Christopher Nolan’s WWII drama, Dunkirk, has finally landed on these shores. We drafted our podcast host, Steve Norman, to write a few words on this “triumph in storytelling”.
Awight you pwopa nawty boys, oi oi! Brian Plank joins Steve Norman and Owen Hughes for a top, top podcast this week. We’ve got a review of Guy Ritchie’s new movie, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. It’s sick, bruv. Banterific. As well as the Kaiju drama(?) comedy(?) action(?) indie(?) flick, Colossal, starring Anne Hathaway.
“I ain’t afraid to die anymore… I did it already.”
Oh goody! Another “inspired by true events” film. I mean, for crap’s sake, I’m getting sick of reading “based on a true story” in trailers and at the start films. Aren’t you? And critical acclaim or not, sitting down to watch my third dramatisation of a true story in less than a week – the others being here and here – The Revenant had absolutely NONE of my confidence.
Man. I’ve never been so happy to eat my words and stuff a bit of humble pie down my cake hole.
“Inspired” by the true story of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper in 1820’s Montana, The Revenant is the latest film from the Oscar winning director of last year’s Birdman and 2007’s Babel, Alejandro G. Iñárritu. It stars powerhouse couple – and two of my personal favourites – Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy in the good guy/bad guy one-two punch.
Set in the 1820’s, during the time of the Louisiana Purchase, Glass (DiCaprio) leads a team of hunters and trappers who narrowly survive a brutal ambush by some native tribes. Soon after escaping into the hills, Glass is savagely attacked by a grizzly bear. Stitched up to the best of their abilities by the remaining group members (including his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck)), Glass is reluctantly left for dead. Tom Hardy’s terrifying John Fitzgerald isn’t willing to wait for Glass to die and so decides to speed things up – only for Hawk to complicate matters.
Fitzgerald’s plans go horribly, horribly wrong when several miracles, a few strokes of luck and a twist of fate see Glass crawl from his makeshift grave. With revenge on his mind, the explorer must quite literally crawl after his prey. As time goes on and his body begins to heal, Hugh must brave the winter landscape, the roaming Native Americans and the wildlife to find retribution against his would-be murderer.
Man! Where to begin? Iñárritu’s direction, as expected, is stunning. The exceptionally long shots that have become a staple of his films in recent years are here in all their glory. For example, the opening ambush, filmed in one long, flowing shot, is comparable to the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan in its beauty and brutality. It is possibly one of the greatest scenes put to film in quite some time. Similarly, the bear attack is possibly the scariest, most viscerally affecting scene I’ve ever watched. As this animal literally tears strips out of DiCaprio’s hunter, every strike from those claws and every roar from this massive Grizzly had me pushing back in my seat wanting to get away from it. Every shot is beautifully framed. It looks cold, unforgiving and every splash of blood in the snow glistens beautifully.
Both guys in the lead roles are spectacular. DiCaprio’s performances over the years have always included stories of the lines he crossed pushing for the best performance he can; The Revenant is no different. Coming along with tales of making himself sick, forgetting he’s a vegetarian and chowing down on some raw bison liver, the man’s almost feral role of Hugh Glass is quite possibly his best role yet. If it wasn’t such a ridiculous ongoing joke over his constant snubbing by the Academy, I’d be screaming to give the man an Oscar for his role of the vengeful trapper. In the same vein, Tom Hardy’s cold and scary performance as Fitzgerald is maybe his best – and certainly his most terrifying since he spent his days being Charlie Bronson all those years ago. The pair chew up every scene they are in; and the ones they share – from the fast paced opener to the literally nail-biting last scene – are pure cinematic gold. And the supporting guys (including Domhall Gleeson and Will Poulter) all come together to bring you one of the most well performed movies in years.
The Revenant stands proud this year. In a sea of absolute dross chasing Academy gold, Iñárritu’s film is just a stunning masterpiece of a film that stays with you long after the lights have come up. It’s possibly the best film I have seen since last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. The only reason I’m not screaming out loud for statues all around is because I haven’t seen Creed yet.
It’s not perfect, with a bit of sag in the middle that makes it feel needlessly long and some bloody awful dubbing of the native languages that stick out in such a great flick. But aside from that, The Revenant is easily in the running for the best film of the year already. Your move, 2016.
As today is the last opportunity for people to submit votes in our Failed Critics Awards 2015, I thought I might share a few of the movies that I won’t be voting for before midnight tonight.
Specifically, rather than just make a list of terrible releases from across the year (such as The Ridiculous 6, Transporter Refueled, Lost River etc), I’m going to pick those films that flattered to deceive. If you’d have asked me in January, I probably would have sworn blind that the following were guaranteed to make my final top 10 list. Unfortunately, as it happens, none of the following will be included because in their own different ways, they were either not actually that good, disappointingly average, or regrettably just plain bad.
Going into Foxcatcher, it was hard not to be caught up in the Oscar-buzz for Steve Carell’s performance. In fact, on last year’s Awards podcast, James asked us all which films we were most looking forward to in 2015 and I actually picked Bennett Miller’s movie based on a true story about wealthy wrestling coach John E. du Pont (Carell) and his Olympic competitor Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Now, I haven’t chosen it for this list because I didn’t enjoy the film. I did! It’s just that the momentum it had built up for the performances was perhaps a little bit unrealistic. If anything, Mark Ruffalo – who I hadn’t heard anything about before going to see Foxcatcher in January – was the standout actor of the three. Mainly because he was so good, as I’ve come to expect from Ruffalo, but the other two just weren’t all they were hyped up to be. Similarly, although I did find the story interesting, it was rather disappointingly told in a somewhat sluggish manner. Lingering on scenes for longer than is necessary far too often slowed the pace down to a crawl and meant that overall, even away from the performances, it just wasn’t quite good enough to break my top 10. Probably not even my top 15 of the year, either.
