Tag Archives: George Miller

88th Academy Awards Puts The Spotlight On Revenant, Mad Max

Well then. I wasn’t expecting that.

I suppose I should be used to saying that by now, especially when it comes to the Academy Awards. Sometimes they surprise me, most of the time they disappoint me. This year, however, they surprised me, and I’m not quite sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing.

Good news first: Chris Rock was great at hosting. He was funny, smirking, in-cheek, and he knew how to stick it not just to the Academy and the industry for its obvious bias and prejudice, but also towards his own race for making a big deal out of #OscarsSoWhite in the first place. His slight diss to actress Jada Pinkett-Smith to me was the most accurate thing out of his entire opening: “Her boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”

But the thing I appreciated most about him hosting is that he pointed out the controversy and the problems in it with respect and professionalism; at least, professional in the way that Chris Rock can be professional. Great change is needed in this industry, and it’s not going to come overnight; it’s going to need initiative from both sides of the conflict. But Chris Rock hosting last night showed us that integration is possible, even in moments of heated emotions and political injustices. Hopefully we’ll reach that point sooner rather than later, and when we do, we can nominated 20 black actors in the place of 20 white ones just so we can call it even.

So Rock was good, and handled the show with honesty and humor to spare. The wins were also mostly good, although there were once again a few snubs so stupid that a kindergartner would be excused to smack an Academy voter from them.

Best Picture: The last award from the night I predicted incorrectly, and I was glad for it too. The insightful and urgent Spotlight won best picture over the dramatic and maddening The Revenant. In my own opinion, The Revenant was superior and technically deserved the award most. But Spotlight carries the most important message out of any of the nominees, and it’s a message of injustice and accountability that we all need to hear and acknowledge. I am 100% okay with Spotlight winning this award. Congratulations are very much earned towards Tom McCarthy, the Boston Globe reporting team, and the cast and crew of this prestigious picture. Out of any other best picture nominee, this is the movie that viewers need to see the most.

Best Director: No surprise here: Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu wins his second directing Oscar for the second year in a row for The Revenant. His achievement is arguably the greatest out of the night. Not only is he the first director to win consecutive directing Oscars in 60 years (the other ones being John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley and Joseph Mankiewicz for A Letter To Three Wives, All About Eve), but he is the only Hispanic director to earn this achievement as well. For a ceremony that is lacking in diversity, this is one of the highlights of the night, as Inarritu came in and did what most other filmmakers could not accomplish, including Oscar winners Milos Forman, Frank Capra, Clint Eastwood, Oliver Stone, and even my idol, Steven Spielberg. The Revenant was one of the most masterful films of the year, if not the decade, and it’s an honor that Inarritu rightfully deserves.

Best Actor: Well, duh. Leo took this award home for his mesmerizing performance as a suffering frontiersman in The Revenant. It’s nice to see Leo finally get recognition for his work as an actor, although it’s sad to think that I won’t be seeing any Leo needs an Oscar memes anymore.

Best Actress: Brie Larson won for Room, and I have a confession to make: I haven’t seen the movie yet. I will in a few weeks though when it comes out on DVD, and I encourage you to seek it out as well. Movies only have the power that we give to it. Like Spotlight, Room is an under-the-radar release that has gotten a lot of buzz and praise for its story and performances. It deserves to be sought out, with Larson’s performance along with it.

Best Supporting Actress: I’m starting with best supporting actress because I have more to say about it’s partner category in a little bit. Alicia Vikander won for The Danish Girl. This is yet another movie I have not seen, but I am happy to see Vikander get recognition for it, even though Rooney Mara has been in the industry longer and has a more diversified body of work in her filmography. What’s done is done though. Vikander got her praise for portraying a confused wife to a confused husband, and now it’s Mara’s turn to go for the gold. Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.

Best Supporting Actor: I’m not going to even be cordial here. This is just plain bullshit. The crowd favorite, Sylvester Stallone, was snubbed for Creed in exchange for Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies. I have so many problems with this, but I’ll start with Stallone himself.

