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Hilarious sequel with some dramatic heft

Posted : 1 day, 14 hours ago on 29 June 2015 03:35 (A review of Ted 2)

"We'll get a lawyer, and we'll sue the fucking government for your civil rights!"

Even the most optimistic movie-goers could not have predicted the success of 2012's Ted, and although opinions on Seth MacFarlane's live-action directorial debut do vary, its $500 million worldwide box office take exceeded all expectations. With the feature having desensitised us to the idea of a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear, it's business-as-usual for 2015's Ted 2, a follow-up which retains the proclivity for infantile humour and pop culture shout-outs within a narrative that provides a degree of dramatic heft. Although not as instantly iconic as its forerunner, Ted 2 is a worthwhile companion piece, and it's enormously funny and enjoyable as long as you're not easily offended. MacFarlane and his co-writers haven't exactly grown up, but that's fine.



The story picks up a couple of years after the first movie, with Ted (performed by MacFarlane) and his girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) tying the knot, while Ted's best buddy John (Mark Wahlberg) is still recovering from his recent divorce. Twelve months on, and Ted's marriage is on the fritz, as the pair constantly argue and can barely tolerate each other. Deciding that a baby may help to repair their union, the duo begin exploring their options, but Ted's civil rights are soon called into question by the government. Officially branded as "property," Ted is forced to leave his job and his marriage is nullified. Deciding to fight the ruling, Ted and John call upon junior attorney Samantha Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) to prove that Ted is a person in the eyes of the law.

Although MacFarlane's last movie, A Million Ways to Die in the West, did satisfy this reviewer, it was undeniably long and self-indulgent, not to mention there wasn't much substance beneath the movie's surface. Ted was grounded due to the relationship of John and his beloved teddy bear which was easy to relate to, and Ted 2 traverses new thematic territory, with Tami-Lynn unable to have a child and with Ted receiving harsh treatment from the government. Moreover, Ted 2 actually provides a balanced discussion of race and gender issues which is somewhat thought-provoking despite all of the crude humour and profane language. A subplot involving the eternally creepy Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) - who's now a janitor at Hasbro - does threaten to spoil the fun, but thankfully it's handled briskly and tactfully. Likewise, the courtroom scenes could have been tedious, but the furious pacing never falters, and the gags keep on coming.



As to be expected from MacFarlane, Ted 2's humour is mostly derived from obscure pop culture references, creative uses of the word "fuck," prolonged comedic set-pieces (a battle royal at New York Comic Con is an instant classic), and hilarious non-sequiturs, including a completely random scene involving the leads tossing apples at joggers. A scene involving Ted and a surprise celebrity guest discussing Trix is side-splitting, and there's a pitch-black scene at an improv comedy club that probably shouldn't be as funny as it is. MacFarlane even plays around with cinematography for extra laughs - a heated argument between Ted and his wife is lensed using hilariously exaggerated vérité-style photography for heightened effect. There are other fun ideas here as well, including references to John Hughes movies (most notably Planes, Trains & Automobiles) and a brief parody of Jurassic Park that had this reviewer sobbing with laughter. While there are a lot of dumb jokes, Ted 2 lands more than it misses, with MacFarlane maintaining a constant stream of woofers and never dwelling on one punch-line for too long.

The original Ted was bolstered by superb digital effects, and the CGI is actually improved here - the titular teddy bear looks photorealistic. It's possible to forget we are looking at a computer-generated character, which is a huge plus since neither the comedy nor the story would resonate if Ted didn't look convincing. Ted 2 is a fantasy, of course, yet we can believe that this toy is a living, breathing character...who does drugs and is a deviant in the bedroom. MacFarlane again does well in the role, displaying spot-on comedic timing and selling the one-liners with gusto. Beside him, Wahlberg again performs admirably, scoring ample laughs whilst somehow remaining fairly restrained. Mila Kunis was unable to return here due to her pregnancy, and it's definitely hard to swallow that John and Lori broke up, especially since it makes the events of the original movie feel utterly pointless in the long run. Nevertheless, in her place, Seyfried is a worthy love interest. They have great chemistry, and it's a credit to MacFarlane for choosing an actress who works well with Wahlberg. Meanwhile, the supporting cast is filled out with other great names - even Morgan Freeman plays a small but critical role. Sam Jones plays himself yet again, and Ribisi's minor appearance as Donny is mightily amusing.



The internet community sharpened their knives for Ted 2, ostensibly due to the underwhelming nature of A Million Ways to Die in the West, the mysterious dislike for Family Guy, and the fact that it has become hip to retroactively hate on the surprise hit that was the original Ted. Yet, the sequel worked for this reviewer - even though it runs a bit long at close to two hours, I enjoyed every minute of it, as it's frequently amusing and has a solid story at its core. It's hard to imagine any fans of the first film being disappointed. And be sure to stay until the end of the credits.

7.7/10



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All-in-good-fun comedic romp

Posted : 5 days, 17 hours ago on 25 June 2015 12:43 (A review of The Interview)

"Kim must die, it's the American way."

2014's The Interview was never going to live up to expectations. With the massive controversy, Sony hacking scandal, terrorist threats from North Korea, and the flick's temporarily cancelled release (it was going to sit in a vault forever unseen), most film-goers most likely expected too much from this all-in-good-fun comedy romp, hoping for a razor-sharp, incisive political satire that it was never meant to be. Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, The Interview is by no means high-brow or classy, nor is it The Great Dictator of the 21st Century, but it is funny. Humour is subjective and your mileage will vary depending on taste, but I cannot deny that The Interview worked for me - I laughed frequently, and the movie holds up on repeat viewings.



A high-profile talk show host, Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) have conquered the entertainment industry, consistently scoring high ratings from their interviews with various celebrities. After a thousand episodes, however, Aaron finds himself yearning to take on “real news,” and perhaps earn some respect from his peers. Learning that North Korean's Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un (Randall Park), is a fan of the show, Dave and Aaron are given the chance of a lifetime: an hour-long interview with the controversial dictator. The announcement draws attention from the C.I.A. though, with Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) requesting their help to assassinate the controversial political figure. But soon after touching down in the country, Dave finds himself bonding with Kim, prompting second thoughts about the plan. Aaron, meanwhile, gains in ally in the form of Sook (Diana Bang), a military official and propagandist working for the Supreme Leader.

Many of The Interview's detractors bemoan the lack of sophistication and political satire here, with Rogen and Goldberg content to fill the feature with dick jokes, drug trips, creative uses of profanity, and other infantile humour. But Dan Sterling's screenplay actually does more than it gets credit for - in one particularly astute exchange, Sook asks Aaron how many times the U.S. can make the same mistake, to which he replies "As many times as it takes!" The Interview also plays up several of the myths surrounding North Korea, some of which are hugely alarming. It's easy to see why Kim Jong-un and his people would find this feature offensive, though it still would've been nice to see the movie go even further - one must wonder if any material was cut from the final product in light of the tremendous controversy.



