Mad Max: Fury Road

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. This is mainly due to having limited time to do so, but 624747FURYROADWEBalso because I’m finding fewer things that I want to take the time to write about. I’ve only seen a few movies this year and while The Avengers: Age of Ultron was a fun superhero/action movie, nothing about it will resonate with me for years to come; unlike the action movie that I just saw this morning.

I have been excited about this new Mad Max since I first heard minor talk of a new film being made a few years ago; and after seeing the initial teaser trailer I only became more “mad” with impatience for its release. Well this fan can tell you: the wait was worth it. From original writer/director George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road is what some are calling an “interquel,” taking place in-between the original Mad Max and its first sequel The Road Warrior. While nothing in the film directly states this, knowing the character, that explanation makes the most sense and nothing negates that idea either. I will say that any fans concerned that this is a remake, a new series or are misusing the word “reboot,” you can drop those worries now. It is a reboot in the sense of bringing new life to a film franchise that has been out of the public eye for 30 years, not starting fresh with a whole new storyline.

Former-cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is still insane over the great loss he endured in the original film and is traveling through the desert that was once the world. He is captured by a cult of crazed, “water-addicted,” metal-head lunatics that all have a death wish and crave to be accepted with open arms into Valhalla. Led by main baddie Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), they rule this edge of the wasteland, called the Citadel, having control over the only real water source. They strike deals and temporary alliances with “Gas Town” and “The Bullet Farm” exchanging water and supplies. When his five prized Brides escape during a supply run to Gas Town, Joe is enraged, to say the least, and leads an entire battalion of his war machines to hunt them down and return them to the Citadel, with Max being unwillingly dragged along for the nightmarish chase. As the action and insanity ramp up with every scene Max must do what he can to survive, including teaming up with the mysterious Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a fierce warrior from the Citadel with an agenda of her own.

Fury Road is one hell of a movie that other action films should aspire to be compared to. For too long we’ve moved away from action flicks that take risks and have become complacent with our superhero and spy films with practically (or actually) immortal heroes and everyone gets home safe. Like the Mad Max films before it, this one drags the viewers through the dirt and drops them in a meat grinder before being spit out into the unknown. The heroes and villains are equally dangerous and for the most part you are unsure which side will emerge alive, let alone “victorious.”

Fury Road is not only a badass action flick with crazy vehicles and explosions, it is truly a work of art. The camera work, color palette, set/vehicle/character design and writing make for one of the most satisfying action films in the last ten years. For those out there who are fans of the original trilogy, you will, without a doubt love this new installment. And those who have never seen a Mad Max film, but want to jump headfirst into this one, it can be enjoyed as a stand-alone, post-apocalyptic action drama. This adrenaline-filled 2 hour car chase will have you on the edge of your seat.

I also want to add that while this movie is chock full of muscle cars, huge trucks and insane vehicles that are impossible to lump into one category (whoever got to design all of them must have had an absolute blast), car chases, all-out brawls and gun fights, this is anything but a big, dumb testosterone-fest. In fact this movie is more about its strong female characters than anything else. To a point that there are terrible, women-hating “menimists” throwing hate around towards the film, which is ridiculous. I will use this tiny soapbox to say, “Fuck you” to them.

I highly, highly recommend seeing Mad Max: Fury Road and I plan on seeing it again when possible. The film also stars Nicholas Hoult (X-Men Days of Future Past) and Rosie Huntington-Whitely (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) and is playing everywhere today. Go see it!

5 Petrol Tanks out of 5

Annabelle

So I went to an advanced screening of Annabelle and I gotta say while not an outstanding horror film, it was much better than I expected it to be.

The point of this movie is to serve as a sort-of prequel/spin-off to James Wan’s mega-horror-hit The Conjuring. Personally, I see that film as one of the best horror movies of the last 15 years. It’s obvious that Warner Bros. knows that most of the public feels the same way which is why the marketing for this film relies so heavily on this film being connected to it. In reality, the only connection is their version of the Annabelle doll.

The film is meant to show us the origins of the Annabelle doll. Why it becomes evil, why it follows certain people around and eventually, how The Warrens ended up with her. The story opens a year before nurse Debbie and her roommate are terrorized by Annabelle. Dr. John Form [Ward Horton] and his doll collecting, pregnant wife Mia (one of many nods to Rosemary’s Baby) [Annabelle Wallis] are living in Santa Monica starting their life together. They go to church, have caring neighbors and are just happily loving life. Being 1969, the characters are shown in this strange limbo of moving out of a more wholesome time when people could leave their front doors unlocked and hearing about the Manson Family on the news (used in a more than exploitative manner here). One day John comes home with a special porcelain doll to complete a set Mia’s been putting together. She loves it, even though it’s quite hideous and merrily adds it to the collection.

