Skip to main content

Everybody's gone out of their mind.

Trailers
Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller’s directorial career, the impressive action spectacle cast by his initial Mad Max trilogy aside, seems borderline random. Miller, not to be confused with the for-good-reason less celebrated director of The Man from Snowy River and The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter, could probably have conquered Hollywood if he had so wished. If he’d just stuck to making action movies. But Miller went his own way, taking in black comedies, true-life dramas, and family features. A meagre five features in 30 years. Miller will turn 70 next year. The character that made his name turned 35 in April. And now Miller’s come back to Max. The warrior Max.


The director has said he has lots of stories to tell, and the reason he left Max at the end of the first trilogy was because he was done with him. Following Beyond Thunderdome he made his second biggest hit The Witches of Eastwick, which, aside from sharing a devilish sense of humour, couldn’t have been more removed from the brutal elemental force of Outback autogeddon. Lorenzo’s Oil, a little seen story of a self-taught curative treatment drew on Miller’s own training as a doctor. 


After that, his credits would relate to family features, a reflection of the preoccupations of fatherhood, but with a pronounced dark edge. Chris Noonan, the director of Babe (which he and Miller wrote) professes to have fallen out with Miller since, unhappy with the credit he perceives Miller for the film. He no doubt sees it as justice that Babe: Pig in the City, which Miller steered himself, tanked. It may not be the classic that the original is, but it is a fascinatingly twisted descent into urban nightmare territory for the poor pig.


I don’t know how fair Noonan’s view is, but, purely on the level of physical credits, Miller has officially co-directed three of his nine features, which doesn’t suggest an egomaniac. First with George Ogilvie on Thunderdome; Ogilvie concentrated on the actors and Miller on the stunts It’s been said that Miller’s interest in the project waned after his producer-friend Byron Kennedy died during pre-production, but the real problem with the picture is that Max has been grafted onto another idea (the tribe of children). Miller then co-directed both Happy Feet; like Babe, the first was a big hit and the second fizzled.


Miller’s career could have looked very different at this point; he was in the director’s chair for Contact until issues with the producers saw him replaced by Robert Zemeckis. A few years later, the first iteration of Fury Road couldn’t get off the starting line due to a combination of political sensitivities and the value of the dollar. With its demise went any chance of Mel Gibson returning to the role. Then, in 2007, Miller attached himself to Justice League, which we will finally see, like Fury Road, about a decade after it was first planned. That one created unease due to its clash with the Nolan Bat-verse, but was mainly scuppered by a combination of the planned Australian shoot proving prohibitively costly and the writer’s strike.


Any concern that all this not making of a live action movie in 15 years – or any movie with humans as the principals in 20 – or worry that, without Mel (even given all that has happened in the past few years) Max just isn’t Max fell away when the Comic Con trailer hit last summer. This has only been reiterated by the one released last week. This is a world apart from the down-and-dirty exploitation (Ozploitation) picture of the first Max. Yet that trilogy became progressively cleaner and more stylised as it progressed – until we got Mullet Mel and Tina Turner in the final one. But for all its relative finery, Fury Road feels like it is of the same post-apocalyptic universe as Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior.


Miller had said his idea for Fury Road just wouldn’t go away, adding that there are possibly two sequels waiting in the wings.  He’s referred to the picture as a western. Max’s clearly defined origins are, on the face of it, very different to Leone’s The Man With No Name, while Miller’s high-octane action is an opposite to Leone’s luxuriant expansion of time to the point where twitchy tension takes a hold. Yet there is common ground between them; arid settings; bold, cartoonish and grotesque imagery; a ghoulish sense of humour; the same actors playing different characters in different instalments; a (anti-) hero defined by minimalism and a mythic/iconic presence who can be dropped in to a story.


The plot consists of one long chase, taking place over three days, and has
 Max fall in with/get rescued by (and no doubt do a bit of rescuing himself) Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. Reportedly there’s very little dialogue, but the radio announcements introducing the trailers give us the gist. While we are told, “They are killing for gasoline” the keynote is that everything is dependent on water, and “Now there’s the water wars”. 


Max is clearly reticent, on his own (no faithful hound, but that would be too much of a repeat, and I think it’s more fitting that this is a sideways, non-beholden reimagining (after all, as note above, anyone attempting to marry the previous pictures has problems such as Bruce Spence in two completely different roles). His world is “fire and blood” but he needs to be told “Everybody’s out of their mind. You’re not the only one Max”.


As with both Thunderdome and Mad Max 2, there is the suggestion of a reluctant path back to humanity for Tom Hardy’s lizard-stomping Max (he looks like a straggly hermit when we first glimpse him). Both trailers appear to be focused on the same section of the movie (although, given that it’s an extended chase, I expect that’s not the case), with many of the shots showing Max captured, chained and muzzled  – and rescued. It’s an effective decision, creating anticipation for his character, but predictably provoked complaints that Theron (who looks great, even with a mechanical arm, and reportedly has a juicy character to dig into) seems to be taking the lead role.