As with all comedies, not all of the laughs land, of course - it's especially grating to listen to the white actors talking like rappers. Furthermore, some scenes could have been tauter, such as the interview with Eminem which runs past its logical closure point. Nevertheless, I laughed more often than not, and the movie also makes side-splitting use of the Katy Perry song "Firework," which becomes a brilliant recurring joke. Rogen and Goldberg were aiming for a sophisticated visual style here which belies the project's comedic origins, collaborating with veteran comedy cinematographer Brandon Trost to give The Interview the look of a stylish espionage thriller. Lensed digitally, the results are to be commended, with shot compositions making brilliant use of shadows. Nobody can accuse The Interview of looking cheap. The climax here amounts to an extended action set-piece, and it's both hugely amusing and competently executed. Some of the violence is comically over-the-top, but, miraculously, it never grows too dark or mean-spirited - the madness is pitched at just the right tone.

Franco's performance is a mixed bag. He plays foolish well enough and he is amusing at times, but he's far too broad and often mugs the camera. One can only imagine what someone like Bill Murray could have done with the role, as he's capable of wonderfully dry line delivery. In fact, Murray would have been a great choice, as he has subtle, nuanced comedic chops that would've made the movie even funnier. Rogen, meanwhile, is pretty much Seth Rogen, leaning on all of his usual trademarks as a performer. More worthy of praise is Park's energetic portrayal of Kim Jong-un. Park had serious balls to play the dictator at all, but it's astonishing just how much he runs with it, turning the notorious Supreme Leader as a pothead who enjoys margaritas and Katy Perry music. Caplan is also mostly amusing, while Bang's performance as Sook is highly spirited.



High-concept R-rated comedies are becoming rarer and rarer, and while The Interview is not the home run that it might have been in defter hands, Rogen and Goldberg deserve credit for having the guts to mastermind a comedy of such brash political outrageousness. Other comedies these days like Sex Tape, Neighbors, Ride Along, Let's Be Cops, Dumb and Dumber To and The Internship mine the same old tired territory, thus The Interview has an inherent edge since it delves into more dangerous terrain. Best of all, it does so whilst remaining fun and light on its feet, rather than leaden and pretentious. It's not perfect, but I'll take it.

7.8/10



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Better than its reputation implies

Posted : 6 days, 15 hours ago on 24 June 2015 03:28 (A review of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines)

"Judgment Day. The end of the world. It's today, three hours from now."

There is only one true Terminator movie in this reviewer's eyes, and it was released in 1984 as The Terminator. Although 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day was an entertaining follow-up, it lacked the pitch-black tone of its predecessor and created holes in the franchise's mythology. 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is another instalment which falls short of the motion picture which spawned it, but it's noticeably better than its shonky reputation implies. Without the participation of series mastermind James Cameron, the outlook for Terminator 3 was never overwhelmingly promising, but it surprises by being a genuinely entertaining action flick which plays out like a B-movie executed with A-grade production value.



Set roughly a decade after the events of T2, John Connor (Nick Stahl) has become a reclusive drifter, living off the grid to prevent the possibility of more Terminators finding him. 1997 has come and gone, with the predestined Judgment Day never having come to fruition. However, the computer system known as SkyNet has not given up on Connor yet, sending an advanced Terminator known as the Terminatrix, or T-X (Kristanna Loken), back in time to assassinate the future leader of the human resistance, as well as several of his lieutenants, including future bride Kate Brewster (Claire Danes). Once again, though, a T-101 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is reprogrammed and sent back in time to serve as a protector for John and Kate. The T-101 explains that Judgment Day was only postponed, and the day of the Armageddon has at long last arrived. Although it's the Terminator's job to ensure the pair reach safety before the bombs are launched, John and Kate become determined to change destiny, convincing their cyborg protector to help them stop Judgment Day for good.

Written by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris (The Net, The Game), Terminator 3 adheres to the basic narrative structure of the previous films, with new director Jonathan Mostow (U-571) using the well-worn narrative framework to connect a series of impressive action sequences. Thinking too deeply into the mythology behind Terminator 3 would be foolish. It was enough of a stretch for Terminator 2 to involve time travel after Kyle Reese stated in the first movie that the time displacement equipment had been destroyed, and it's equally dumbfounding here. It also begs the question once again: why would SkyNet stop sending Terminators back in time to kill John Connor? Why not send back hundreds of cyborgs? Such questions about paradoxes and so on in time-travelling adventures really makes one's head hurt. Furthermore, T3 lacks heart, which is an element that Cameron introduced in the previous two movies. Thus, while Terminator 3 is exciting, it's not especially moving or powerful, and consequently the blockbuster never rises above its action roots to become something more transcendental.



Terminator 2 was softer compared to its brutally R-rated forerunner, and though T3 also carries an R rating, it does essentially feel like a glorified PG-13 (it's rated 12 in the UK). The movie is ultimately fairly sanitised, and while there are a few notably violent moments and some strong language, it lacks the visceral punch that was most notably evident in the original Terminator. Nevertheless, the technical execution of Terminator 3 is something to behold, with the reported $187 million price tag being put to good use. Surprisingly, although there is a fair amount of CGI here, Mostow and his crew do rely a lot on practical effects, with plenty of gigantic sets, some impressive make-up, and even a group of robo-tanks which were all executed practically. One of the centrepieces is an extended chase through the streets of Los Angeles (for which an entire street was constructed for shooting) that results in a lot of carnage and destruction. The action scenes are competent under Mostow's direction, which is a big plus considering the silliness of the entire enterprise. T3 also possesses a good sense of humour to prevent it from feeling like a drab remake of the previous movies. Not all of the jokes are funny (Arnie's gay pink sunnies...), but for the most part Terminator 3 gels.

Schwarzenegger reportedly received a fair chunk of change to reprise his iconic role here, and it was a wise choice to bring back the veteran actor. Despite the twelve-year gap between movies, the Austrian Oak slips back into the role flawlessly, with the role of an emotionless robot still a perfect fit for the star's abilities. Arnie worked hard to get himself back into Terminator shape, and the effort paid off; he's large and in charge. Less successful is Stahl as John Connor. He's not as grating as Edward Furlong, but he's not the badass that we have come to associate with the character. And as Kate Brewster, Danes fares respectably in her first action role. It's not an especially deep character, and she lacks the spirit of Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor, but Danes exhibits fine conviction. Meanwhile, Loken is not as memorable or as scary as Robert Patrick's T-1000 from Terminator 2, but she is moderately effective.