The terror starts when, Annabelle Higgins, the estranged daughter of their next door neighbors returns with her crazy hippie boyfriend to wreak occult havoc on her parents. The carnage spills over into John and Mia’s home, with Mia being injured, crazy hippie guy getting shot to death by the police and Annabelle taking her own life while holding the latest addition to Mia’s collection. After this event, the couple is understandably freaked out and take a few extra precautions around the home. Being a haunted house movie, strange occurrences start up with the characters barely taking notice until a fire starts in the home putting Mia in the hospital and causing her to give birth a little early. She refuses to return to the house which is fine because John just got a job in Pasadena. So the perfect little family unit moves to a fancy apartment building near the hospital, but of course things only get worse from here. With the help of a friendly neighbor and their priest, the Forms try to figure out how to end their problem.

This is a more than obvious attempt to ride the coattails of The Conjuring, but Annabelle is actually a decent horror movie. While there is a definitive plot running throughout, loosely based on the claims of the real-life victims, the film does focus more on creepy situations than bogging us down with a lot of dragged out exposition, though some exists. I’m more than fine with that. This movie is not meant to be taken as seriously as it’s predecessor, it’s a creepy doll movie. That’s it. Oh and there’s a ghost…and a demon…and Alfre Woodard running a creepy bookstore. Don’t go in with “horror classic” expectations and you’ll be alright.

The characters are believable enough and it was nice seeing some lead actors that I’m actually unfamiliar with, other than Alfre and Tony Amendola who played Father Perez. Overall the film did rely on a lot of cheap scares, but it did manage to pull out some truly terrifying moments and imagery as well. The score and sound effects help move the scares along as you would expect and the best moments are the ones that use the “less is more” angle. Being that the director is a long time collaborator of James Wan, some instances were reminiscent of Wan’s work, which is great being that this exists in a world they both shaped for cinema. From time to time you will get a sense of “been there, done that.” Either from the stylistic tones that are clearly lifted from everything Wan has done, especially Insidious, or from the homages to horror classics, but it’s OK. This movie is still a fun, creepy ride that stands on its own, even if you haven’t seen those other films. I also really enjoyed some of the plot twists throughout. Some things actually left me guessing and I appreciate that. I can’t have all of the answers all of the time.

A true stand-out sequence that I can only call the basement/storage room/elevator scene was comprised of fantastic imagery that I haven’t seen the likes of since the original A Nightmare on Elm Street and Silent Hill 2 (the game, not the terrible movie sequel). The direction of the scene leads you down various paths so you think you know what’s going to happen next, but your expectations are cliché, and thankfully, not used. If you’re not crawling out of your seat when the elevator doors open, you never had a childhood fear of what lurked in the dark. This scene alone was almost worth the price of admission. It owes something to the two horror masterpieces I just mentioned as well as Rosemary’s Baby again.

A thought that stands out in my mind, as far as scare quality goes, is that I do not have that sense of dread making my way through my darkened house to climb into bed. That deep-rooted fear that a great horror film gives you after a late night viewing; it’s just not there this time around. However, the film did make me jump a time or two and gave me the creeps while I was viewing it and it was fun while it lasted. It’s a serviceable film, but probably won’t be remembered many years from now. If you are a big fan of these films I have to recommend seeing this. If you’re still unsure, you can always grab a cheap matinée or wait for a rental.

Maybe it’s because I initially had such low expectations, but I’m gonna give this film a solid B.

Annabelle is directed by John R. Leonetti, with James Wan serving as Executive Producer this time around. The film opens everywhere Friday October 3, 2014.

47 Ronin

While I was intrigued by the trailer for 47 Ronin, I felt like it had the very real potential to end up being a giant fantasy action turd like Immortals or something like that. I was going to hold off on seeing it until it hit bluray, but after seeing a lot of really positive fan reviews I decided it would be a fun time…and I was correct in assuming this.

Keanu Reeves stars as Kai, a half-Japanese, half-British outcast who was abandoned as a baby and reluctantly raised until he was a teenager by a mysterious group of warriors deep in the Tengu forest. One day after abandoning this secret cult he is discovered by a Japanese lord, Asano, his family and his legion of samurai. They take him in, continue to raise him and allow him to live in their land, Ako. While they take care of him and clearly care for him, being that he is a “half-breed”, he is never seen as an equal. Though trained like one and living among them, he can never be a true samurai. The only person that treats him as a true equal is the lord’s daughter, Mika (played by Ko Shibasaki); though it’s clear that she loves him as more than just an adopted brother.

