Mad Max: Fury Road – Film Review

Mad Max Fury Road

In this rebooting sequel of a remake Tom Hardy stars as the titular Mad Max as writer-director George Miller returns to his post-apocalyptic Australian franchise without its former star Mel Gibson. After being kidnapped and used for his blood Max finds himself teaming up with the no-nonsense Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as she seeks to escape an oppressive patriarchal cult led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). In an armoured tanker they storm across the desert with Joe’s five wives and a reforming cult member (Nicholas Hoult) in tow as an entire army of assorted maniacs barrel after them. With mere minutes of pause Mad Max: Fury Road is otherwise a relentless two hours of chase movie filled with numerous stunts, spectacular visuals, and as little dialogue as possible.

As far as reviewing this film as an entry in the genre there is little more to say that hasn’t already been said. The stunts are remarkably authentic and well choreographed and, with the film being non-stop road chase, there are fewer moments not involving a stunt than those that do. Despite the chaos ensuing all around Miller executes controlled direction with the melee never getting beyond comprehension and the peril never seeming artificial. Everything looks beautifully imperfect; cars are rusty and dirty, characters are scarred and dirty, and a thin layer of dirt covers everything else. The acting mostly requires stern voices and sterner faces but both Hardy and Theron are skilled enough to let a little humanity slip through.

As an action movie then Mad Max: Fury Road is a success but the real question emerging around the film is not whether it is a good film but whether the film is feminist or not.

Those that say that Mad Max: Fury Road is flying the feminist flag look to Theron’s Furiosa for proof. Here we have a strong female lead who not only drives, fights, and smoulders on par with Max but is actually acknowledged as surpassing him in certain skill sets. It is certainly refreshing to see such a commanding female presence in a film that would otherwise be about a man fighting other men to save some vulnerable women in their underwear.

Mad Max Fury Road 2

What makes me hesitant to award Max the Feminist of the Year Award is the fact that the vulnerable women in their underwear are still ever-present. Joe’s wives are played by a mixture of models and actresses and never find their way into more substantial outfits than the off-white, occasionally see-thru, rags they were rescued in. When Max first sees the five wives they are hosing one another down outside the truck with predictable consequences for their outfits. Considering a lot of the plot revolved around how scarce water is their Lynx advert worthy showering looks all the more sketchy.

In defense of the five wives, as they will now forever be known, they do all have names and personalities and collectively allow Mad Max: Fury Road to pass the Bechdel test but I remain unconvinced. I feel as though either Furiosa was there to compensate for the wives or the wives were there to compensate for Furiosa. I just can’t decide on who was compensating for who in order to try to appease both feminists and misogynists.

As an action film Mad Max: Fury Road is a huge success with eyeball pleasing nonsense for a full two hours. As a feminist manifesto I am less convinced by the film but there’s no proof it ever even had that agenda.

Mad Max: Fury Road is in cinemas now.

The Drop – LFF Review

The Drop

Tom Hardy loves a good accent and in The Drop he wraps his mouth around Brooklyn as he tackles the role of bartender Bob. Bob works at a bar previously owned by his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) straightforwardly named Cousin Marv’s. Life is mostly quiet apart from when the bar’s new owners, Chechen gangsters, stop by and use it as a money drop. One winter Bob finds life getting a little more complicated than the norm after Marv’s is held up, the Chechen’s demand their stolen money be found and the culprits brought to justice, and Bob finds himself adopting a dog found in the bins of the mysterious Nadia (Noomi Rapace) for plot advancing reasons.

Unfortunately for Bob Nadia’s ex-boyfriend, and the dog’s former owner, turns out to be an infamous tough guy and possible murderer Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts). Making Bob’s life a little more complicated, and this synopsis more convoluted than I’d like, he attends the same daily mass as Detective Torres (John Ortiz) who just so happens to be investigating the bar’s robbery and various other seedy goings on.

As is typical for a thriller nobody’s motives or allegiances can be trusted. Bob is a strong-looking but sweet guy surrounded by suspicious folk. The bar he works at is run by gangsters, his cousin Marv appears to be involved in something sketchy, his new girlfriend has a dark past, a member of his church is suspicious of him, and finally Deeds is actually making unambiguous threats against Bob and his suspicious network. With all this we have a tricky plot set in motion. As various nefarious types scheme against one another it remains to be seen who will end up on top and who was really playing who.