Andrew Brooker and I had talked to each other quite extensively about what we were hoping for from the latest glorified re-telling of the lives of notorious London gangsters the Kray twins. Perhaps it’s fair to say that even though I do like Tom Hardy, Brooker is an even bigger fan. Getting to see two Hardy’s for the price of one seemed like reason enough to cross my fingers in hope that this British crime drama would deliver a high quality, gritty, colourful story. Alas, it transpires that no amount of Hardy’s can make a tepid script with woeful narration into a good film.
Such was the disturbingly low amount of hype for Joss Whedon’s follow up to the spectacular Avengers Assemble that we decided to spin some of our own by creating 10 Avengers Minisode podcasts earlier this year, reevaluating all of the MCU movies to date. Despite some nervous anticipation, I still expected big things from Age of Ultron but it failed to deliver on virtually every level. Firstly, it was far too long and bloated. The cast for the previous outing of our Marvel superheroes was already pretty large, but they balanced enough screen time and dialogue for each to have an integral part to play in developing the story. In this follow up, there are far too many characters who do absolutely nothing except bash each other about the head occasionally. Hardly any two characters have a conversation in this movie without eventually a bout of fisticuffs, or reminiscing about that time they had a fight. I hated the Hulk & Black Widow storyline. The apologetic attempt to give Hawkeye more screen time by shoe-horning in a half-arsed story about his secret family-man life was underwhelming and shallow – and to top it all off, the villain was barely used except for a three-hour long explosion and fight sequence in the final act. Maybe I’ll re-watch it in a year or two and find that it’s decent really and I had just been expecting too much? But right now, it comes across as a badly written set up film for the rest of the MCU yet to come and is one of the biggest let downs of the whole year.
I’ve already summed up my opinion back in August on Antoine Fuqua’s drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a boxer who has a spectacular fall from grace. From the trailer alone, I thought Southpaw would be one of the standout films for 2015, with Jake Gyllenhaal still riding high on the crest of his incredible performance in Nightcrawler last year. And just like I mentioned when discussing Foxcatcher further up the page, it was a film that in the end was just “all right”. It was a good performance, it had a good story, it was well directed and well paced, but it lacked a certain element to propel it into greatness. Rather than feeling happy to have seen a good film, instead I left the cinema not ruing the fact I’d spent over two hours watching it, which itself is an indicator that something wasn’t quite right. A big part of the problem is that it doesn’t do anything particularly new or exciting. It felt like I’d seen it all done perfectly well before. Gyllenhaal put on a lot of muscle, his character has a fall and then a rise, there’s a strained home life, he’s a father and a champion etc. Regardless of how well structured it is, it’s hardly groundbreaking material. In the end, it was just another mildly entertaining sports drama.
This might be considered something of a spoiler for the results of the Failed Critics Awards that will be announced early this week (or maybe we should think of it as an exclusive instead) but only one person has voted SPECTRE into their top 10 of the year. One person. To you and I, who have seen 007’s latest outing, it probably isn’t a surprise, given how by-the-numbers it was. However, compared to Skyfall (Eon’s 23rd Bond film that celebrated 50 years of Britain’s worst-kept secret spy) which only narrowly missed out on winning top spot in our awards back in 2012, that’s pretty shocking. Admittedly, I’ve never been that big a fan of the Bond movies, as I discussed with Steve Norman, Tony Black and Brian Plank on our podcast back in October, but even I loved Skyfall. Sam Mendes was the perfect director to blend his visual flair with some good old-fashioned and exciting story-telling. It was for that reason alone that I was really looking forward to SPECTRE, despite being put off by the fact that it was to be the longest Bond film ever at 2 hours 28 minutes. “Starring Christoph Waltz” is as good a reason as any to get me interested in any movie. With the Day of the Dead opening scene in Mexico, the film started off already in about third gear and just plateaued from there. I don’t remember it really ramping up tension or suspense, or taking its foot off the peddle at any point. It just drifted along at an even and enjoyable pace, never feeling like it was dragging at all, but without building to something bigger. It tootled along from point A to point B, to point C, to point D and so on until reaching its destination calmly … and then blowing up £20m worth of Aston Martin. A bit like Age of Ultron, it does suffer from the hangover of its predecessor and will no doubt improve on a rewatch, but to be quite honest about it, I just can’t be bothered with it. I can see why for that one person it might have been in their top 10, but it definitely won’t be in mine.
Answer: Four! Specifically, Owen Hughes, Phil Sharman, Andrew Brooker and special guest host, Jack Stewart. I will leave it to your imagination to work out what the ‘C’ stands for…
…All right, it was ‘critics’, of course! Failed ones, but what else could I have possibly meant..?
Unfortunately there’s no Steve Norman on this week’s episode, but the award winning duo of Phil and Jack from the comedy podcast Wikishuffle join Owen and Brooker to review two new releases. Whilst Phil prepares a rant on M. Night Shyamalan’s latest twisty-turny-twist-again-turn-again horror The Visit, the group also review British gangster movie Legend, starring Tom Hardy as Ronnie Cray and Tom Hardy as Reggie Kray.
Also on the podcast: Brooker walks the line with Oscar winning documentary Man On Wire; Phil tentatively recommends Jonathan King’s (yes, that one) self-produced Vile Pervert: The Musical; and Owen shouts from the stands about indie doc Sons of Ben: The Movie. There’s even time for Phil jump into the host’s chair briefly for this week’s quiz, and we rant over SPECTRE‘s potentially 160 minute run time.
Steve Norman returns as host next week along with Owen and guest Callum Petch to review Everest. Join us then!
“London in the 1960’s. Everyone had a story about the Krays”. Funny that, where I grew up in the 1980’s, everybody still had stories, but they were almost always complete bollocks. “My dad knew the Krays” or “my mum’s cousin knows them”. No, they don’t, shut up you twat. Dumb stories like that made me a little interested in the infamous twins and their lives though; and now, 25 years after the last good Kray brothers film, we get Legend.