Stallone has been a powerhouse in the world of film for a very long time, and believe it or not, he has never won an Oscar. Yes, Rocky won best picture in 1976, but that award went to the producers and its director. Stallone himself did not get recognized as its actor or screenwriter, a trend that would repeat itself as the series went on. The character and the series definitely went through its highs and its lows, but you cannot question how perfectly the character was revitalized and reinvigorated as a flesh-and-blood human character, not just a movie icon, in Creed. Was Stallone the best actor out of the year? No, but he was the best out of these nominees, and his nuances and spot-on delivery made Rocky Balboa believable and grounded. That is without question.

The typical complaint is that Stallone has played the character before and gotten used to playing him. You forget, it’s been almost ten years since he’s stepped into the character in Rocky Balboa, and he’s played him as convincingly as he has every single other year, if not more so, considering what the character goes through in Creed. He’s not typecast if he keeps delivering the role with the same convincing energy he always has, and Stallone has been much overdue of his Oscar: more than Leo has, at least, considering that he’s nearly 70. Some people were worried that they would be giving the award to Rocky instead of Sylvester Stallone, which again, is hogwash. He created and performed the character repeatedly since the beginning. To not recognize him for his continued dedication to the role is a crime to cinema.

All of this might be warranted, if the Oscar went to a more worthy performer. It didn’t. Rylance meandered and putzed about for two hours in Bridge of Spies, with slight moments of dry humor and wit thrown into the mix to redeem how boring the character is. If the role went to Tom Hardy from The Revenant or Christian Bale from The Big Short, I would understand that because those are mesmerizing performances that pushed those actors and what they could do. Rylance gave the same expression during the runtime, and that expression is “old grandpa.”

I cannot even begin to describe to you my frustration and my disappointment in this category. If you’re going to snub the obvious winner, snub it towards a performance that is at least just as competitive. Don’t give it to the guy just because he has a few quirky lines of dialogue in the movie. It doesn’t work like that. At least, it shouldn’t.

I don’t want to talk about this category any more. I’ve said my piece, and I will promptly not watch the best supporting actress category next year because I don’t want to see this guy announce the winner. It should be Rocky up on that stage, damn it.

And yes, I know I am being a sourpuss on this. Bite me.

Best Animated Feature: Inside Out, obviously, and deservingly. And we got a cute monologue from my favorite toys, Woody and Buzz, presenting the category. That was a nice treat to see.

Best Documentary Feature: Amy won, and I predicted this correctly. Looking back at the other nominees, I don’t know if it was because of the filming or the subject matter that Amy beat out the other politically-driven films, such as Cartel Land, The Look of Silence, and Winter on Fire. It hardly matters though. Amy won, and the other films will just have to settle on being called nominees.

Best Foreign-Language Feature: Son of Saul won, and I got this category right too. Next, please.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Ah, The Big Short. This was the only Oscar it won for the night, and I guessed this one correctly too. Now director Adam McKay can call himself an Academy-Award winner, which I don’t know what that’ll do to his ego. But never mind. Congratulations to him and co-writer Charles Randolph for their achievement, although I don’t quite know if it should have beat out the innovation and the cleverness Drew Godard instilled into The Martian.

Best Original Screenplay: Here’s the biggest confusion I have from this year’s ceremony. I knew Spotlight was going to win best original screenplay. I knew it, I predicted it, and I was right. I just didn’t know if it was going to win best picture considering it didn’t have the pull in other categories as it did here. So I figured this was going to be the only award it was going to win for the night.

I was half right. It was the only other award it won from the night besides best picture, and that confuses me. Is it truly the best movie of the year just based off of its screenplay alone? There were many other elements in the film to appreciate: the smart, subtle direction by Tom McCarthy, the convincing performances, especially from Mark Ruffalo, and the smoothly crisp editing by Tom McArdle, which doesn’t waste a take or a cut. But no, it only won best screenplay and best picture, and while I assert that it is one of the best films of the year, to me, that means its unwarranted for best picture. At least, in the Academy’s eyes.

