and sharp premise that includes plenty of great back and forth between the main pair. It became the staple for the film’s to follow in its footsteps and pushed Black along the path to greatness. There’s action a plenty but this film is also funny and tender. It’s the kind of thing that, in the wrong hands, would just come across as absurd and stupid but, for some reason, it comes together. There is enough energy and drive from all corners that you can’t help but get swept away in the excitement. It’s a fucking classic.

action, alan rickman, bruce willis, Christmas, TBT

TBT – Die Hard (1988)

One week ago, whilst the world was only just getting used to the idea that David Bowie had died, it was announced that Alan Rickman had died at the age of 69. I was at work when I read the news and I was, once again, legitimately devastated. Despite what I may have said about his character in Love Actually, I loved Alan Rickman. He was one of Britain’s best actors and had such a superb presence whenever he was on screen. The first time I remember him was, really bizarrely, from Truly, Madly, Deeply; a film I’m sure I’ve never watched again nor do I remember why I would have seen it then. Still, until the release of The Philosopher’s Stone in 2001 Alan Rickman was always the cellist from TMD to me. Of course, since his death people have been paying their respects online and mostly referencing his two most well-known performances. The first being his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series and the second his first ever film appearance. The role that cemented him as one of the greatest villains of all times in the minds of many cinema fans.

Die Hard has become the action movie against which other action films are judged. It set the precedent for every renegade cop who finds himself single-handedly bringing down the bad guy and getting the girl. John McClane became the guy all other action heroes had to prove themselves. The guy who paved the way for every wisecracking, foul-mouthed badass that came after. It’s no wonder both the film and the character are constantly being named in the top 10 movies/characters of all time lists. Die Hard is the fucking bomb.

Obviously, the many attempts to build off Die Hard‘s winning formula haven’t worked out as well as the original. The film boasts great casting in both Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman and enough excitement and action to keep everyone on the edge of their seat. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it by now but it never gets any less exciting. My heart still pounds as I worry about McClane’s ability to get out of the situation he’s landed in. It’s a film experience that is as full of joy on the first watch to the last.

Still, there are parts of it that are slightly dodgy. The plot tends to get caught up in a few subplots and spends too long on terrible supporting characters. The film isn’t just all one-note and, between the chaotic explosions and gunfire, there is plenty of breathing space for the main characters to get to the fore. However, in order to have more of this downtime, there are plenty of minor characters that get more time on screen than they really deserve. The underdeveloped and tiresome limo driver, the coked-up businessman and the fucking stupid police chief are all given more screen time than they needed.

Thankfully though director John McTiernan knows what the audience wants and keeps the main plot a fairly standard affair. John McClane (Bruce Willis) has made his way from New York to LA for Christmas in the hopes of reconciling with his ex-wife. He meets her at her office party only for it to be taken over by a group calling themselves terrorists, headed up by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). John manages to keep hidden from the guys with machine guns and starts to fuck up their plans as best he can. A frantic game of cat and mouse ensues.

The intricacies of the plot are neither here nor there really. It doesn’t matter why Gruber and co have taken control of Nakatomi Plaza or what’s happening between John and his wife. All that matters is McClane finding himself having to defend innocent people from a group of ruthless thieves. It does the job. Nothing else is needed but a few blond Germans with a desire to kill and some explosives. Yes, there could have been more but there is enough of the good stuff to ensure the bad doesn’t taint it too much.

Die Hard is the film that made Bruce Willis a star and he certainly flourished in the role. John McClane is a tough guy that always knows the right thing to say. He’s sassy and brilliant. Although, what is a great hero without a great villain. This is McClane’s time to shine but Hans Gruber is the one who comes out as most memorable here. His witty asides and most quotable lines lack the sweary passion of McClane but are still just as wonderful. “Mr Takagi won’t be joining us for the rest of his life.” Fucking classic. Alan Rickman is fucking sensational here and plays the character so simply. Yes, a lot of the dialogue is fucking awful but Gruber is enough of a professional to make it work.