Tom Hardy takes on the role of both Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Twin gangsters that were treated like rock stars back in the 1960’s when they were rising to power and still are by a country that dotes on them and idolises them as men that took what they wanted and didn’t let anything stand in their way. Jumping straight in as Ronnie is released from the psychiatric institution that is looking after him, having been certified insane towards the end of his first stint in prison. Skipping past the boys’ younger years, their time growing up and their boxing, we meet Ronnie and Reggie as they are reaching the height of their power. Casting watchful eyes across the crime in East London and looking to expand West where the clubs are more than ripe enough for a few very hostile takeovers.
With aspirations of being a big time club owner, Reggie is the classic East London gangster; a man whose words, clothes and hair are all equally slick and has a terrifyingly quiet way about him that sets him apart from the rest of the criminal element in his part of the woods. Softly spoken with a wry smile, he can sweep anyone off their feet with a look and a word. Enter Frances Shea, the young sister of Reggie’s driver, Frankie. The naive and impressionable teenager quickly falls for Reggie and his lifestyle, enjoying all the benefits that come with them and the pair are quickly married. Now Ronnie, on the other hand, isn’t slick, or suave, or softly spoken. The polar opposite of his brother, at least on the outside, Ronnie Kray was famous for his lightning quick temper and his inability to make smart, rational decisions once someone had angered him. Arguably the more dangerous of the twins, Ronnie was never too far from trouble during the brothers’ reign.
Legend takes a very small slice of the Krays’ story and puts it to screen for us to absorb. Making Reggie’s marriage to Frances the centre point of the film, we watch the gangster make very quick work of bowling the young lady over and making her his wife. All the while, with Ronnie never too far away, the suave criminal is seeing off competition from south of the Thames and expanding their empire. On the other side of the story, Scotland Yard detective Leonard “Nipper” Read is busy trying to make his career on the twins’ name. Read is relentless in his efforts to bring the Krays and their associates to justice; crossing paths with the infamous duo on more than one occasion and frustrated by their brazenness, the detective pushes back hard against the Krays.
I really don’t know where to begin with Legend; my whole experience was a bit up and down and while I had high hopes for it, the film rarely hit them. In real life, there are parts of the Krays’ story that lasted close to ten years that are given ten minutes screen time, the same amount as an event that lasted probably all of half an hour when it actually happened. No care has been taken to show the progression of time and instead audiences are left to wonder what the hell is going on. The lives of these gangsters was so hectic that just to know that six months, or six years, or whatever, had passed would have been handy.
The script doesn’t seem finished either. While there are some really great lines in it and Brian Helgeland’s brilliance shines through in a few places, it just seemed like a glossary of words Cockneys sometimes say was lobbed at a few pieces of paper and the guys thought that it would be enough. Helgeland’s direction, however, is superb and every scene just oozes class. The twins are regularly on screen together and try as you might, and I tried pretty hard, it’s almost impossible to see the seams with little or no sacrifice to the quality of the shot or the film overall.
Tom Hardy is amazing… for half of the film. His portrayal of Reggie Kray is nothing short of brilliant; suave, slick, with a hint of malice every time he casts his eye across a room. Reggie is cold, calculating and fearless when it comes to his business and his brother. And while his Reggie is great, Ronnie seems to get the short end of the stick. The problem is, while some of his scenes as Ronnie are spectacular, all too often it falls close to being a caricature performance, making it a complete exaggeration of the role to make sure you know who is who and it really isn’t necessary. Ronnie’s character is enough to separate him from his brother and the overplaying of the crazy psychopath role was just a little jarring. With his homosexuality and his temperament played more for laughs than is really right or required, it felt like they were taking the more nasty, brutal character and turning him into a bit of a punch line. The film still portrays him as cold and vicious, but something has been taken away from the man’s edge and it just didn’t sit right.
Hardy is surrounded by a great supporting cast. Christopher Eccleston brings a sterling performance as Nipper Read, the only man that had the guts and the physical size to stand up to the Krays; Chazz Palminteri, making a welcoming return to the big screen as the Firm’s American connection, and Paul Bettany filling to role of Charlie Richardson, the sadistic leader of the Richardson Gang. But standing right next to Hardy, is Emily Browning, playing dual roles herself not only as the slight and shy wife of Reggie Kray; she also acts as the film’s narrator, keeping the viewer informed when the rest of the film fails to and covering up the sub-par script with a nice voice over to soften the blow of the daft writing.
At the end of the day, Legend is a decent film, I very much enjoyed its attempt to be British Goodfellas. But a biopic can be good without it being a decent representation of real life and that is where we’ve landed here; essentially playing itself out like an East End rendition of A Bronx Tale and not really hitting the notes a film about our country’s only real “celebrity” criminals should be. There is no doubt that Tom Hardy is one of the greatest actors working today and he does a splendid job, but a poor script and haphazard story telling mar the performance. Legend is a superb flick, if a little goofy, but it feels like a gangster movie that they added the Krays to for marketing purposes. Considering the subjects of the film, this may be a poor choice of words, but the Krays deserved better than this.
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast! Joining hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes this week are Andrew Brooker and Jackson Tyler, sharing their opinion on the latest installment of the Pitch Perfect franchise, as well as George Miller’s triumphant return to post-apocalyptic Australia with Mad Max: Fury Road.
Starting off the podcast as ever is our quiz – in its new revamped format! With things teetering on a knife-edge; will Steve lose and be forced to watch Kill Keith yet again; will he win and force Owen to watch Kill Keith again? Or, with a bit of luck, will the cursed video-tape that is Keith Chegwin’s magnum opus finally be passed on to somebody else so we never have to darken our DVD player with it ever again?
We also chat about the 68th Cannes (with an ‘s’) Film Festival, from the end of the McConaissance to institutional sexism. There’s even room for Owen to revisit a film talked about exactly 150 episodes ago; Jackson shares his love for Alexander Payne’s high-school political-satire Election; Steve puts his geo-gea-jolly-ologist expertise to good use when reviewing The Day After Tomorrow; and Brooker delves into the twisted mind of James Cullen Bressack with Pernicious ahead of its UK release next month.
Join us again next week for reviews of the Poltergeist remake (why?), Disney’s Tomorrowland and the latest CGI-laden disaster movie San Andreas.