You’re not the best picture of the year from one element: you’re the best picture of the year from a cohesion of elements working together. The Academy doesn’t think that, however, and chose to give the highest honor to Spotlight, despite it winning only one other award besides it. That just seems wonky to me, and it makes me question the Academy’s voting process when it comes to these pictures.

Best Cinematography: Emanuel Lubeski won for The Revenant. Roger Deakins better win the next time he’s nominated, or I swear to God, I will release a bear onto the Academy voters.

Film Editing: Yeah, I got this one wrong. I thought Hank Corwin was going to take it for The Big Short. Turns out Margaret Sixel snagged it for Mad Max: Fury Road, which is not a bad choice at all. My only problem is that Mad Max had so much more to play with than Spotlight did. Mad Max had big, destructive cars, sandy deserts, and explosions. Spotlight had their reporters and the intimate fragility of their story. The latter takes much more skillful editing to make the film as a whole interesting, but at the very least, let’s be grateful that Max Max is more deserving than The Big Short.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road won. I’m glad I went against my instincts on this one, because I would have ended up with one less of a win on this ballot.

Best Costume Design: This came out of nowhere. Mad Max: Fury Road won best costume design, and I incorrectly predicted that Sandy Powell was going to win for Cinderella. I thought to myself how a sports jacket and a robot arm counts as good costume design, but maybe I’m just ignorant to the craft. Congratulations to Jenny Beavan on her win regardless, and my loss in missing this category.

Best Production Design: Mad Max, again.

Best Original Song: Oooooooohhhh, feminists are going to be pissed about this one. I’ll admit, I like the orchestra composition better in “Writings On The Wall” in Spectre than “Til It Happens To You” in The Hunting Ground, but good God, the lyricism is just too perfect to pass up. And yet, “Writing’s On The Wall” snagged the award. Take also into consideration the way that Lady Gaga killed her on-stage performance and filled it with both passion and emotion, while Sam Smith awkwardly missed his key? I expect a lot of women to be upset about this snub.

Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone won for his snide and sinister soundtrack for The Hateful Eight. His Italian speech and the standing ovation he received was the highlight of the night, as this elderly man struggled to get his words out amidst the tears and the happiness he’s experienced. Such are the joys we can hope for those who have endured long and successful careers. Rocky’s still waiting, though.

Best Sound Editing: Mad Max.

Best Sound Mixing: Mad Max, again.

Best Visual Effects: Surprisingly, Mad Max did not win in this category, even though it was the one I predicted. Ex Machina won, and even though it’s comparatively smaller scale than its other nominees, it is no less deserving. Ex Machina was very convincing in it’s portrayal of Ava and her robotic companions, and part of that was because of their skillful use of post-conversion and rotoscoping Alicia Vikander’s features onto a plain background. While I personally feel that Star Wars and Mad Max were more worthy recipients, I’m not going to take away Ex Machina’s much deserved attention towards the award. Congratulations are earned to this smart, compelling, and thought-provoking sci-fi drama.

And as always, I got all the short categories wrong. I’m not going to waste time naming the winners. I’m still bitter about their affecting my ballot.

All in all, this year was a decent ceremony, with the exception of snubbing ethnic actors and Sylvester Stallone for his much deserved win. But the Academy did the best thing they could amidst the controversey: they acknowledged it, and are making a pledge to change things for the better. Hopefully we’ll start seeing that change by next year.

– David Dunn

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“MAD MAX: FURY ROAD” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

A lovely day and a flaming guitar. 

I’ve never seen a movie break as many rules as Mad Max: Fury Road does and get away with it. I’ve never seen a movie so loud, obnoxious and over-the-top that still manages to impress me by the time the end credits roll. Previous movies have done the same thing Fury Road has done and failed spectacularly. Transformers. Resident Evil. Underworld. G.I. Joe. Fast and Furious. All of those films are every bit as explosive and stupid as Mad Max: Fury Road is, and yet I don’t love them as much as I do Mad Max. Why is that?