Even in spite of its numerous drawbacks and flaws, Terminator 3 is a fun enough blockbuster elevated by its unexpected sucker punch of a doomsday ending, which feels far more in keeping with the bleak tone of this franchise. After all, postponing Judgment Day again would simply feel forced. It is, quite simply, the ending that should have closed T2. As a Terminator movie, T3 sadly lacking in many departments, but it does deliver as a summer action thrill ride with its impressive special effects and fun action scenes, just as long as you're not expecting too much.

6.1/10



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Immersive dinosaur blockbuster

Posted : 2 weeks, 2 days ago on 14 June 2015 05:48 (A review of Jurassic World)

"She will kill anything that moves. She is finding where she fits in the food chain, and I don't think you want her to figure that out!"

Fourteen years of rumours, false starts and cancelled release dates have finally culminated with 2015's Jurassic World, a grandiose blockbuster that's confidently worthy of Steven Spielberg's groundbreaking Jurassic Park. With dinosaurs now mostly relegated to cheap straight-to-video releases like The Dinosaur Project and Jurassic Attack, it's refreshing to finally behold a major motion picture with the funds to do it properly. With Spielberg again adopting a producing role, the directorial duties fell to Colin Trevorrow here, whose last moviemaking endeavour was the 2012 indie effort Safety Not Guaranteed. Trevorrow acquits himself admirably with a movie of this scope and budget, celebrating this revered cinematic universe to create an immersive dino thriller which plays out like a natural extension of the 1993 game-changer. Delicately ignoring the last two sequels, Jurassic World stays true to the elements which made Jurassic Park such a hit in the first place - honest-to-goodness tension, smarts to supplement the spectacle, terrifying dinosaurs, and a charming cast of characters.



Set over twenty years after the catastrophe at the original Jurassic Park, billionaire entrepreneur Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) has turned John Hammond's vision into a reality with Jurassic World, a fully-functional dinosaur theme park built on Isla Nublar. Managing the park is the career-minded Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who maintains a timid working relationship with former Navy serviceman Owen (Chris Pratt), a passionate dino expert who cares for the park's Velociraptors by serving as their alpha. When Claire's two young nephews Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) come for a visit, the diligent operations manager has no time for her family, leaving them to be babysat by her assistant. To boost park attendance, Jurassic World's scientists have designed a genetically modified hybrid, the Indominus Rex. Owen immediately realises the danger it poses, but his warnings come too late, with the monster soon escaping its pen and beginning a park-wide rampage. Complicating matters is Vic (Vincent D'Onofrio), the head of InGen Security, who's determined to weaponise the prehistoric animals.

2001's Jurassic Park III jettisoned all semblance of intelligence; it was a straight-ahead B-movie which forgot that the original Jurassic Park was bolstered by moralistic and scientific discussions. Jurassic World finds intelligent underpinnings by introducing the idea of advanced gene splicing and providing satire regarding abuses of power and corporate excess, not to mention it plants the seed of using dinos as weapons that may be exploited in future sequels. And while the basic story is similar to the almighty blockbuster which spawned it, Trevorrow is able to introduce enough innovation to make Jurassic World feel fresh and original. Above all, however, there is an underlying sense of self-awareness: this is ultimately a more pumped-up version of the 1993 movie, and the flashy set-pieces are situated within a story concerned with the ugly business of turning miracles into marketing opportunities. Driving this point home even further is the presence of a tech support engineer (Jake Johnson) who wears a vintage "Jurassic Park" t-shirt, keeps little toy dinosaurs at his work station, and has strong opinions on how legit Hammond's original park was compared to the more oversaturated version currently in existence. For crying out loud, the I-Rex's full title is "Verizon Wireless Presents the Indominus Rex." (Also, iRex. Get it?) There are other little winks here too, including an amusing middle finger to Jurassic Park III that fans will appreciate.



Jurassic World's script - which was originally written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, before being revamped by Derek Connolly and director Trevorrow - appreciates the value of build-up. In the original film, it took about an hour for the dinosaur rampaging to begin, and Trevorrow elects a similar approach here, letting us get acquainted with the ensemble and become properly invested in the film before all hell breaks loose. There's a lot of plot jammed into the two-hour runtime - of particular note is the reintroduction of InGen, with Hammond's former company once again up to no good. It might not seem necessary, but InGen has been up to such tricks since The Lost World, and the first movie involved the conspiracy with Dennis Nedry who was ultimately responsible for the catastrophe. Trevorrow's Safety Not Guaranteed was character-based, and he thankfully does a fine job of juggling focus here. Although not everything works (Vic's villainy is overplayed by D'Onofrio), momentum is always maintained, and there's humour here which helps to humanise the characters.

What's surprising is how well Trevorrow handles the elements that have been the basis of internet scrutiny for months - the raptors are not tamed or friendly; rather, Owen imprinted on them at birth, and they remain extremely dangerous creatures. In lesser hands, this whole aspect would have fallen flat, but it's handled with tact and never strains credulity, plus Owen's relationship with the raptors gives the movie a bit of extra heart and introduces a fresh new angle. Furthermore, it was ultimately a sublime idea for Jurassic World to change things up by showing us a fully-functional dino theme park. It's stunningly conceived by Trevorrow and his crew, coming alive in a genuinely amazing way. The environment is immersive and detailed, not to mention it feels surprisingly plausible, with petting zoos, shops, rides, shows, hotel resorts and even an underwater observation deck, all of which are implemented through lavish production design. It really is Hammond's vision come to life, and it's admirable that the movie relies on vast sets and real locations as opposed to pure CGI. One does have to wonder why there isn't some sort of bunker in the park as a contingency plan in the event of an emergency, however.



Although scientists are now certain that dinosaurs had feathers, the Jurassic Park series has never been concerned with providing the most scientifically accurate dinos - the geneticists in this franchise have always modified dinosaur genomes to create, as Alan Grant describes them, “Genetically engineered theme park monsters.” Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong) even talks about this, pointing out that none of the dino DNA is 100% pure. The promotional materials fail to do justice to the incredible dinosaur special effects, which are insanely detailed and competent. Witnessing Jurassic World on the big screen is sensational, with the choice to shoot on good old-fashioned celluloid (both 35mm and 65mm) bestowing the production with a realistic look. Most modern blockbusters are digital all the way through to their core, with features like the Hobbit trilogy looking too smooth, which makes the CGI look like CGI. But Jurassic World carries a fine grain structure, and at times the digital effects look like practical animatronics (there are a few animatronic shots here and there, but there aren't used in the same capacity as the previous movies). The trailers foreground the big money shots, but Trevorrow does wisely by not giving into excess.