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At the centre of The Drop is another fine performance from Tom Hardy. Despite at first glance looking like just another leading man Hardy has continuously proved himself to be one of the more diverse character actors working today. Rather than repeat a performance in multiple films Hardy prefers to change his physicality and voice to suit each role he takes on. In The Drop he has successfully mastered the Brooklyn accent, to these British ears at least, and adopted a slow and strong style of movement that reflects the gentle giant that is Bob. As cousin Marv James Gandolfini makes his final appearance on-screen. While his performance is solid we aren’t treated to anything we haven’t already seen as his swan song requires a simple Sopranos-lite presentation. Noomi Rapace meanwhile is surprisingly American and sufficiently ambiguous in her mostly thankless role of love interest turned damsel in distress.

Director Michaël R. Roskam has put together an attractive film and brought out assured interpretations from his cast but the script offers nothing too spectacular. Dennis Lehane has adapted his own short story into the screenplay and the result is a perfectly fine if unremarkable thriller. There is tension and confusion for the majority of the film followed by a twist and resolution at its conclusion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with The Drop and its classic thriller style but it offers nothing new and as such fails to stand out.

The Drop is a perfectly enjoyable crime drama set in the murkier neighbourhoods of Brooklyn. Should you choose to see it I have no doubt that you will have a good time but you are unlikely to be chatting about the film for long after leaving the cinema and a rewatch simply feels unnecessary. Good but not great, and certainly not bad.

The Drop has a UK release date of 14th November 2014.

BFI LFF 2014

Lawless – Film Review

Lawless is the story of a gang of bootleggers in prohibition-era Virginia whose booming business in bootleg moonshine is threatened by the arrival of a new deputy in town. I honestly wish there were a little more to the plot than that but sadly this is what we have to work with. Any subplots are so underdeveloped I don’t want to raise your expectations around them.

“Based on a True Story” is normally a signal that a real life event has been taken and distorted beyond recognition in order to turn it into thrilling cinematic fare. It would seem that this step was skipped as Nick Cave wrote the screenplay for Lawless as while the film may well be accurate it turns a story of drink, corruption, gangs, romance, and violence into a painfully dull two-hour slog.

Shia LaBeouf takes the lead as Jack Bondurant, the young enterprising member of the bootlegging gang and our narrator. LaBeouf is at his least irritating in this role but still isn’t particularly convincing as anything but the affable fool. Tom Hardy is good as ever as his brother Forrest Bondurant and provides a few laughs with his performance as a big strong man who gets flustered around women. Sadly Hardy is given little to do beyond grunt and wander round in a large cardigan from H&M. Saying that compared to the way Jessica Chastain is treated Hardy should be grateful for the character development he gets.

As Maggie Beauford, employee to the Bondurants and love interest to Hardy Chastain arrives without explanation, is given a token nugget of back story, and then after getting her kit off is relegated to little more than set dressing. Gary Oldman is treated just as badly as charasmatic mob boss Floyd Banner we barely see and who is quickly dropped from the film once he has served his purpose. Mia Wasikowska suffers similarly, providing Shia with an uninteresting and inconsequential love interest but having no real story or personality of her own.

Guy Pearce is given a bit more of a role as the evil deputy Rakes but is for some reason playing him as a panto villain. I half expected him to arrive in every scene preceded by a crack and a puff of smoke hiding his face behind a cheap cloak as the audience boo and hiss. And the hair! Pearce has had his hair combed into such a severe and unattractive parting he can’t be anything but the bad guy.

Even with a pantomime villain I struggled to get behind the gang as while they were pitched as loveable rogues the gang were quite happy to remove a man’s testicles in the name of revenge when the time came. Everything about this film is on one level; there is no depth or meaning to be found. The brothers are bootleggers who experience some trouble and little else happens. All secondary characters are seen only when they directly affect the brothers which would be fine but for the fact that the brothers are unsympathetic and at worst boring. I would have been happy to sacrifice a few scenes of LaBeouf pratting about or Hardy’s non-relationship with Chastain in favour of getting to spend more time with Gary Oldman.

With an anticlimactic climax and a strangely wholesome epilogue Lawless lumbers off the screen with as little fanfare as it arrived. In the film as a whole there is no one to root for and a plot so basic it is impossible to become fully engrossed in. I found myself completed bored throughout and frustrated at the wasted acting talent on display. Too many interested threads are left unexplored and characters underdeveloped. Lawless is not a film we will be talking about in ten years time.