I think its because the movie knows its just that: a movie. It knows that it’s loud, obstinate and stupidly explosive. It knows that its a blockbuster of exceedingly epic proportions that shakes the theater so much, it makes viewers shat in their pants. And more than anything else, it knows it is an action movie, with all of the fun and flaws alike bundled with it.

So what does a director like George Miller decide to do with that, knowing this is the fourth film in his own franchise? Fix the mistakes that are present in all of his predecessors?

No. Instead, he decided to embrace them, like a soldier throwing himself onto a hot grenade.

The end result is exactly how it sounds: bloody awesome.

The plot (if you can call it that) follows Max Rockatansky (this time portrayed by Tom Hardy) after the events of Road Warrior and before Beyond Thunderdome. In this desolate landscape called planet Earth, Max is a survivor of Nuclear war, traveling dry and sandy deserts in silence and solitude. Everyone else around him is either dead or has signed up in the mad crusade of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a tyrannical warlord who has idolized himself as a god and has labeled everyone under him as his followers. Considering he has control over the only water source over hundreds of miles, the survivors have little choice but to submit to him.

One of these followers is Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a fierce female warrior who is charged with transporting Joe’s water to a nearby town with her small battalion. Little to Joe’s knowledge, however, Furiosa is transporting something else: all of Joe’s wives. Now on the hunt from Joe and all of his maniacal followers, Furiosa needs to team up with Max to escape the desert landscape and free the wives that have been under Joe’s cruel control for so long.

Is the plot as stupid as it sounds? The answer is no, because the film really doesn’t have a plot, only the resemblance of one. The narrative is a weakness all of the films in the series share with each other. While other science-fiction movies have a rich amount of lore and backstory behind them, Mad Max doesn’t have as much to boast about in its own series. Really, as far as story goes, all of the Mad Max movies are kind of weak in narrative scope. Here’s the plot for all of them: a guy is trying to survive against a homicidal maniac in a deserted landscape. That’s it. It’s a big case of “what you see is what you get.”

Here’s where Mad Max: Fury Road is different though: there’s a lot to see. Even though the plot is about as thick as a studio pitch, Miller displays this meager plot in spectacular, stunning, eye-popping action and explosions, and even a few soft moments of short dialogue exchanges between characters.

The stunts are unlike anything you’ve seen in any of the previous movies. The most destruction you found in Mad Max and Mad Max 2 was cars exploding and toppling over into deep sand dunes and rocky road pavements. In this movie, vehicular manslaughter is the least of the destruction found in the film. In one of the first action sequences, an entire armada of Joe’s fleet follows Furiosa into a giant sand storm of extremely windy proportions. In another scene, gang members viciously chase Furiosa’s truck in a tightly-cornered crevice of mountains. In another, a flunkie gets blinded by gunfire, puts cloth around his bleeding eyes, then fires blindly at Max and his gang like a crack-happy trigger maniac. For crying out loud, there’s one underling in the film that uses a guitar flamethrower.

Yes. That’s right. A guitar flamethrower.

It’s obvious that the film is ridiculous and absurd in the most gleeful of ways. Yet, what I like so much is that in between all of the over-the-top and in-your-face action, there’s actually a purpose and a reason for actors being in the movie. Yes ladies and gentlemen: this is an action movie that has actual acting in it. Hardy replaces Mel Gibson’s role with hardened machismo and stiffness to his gesture, and while Max is still mostly a flat character, Hardy portrays him with a sort of intrigue to him that makes you curious about his history, even though we already know most of it. Theron, however, impresses me the most. She’s incredibly versatile in the film, being a firm and uncompromising action heroine in one moment, and an emotionally exhausted and stricken survivor in another. She’s honestly the real lead in the film, with Max being more of a supporting character to Furosia’s rebellion against Immortan Joe. The film is really empowering to females, and that’s an incredibly rare thing, especially for an action movie.

By now, you’ve hopefully gotten the idea of what the movie is like and whether you’d be interested in this sort of thing or not. The film definitely has its flaws, but by God, the movie is just so freaking entertaining. I can’t sum up the film any better than that. Now go get your movie ticket. There’s a flaming guitar that you need to see.