The Jurassic Park franchise has always been dark, and Trevorrow thankfully doesn't soften the edges. The Indominus Rex is established as a major threat, and characters are killed and eaten in surprisingly violent ways. There is a vast body count here, and nobody is safe, with the dinos even descending upon the park guests. Furthermore, there is genuine thought and intelligence to the dinosaur behaviour. The enterprise ultimately comes to a head for a climax that surpasses all expectations - it managed to both keep me on the edge of my seat and make me weep in utter delight at the sheer magnificence of it. Of course, the climactic showdown amounts to pure fan service, and it is pretty silly, but it's pulled off with such honest-to-goodness gusto and sincerity that it just plain works. Furthermore, Michael Giacchino's score is ideal, blending John Williams' unforgettable original themes with some rousing new music.



With Guardians of the Galaxy and now Jurassic World, Pratt has created two distinct, amiable heroes that kids are going to want to dress up and play as. Owen carries no traces of Star Lord - whereas Pratt's Guardians of the Galaxy character was a buffoon, Owen is a smart, resourceful ex-military type with boyish charm and a sense of humour. He's an old-school hero who talks a lot of sense, and Pratt nails the role beautifully. Howard is not quite as instantly lovable, though that's more by design - she's believable her role, and that's what matters. Jurassic World has heart to boot, with Simpkins and Robinson delivering sincere performance and coming off wholly believable as siblings. The relationship the boys share is different to Tim and Lex from the first movie, and anyone with a brother can relate to their interactions. The family dynamic between the boys, their aunt, and their mother (Judy Greer) is unexpectedly effective, giving the film some unexpected poignancy. The only familiar face here is Wong as Dr. Wu, Jurassic World's lead geneticist.

There are not many directions that a Jurassic Park sequel can take, as most avenues have been exhausted. Another rehash of The Lost World would feel slipshod, and anything too far removed from the franchise would feel jarring. Fortunately, director Trevorrow has knocked it out of the park, creating an enormously entertaining blockbuster full of majesty and excitement which also leaves room for further follow-ups. There's humanity underneath the spectacle, the production values are top-flight, there are plenty of competent chills and thrills, and Trevorrow is a skilled cinematic craftsman. It is silly, but it's not an insult to anyone's intelligence. For those of us who grew up with Spielberg's iconic blockbusters (this reviewer included), Jurassic World is a godsend. And it will no doubt impress a brand new generation of kids, too. It does not quite nail the balance of sophistication and blockbuster thrills that was accomplished for Spielberg's film, but nothing could.

8.2/10



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A really boring B-movie

Posted : 1 month ago on 30 May 2015 06:02 (A review of Survivor)

"We don't assume the worst of our best people and we don't sell them out at the first sign of trouble!"

One supposes that 2015's Survivor was initially intended for bigger things. With veteran action director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin) at the helm and a cast which features the likes of Milla Jovovich and Pierce Brosnan, one must wonder if the feature might have been originally targeted for a decently-marketed theatrical run. Seeing the finished product, though, it's obvious why it's being dumped in only a handful of theatres. Written by first-time feature film scribe Philip Shelby, Survivor clearly wants to be taken with a straight face, but cooks up far too much narrative ludicrousness to achieve this goal. Moreover, it doesn't even manage to deliver as a B-movie, with minimal action scenes and very little in the way of fun. McTeigue was apparently asleep throughout filming, as pacing is flat, action is mundane, and performances are blank. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Survivor came from the tired mills of Nu Image/Millennium Films, and was produced by the likes of Avi Lerner and Boaz Davidson. Did anyone expect quality?



At the United States Embassy in London, Kate (Jovovich) handles the distribution of visas. Upon meeting Dr. Emil Balan (Roger Rees), a few suspicious details stick out to Kate, who begins an investigation which provokes an unexpectedly hostile response from government officials. Despite support from her boss (Dylan McDermott), Kate is pushed out of the job, and is soon marked for death when an expert assassin known as The Watchmaker (Brosnan) is assigned to take her out. Kate narrowly avoids death in a bombing intended to finish her off, and becomes framed for both the bombing and the subsequent murder of her boss. With the government and her former colleagues trying to track her, and with The Watchmaker prowling around, Kate takes it upon herself to find out what Balan is actually up to.

Due to The Watchmaker's presence, Survivor could have been a smart action-thriller similar to Michael Mann's Collateral, but McTeigue and co. are not sophisticated enough. This should be a sizzling white-knuckler beset with plot twists, especially with a story as labyrinthine as this, but the film boils down to a lot of computer screens and running around whilst we observe the bad guys doing evil things. Thus, there's no mystery here - no tension or suspense to transform the picture into a heated nail-biter. And no amount of overzealous music or repetitive chase scenes can change that. It doesn't help that the screenplay is all over the shop, with verbose exposition and inconsistent characters (James D'Arcy just disappears into the final third). Plus, the fact that Kate is stymied by her boss in the first five minutes openly telegraphs the only twist there is (I think?). Speaking of Kate, she turns into action hero extraordinaire, able to outrun cops and fight trained professionals. It's such a tangible girl power trip that one cannot help but facepalm as she sets off to kill the bad guys alone as if she were Rambo's daughter.



For whatever reason, Survivor is a PG-13 endeavour when the material would be a better fit for an R-rated actioner. Firearm wounds are hilariously underplayed, people expire off-screen, and the movie can never quite find the hard-edged tone that it searches for. Since the movie debuted via on-demand services (and maybe two cinemas), the choice to go PG-13 is really bewildering. Not that excessive violence would've improved the movie much, but at least it might've been a bit more fun. Although Survivor admittedly looks a bit more cinematic than your typical DTV outing, McTeigue is unable to truly bring the material to life, which can probably be attributed to slipshod scripting and the predominantly Bulgarian locations. Indeed, the movie was shot on the cheap in dull areas around Bulgaria, and it shows - no amount of polish can compensate for this. If the reported $20 million budget is accurate, 99% of it clearly went to the actors.

Brosnan's utmost professionalism is a given at this stage, with the aging actor an ideal pick for this assassin role. He gives off a steely, cold demeanour, and you can definitely buy him as the bad guy, but The Watchmaker is the most incompetent screen hitman in recent memory. He has the chance to kill Kate on more than one occasion, but mucks it up through nothing more than contrivance. In one scene, he feels compelled to approach Kate who's lying on the ground as if to give her a chance to fight back. The climax is particularly embarrassing, as Kate manages to not only match the supposedly master assassin in close combat, but better him. Fans of Brosnan would do wise to stay away from this one, as his appearance amounts to a glorified cameo anyway. Indeed, Survivor is the Milla Jovovich show. Not even the mildly impressive supporting cast are given the chance to shine, with McDermott given almost nothing to do while Angela Bassett pushes papers and talks tough. What a waste.