Lawless is in UK cinemas on 7th September 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – DVD Review

Film
It’s the Cold War and there’s a mole in the circus (the upper echelon of MI6). It is up to Gary Oldman’s Smiley to sniff out the mole and look miserable doing so.

The most understated film about spies you will ever see. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy doesn’t focus on dramatic chase scenes or explosions; this is a film about men mistrusting other men as they sit around in smoke-filled offices sharing suspicious glances. This is a British film of incredibly high calibre; from the acting of Oldman, Firth, Cumberbatch, Hurt, Strong, Hardy, Jones and friends to the fantastically textured production design. Tinker oozes class from its every pore.

The plot may not be the easiest to follow, and the final reveal of the mole comes with little satisfaction, but there is no doubt that this is a special film including a career defining performance from Gary Oldman. Why not spend a few pennies and class up your dangerously teetering stack of DVDs? If you need more convincing read the full review from last September.

Extras
For a change I’m not going to rant about the lack of extras on a DVD, everyone let out a sigh of relief. This DVD comes with a commentary from Gary Oldman and director Tomas Alfredson, some deleted scenes and a thirty minute interview with John le Carré, author of the original novel (as if you didn’t know). It’s not exactly a treasure trove of extras but as this is a film mostly made up of people talking in rooms (love it) there’s not much for a behind the scenes documentary to reveal.

Summary
Slow burning spy thriller of the finest British quality well worth owning on DVD.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has been out on DVD and Blu-ray for ages, I’m just incredibly lazy.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy DVD provided by BBCShop.com

This Means War – Review

McG has always been pretty much hit and miss. Well, not hit and miss per se; he hits every time but the quality of that hit only really makes it to first base, never coming close to a home run (to use an embarrassingly bad analogy). He’s directed the Charlie’s Angels movies, the [mostly] uninspiring Terminator Salvation and has been behind television shows such as angsty The O.C. and spy-comedy, Chuck. These were enjoyable for what they were supposed to be but were, for the most part, also stamped with far too many lingering shots of women jiggling their jugs, cringeworthy humour, OTT action and plots that bordered on the inconceivable.

This Means War appears to be more of the same from good ol’ McG: two male spies fancy a lady, the lady sells herself out dating both of them and we watch as all morals collapse into nothingness as the two professionals quickly turn into children with the power of the CIA behind them as they fight not for love, but for laughs, bragging rights and, well, Reese Witherspoon (oh, wow, winner). I’ve read tweets calling for the film to have been released on February 14th because they think this is a romantic film. Spoiler alert: it is not. Not remotely. But it is a hoot.

Packed with emasculating humour and the aforementioned boobs and action, This Means War is an enjoyable film at best. Surprisingly, it may be one of McG’s better outings as the cheesiness of it never really quite reaches the unbearable embarrassment of Charlie’s Angels or The O.C. Obviously, however, such corny laughs just aren’t for everyone as was proved to me by the gentleman I was sat next to whom barely cracked a smile whilst the rest of the auditorium was heaving with guilty laughter at some of the film’s more funny moments.

The surprises keep rolling as what I had assumed would be the worst part of This Means War (the casting of such talents as Captain James T. Kirk and Charles Bronson in a ‘romcom’) actually turns out to be a spot of excellence. Like the success of Gerard Butler before him, Tom Hardy’s tough guy image paired with his Britishness immediately makes you wonder why he hasn’t been in more comedy films before and Chris Pine is just a sexy hunk with a sharp tongue whom I’m sure all the ladies of today’s generation “well fancy”. On the female batting team is Reese Witherspoon who puts in an okay performance as the ‘lucky’ lady but Chelsea Handler’s arrogant best friend role is just genius, stealing any scene she’s in, and then there’s also the cute Rosemary Harris (Aunt May, people!) who I just wanted to hug and never let go of.

Going to see This Means War is a bit like when you go clubbing and realize you could have just as much fun at home with a cup of tea, but you still enjoy all the incomprehensible goings on in front of you as the overlaid heavy beats of techno and rap attempt to destroy your ears – because McG still thinks he’s 14, obviously. You might regret not seeing it at the cinema with friends but shame on you if you enjoy it just as much when you make the guilty pleasure purchase of it on DVD.