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“MAD MAX 2” Review (✫✫✫)

Where is your home, Max? 

I’m convinced that George Miller’s Mad Max series is an excuse to blow rugged vehicles up in spectacular fashion. Not that’s a bad thing. Crashes and explosions are exhilarating, after all, when done convincingly and used conservatively. That’s a big reason why most action filmmakers don’t succeed at what they do: they fail to produce anything new or different. They’re the same thing over and over again until the experience stops being entertaining and becomes more mind-numbing. It’s almost like an anesthetic exercise rather than an example of entertainment.

But with Mad Max 2, it’s action that actually matters. The setting is convincing. The premise is solid. The cars, costumes, and props all add to the surrealism of this post-apocalyptic environment. And then characters are placed into this desperate environment, this eerie spread of gloom and hopelessness where we watch as these human beings react to the same problem they are all facing: survival.

Taking place years after the first Mad Max, Mad Max 2 follows the world after an energy crisis consumes the Earth, and petroleum becomes a rare commodity. Some survivors form communities in order to build up each other’s chances of survival. Others join a gang lead by the vicious ringleader Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) that hunt and kill landscape scavengers.

However, one man stands among them, neither beggar or hunter, a man set apart from the rest of the world in his own search for peace and survival.

His name is Max Rotansky (Mel Gibson), and he lost his human spirit after he lost his wife and child in a hit and run years ago before the energy crisis.

With writer-director George Miller returning from the first Mad Max film, Miller seems to have a clearer idea of what he wants Mad Max to be: a high-octane, ridiculous action movie that refutes stereotypes and expectations. The film is spectacular in more ways than one, and most of it is for the reasons that made the first Mad Max mildly entertaining.

One of the things that Miller does as a director is remain adamant about using practical effects in his films. I am in 100% support of this decision, because practical effects, however over-the-top, always makes the most convincing effects. This was one of the few things that I enjoyed about the first Mad Max, in that the stunt and chase sequences were so seemingly absurd and ridiculous, and yet they weren’t, because they were all shot in real time. The car chases were authentic. The bikes and automobiles flying over bridges and crashing spectacularly were authentic. The explosions were authentic. Everything in that movie challenges what could be achieved visually, and not in the computer-animated graphic variety that Tron did. It challenged what shapes vehicles could crash into and how big it could explode afterward. It challenged the scope of destruction in an action picture, and what stakes could be built on top of that.

Mad Max 2 does the same thing Mad Max does in the destructive, chaotic nature of vehicular manslaughter, but with one key difference. It has a better development of the world it’s trying to create.

Don’t get me wrong: a lot of the problems from the first movie persist for this one. Max is still mostly a one-dimensional character with little more expression than the scowl on his face. The plot is straightforward and without many revelations or surprises in them. And the villain, however interesting, is extremely cartoonish. Humungus is essentially a beefed up Jason Voorhees, and his interest extends just about that far as well.

But from what I’ve come to understand about the Mad Max series is that the story isn’t supposed to come from the characters. It’s coming from the scenery all around them, this desperate and depraved world that Miller is illustrating as a warning to mankind’s nature. We didn’t get the sense of this world in the first Mad Max because it still felt like society was intact: that there were cities and townspeople still going on about their somewhat normal lives. In this film, there is no such thing as a normal life. Cities and towns have been reduced to war zones and rubble. People live in buses and tents instead of houses. Plentiful grassy plains have been replaced with desert sands. A regular meal consists of a can of beans if you’re lucky. And for whatever humans are left to survive, their form of currency is oil and water. This world is the definition of desperate.

This in turn, makes Max Rotanksy a perfect protagonist for the film, despite his neutrality as a character. It allows you to absorb the film with your own eyes, not clouded by the emotions of another character.