Survivor closes with a title card to remind us of the heroic actions of the New York City police department in a post-9/11 world, which reinforces that the movie wanted to be a serious thriller about global terrorism. What a shame that the finished product is such a throwaway viewing experience, beset with laughable moments and terrible dialogue, eroding whatever sense of authenticity that Shelby's script apparently wanted to introduce. No wonder the movie is being silently released without any marketing push.

3.2/10



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The forgotten Die Hard

Posted : 1 month ago on 27 May 2015 02:19 (A review of The Last Boy Scout)

"Nobody likes you. Everybody hates you. You're gonna lose. Smile, you fuck."

Despite being a standalone action movie, 1991's The Last Boy Scout walks and talks like a Die Hard sequel, as it features a foul-mouthed Bruce Willis as a burnt-out cop who finds himself in an undesirable situation. Whereas the disappointing fourth and fifth Die Hard pictures were, ultimately, Die Hard in name only, The Last Boy Scout is Die Hard in everything except name, and will no doubt prove both refreshing and satisfying to any disillusioned fans of the franchise. Penned by the always-reliable Shane Black, the film suffered a troubled production period, with director Tony Scott and producer Joel Silver sharing a tumultuous relationship, and with Stuart Baird being recruited to heavily re-edit the picture to salvage it. Yet, none of these issues are apparent in the finished product - it's an assured, fun romp with sparkling dialogue and superb action sequences.



A former secret service agent who once saved the President's life, Joe Hallenbeck (Willis) has fallen on hard times. Now a worn-out private detective, his daughter (Danielle Harris) despises him and things aren't exactly happily-ever-after with his wife Sarah (Chelsea Field). Assigned to protect a young stripper named Cory (Halle Berry), Joe's skills are tested when she is gunned down by a group of thugs. To resolve the case, Joe reluctantly teams up with Cory's boyfriend, a one-time pro quarterback named Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans). Digging deeper, they uncover evidence of deep-seated corruption involving a crooked politician and the wealthy owner of a football team.

One of the more notable aspects of The Last Boy Scout is its sensational opening scene, which kicks things off on a high (and violent) note. Black was at the pinnacle of his Hollywood screenwriting career when he penned this movie, with Warner Bros. paying him a record-breaking $1.75 million sum for his efforts. Fresh off his success with Lethal Weapon, Black has devised a fascinating mash-up of classic film genres - this is essentially a contemporary take on the hardboiled film noir private detective story. Black's Lethal Weapon experience served him well, as The Last Boy Scout is a buddy action movie that treads similar thematic ground. To be sure, the screenplay is comprised of several archetypal action movie chestnuts, but it's the execution that shines. Indeed, the dialogue is a frequent source of amusement, with one-liners that remain side-splitting to this day. Black has a reputation for witty dialogue, and this skill is ever-present throughout the movie. Better yet, with an R-rating, profanity is permitted, which gives the bantering an extra sparkle. The final third of Black's original script was retooled and the climax was altered, a choice that irked Black, but the movie still comes together. It works.



Although formulaic on the whole, The Last Boy Scout is enormously entertaining in the hands of the late Tony Scott. In his latter years, Scott's moviemaking revolved around quick-cuts and other gimmicks, but this is an old-school effort - the action is captured through a smooth routine of steady camerawork and masterful composition, courtesy of cinematographer Ward Russell. The Last Boy Scout also shines due to its graphic violence. This is by no means a sanitised PG-13 offering, as Scott relishes the chance to go nuts with blood squibs. It's glorious, with the film emerging as both dark and thrilling. It helps that pacing is strong as well, with Baird's editorial input clearly resulting in a smooth experience. Topping everything off is the soundtrack courtesy of Michael Kamen, who also scored the first three Die Hard instalments and various other classic action movies. Kamen reportedly disliked this film and only participated out of respect to Willis and Silver, yet his contributions are nevertheless strong.

Hallenbeck is, essentially, John McClane from Die Hard, only more bitter and depressed. The role is a perfect fit for Willis' talents, finding the actor right at home with one-liners and insults. Willis cares less and less with each passing movie these days, but The Last Boy Scout finds him in fine form. It's the good old Willis we all love; the reluctant hero who survives dangerous situations by cracking wise. Not to mention, it's possible to care about Hallenbeck, as he has gotten the short end of the stick and tries to be a good dad. Wayans, meanwhile, makes for a sublime sparring partner for Willis - he's a damn sight better than Justin Long and Jai Courtney from the latter-day Die Hard sequels. Together, Willis and Wayans are hilarious and kick a lot of arse. Also notable is Taylor Negron, who's superb as one of the villains here. Negron is a threatening presence, and he's given strong support from Noble Willingham as the shady Sheldon Marcone.



Years on, The Last Boy Scout holds up as a mightily enjoyable early-'90s actioner, supported by strong performances, plenty of humour, and a generous serving of thrilling, violent action. It has real stakes and some sinister villains, yet it also doesn't take itself too seriously. It's cheesy fun with insanely quotable one-liners, Halle Berry as a stripper, and Willis unofficially playing John McClane again. Fans of macho action movies from this period owe it to themselves to watch it.

8.2/10



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Saved by the ensemble cast

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 24 May 2015 05:21 (A review of Spy)

"I'm the person that's gonna cut your dick off and glue it to your forehead so you look like a limp-dick unicorn, that's who the fuck I am!"

Even though 2013's The Heat was a word-of-mouth success that earned an inexplicable amount of praise, this reviewer found it tedious - an unfocused action-comedy in need of tighter editing, sharper scripting, and a more competent craftsman at the helm. There was not much hope, then, for director Paul Feig's follow-up effort, 2015's Spy. Miraculously, though, the resultant movie is a marked improvement over The Heat, even if it falls short of perfection. To be sure, Spy is definitely overlong and crass, not to mention it panders to a handful of "girl power" tropes (it's more of a feminist action movie than the phenomenal Mad Max: Fury Road). Nevertheless, it is handsomely produced and benefits from the presence of an amicable cast, most notably the always-reliable Jason Statham, the charming Jude Law, and the underrated Peter Serafinowicz.



Despite being a star pupil in training, CIA analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is stuck in an office all day everyday, yearning for the chance to become a field agent. She's a resourceful asset to the team, dedicated to helping the suave Bradley Fine (Law) in every aspect of his life, from helping him through dangerous situations to doing his laundry. During an operation to investigate Bulgarian arms dealer Raina Boyanov (Rose Byrne), it is revealed that the names and faces of all active field agents have been compromised, leaving the CIA unsure of how to proceed. Cooper, however, puts her hand up, volunteering to travel to Rome to provide surveillance on Boyanov. It's not as easy as anticipated, though, especially with the overzealous Rick Ford (Statham) not taking kindly to being excluded from the assignment.