Following his recent Mad Max retrospective, Andrew Brooker returns to take a look at George Miller’s latest entry to the series. Spoiler: he bloody loves it.
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
It’s been 36 years since George Miller changed the face of action movies and defined the post-apocalyptic genre for decades to come with his original vision of the future, Mad Max. It’s been 34 years since he made one of the most iconic action films to ever grace the cinema, paving the way for a sea of imitators that lasted more than three decades and it’s been 30 years since the slight misfire that was Beyond Thunderdome. With the kind of pedigree the Mad Max franchise has, you could be forgiven for being a little skeptical at a reimagining of the title a few decades after the last one has been and gone.
Mad Max: Fury Road has had a turbulent time getting to us. Green lit 15 years ago once a script was completed and returning helmer George Miller was ready to shoot. Cast changes, a complete location shift from the Australian outback to the African desert and a huge delay to reshoot large portions of the film had us wondering if we would ever see the film. Coming dangerously close to becoming the stuff of myth and legend, Fury Road seemed destined to find a permanent home in development hell, never to see the light of day.
Thankfully, today the world can see the film that nearly wasn’t. The film that looked like it had been canned more than once over the years and frankly, the film that everyone needs to see.
Now bear with me, because I’m going to start with a negative. My one and only problem with Mad Max: Fury Road is that I simply don’t know what I can and can’t talk about. I usually base those decisions solely on what’s been shown in a film’s trailer but even the ads are a bit spoiler-ish and as such I avoided them all. Every scene should be experienced unspoiled and fresh on that big screen without having ever seen it before. On top of that, it’s a Mad Max film. These films have very little story to them and are instead all about the visuals and the feelings those visuals emote in its audience. With that in mind, and I hope I’m allowed to do this, If you want to see the film unspoiled as I suggest, skip straight down to the last paragraph for my wrap-up and come back when you’ve seen the film. I promise there will be no spoilers, I will keep to what has been shown in the marketing for the most part, with an occasional bit added for context and elaboration, but I’ll be talking about a few details I was very appreciative of not knowing much about on my first viewing.
Still with me? Right.
Mad Max: Fury Road is essentially a reboot of the series that forgoes the world building of the first film. So instead of being a complete restart to the story, we first meet Max an unspecified amount of time after he’s lost his family to the brutal gangs that run amok across the post-nuclear wasteland of Australia. Having already spent years foraging for food and gas, The ever brilliant Tom Hardy takes on the title character, replacing Mel Gibson and making the role his own. Hardy’s Max comes to us a broken shell, near feral, being chased across the sand by the ferocious War Boys, a savage tribe of warriors led by the terrifying Immortan Joe (brilliantly played by Hugh Keays-Byrne – the original Mad Max’s “Toecutter”). Within a minute of the opening shot, former cop Max Rockatansy’s iconic Pursuit Special is destroyed and Max is taken prisoner, branded and stuck in a cage in Joe’s Citadel, a fortress built into the rocks of the outback, and left to rot.
While this is happening, Joe’s best rig driver, Imperator Furiosa, played wonderfully by the amazing Charlize Theron, has taken a detour on a routine transport run prompting suspicions from the War Boys and their leader. It quickly transpires that Furiosa has helped Immortan Joe’s wives escape their captivity, running from their lives of forced breeding for the self-appointed king and desperately searching for a safe place to continue their lives free of servitude. The War Boys give chase, and so begins the greatest 110 minute chase scene in the history of film.
For reasons best left alone for fear of ruining way too much, Max finds himself joining Imperator Furiosa on her war rig, fighting against King Joe and his tribe battling to get his prized harem back from the traitor that took them from him. Cutting a path through the wasteland in their heavily armoured tanker truck, Max and Furiosa find themselves in a frantic, constantly moving vehicular skirmish as the tribe calls for backup from the outlying gangs and tribes that hunt in the desert. As the numbers against them increase, the odds seem to get ever more hopeless for the road warriors who are in just as much danger from the road ahead of them as they are from the crazed animals in cars behind them.
As was the way all those years ago, Mad Max: Fury Road‘s genius isn’t so much in its story as it is in its design. Not one detail is missed and not one thing you’ll see is an accident. The cars have been meticulously built to be functional but look menacing. From one tribes bug looking vehicles that have been covered in spikes to the huge truck that has only one purpose; to house every speaker known to man, four guys on drums and one guy playing an insane guitar that spits fire from its neck at random intervals. I kid you not, no matter how I describe it, you won’t believe it when you see it and you won’t be able to keep from laughing at it when it appears. It’s spectacularly stupid and hilariously brilliant. If any other film done that, you’d up and walk out of the theatre shaking your head in disgust, but George Miller has weaved a world so good, so colourful and so absolutely bonkers that a dude playing fiery guitar on a sand truck not only makes absolute sense, but it fits right in!
The vehicular carnage in Fury Road will be a yard stick for years to come. All action scenes will be compared to these for the next few years as the film turns everything up to eleven as it crushes, rips apart and blows up enough cars and trucks to fill a decent sized service station. The first big chase alone, the chase that introduces Furiosa and Max was a 20 minute spectacle that when it ended, when the screen was filled with light and silence, I discovered I’d been holding my breath and was literally on the edge of my seat. I was relieved it was over so I could relax, have a swig of my drink and take a couple of breaths. Almost as soon as I had relaxed and my heart had returned to its normal rate, Mad Max: Fury Road pushes yet another adrenaline fuelled skirmish onto the screen and makes you sit in awe as Miller find more spectacularly twisted ways of destroying cars, trucks and people as Max, Furiosa and the Wives try to get to their destination in one piece.