What we have left is an effective action movie that lets the audience carry the film’s weight just as much as the cast and crew does. It’s rare to find an action movie like this, where the viewer actively engages and thinks like the film’s characters do. Usually action movies tell viewers to turn off their brains and be drowned in an orgy of explosions and testosterone. This movie does something different. This movie asks viewers what an action movie is, what it is supposed to be, and what it can be. And at the center of it all is one lonely man; a slave to the roads that he was born from.

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“MAD MAX” Review (✫✫)

You people are mad, alright. 

Sometimes I watch a movie and I wonder what purpose it’s supposed to serve in the world of cinema. Mad Max is one of those movies.

I’m not saying its either good or bad. I’m saying I don’t know what it’s supposed to be doing. Is it supposed to be social commentary? If so, the film actually needs to comment about something. Is it supposed to be a character study? The character needs to be either unique or fascinating then, but Mad Max himself is neither. Is it supposed to be just plain, dumb old entertainment? Well, by that logic, isn’t the film supposed to be entertaining?

The plot takes place in a semi-post-apocalyptic future where the police force’s power is dwindled and resourced into a new unit called the Main Force Patrol, which monitors highway crime like a cop and a speed detector. The best of these MFP’s is Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), a highly-skilled driver who has a beloved wife and child at his home.

One day, after driving a murderous criminal into a barrel roll and an explosion after a high speed chase, Max is pursued by the criminal’s gang followers as they prepare to take on Max and the rest of the MFP. These guys do anything and everything to get under Max’s skin, from assaulting his friend Goose (Steve Bisley), to terrorizing a small town, to even killing Max’s wife and child. Now on a quest for vengeance, Max goes on a hunting spree, tracking down every gang member involved, not stopping until every single one of them paid for what they’ve done.

I know that paragraph sounds like the premise of the film, but really the two paragraphs I just typed could also count as a plot synopsis too. Oopsie! Did I spoil it much? I don’t think so. After all, is it still a spoiler if you see the so-called “twist” coming from a mile away?

The biggest problem I find with Mad Max is that there is too much buildup and not enough payoff. In the above synopsis I provided, it sounds like the perfect setup for an excellent movie. Yet in retrospect, I more or less described the entire plot of the film in less than 164 words. What happens in this movie? Just about what I described above, and little else. There’s no complex emotion with the film, no sense of urgency or immediacy to make us care for the movie or what’s going on in it. No, instead we get a bleak, lifeless film that sounds like a great studio pitch, but the final product doesn’t extend much further beyond the pitch itself. I think the studio execs involved were more fascinated with the idea itself than they were with carrying out the idea.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: Mel Gibson is as good in the role as the character will allow him to be. But the other part of this movie’s flimsiness is that the protagonist is as flat as the movie’s plot is. What’s the most interesting thing about Max Rockatansky? He’s a father and a husband. That’s it. He doesn’t have the charisma of James Bond, the grit of Harry Callahan, or even the smugness of Han Solo. No, Max Rockatansky has no defining characteristics as the lead protagonist: he’s just supposed to pose in his leather jacket next to his car with a big gun, and apparently that’s all he needs to be called an action hero.

Again, I ask: why did this movie have to get made? What purpose does it serve? Well, I read on a forum that writer-director George Miller wrote the movie after working in a hospital emergency room, supposedly inspired by the car crash victims he tended to. That’s all fine and dandy, but how does that translate into a film? The movie doesn’t have any clear motivations of what it wants to be, no clear idea as to what its themes are or how to express those themes. I didn’t get from the movie that Miller was trying to tell a cautionary tale about high-speed driving. In fact, I didn’t get much of anything from the picture. I just got a stereotypical action hero and his arc of vengeance that has been done better in numerous other movies before Mad Max. 

I’ll give the film one point, and one point only, for the stunts. With Miller being adamant about using 100 percent practical effects, everything you see on the screen genuinely happened. Cars barrel rolling and crashing spectacularly into other cars on the highway. Motorbikes flying off of bridges with the paint and metal ripping off of their surfaces. Vehicles blowing up in large, spectacular fashion. All of it was done with practical effects, and the film achieved the greatest visual result from it. Now if only the rest of the film could be just as practical.

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