As with The Heat, Spy's narrative is definitely too convoluted, as it meanders around searching for direction before settling on a climax. This episodic structure in itself is not a bad thing, as classic films like The Blues Brothers utilise it, but Feig is not quite talented enough to sustain the movie through to the finish line. It is funny, especially whenever Statham is around, but it's nothing overly memorable. As evidenced in Bridesmaids and The Heat, Feig's comedy is derived from the shock value of crass humour and vulgar language to compensate for the lack of actual wit. While an R-rated comedy is to be cherished in this day and age, Feig fails to fulfil the project's potential. The director also has a tendency to hold onto punch-lines and scenes of improvisation for far too long, displaying too much trust in the ensemble. Consequently, pacing is often fairly sedate, and the issue is exacerbated by the undeniable fact that the movie is over-plotted.



It's palpable from the outset that Feig has placed his parody crosshairs on the James Bond franchise, even kicking off with a 007-style opening credits sequence, and establishing an unmistakable spy thriller vibe. Perhaps the king of action-comedy was 2007's Hot Fuzz, a British romp which managed to be both a kick-ass actioner and a side-splitting comedy. Spy lacks the sparkle of wit that elevated Hot Fuzz, on top of coming up short in the action department. Astonishingly, Spy appears to be the first major motion picture to employ digital muzzle flashes as opposed to actual blank-firing weapons, a baffling choice that's incredibly distracting, not to mention the CGI blood is some of the very worst ever seen in cinema (The Expendables included). A few brief shots of digital blood puffs would be acceptable, but Feig lingers, using slow motion for no good reason, allowing us to observe the computer-generated viscera in all its phoney non-glory. Admittedly, though, the movie is elevated to an extent by the fight choreography, with McCarthy given the chance to show off some impressive moves. It's ridiculous of course, but all part of the joke.

McCarthy's track record as a lead actress has been shonky, to say the least; she's insufferable in The Heat, Identity Thief and Tammy. Although Spy makes use of McCarthy's typical persona, she doesn't get on the nerves as much here, and she does score a few laughs. But ultimately, Spy works as an ensemble piece, and it helps that McCarthy is surrounded by plenty of talented thespians. This is Statham's first comedy since Guy Ritchie's Snatch. fifteen years ago, yet he displays top-notch comedic timing, not to mention he's completely willing to play an utter cartoon, merrily parodying his own action star image. It's particularly amusing to see the tough guy trying to disguise himself in various get-ups. He thoroughly upstages McCarthy, and though it's a shame the movie didn't centre on him, it's the element of surprise that makes Statham's appearances so hilarious. Also of note is British funny-man Serafinowicz, who's over-the-top in all the right ways, scoring more laughs than McCarthy despite limited screen-time. Australian actress Byrne makes a positive impression as well, shining with her deadpan line delivery and amusing accent. Meanwhile, Law plays a Bond-style secret agent with ample finesse.



Hidden somewhere within Spy's bloated two-hour runtime is an adequate ninety-minute action-comedy, and one cannot help but wonder what the film would have looked like if Feig's script was revised by a more refined comedy writer. And ultimately, the outlook for Feig's impending all-female Ghostbusters reboot looks all the shakier, as the helmer exhibits none of the comic timing, wit or innovation of the 1984 original, not to mention it remains to be see if Feig can even handle a PG-13 comedy since his humour almost exclusively relies on profanity.

6.1/10



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No intelligence, substance, suspense or humanity

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 23 May 2015 02:12 (A review of Jurassic Park III)

"Great, just great. We're in the worst place in the world and we're not even being paid."

The law of diminishing returns always catches up with popular franchises at some point. While some may contend that Jurassic Park's first sequel, The Lost World, was a subpar follow-up, it remains a robust continuation that deserves more love in this reviewer's opinion. But a similar defence cannot be mounted against 2001's Jurassic Park III, which is nothing more than a big-budget B-movie lacking the scientific underpinnings of its predecessors. With Steven Spielberg relinquishing the director's chair to blockbuster purveyor Joe Johnston, this is a Jurassic Park adventure with many hungry dinosaurs but very little in the way of substance, intelligence or suspense. It's entertaining to a point, but too episodic and clichéd, not to mention it features dumb characters doing silly things, and it suffers from a contrived narrative. There is a reason why this franchise remained dormant for a subsequent fourteen years.



Following the events of the first movie, palaeontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) still lives in the shadow of the experience, being consistently badgered for information about Jurassic Park. Approached by wealthy married couple Paul (William H. Macy) and Amanda (Tea Leoni), he's given a proposition: they will pay him handsomely if he accompanies them on a plane trip over Isla Sorna and acts as their dinosaur expert. Alan reluctantly agrees, bringing along his young, wide-eyed assistant Billy (Alessandro Nivola) for company. As it turns out, however, Paul and Amanda are separated, and have travelled to Isla Sorna to search for their son, Eric (Trevor Morgan), who is stranded on the island. Gee, do you think their plane might be destroyed, leaving them to deal with rampaging dinosaurs for an hour?

Michael Crichton only published two Jurassic Park novels, meaning that the trio of credited writers here had to develop an original story, and the result lacks any sort of intelligent backbone. One has to wonder, though, why Crichton's The Lost World wasn't used as a basis for this sequel, since Spielberg's motion picture of the same name bears a minimal resemblance to its literary namesake. Crichton himself actually helped the writers come up with ideas, but quit when he failed to conceive of something satisfying. Go figure. Jurassic Park III progresses like a bog-standard B-movie, with mostly flat dialogue and a poor structure. Indeed, it lacks a legitimate climax, fizzling out with an odd deus ex machina that cannot hold a candle to the iconic sequences that closed the prior features. Furthermore, it lacks a solid beginning and end, which gives credence to the rumour that there was no finished script in place when filming began.



Johnston and his team seem to have forgotten that 1993’s Jurassic Park only featured fourteen minutes of dinosaur screen-time - and of that, only four minutes was comprised of computer-generated beasts. Jurassic Park III neglects the build-up and the masterful sense of tension that Spielberg was renowned for, with the dinosaurs here starting their rampaging barely twenty minutes into the movie. The less is more approach of the original picture remains far more effective - after all, in that movie, several nail-biting minutes are spent observing the characters in utter terror as they hear the T-Rex approaching. Even The Lost World managed to continue the franchise in an admirable fashion. But none of that deft sleight-of-hand is present here - Jurassic Park III is all about the money shots. It would not be too much of an issue if this was a proper, cheesy B-movie with R-rated violence like Deep Blue Sea, but it's not. Instead, we're stuck with goofy sequences like a talking fucking raptor in Alan's dream. Plus, John Williams did not return to compose the soundtrack, and the resultant score sounds like a limp imitation.