Now don’t be fooled. This isn’t The Road Warrior and Max isn’t protecting a fragile group of people that don’t know how to defend themselves. Here, Max is simply along for the ride and has found himself in the middle of an escape plan hatched and executed by Imperator Furiosa and the women she is helping escape. Almost surplus to requirements, Max has met a group that can be just as ferocious as he is and are just as determined to survive the harsh landscape on their own. Charlize Theron does an amazing job of bringing Furiosa to the screen and in the illustrious tradition of Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor before her, the deadly war rig driver stands proud as one of the greatest, strongest female characters ever to grace our screens. Holding her own against the biggest and baddest of Immortan Joe’s army, Furiosa and the wives are more than capable of standing up for themselves and keeping themselves alive when the odds are seemingly against them.
Last generation, almost every action film was influenced, some more than others, by George Miller’s original Mad Max films. The director had created the epitome of on-screen action and everybody needed to take their cues from him to be taken seriously. Now, a new generation of films and filmmakers are coming. And every single one of them will be turning to Fury Road for guidance and inspiration. Redefining a genre Miller himself created almost four decades ago, Mad Max: Fury Road is nothing short of a masterpiece. Amazingly filmed, beautifully visceral combat; stunning visuals and an amazing score all added to the near flawless acting and the direction that makes you want to get up and cheer throughout the film; they all combine to make one of the best cinematic experiences I’ve had in quite some time. I can’t recommend this film enough. It is, in a word, perfect.
Ahead of next week’s release of Mad Max: Fury Road, we’re taking a retrospective look back over George Miller’s original trilogy of post-apocalyptic action films.
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
Back in 1979, George Miller exploded onto the scene with low budget action film Mad Max. Having only previously made a short with his buddy, Mad Max producer Byron Kennedy, Miller brought a vision of the future to the screen rarely seen before. Wrapped in a real life fear with an unmistakable prediction for our future, Max’s world was one of chaos. A world shaped by the population’s relentless desire to keep their vehicles running on the increasingly rare petrol that we took for granted before the oil wells dried.
Casting a then unknown Mel Gibson, a man with only one theatrical film credit at the time (and honestly, do you remember the Australian “thriller” Summer City? Rated a spectacular 4/10 on IMDB? Me neither) with no money, a star no one had heard of and with nothing to lose, George Miller put his heart and soul into a film that, if it had gone badly, could have ended his film making career before it had even had a chance to splutter into life.
Now this was the late seventies. A time long before just the hint of a film idea had studios clambering to find room on their lots to film a trilogy, or more. A time before people would be walking out of the cinema already talking about a sequel and a time before franchises were churned out into multiplexes no matter how successful, or unsuccessful, they were. So when you see that Mad Max spawned a trilogy in a time where trilogy meant Star Wars and The Godfather, NOT the Alvin and the Chipmunks or the bloody Transformers, you know it was something special.
On what amounts to a shoestring budget, George Miller created a dystopian world to simultaneously amaze and depress us. And with Miller returning to the desert soon with Mad Max: Fury Road, now seems as good a time as any to revisit the trilogy that launched Gibson to superstardom and gave Miller a directorial career that spans more than 35 years. I wanted the franchise fresh in my mind ready for the fourth instalment, I wanted to return to the world I first visited as a kid and most importantly, I wanted to see if the trilogy still held up today as one of the greats and it isn’t, as so many things are nowadays, simply being held together with fond, rose-tinted nostalgia.
1] Mad Max (1979)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Law and order is beginning to collapse as fuel, the worlds most replied upon resource, becomes it’s most precious. Set “a few years from now”, Mad Max is the story of Mel Gibson’s Max Rockatansky. Policeman, and top pursuit driver for Australia’s Highway Patrol, the MFP.
The thing that makes Mad Max stand out amongst a lot of other films, is that at less than 90 minutes, it wastes very little time on action scenes and set-pieces that it doesn’t need. Opting instead to spend the majority of its run time building the world and letting the audience become a part of it. After a spectacular 10 minute car chase, ok, not The French Connection or Ronin kind of spectacular, but it was pretty great, the film spends an hour with very little going on as it elects to instead flesh out its characters and tell the story that Miller wants– no, needs to tell.
You see, Mad Max‘s concept came from an international crisis just a few years earlier. For many and varied political reasons the Arab nations that control the vast majority of oil in the world declared an embargo against the U.S. and their allies in a show of strength against them. Knowing they couldn’t combat them in a traditional, military sense, these nations hit the Americans where it hurt the most. Their wallets. By cutting off the main supply of oil, the import cost for the U.S. went through the roof and made the price of a barrel of oil nigh on unbearable. Anyways…
This was the basis for Mad Max; a world where fuel is a rarity and people will do anything to get heir hands on more. A world that grows ever more dark and violent as gangs carve their way through the country and terrify the general population. The gangs and the Main Force Patrol clash on the roads, bringing mayhem and destruction with them and only offering a passing glance to the safety of the people anywhere near these vehicular skirmishes.
Max‘s madness comes when his friends and his family are caught in the crossfire of this long running war. Maniacal gang leader “Toecutter” (played by the terrifyingly brilliant Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his band of ultra-violent misfits gradually feel the wrath of a man who tried very hard to do the right thing by his family, his friends and the law and instead becomes the thing he feared the most. One of them. In an effort to be the good guy, Max had to become the thing he has spent his life trying to protect others from and to make sure that no one else has to go through what he has, he must do the despicable and wipe these animals off the face of the earth.
Max spends the last 20 minutes or so systematically pulling apart Toecutter’s gang in some fun and imaginative ways. Taking all of his rage out on the bikers that ruined his life, making sure they can’t do it to anyone else, Rockatansky becomes wrath incarnate as the final, maybe the film’s most famous, scene comes to an end and the credits roll we all take a breath and know we’ve just watched something special.
Made on a modest $350,000, Mad Max made millions of dollars back and not only rocketed its star and its director straight into the limelight, but made a sequel an all-but-guaranteed thing.
2] Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
The turnaround from the first Mad Max making a tremendous profit to us getting a sequel wasn’t long at all. Only a couple of years after we saw Max become a one man army, we are reunited with the “Road Warrior” as he lives a lone wolf kind of life, moving across the ruined countryside searching for his next meal or his car’s next fill-up. One man alone has become one man and his dog as the world goes from a slightly recognisable dystopia to a full-on, no more law left post-apocalyptic wasteland. And with a bigger budget and some studio confidence, George Miller spent a lot of time and attention (along with his production crew, of course) crafting a world that not only looked menacing and hopeless, but one that also become the benchmark for post-apocalyptic settings for years to come. Influencing media across all forms. You can see Mad Max 2‘s DNA still seeping through as recently as films like Book of Eli and even in video games like Rage.
If Mad Max was the story of a man losing his humanity, Mad Max 2, sometimes subtitled “The Road Warrior” is the story of how that same jaded soul finds a reason to dig deep and find some compassion as the film takes a page or two from almost every western ever made and has Mel Gibson’s leading man protecting a settlement from leather and rubber clad marauders intent on stealing supplies.
The bad guys definitely get to see the majority of the film’s increased production value. There is a notable change in the aesthetic of anything that isn’t a good guy. Cars aren’t just cars, they are all heavily modified death machines with a Death Race look about them with gang members all leather-clad and using old tyres to make those awesome 80’s shoulder pads. The film’s critically acclaimed costume design begins with lead baddie, “The Humungus”, a terrifying individual who wears a hockey mask, an uncomfortable looking pair of pants and a bizarre S&M harness and it pretty much ends with his lieutenant, Wez. Wez is a mohawked psychopath who terrifies the populace in arseless chaps! Ok, so maybe it’s not the greatest costume design ever, but for its time it’s a spectacular vision of the near future and more than 30 years later it still holds up as one of the best original post-apocalyptic films ever made.
Widely lauded as the best of the trilogy, Mad Max 2 still holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has a thoroughly well deserved cult status amongst film lovers across the world. An amazing sequel that turns the original’s formula on its head by switching tension building drama for telling it’s story through its action sequences. If Road Warrior has a flaw, it’s that one of the greatest action films ever made somehow spawned…
3] Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
The problem with Mad Max 3 isn’t that it’s bad. It kind of is, but that’s not its biggest issue. Beyond Thunderdome‘s main issues come from the fact that it simply tried too damn hard. It tried to be bigger and better than Road Warrior and not only falls short, it stumbles almost immediately and never quite picks itself up.
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome can only really be described as silly. Its premise is a good one but it’s poorly executed. The idea that 25 years after the events of the second film society would have learned to build themselves into little communities that have learn to NOT kill each other is a great one. Power struggles and the fight for the fuel that must have surely run out by now should add nothing but tension but it just plays out as daft. Ok, so they worked out how to get fuel into their film and added a pig crap methane factory thing that produces the energy for the Tina Turner controlled “Bartertown”, but it doesn’t explain how a dude that lives in a little area in the desert that’s surprisingly reminiscent of the house Luke Skywalker lives in on Tatooine has a plane that never runs out of fuel.
Even the film’s titular battle arena disappoints. Thunderdome is a giant cage, built to house two people who fight to the death. But it comes off as ridiculous when the men are attached to giant elastic ropes and forced to bounce around the giant birdcage like a pair of rubbish Cirque Du Soleil performers who have had one too many alco-pops!
Everything from production to story has gone down the tubes! Costumes have gone from looking like they were actually scavenged by the people wearing them to looking far too clean and precisely cut (I’m of course forgetting the buttless trousers) and the story forgoes the brutality of its predecessors and instead somehow turns into a slightly more violent version of Hook, right down to the silly looking Lost Boys.
Mad Max 3 falls into the same pit as so many third instalments. It tries way too hard to prove itself relevant and simply falls flat. If Mad Max 2 is the film that all the post-apocalyptic movies since have tried to be, Beyond Thunderdome is the film they have tried hard not to be compared to. Not only is it the poorest of the trilogy, it’s easily the one to have fared the worst against the test of time.
And that can only leave us with…
4] Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: –
30 years since the last film and 15 years since the movie was officially green lit by Warner Brothers, George Miller returns to the wasteland with Mad Max: Fury Road. Tom Hardy will be taking the title role, joined by Charlize Theron as we return to the desolate world that has been influencing Hollywood for almost four decades.
Only time will tell if Miller and his new star can relight the fire that Thunderdome kicked sand all over.
Fury Road will be released in UK cinemas on 14th May 2015. Brooker will be back to review it for the site soon after, and you’ll be able to hear our podcast review some days later.
Bleak and depressing, but not for the reasons it should be.
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
“The film is never as good as the book”. I’ve spent so many hours arguing the point when people say that to me. Of course the book is better, it’s a book. It can make me spend 40 minutes reading about a few not-so-important details that a film, if it’s lucky, gets a minute or two to show me. “Just read the book, it’s much better”. Usually, the people that tell me that don’t, or can’t, appreciate what a filmmaker and his writers have to do to get those hundreds of detailed pages onto the screen and keep it interesting. Of course, that doesn’t excuse films like Eragon or The DaVinci Code in any way, shape or form from being the disgraceful waste of celluloid that they are, but as a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t be comparing the two.
Now I try, I really do, to read the books before I see the film, it’s just a habit I got into years ago. If I can’t, I try very hard to get it read later. So when more than a couple of friends, and my wife, insisted “don’t see the film until you’ve read the book” I made it a goal to get Child 44 read before the film came out this week. Sadly, I let them all down. As I write this, my Kindle is teasing me, essentially calling me a failure as it tells me I only got 54% of Tom Rob Smith’s Soviet set crime thriller read before I headed to my local multiscreen to take the lazy option and watch the rest of the book while I stuff my face with popcorn. So as much as I was hoping I could write this review as a comparison to the book and, good or bad, show just how fruitless some of these statements can be, it’s just a regular old review from me today I’m afraid.