If pushed I prefer the teaser trailer, but both are deliriously effective pieces, doing a great job of selling a movie without letting everything out of the bag (Confidential Music’s atmospheric, scene-setting version of Wild World segueing into Ninja TracksThe Module Remix, with its engine sounds, gear changes, and revving, is quite exhilarating). They also both show a welcome sense of humour. It’s there in the editing and the choice of music; Verdi’s Requiem is used as quirky punctuation, set to clear, precise visuals. It’s clear Miller knows exactly where he wants the camera and the effect he wants to achieve. 


One of the un-Baned shots of Hardy in both trailers completely sells his charisma; his little smile, looking back from the cabin of a truck, and tiny thumbs-up. This is going to be epic and brutal, but also enormous fun. Nicholas Hoult’s bald, chaff-lipped Nux seizes his moment with “Oh, what a day! What a lovely day!Fury Road gives him the chance to stretch himself with something bigger and bolder than we expect from him.


The design work is persuasive, from big drums and big guns and big pole-vaulting, to the expected designer savages (Hugh Keays-Bryne, Mad Max’s Toecutter, cuts an imposing semi-visage as Immortan Joe). Big hair and shoulder pads may be out, but the cannibal-opulence chic suggests what Road Warrior’s punk marauders are wearing this summer. There are also abundant skull motifs, inventory tattoos,  curious dashboard toys and steering wheel totems. And what looks like an auto from Peter Weir’s The Cars that Ate Paris.



One might exercise a note of caution concerning a plot that seems to partly revolve around stealing beautiful women straight out of a lingerie catalogue (albeit with toothsome chastity belts), as that seems more in line with the grand fantasy of Thunderdome, and the whirling CGI sandstorm that surfaces seems like a stark betrayal of the promise that all the car stunts are real.


 But really, doesn’t this just look great? That shot of Theron kneeling on the sand. I’m yet to be convinced by the announcement that George Miller is a mastermind, but he’s an enormously accomplished filmmaker. I just wish he’d been making more of this order over the last 20 years. 15 May 2015 will indeed be a lovely day.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

We’re not owners here, Karen. We’re just passing through.

Out of Africa (1985)
I did not warm to Out of Africa on my initial viewing, which would probably have been a few years after its theatrical release. It was exactly as the publicity warned, said my cynical side; a shallow-yet-bloated, awards-baiting epic romance. This was little more than a well-dressed period chick flick, the allure of which was easily explained by its lovingly photographed exotic vistas and Robert Redford rehearsing a soothing Timotei advert on Meryl Streep’s distressed locks. That it took Best Picture only seemed like confirmation of it as all-surface and no substance. So, on revisiting the film, I was curious to see if my tastes had “matured” or if it deserved that dismissal. 

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

If you could just tell me what those eyes have seen.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Rodriguez’ film of James Cameron’s at-one-stage-planned film of Yukito Kishiro’s manga Gunnm on the one hand doesn’t feel overly like a Rodriguez film, in that it’s quite polished, so certainly not of the sort he’s been making of late – definitely a plus – but on the other, it doesn’t feel particularly like a Jimbo flick either. What it does well, it mostly does very well – the action, despite being as thoroughly steeped in CGI as Avatar – but many of its other elements, from plotting to character to romance, are patchy or generic at best. Despite that, there’s something likeable about the whole ludicrously expensive enterprise that is Alita: Battle Angel, a willingness to be its own kind of distinctive misfit misfire.

We’re looking for a bug no one’s seen before. Some kind of smart bug.

Starship Troopers (1997)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trio of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are frequently claimed to be unrivalled in their genre, but it’s really only the first of them that entirely attains that rarefied level. Discussion and praise of Starship Troopers is generally prefaced by noting that great swathes of people – including critics and cast members – were too stupid to realise it was a satire. This is a bit of a Fight Club one, certainly for anyone from the UK (Verhoeven commented “The English got it though. I remember coming out of Heathrow and seeing the posters, which were great. They were just stupid lines about war from the movie. I thought, ‘Finally someone knows how to promote this.’”) who needed no kind of steer to recognise what the director was doing. And what he does, he does splendidly, even if, at times, I’m not sure he entirely sustains a 129-minute movie, since, while both camp and OTT, Starship Troopers is simultaneously required t…

Even after a stake was driven through its heart, there’s still interest.

Prediction 2019 Oscars
Shockingly, as in I’m usually much further behind, I’ve missed out on only one of this year’s Best Picture nominees– Vice isn’t yet my vice, it seems – in what is being suggested, with some justification, as a difficult year to call. That might make for must-see appeal, if anyone actually cared about the movies jostling for pole position. If it were between Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody (if they were even sufficiently up to snuff to deserve a nod in the first place), there might be a strange fascination, but Joe Public don’t care about Roma, underlined by it being on Netflix and stillconspicuously avoided by subscribers (if it were otherwise, they’d be crowing about viewing figures; it’s no Bird Box, that’s for sure).

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).