If nothing else, Jurassic Park III does offer brisk entertainment and a handful of action scenes that are admittedly enjoyable. It certainly looks good, with sturdy production values and solid cinematography that masterfully captures the dinosaur action. The animatronic dinos are terrific for the most part, though some sequences look a tad shonky. Surprisingly, the computer-generated beasts are actually a step down in quality compared to its predecessors - they often look surprisingly phoney. This is probably attributable to the fact that the dinosaurs are on-screen so much, making it a case of quantity over quality. Also, the movie commits a cardinal sin by showing the new Spinosaurus battling everyone's favourite dinosaur, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and coming out on top. It's an attempt to up the stakes and announce the Spinosaurus as the new king, but the sequence doesn't sit right.



Performances are standard across the board, with Neill doing what he can while the other actors are simply there. Jurassic Park III is also predictable with its ensemble; no major characters are allowed to die off, with the unimportant side roles becoming dino fodder. It just detracts a lot of tension from the action set-pieces, which are in need of a more nuanced craftsman like Spielberg. At the end of the day, Jurassic Park III is watchable, but generic and forgettable. And the end result is a crime compared to the majestic motion picture that spawned it.

5.1/10



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Mightily engaging western

Posted : 1 month, 2 weeks ago on 16 May 2015 01:30 (A review of The Salvation)

"I learned something from war... never start a fight you can't win."

Westerns, it would seem, have suffered an unfortunate decline in the 21st Century, with sporadic gems like 3:10 to Yuma and The Proposition occasionally surfacing to remind us that life still endures in this longstanding genre. Luckily, The Salvation can now be confidently added to the list of great contemporary westerns - it's an instant classic. Rather than breaking considerable new ground, The Salvation is content to be a fairly formulaic tale set in the Wild West, as it's a motion picture more concerned with execution than reinvention. Despite its Danish origins, this is a very American tale of revenge and tragedy, essentially a Hollywood movie with a distinctly foreign verve. By forgoing pretentions, it's a stripped-down, taut action offering that's low on narrative flab, harkening back to the western genre's golden days from decades ago.



After many years of battle as a soldier, Denmark native Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) and his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) move away from their homeland to forge a new life in the American west. Jon is soon joined by his wife and child, but their domestic happiness is not to last: during the trip home, they are brutally attacked by drunken scoundrel Paul (Michael Raymond-James) and his friend, leaving only Jon alive. In a fit of rage, Jon kills the murderous pair, but word of Paul's death soon spreads to his brother Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a ruthless gang leader who promises to kill innocent civilians every day until Jon is captured. Jon and Peter attempt to skip town, but Delarue's wrath is soon brought upon them, leaving Jon anxious to hunt down the outlaw himself, or die trying.

Rather than a sprawling western epic or a profound historical document, The Salvation is a lean little revenge picture which predominantly takes place in the town of Black Creek. It's more or less a Death Wish knockoff set in the American West, and while that may sound unspectacular, it's unusually refreshing. Director/co-writer Kristian Levring doesn't succumb to a lot of pratfalls associated with modern action films, imbuing the production with genuine gravitas. Dialogue is sparse and effective, and storytelling is focused, with Levring doing a terrific job of maintaining interest all the way through to the end. Do not mistake this gem for some trashy, B-grade junk that might as well have gone straight-to-video, as there's class and restraint here, and it doesn't feel cheap or nasty. It's B-grade material brought to life through A-grade execution. It's not a guilty pleasure - it's just a pleasure.



Levring makes brilliant use of the South African locations, assembling one of the most visually arresting westerns since Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. The Salvation may have been lensed digitally (this is more of a celluloid genre), but the cinematography is eye-catching, with Levring and director of photography Jens Schlosser showing a breathtaking eye for composition and colour, with a push towards browns and yellows. The meagre budget is never a drawback, as production values are gorgeous; it looks and sounds like North America in the 19th Century, especially with the astute sound design and the effective, low-key score topping it all off. Levring stages a handful of exciting set-pieces during which he utilises sturdy camera angles, and there's a sense of authority which pervades the movie's entire 90-minute runtime. Admittedly, The Salvation doesn't do everything right, with a few sequences of CGI flames that look atrocious, but this is a minor quibble.

As Jon, Mikkelsen is expectedly brilliant, demonstrating yet again that he's one of the finest thespians working in film and TV today. He's intoxicating to watch, a riveting and charismatic screen presence, and he's ideal in the lead role, portraying grief with laser accuracy and refusing to overplay anything. The rest of the performances are immaculate, with Eva Green deserving a special mention for doing something outstanding without the benefit of any dialogue. Indeed, Green is mute all the way through, but her facial expressions and body language tell her story effectively. Equally impressive is Morgan, playing the most brutal villain in recent memory. Delarue has no time for dilly-dallying around; he pulls the trigger without any hesitation, and kills without any compunction. He's a sinister threat, and Morgan absolutely nails it, establishing a subtle sense of danger and menace through understated dialogue delivery.



Viewers seeking genre reinvention are sure to be disappointed, as The Salvation is not that kind of movie. Rather, it's a western which shows tremendous respect to the old spaghetti westerns and Hollywood cowboy films, recapturing the same kind of spirit, and it fulfills its duty admirably. Without any pretentions, The Salvation is an intense, lean and mightily engaging actioner, one of the manliest productions of the year.

8.6/10



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A one-of-a-kind summer treat

Posted : 1 month, 2 weeks ago on 15 May 2015 12:26 (A review of Mad Max: Fury Road)

"My world is reduced to a single instinct: Survive. As the world fell it was hard to know who was more crazy. Me... Or everyone else."

In the three decades since the release of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, franchise mastermind George Miller has participated in a number of questionable projects, helming the likes of Babe: Pig in the City and the two animated Happy Feet features. But 2015's long-gestating Mad Max: Fury Road suggests that the Australian filmmaker has found his mojo again, creating an insane post-apocalyptic action movie beset with the franchise's idiosyncrasies; it retains a feral and at times darkly comic edge, and this wasteland is inhabited with perverted supporting characters. Studio involvement is what ultimately led to the misfire of Beyond Thunderdome, and it would seem that everybody learnt their lesson - Fury Road is all Miller, with the crazy filmmaker using a $150 million budget to visualise a genuinely gonzo future. Blockbusters these days are so concerned with the patented Christopher Nolan approach of dour self-seriousness and faux gravitas, which makes it all the more refreshing to witness a purely fun spectacle like this. It's a large-scale, R-rated Mad Max movie, and the best action blockbuster in decades. It's a genuine gift.