Critically acclaimed book aside, and forgetting that the cynic in me knows that Child 44 is the first book in a trilogy and we all know how that’s going to play out, have you seen that cast list? It’s a veritable who’s who of modern greats that should all, someday, have a list of awards they’ve won long enough to fill one of those books we should be reading. Between them, the acting talents of the names on that one-sheet and their collective filmographies should pique the interest of almost anyone with even half an interest in movies. For the fourth time that I can recall, the amazingly talented (and personal favourite) Tom Hardy is sharing the screen with the sublime Gary Oldman, and whether or not you go into this film knowing or caring about the story, you know that with those two in the cast list, it’s going to be a spectacle worth spending your £12 on this weekend. It’s got to be. Right? Well….
Set in early 1950’s Stalinist Russia, Child 44 sees Tom Hardy take on the role of Leo Demidov, a survivor of Stalin’s famine based war on Ukraine of the 1930’s, a hero of the Second World War and a high ranking member of the MBG, the Russian Ministry of State Security, or as we, post-cold war would possibly call them, the Russian Secret Police. A man who loves the republic that he serves and follows orders blindly in an age where innocence doesn’t exist. An age where a person can be arrested, tortured and executed for almost anything that could be construed as “not in the best interests of the state”. Corruption is rife and to be on the wrong side of it more often than not means not being around very long to fight against it.
Leo finds himself on the worse side of the State’s law when he refuses to name is wife, Raisa, as a capitalist spy. Believing her name to have been planted on a list by envious, vindictive junior agent Vasili Nikitin, played by the surprisingly decent Joel Kinnaman, who’s out to teach Leo a lesson after he embarrassed him while on assignment. His refusal to denounce his wife leaves Leo exiled to a little industrial town and left under the command of Gary Oldman’s General Nesterov, the head of the militia and a man as proud and loyal to his country as he is suspicious of Leo and Raisa’s presence in his town. Together, Demidov and Nesteroy stumble upon a serial child killer case that has been brushed under the carpet by the Republic they both love so much and set out to right that wrong and bring a killer that no one in power seems interested in, to justice.
In a world where justice does not necessarily mean “justice”, Leo finds himself relying on his wits and his wife to solve these heinous crimes when he can’t call for help from a system he’s lived his life in complete obedience to. Instead, he must work outside of the law, skulking in the shadows, hoping and praying that he can keep one step ahead of those that seek his downfall while he tries to catch a killer that no one believes exists and he knows less than nothing about.
Now, everything about Child 44, on paper, sounds like the makings of an excellent thriller. It’s set in an interesting time, one we don’t see put to film very often and we rarely get to see the Russians depicted in such a bad light these days (maybe that statement explains why the film has been banned in Russia). A story focusing on something as horrible as a series of murdered children should have some real emotional pull and make every parent watching sit and hold their stomach in fear. And with all that talent on the poster, all that ability on the screen, it’s something I would have been comfortable guaranteeing to you without having seen the film.
Sadly, I have seen the film. And my only advice, is to not waste the near two and a half hours that I did hoping for the film we should have got to finally appear on the screen. There’s no way to drag it out, to be clever about saying it or to soften it so maybe you think it might be a film worth watching. Child 44, is a bad film. But it’s not just bad, it’s slow, it’s boring and being a fan of almost everyone on that cast list, it’s soul crushingly disappointing.
Forgetting the part where I’ve read up to around the halfway point of the book and there are glaring omissions from the story that’ll severely impact it if the film does well enough to get the next book, “The Secret Speech”, made. I promised I’d write this as a review of the film, not the adaptation. The film is a masterclass in poor direction, bad screenwriting and complete misuse of the acting talents of some of the best actors around today. Tom Hardy’s Leo Demidov is a great character. A tortured man who struggles with the situation he’s found himself in and is desperately trying to do the right thing while making things right for him and his wife. Raisa is similarly tortured, and played equally well by the always impressive Noomi Rapace. Her fight to stay strong doing nothing to help her as she struggles through life with a husband in such a powerful position. Thrown into turmoil with her exile, her role in Leo’s quest for redemption is much bigger than the writing gives her credit for.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast, while absolutely superb aren’t given much of a chance to shine. A bad mix of painful screenwriting and something very close to stunt casting ruins what semblance of quality there may have been. Opting instead for wasting the talents of world class actors like Gary Oldman and Vincent Cassell with minimal screen time in poorly shot scenes that always appear to teeter on the edge of tense but fall flat and emotionless instead. Great actors like Jason Clarke and Charles Dance are barely given enough time to register with the audience, with the filmmakers instead choosing to gloss over what are clearly supposed to be important scenes of character development.
Now, say what you want about Daniel Espinosa as a director, and I said a lot of things when I came out of Child 44, I always thought he knew how to make a decent thriller. I know films like Safe House aren’t for everyone, but the pacing in it is superb. Hit after unrelenting hit comes at you from the first shot to the end of the film and it just doesn’t let up. The problem, is that Child 44 isn’t an action thriller. It’s a crime thriller. One that should be slow burning at that. Something more akin to Nordic film and TV than action films and Espinosa can’t quite seem to grasp that idea which, considering his background, is pretty ironic. The film has some glaring issues with its pace, never quite picking up to tell the story at a good speed but never dropping well enough to build tension. There are points where the pace slows, the acting is ramped up and the tension really should be building, but the scene just doesn’t live up to its promise. Falling flat on its face is the default position for the film’s direction and not even the skills that Hardy, Oldman and everyone else bring with them can rescue it.
Child 44 is set in one of the most interesting, but equally one of the most horrific times in living memory. It’s a bleak, hopeless time and perfectly suited for a thriller about the cold and calculating murder of 44 children. But the film never seems to pick up on the natural melancholy of a grey and gloomy Soviet Russia that’s handed to it. There should be freezing, unforgiving snow. There should be the air of cold, empty suffering and the film can’t even get that right. Call it a trope, a stereotype, whatever you want. Stalinist Russia was a sad, mournful place to live and die and Child 44 couldn’t even get to grips with the atmosphere handed to it. Choosing instead to bath unhappy scenes that should have an air death in sunshine. A dead child, in a country known to be cold and snowy, is a gift to a film maker. It doesn’t take a genius to know how that particular scene should look and if you can’t even get that right, what hope did the film really have?