Alan Rickman will be remembered for this role and it is quite right too. He is a great actor that was dropped into a fucking crazy narrative. It works on so many levels and Rickman has been left with a legacy as a villain that he himself didn’t appreciate. The actor had so many facets to him but, because he was so good, he managed to create lasting characters that will never leave people. It was a truly sad day when his death was announced and watching this film every Christmas will always be fairly bittersweet now. Happy trails, Han.

action, dystopia, film, George Miller, Mel Gibson, review

TBT – Mad Max (1979)

With the release of Mad Max: FuryRoad it seems only natural that people will start to look back on Max’s place within cinema history. George Miller’s 1979 film not only introduced the world to fledgling actor Mel Gibson but also helped to define the action genre as we know it to this day. As a former emergency room doctor, Miller had a personal experience of the type of injuries he would go on to depict and saw them as the natural consequences of the type of mentality that would have people turn to violence in the face of a fuel shortage. Mad Max is an important film for plenty of reasons but it has survived for the last 35 years because it’s also a fucking great one. Whilst it never quite had the same impact of it follow-up film The Road Warrior or the final film in the trilogy, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, it it always worth revisiting the cult classic.

You may have noticed but dystopian is in these days: with the recent onslaught of YA adaptations of books like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, or Insurgent, dystopia has apparently become something to strive for. In the ultimate hipster sense, Mad Maxwas helping define this film genre way before it was the cool thing to do. Set in Australia in the not too distant future, we are introduced to a society dominated by violence, anarchy and chaos. Biker gangs rule the roads and are only challenged by the Main Force Patrol (MFP), the leather-clad law enforcers of the day.
Their top member is our titular hero, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), who is a skilled driver and lover of the chase. Already feeling the lines blurring between morality and immorality, Max is keen to get out of the game and spend time with his family. That is until Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his gang roll into town. With his friends and loved ones in danger, Max has to decide which side of the line he belongs on.
Mad Maxwas an odd film even by 1979 standards: in an attempt to make the film more accessible to international audiences by badly overdubbing the thick Aussie accents American ones. It’s fucking weird and just awful. It also helped propel the fresh-faced, pre-prejudiced Mel Gibson to stardom after Miller and producer Bryan Kennedy decided to cast unknown actors in all roles. Although, Mac Maxdidn’t find great success upon release and it wasn’t until the sequel that Gibson found his first American hit.
The film sets itself, and the franchise, up pretty nicely by avoiding any nasty exposition and getting straight into the nitty-gritty of the car-chase that would become Miller’s trademark. The future is bleak here and violence has taken over. It is a film about road rage and there is plenty of energy behind the action scenes. Even with his limited budget and lack of experience, Miller shows that he’s a director knows what he’s doing. The stunts are still on-point thanks mostly to the fact that they are real. Rather than making things less exciting, the shoestring budget as only made the film greater.
When you look at it in 2015, Mad Max perhaps does look simple and clumsy but there can be no denying that the passion and energy are enough to keep you invested. There are some frankly amazing moments during this film: there is a certain amount of weird, dark humour, some quieter emotional moments and plenty of action to keep any film fan happy. It also looks bloody great: cinematographer David Eggby used the Australian landscape to perfectly capture the vast and arid landscape of the future.
Really, Mad Max is all about the visuals because there’s not much else too it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great film but there’s no denying that it’s a slow burner. It’s the least memorable of the trilogy because, in all respects, it is an origin movie. This is the story of how Max became Mad. The dialogue is hardly the greatest and mostly falls back on awful clichés. The characters are mostly undefined and forgettable and, even the main ones, are given no real depth. Max himself is hardly explored and you don’t really get any sense of him as a character.
Until the final act of the film when the narrative ramps up a gear and the revenge plot is born. Max suffers a great loss and cuts all ties with the MFP, choosing to go after Toecutter alone. This is where Miller steps things up a gear and shows great promise for the future. Max isn’t the great anti-hero we will eventually know him to be. Mad Max, though great in its own way, is an undeniably bleak film. Once Max’ has found his revenge (and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that) there is no real sense of catharsis. This isn’t a world that has any real answers but just creates new problems. Mad Maxgave birth to a major franchise that has stepped up a new gear with the release of Fury Roadbut don’t expect it’s opening gambit to leave you with warm, fuzzy feelings. Just one epic ride. 
action, dystopia, fucking awesome, fucking beautiful, George Miller, review, Tom Hardy

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

It’s been 30 years since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was released and the continuation of the franchise has been brewing for a fucking long time. George Miller first had the idea for a fourth instalment in 1998 but it has taken 17 years for that seed to grow into the bat-shit crazy tree that is Mad Max: Fury Road. With Tom Hardy taking over from Mel Gibson, Fury Roadhas more in common with the second film than the third. During the final moments of The Road Warrior, our hero is pursued by a violent gang whilst driving an oil tanker to safety. In his update, Miller has stretched that concept to a full-length film and if that sounds like a flimsy premise then fear not.