After years of peaceful living, the Shogun, the man who rules all of Japan comes to Ako with another lord, Kira, to meet with Asano. During this time a witch puts into motion a plan that will rip apart the Japanese territories and bring dishonor to Asano and his samurai. Mika is forced to marry Kira, Kai is sold into slavery at a Dutch colony and Asano’s samurai are dishonored and banished from Ako forever and are called ronin, samurai who have no master or honor. This starts a quest for revenge, led by Asano’s head samurai Ôishi, against those who have wronged them and to regain their honor. Ôishi is played by the great Hiroyuki Sanada. He was seen last year as the villainous Shingen in The Wolverine. It was great seeing him as a famed hero, rather than being typecast as a baddie. He’s great in this role and brings out a stoic, yet intense performance that still allows for his true feelings to come through.

The thing about this movie is that despite the trailers making it out to be a mile-a-minute ridiculous action-fantasy movie; it’s actually a realistic look at Japan in 1701 with magical and supernatural elements sprinkled throughout. It’s this detail that makes the movie so much better than expected. Rather than throwing CGI creatures and ridiculous fight scenes at us in every frame, we’re given plenty of room to breathe and take in some truly gorgeous cinematography. (Don’t worry there are plenty of creatures and ridiculous fight scenes.) There are scenes of Japan’s countryside and mountainous regions that are simply breathtaking and reminded me of Peter Jackson’s use of the New Zealand wilderness used for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

One of the best sequences in the film shows Ôishi searching for Kai in the Dutch island colony. While stuffed with digital pirate ships and scenery, there a lot of excellent set pieces and practical effects used. The blending of the two works so well in bringing together the grounded and fantastical realities. Kai fights a giant in death match that’s a blend of Pirates of the Caribbean and Escape From New York. Trust me, that makes sense when you see it. It’s a kick-ass swash-buckling scene and brings another dimension to a great story. The film as a whole is, without a doubt, a feast for the eyes.

Directed by newbie Carl Rinsch, who has previously only directed shorts, but he definitely has an eye for it. (He was originally hand-picked by Ridley Scott to direct the Alien prequel before it was changed into Prometheus.) I’m definitely excited to see what he signs on to do next. Now look, this isn’t gonna win any Oscars, for the most part the acting isn’t all that great, aside from a few decent performances here and there. Keanu is, well, Keanu. And it’s not like it’s something you’ve never seen before, but it is a hell of a fun movie and does the real story of the forty seven ronin justice while adding some of that supernatural flare to make a great movie. It hasn’t been a hit with the critics, but it’s pleasing fans, like this one, and that’s what matters  For a fun time at the movies or a good rental for a movie night at home; I recommend 47 Ronin.

B+

The Amazing Adventures of the Living Corpse

Being familiar with “The Living Corpse” comic book I was interested in checking this out. I thought an R-rated animated flick based on the comic would be a great addition to the property if done right. Key words being “if done right.” Now, not being an insane fan who knows all the ins and outs of the books I really wasn’t sure how close this was sticking to the source material. I figured I’d enjoy it anyway because I love comic books and have been a zombie fanatic since I was but a young horror geek.

The story starts out like this: During the start of the zombie apocalypse a man named John Romero (cute reference…) is resurrected and while attacking his old neighborhood with the zombie horde he miraculously regains his former personality and stops himself from eating his own son. He runs away to avoid being killed (again) by a S.W.A.T. team that’s storming into the houses. He ends up seeking out information in the underworld while his son is whisked away to a boarding school. Then there’s a mishmosh of ideas and plot points thrown around, but nothing ever really comes together, nothing is explained well, especially a random time jump of 15 years in the middle of the film. There’s boarding school bullies, mad scientists and monkey-demons with worm-y snot tendrils and it’s all very dull and boring. I had a very hard time getting through this movie that’s under 90 minutes and I’ve sat through some real clunkers.

One of my biggest complaints is the animation. It pays homage to the great comic book artwork, which I knew quite well, but being a low-budget computer animated film it far from captures the quality. In fact the whole thing looks like a cut-scene from the days of the original Playstation. It’s very disappointing. On top of that the voice acting is sub-par and matching it up with poor animation just added to this disjointed film. This movie would have been serviced much better by some dark and moody 2-D animation. I really wanted to get into this movie, but I just couldn’t. This movie is like a one of the misfit toys. It doesn’t really belong anywhere. The animation and dialogue isn’t mature enough to captivate adults, but it’s a little too bloody and horror-centric to be good for small kids. Maybe it’ll appeal to some Hot Topic teens.

A decent example that this film could’ve looked to is Mike Mignola’s The Amazing Screw-On Head. While not the greatest piece of Mignola’s work to be adapted, it’s a solid dark and creepy, 2-D animated short film that completely captures his art style and was made on a small budget with good actors voicing the characters.

I recommend skipping this one, unless you are a huge fan of “The Living Corpse” comic. There are much better horror-comic films and zombie movies to spend your time on.

D