I loved the performances in Child 44, everyone does a great job in selling me on their Russian accents and there’s enough Hardy to keep me happy until Mad Max comes out. The entire cast do a spectacular job but they all need…. No, they all deserve, a much better film than this. Child 44 has a spectacular premise, but it’s clearly too much for one film and far too much for this director. Better suited perhaps to one of those 8-10 episode HBO mini-series like Generation Kill or True Detective. Save your pennies and do what I’m going to do. I’m going to quench the sudden urge I have to watch Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy instead.
Child 44 is out in cinemas right now should you decide to ignore Brooker’s warning and try it for yourself.
It’s somehow fitting that James Gandolfini’s last role involves him playing a slightly more washed-up version of his most famous creation, Tony Soprano. It’s a weary but caustic ending to a career which was cut short far too soon, and shows the man’s dramatic chops as he manages to steal the show from some formidable opposition, including Tom Hardy holding a cute puppy.
Hardy plays Bob, a quiet guy who tends bar in the premises owned by his cousin Marv (Gandolfini) in deepest Brooklyn. This bar holds a secret – it’s a drop point where the mob’s money ends up from time to time. Marv resents the fact that Chechens are the hard guys here, and laments the good old days when he was part of the mafia, not their ATM deposit box. Bob is walking home from work one night when he finds the aforementioned abandoned pup in a bin belonging to Nadia (Noomi Rapace, very good with the relatively little she is given to do). Circumstances decree that he adopts the dog – and this is where an unfortunate series of events – connected or otherwise – start to creak into life. Gradually and inevitably, Bob’s life slides into crisis.
The Drop is a very decent film. The pacing is excellent – you know what is coming at some points, but you enjoy the journey of tying up the gradually interconnecting plot. Director Michaël R. Roskam does an excellent job of capturing Brooklyn, and the film is full of quietly impressive supporting performances – from the detective (John Ortiz) who is immediately on Bob’s case following an incident at the bar, to the suitably menacing mob boss (Michael Aronov) who is understandably pissed off when some of his funds go missing. These are no one-dimensional thugs – we spend time with them, understand them. But special mention has to be made of Matthias Schoenaerts as Eric Deeds, the local weirdo who trades off a murder he committed a while back. Schoenaerts is excellent and genuinely unsettling at times.
This will be remembered primarily as Gandolfini’s last performance, but it deserves more than that. The well-developed script and performances elevate this Dennis Lehane short story into a film that isn’t quite an Oscar contender, but is definitely worth a look regardless.
That doesn’t apply to any of us, if we’re honest. Except maybe heroes. Steve chased someone from a kebab shop once.
We are critics though, and this week we’re tackling prohibition-era Shia the Beef-starring movie Lawless. We also hear from James as he struggles to wax lyrical about two of his favourite films so far this year – Berberian Sound Studio and The Imposter – as well as hearing reviews on Barry Lyndon and Glengary Glen Ross.
James was hungover and without notes, Gerry had only seen Lawless, Owen’s internet kept cutting out, and Steve was…well, Steve. Somehow we recorded a show.
The Lost Reviews are reviews that our Editor produced for another publication but, for one reason or another, never got published.
It’s not because they’re shit. Honest.
One word. No vowels.
This Means War (out recently on DVD) pitches two top CIA operatives, Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Pine), against each other as they use every weapon in their armoury to win the heart of Lauren (Witherspoon).
The film opens with a massive gunfight in which director McG tries to be John Woo. But this isn’t Hard Bolied, and it’s not even Hard Target. Hell, This Means War isn’t even Hard Rain. After the op goes wrong, Tuck and FDR are “grounded” by their stereotypical ‘angry black captain’ (the talented Angela Bassett wasted in such a small role).
While out of action Tuck and FDR fall for the same woman, Lauren. Lauren is an executive working for a Which?-like company; fastidiously comparing products and their features. I wonder if that skill will come into play when she has to decide between the two ‘secret’ agents who fall for her.
Yes, it will. Like everything else in the film, this aspect is telegraphed by the writers like someone who nudges and winks at you at all the ‘important’ or ‘ironic’ parts in a story their mate is telling in the pub. It leaves literally nothing for the audience to figure out themselves.
I’m also pretty sure CIA agents don’t have to keep their profession a secret from the families. I learnt that from Homeland. The fact Tuck’s estranged family think he’s a travel agent is straight out of the Hollywood big book of things that only happen in films. Like stopping an elevator to have sex with someone. Or a woman responding to pretty severe sexual harassment by saying “if I say yes, will you go away?”
Oh wait, that also happens in This Means War.
The biggest insult to the audience’s intelligence, though, comes in the form of a conversation about film between FDR and Lauren. Trying to pick up Lauren in a video store, FDR recommends Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. Lauren responds by calling it “second-tier film”, and appears to dismiss all of his work pre-1960. Including Notorious, an infinitely superior film also about two spies who fall in love with the same woman.
This from the director who gave us Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
Bar one or two scenes in which Tom Hardy takes the film by the scruff of the neck and almost wills it into being something better, This Means War is cynical and clichéd with no heart whatsoever. Why not take FDR’s advice and watch The Lady Vanishes instead?
Holy half-baked opinions Batman! This week our very own Rogues Gallery of Villains (Gerry – The Joker, Owen – The Riddler, James – The Penguin, Steve – Catwoman) not only review The Dark Knight Rises, but also tackle all things Batman in a bumper 2 hour Batman Special.
In the opening section we discuss our randomly-allocated Batman films of the past – including Gerry’s near-breakdown over the 1966 movie and Owen looking for the positives in Batman and Robin. Plus Steve puts us all to shame with his tales of heroism. Well, sort of.
This week’s Triple Bill sees the critics giving us their favourite performances from the actors that have played the Caped Crusader in the last 25 years.
Then finally (at 1hour and 19 minutes if you want to skip) we review the most anticipated film of the year. Does it live up to expectations? Was it a worthy conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy? Could we understand a word Bane was saying?
We’re away next week, but will return on 7th August with a review of Ted and our favourite sporting movies.