‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Movie Review 1 96

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It’s been 36 years since the Aussie hero Mad Max first graced our screens, of course played by Mel Gibson, a role he would return to twice. Jump forward a few decades and we have a new actor Tom Hardy in the role, a big and bold new style but helmed by the same man who started it all, George Miller.

The film is set in a stark and uncompromising post-apocalyptic landscape where water and oil are in short supply, the heat and dryness bordering on insufferable and the people left populating a decimated world are either totally mad or power crazy (or both). There’s a ruler of sorts in the form of a man named “Immortan Joe,” who wears a skull mask with what appears to be vacuum pipes protruding, holding dominion over his cult-like people who worship him because of his control over the crucial water supply and that a chosen few of his “Warboys” will walk with him in Valhalla.

Enter Max Rockatansky (Hardy), caught and held captive by the group for his blood supply because he is a universal donor. When he is taken along on a dangerous mission to retrieve some precious stolen cargo, Max teams up with another rebel in the form of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a ruthless woman who will stop at nothing to get back to her childhood homeland.

The hype surrounding the film has been practically insurmountable – not least because Miller has been trying to get this fourth film made for almost 15 years now – but the film meets expectations and then some. Miller has delivered a monumentally entertaining, utterly beguiling statement of blockbuster spectacle that once it gets going barely stops for breath and when it does, it’s to let you take in the almost painting-like still imagery adorned with orange that seems to echo the state of the characters’ minds or ocean deep night-time blues, before hitting you over the head with another sledgehammer full of frenetic action. You’d never expect it all to be helmed by a man now in his ’70s.

It’s very difficult for a big blockbuster these days to truly surprise in terms of its set-pieces but Fury Road genuinely contains some imagery amid the purposefully chaotic action that really hasn’t been seen before. From baddies with white painted skin swinging between chasing vehicles on what appear to be pole vaulting sticks to a red-clothed crazed guitar player on strings rattling out a solo as metal and bodies smash to pieces around them, the film provides a unique blockbuster experience that’s to be reveled in and cherished. Just when you thought Fast and Furious 7 raised the bar of enjoyable ridiculousness this summer, along comes Mad Max: Fury Road and leaps it.

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Tom Hardy is Mad Max

Despite what all the big studios would like to think these days, Hardy is not an actor suited to every role (just look at This Means War, for example). But he is one of the most charismatic, brooding and intense actors around and this makes him utterly perfect for the titular role here. To quote Tony Soprano, whatever happened to the strong, silent type? Well, it turns out he’s in the middle of the blistering desert, a man of few words, penetrating stares and furious action. He’s not Mel Gibson but nor is he trying to emulate what he did all those years ago. Theron more than holds her own opposite him, playing one of the strongest and most complex blockbuster heroines to come along in quite some time. Both play the archetypal characters with both strength and vulnerability; Max can more than handle himself while not being an uncaring thug while Theron is vulnerable without just being the damsel in distress, and crucially neither are portrayed as infallible warriors that can never be hurt no matter how many bullets or spears are thrown at them.

A special mention must go out to Nicholas Hoult who, in a very surprising piece of casting, plays one of Immortan Joe’s cult members, almost unrecognisable with his shaven-head, white body paint and lips painted to look like a skull, spouting pseudo-religious gobbledygook as he participates and revels in the utter pandemonium around him. It’s great to see the former About a Boy actor branch out even further with his roles and he actually gets some of the film’s most memorably crazy, and even redemptive, moments.

It might seem like for all its breathtaking action and beguiling visual style that there’s nothing of substance underneath but that just isn’t the case here. Yes, some of the dialogue is a tad too on the nose – characters repeatedly talk about finding some sort of redemption – but it’s a damn sight more than we get from a lot of other blockbusters. Third act revelations add an emotional resonance that give the film’s spectacularly climactic final set-piece an extra sense of purpose and even pathos. It’s a finale that somehow manages to one-up all the carnage that has come before it.

It’s such a joy when a much hyped blockbuster comes along and not only meets expectations but completely blows them away. Mad Max: Fury Road delivers on what it promises to be from the get-go; a frenetic, operatic, ridiculously over-the-top action fest filled with jaw-dropping “did I just see that?” set-pieces that are thankfully devoid of the shaky cam that plagues most blockbuster cinema. Miller has delivered a blistering barrage of breathlessly intense, expertly choreographed, delightfully bonkers action spectacle that will be very hard to beat the rest of the year.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 355

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 383

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10