Fury Roadis high-octane, non-stopping action from the first scene to the very end and its fucking spectacular. What is lacks in dialogue and intricate narrative, it more than makes up for with dazzling stunts and awe-inspiring visuals. The chaos is continual and during the first half hour or so there isn’t even time to draw breath. The film is one long chase sequence that feels more like a silent movie than the post-apocalyptic blockbuster we’re used to these days.
Tom Hardy is the almost silent, brooding Mad who is chased by the ghosts of his past. Taken prisoner by Warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in the original film) and his War Boy’s; his loyal soldiers who lust for blood and eternal glory in Valhalla. During one of his many escape attempts, Max is fated to become entangled with fellow rebel and escapee, Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Employed to lead raids and transport commodities like fuel and bullets, the warrior has finally had enough of Joe’s tyranny and agrees to transport his harem of young, beautiful women to safety, whilst being chased by a whole host of supercharged and heavily armed vehicles.
Tom Hardy is commanding in the title role and brings about a brooding intensity that works well. He slowly and uncomfortably eases into the role of action hero but, for the most part, is pretty impassive. The problem is, Max isn’t really the film’s lead; that honour can only be given to Charlize Theron as the tough, resilient and memorable Furiosa. It is her inner drive that fuels the film not Max’s. With plenty of possible connections to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien, Theron is on top-form here. Without the words to back it up, the actress shows everything she need with a simple look.
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that women define Fury Roadin way that the genre isn’t really used to yet. Furiosa is a women who certainly doesn’t let her sex define her but she does embrace it. She has hope that future generations can have a better future and does what she must to protect that. This is a film oozing with messages and images of female empowerment as women are inherently the ones who keep hope alive. Amongst all of the testosterone filled, macho nonsense we see from Joe and his War Boys, Fury Roadis actually an enlightened answer to the genre norms. It is something that has caused quite a stir with some hardcore action junkies.
Which is utter bollocks for a number of reasons but mainly because the action is never pushed aside to make way for a debate about gender. This film offers spectacular pacing, sound design, editing and music are all miles better than one could hope for with a film of this type. The first chase sequence is one of the best action sequences in film history and that’s just Miller’s warm-up. Just when you think the team have pulled off the greatest stunt of all time something better will come along almost instantly. It is a film that keeps on pushing itself further until it eventually runs out of time.
Fury Roadis also one of the most visually stunning films you could ever hope to meet. The design is so detailed and intricate that it demands multiple viewings to take it all in. From the simple colour change between orange during the day and blue at night to the grotesque bodies Miller delights in parading in front us, Fury Roadis fucking beautiful, man. The CGI backdrop is like a fucking painting with its whirlwinds and dust storms providing the perfect canvas for the relentless car-chase. And Miller makes use of it too. He creates the tension he needs through overhead shots and wide-angles that define the dimensions of the action on screen. We can see exactly how far away the pursuit vehicles are and how quickly they’ll catchup. It’s fucking terrifying.
As a director who’s work has inspired so many contemporary filmmakers, Miller has taken a step to show that, whilst he is still working from the same sheet as before, he is never one to rest on his laurels. There is no sense of repetition from his earlier films as Miller has once again redefined his futuristic landscape. Miller has taken the action template that he helped to create and has updated it. Whilst the credits were rolling in the cinema after my viewing, a teenage boy sat next me to lamented that the film was a cliché that relied too heavily on explosions and deaths. Yes, there are dozens of car crashes, explosions and dead bodies in Fury Road but there is never any sense of repetition.
Mad Max: Fury Roadis the kind of film that Michael Bay and his followers wish they could produce. What seems like nothing more than explosion porn is a sophisticated film that deserves to be celebrated. We may walk out of the cinema knowing almost as much about the society we were introduced to as we did going in but it’s fine. This shouldn’t, in any way, be seen as a lack of substance: Miller is a shrewd director who knows that stopping for long soliloquies of exposition wouldn’t work. The landscape we are viewing is a harsh one where its inhabitants must use their energy for survival rather than idle chit-chat. The stripped to bones plot and dialogue is as much of an indicator of the world we have accelerated into as anything shown on screen. Mad Max: Fury Roadis a film full of split-second decisions where every bullet, every drop of water and every single moment counts. Mad Max: Fury Roadis a film that has no time for bullshit of any kind; it’s the fucking real deal.
70s, action, history, Ireland, politics, review

’71 (2014)

It was a busy Saturday afternoon at work when my friend suddenly decided I was a suitable back-up plan for her evening. I was spared an evening of bowling failures (spared… geddit?) thanks to her raging hormones. We’d seen the trailer for ’71when we went to see TheRiot Club although our reactions to it were pretty different. Whilst I’d seen a historically and aesthetically interesting thriller, she saw an opportunity to stare at Jack O’Donnell for nearly 2 hours. Never mind, eh? I can think of worse reasons to sit in a dark room on a Saturday night. Plus, she’s been threatening to drag me to endless Zac Efron films for the last few years so I’m just too grateful when our interests overlap to really care why.