With the world now reduced to a stark desert wasteland, former law enforcer Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) traverses the wilderness in search for food and water to sustain his existence. But following a chase, Max is imprisoned by maniac Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who rules a fortress known as the Citadel, farming water from the ground and giving precious little to the thousands of starving denizens. On a mission to collect gas for Joe, driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) decides to go rogue, smuggling Joe's five wives (Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Courtney Eaton) out of hell in search of a fresh start. In hot pursuit are Joe and his War Boys, with Max brought along for blood transfusion purposes. Freeing himself after a struggle, Max uneasily forms an alliance with the women, while a War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult) is also keen to help out as Immortan Joe and his marauding army rapidly close in.

Although Fury Road may be perceived by some as a reboot, that's not entirely accurate. These days, reboots feel the need to start with an origin story, in the process negating all the preceding flicks, but Miller wisely avoids this increasingly frustrating trend: Fury Road is more or less Mad Max 4, and although it arrives with a brand new cast, it can easily be considered a sequel to the Mel Gibson films since it doesn't ignore or contradict them. Rather, it simply feels like another movie set in this post-apocalyptic future, which is fitting since the previous Mad Max movies were never inherently tied to one another in the first place. The result is incredibly refreshing; a film that plays equally well for fans as well as the uninitiated. It even opens with a voiceover reminiscent of Mad Max 2 which sets the tone for what ensues.



Pacing is one of Fury Road's strongest suits, as this picture really moves. The first half-hour or so simply flies by, boasting an efficient opening segment that leads into a breathless vehicular chase that's genuinely gripping. Although the picture fundamentally amounts to one long chase, it does feature some downtime to develop the characters, even introducing a hint of pathos as Nux is shown to have retained some semblance of humanity in this crazy world. There is not a great deal of story or character development, but there is enough to ensure that the finished product isn't an incoherent special effects demo reel. Besides, when a film is this exhilarating, who honestly wants more plot? It would spoil the beautiful simplicity. Admittedly, with Furiosa doing a lot of heavy-lifting, Max does seem almost like a secondary character, but that's always been the case with the sequels - Max simply finds himself in a crises of good vs. evil, and chooses a side. What matters is that Max actually has things to do and has a bearing on the ultimate outcome of the narrative, two boxes that Fury Road ticks.

Miller recaptures the spirit of the earlier movies by relying on grittiness and practical effects, an incredible feat for a blockbuster in the 21st Century. The lunacy is executed using stuntmen and real vehicles, with tastefully-utilised digital effects reserved for removing wires and safety harnesses. In fact, beyond a brief sandstorm sequence, there appears to be no CGI at all beyond a few tiny touch-ups, which generates the type of raw thrills that we haven't seen since the '90s. One has to wonder just how Miller managed to stage and shoot some of the action beats, as they are genuinely off the hook. Miller and cinematographer John Seale sustain the chase sequences exquisitely, building and maintaining a sense of honest-to-goodness tension by refusing to show any degree of sentimentality towards the characters. Beyond Thunderdome's kiddie ensemble were 100% safe from harm, but characters here are constantly killed off. It's sensational, and the mayhem is scored to perfection by Junkie XL, whose thunderous compositions add extra oomph to this phenomenal movie. Fury Road is brutal to boot, and features a few delightfully gory killings. Miller's penchant for realistic injuries (he used to work in a hospital) again surfaces here, though the R rating is not pushed to its boundaries.



The Mad Max series has always featured gaudy production design, and thankfully this aspect is retained for Fury Road. It's a fever dream of details, with Miller obviously having a ball for his return to the Mad Max sandbox. With the biggest budget of the series so far, Miller brings his insane vision to vivid life. Vehicle designs are ridiculously awesome - there's even a car/tank hybrid that looks beautiful - while another crazy character spends his time handling a flame-thrower guitar. And then there's the character names, with awesome monikers such as Rictus Erectus, Immortan Joe, The Bullet Farmer, The People Eater, and The Doof Warrior, to name a few. Fury Road is 100% off-the-rails insane in all the right ways, turning what is essentially one long chase into a showcase of unique screen artistry alive with textures and details. You seldom see this type of innovation in modern cinema. Furthermore, although lensed digitally, Fury Road looks gorgeous, carrying a celluloid aesthetic of scorched oranges, reds and yellows, making this a colourful antithesis to the typical post-apocalyptic look of bleak, desaturated colours. Miller shot the movie in real desert locations, and the result is something that cannot be replicated by computers or sets.

A lot has been made of the ostensible feminist propaganda within Fury Road, as Miller enlisted the help of feminist Eve Ensler to create strong female characters, but such complaints are rubbish. For starters, using female warriors represents a fresh angle for the series, and Furiosa is the only strong woman here outside of a group of elderly warriors who have lost their humanity, just like the men in this harsh world. Miller does not pander to cheap "girl power" tropes, nor does he depict the females as being stronger than the men. If anything, the movie promotes gender equality; both sides suffer casualties, and no gender is given any special treatment. Besides, Ensler was reportedly used to merely enhance the characters, specifically the rape victims, helping Miller to handle sensitive issues with utmost care and attention to detail. The whole "feminist propaganda" argument is being blown way out of proportion.



Arguably, Gibson could still have reprised his iconic role of Max for this go-round, especially since the aging actor is still participating in action films, but Hardy is nonetheless a worthwhile replacement. Hardy does wisely by not mimicking Gibson - he essays his own version of Max. Although the star's British accent does occasionally slip through, for the most part he's top-notch, and more instalments featuring Hardy as Max would be most welcome. Meanwhile, Theron is the most notable newcomer, playing the female lead with real gusto. Hoult is also worth mentioning, as he's very good at playing crazy. Hugh Keays-Byrne played the villainous Toecutter in the original Mad Max back in 1979, and returns here as new villain Immortan Joe. Decked out in an elaborate costume, Keays-Byrne is superb, exuding menace and emerging as a tremendous physical threat.

Despite the extraordinarily assured finished product, the outlook for Mad Max: Fury Road was not always positive. Principal photography was carried out and completed in late 2012, with the production undergoing extensive reshoots almost a year later. Release dates were cancelled and shifted on a constant basis. The budget kept soaring, making a PG-13 rating an almost certainty. Not to mention, it was always going to be hard for anybody to replace the eminently badass Mel Gibson in the titular role. But lo and behold, Fury Road delivers and then some, representing a one-of-a-kind summer treat that will make you bemoan the lack of similar endeavours. If there's anything to complain about, it's the abrupt ending. Both Mad Max 2 and Beyond Thunderdome closed with narration to further solidify the mythological figure of Max, but such a touch is absent here, and the flick feels somewhat incomplete without it. Nevertheless, the very few missteps do not diminish the experience of this deliriously entertaining action flick, which demands to be seen on the biggest possible screen.

9.5/10



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