Yann Demange offers up a fantastic debut with ’71, a film set just before the most brutal year of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Taking place in the year preceding Bloody Sunday, it’s safe to say the tension is rife: there are rifts between the British and Irish; the Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists; and between the different factions on each side.

Unfortunately for Private Gary Hook, he’s about to be thrown in at the deep end. Hook (Jack O’Connell) is a young man who joined the army in an attempt to escape his fairly dismal upbringing. However, rather than finding an easy path to honour in Germany, Hook is deployed to Belfast to get a handle on the increasingly shitty situation that’s unfolding.
Through a series of military oversights, Hook’s unit find themselves in one of the most dangerous areas in the city without adequate protection. The group are tasked with assisting the Royal Ulster Constabulary to carry out raids in Catholic residences. The situation soon gets out of hand and Hook is cut off from his fellow soldiers with pretty much everyone baying for his blood. He has to find his way home in an unfamiliar environment and weave his way through all of the double-crossing going on around him.
Gregory Burke ends up juggling a large number of balls throughout his screenplay, as he introduces people from all sides of the conflict, all of whom have their own agenda. Unfortunately, this means that there is little in the way of real character development and a certain amount of ambiguity clouding each of the plot-strands. At times the leap of faith required to accept that Hook would naturally fall into each camp at significant points is a bit much but Burke, building on the success of his stage show Black Watch, seems to have good enough ball-control to create a workable plot.
Of course, this could be helped by his decision not to bog down the film with any pesky socio-political context. For all the significance of the Troubles in ’71’s setting, the film doesn’t pretend to be any kind of historical document. Ignoring the documentary style of works like Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday, ’71 is more like an action-horror film set in a specific context. The hows and whys are never discussed and Burke doesn’t attempt to make any judgements about the conflict as a whole. Instead, he tries, and for the most part succeeds, in painting a realistic yet vague portrait of the various attitudes in Ireland at the time.
This isn’t a film about the Irish Troubles but something that concerns itself with the reaction of an innocent outsider. Hook finds himself caught in the middle of a conflict he doesn’t have a hope of understanding. Demange doesn’t set out to teach us about such an important time in recent history but to put this young man in one of the shittest environments of recent years and see if he can survive.
What he managed to create led to one of the most tense cinema experiences I’ve ever had. Having just come off a hectic Saturday shift I wasn’t exactly in the right frame of mind for this survival thriller. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so fucking stressed out by a film. Of course, this is the definitive mark that it’s doing its job properly. The story unfolds at break-neck speed and Demange has worked hard to ensure that every detail of this film helps to ramp up the tension. With production design turning modern day Liverpool into an almost alien version of 1970s Belfast, there is a real sense that Hook has wandered into the kind of post-apocalyptic nightmarish future that litters the FPS offerings in the games market these days.
There is never a moment for you to relax as Hook moves ever closer to the IRA stronghold that provides the setting for a dramatic final set piece. It is cinematographer Tat Radcliffe’s decision to switch between 16mm for the sequences that take place during the day and digital once the sun goes down that really help reflect Hook’s increasing vulnerability.
Of course, none of this tension would mean a damn thing if it weren’t for a noteworthy performance from leading man Jack O’Connell. Proving once again that he’s someone to watch out for, O’Connell brings charisma and strength to the young soldier that is perfectly offset by an underlying vulnerability that constantly reminds us that, underneath the uniform, he’s just a lost young man looking for a way home.
It’s just a crying shame that O’Connell isn’t given more to work with. Gary is, despite being on-screen for the nearly the entire 100 minute runtime, one of the most vague characters imaginable. With only a brief glimpse into his early life, you never get a sense of what Gary is about which means, after all the drama, you never get any kind of emotional or dramatic resolution. However, despite all of this frustrating ambiguity, ’71is a mesmerising film that goes to show it’s leading man, director and screenwriter all have great futures ahead of them.