Movies

Mad Max: Fury Road is the best film in years

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May 19, 2015
Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road

Holy balls, man, Mad Max: Fury Road was outstanding. There was nothing about it I didn’t like. I was wary going in because the hype had been so huge and so many of my friends were loving it that I felt sure I would be underwhelmed. Sometimes even a great film is overshadowed by the scale of its hype and you simply can’t enjoy it as much as you might if you’d gone in with no expectations. This is not the case with this film. It started and by the time the title slammed into the screen after the opening sequence I was upright in my seat and grinning. My adrenaline was pumping and I was thinking, This is gonna be fucking awesome!

And it was. It was insane, relentless, breathtaking, beautiful and intense. If I didn’t have to go to work that afternoon, I’d have turned around and gone right back in to watch it again. I’m desperate to see it again as soon as possible and that rarely happens. Not only is exactly the high-octane thrill-ride it purports to be, it’s something greater. Fury Road exemplifies, in every way, exactly what cinema is for.

Film is a unique medium, as all mediums are. You can make a film of a book or a graphic novel, but those things retain certain attributes in their native form that it’s not possible to recreate in other forms. For example, Alan Moore’s Watchmen is the perfect example of a story absolutely suited to the graphic novel. The double page spreads, Gibbons’ artwork and Moore’s words create a graphic experience that’s just not the same in book or film. A great novel has the beauty of the author’s language and descriptive prose that isn’t evident in a film version (or even a graphic novel, for that matter.) In the same way, everything about Fury Road is perfect for film.

The style is essential. George Miller has created a look and feel that’s visceral. He’s also eschewed CGI for real stunts and genuine car crashes, explosions and racing as often as possible. (Here’s a good post on why the overuse of CGI is increasingly crappy.) Of course, there is CGI in Fury Road, but it’s really the weakest of the visual effects and only used when it’s essential. There are regular nods to the 3D version as well, and that combines with the CGI at its worst with the guitar swinging towards the camera and back near the end of the movie. You’ll see what I mean. But even as that is the worst visual effect in the film for me, it’s still so beautifully over-the-top and insane that I forgave it. And all the CGI and 3D stuff always came second to the primary, powerful live-action film-making. And it’s film-making done to perfection.

FURY ROAD

The pace almost doesn’t let up, but when it does the calmness is sublime. The colour palette from burning desert to cold night is wonderfully filmed. The overcranking of speed and under-selling of violence -regularly brutal, never gratuitous – is all right on point. It’s a truly all-encompassing experience that utilises the medium masterfully.

But that wouldn’t be enough on its own. Spectacle without substance is an exercise in directorial masturbation. *cough*MichaelBay*cough* On top of all the cinematic beauty, the story, mythology and characters were solid and mesmerising. The performances, especially from Charlize Theron, were superb. The development of the broken world and the way some people had risen to control the desperate masses was utterly believable even within the epic, inconceivable scale of some of the things suggested. We didn’t have everything spelled out for us, but the story unfolded exactly as we needed to know things, just when we needed to know them. All of the above is essential to make perfect cinema. It all came together in one explosive and mind-blowing feature in Fury Road and that’s what makes it it the best film I’ve seen in years.

And I would be happy to leave it at that and let the film stand on its own brilliance, but there have been a lot of shouts from idiots about feminism, men’s rights, cocks withering and dying at the mere sight of the promo poster and so on, so I’m not going to leave it there. I’ll address that bullshit directly.

FURY ROADNo doubt you’ve read about the whiny rapist shitstains called MRAs, or Men’s Rights Activists, who have whined and shat themselves about this film because they call it part of a damaging feminist agenda. Apart from it being hilarious that their scrotums are tied in knots by a flick half of them haven’t even watched, they’re only giving the film more publicity. Which is great. Because it’s a brilliant film that is in part brilliant because of the amazing female roles, incredible female heroes and no damsels in distress bullshit. At one point, Max wordlessly defers to Theron’s character, Furiosa, when it’s clear she has the skills he doesn’t. I know! Hang onto your penises, fellas. Furiosa also defers to him when his skillset is greater, and others defer to each other and none of it has anything to do with gender. It’s about warriors working together and surviving the apocalypse. This film takes the Bechdel Test and shoves it right up its vagina, and that’s great! You could (satirically) question whether two male characters ever talk about something other than a female, given what the film is fundamentally about. But no spoilers here. We need more films where there are equal roles fulfilled by everybody in the cast and where that cast isn’t all men. Is there a feminist agenda? No. Is there a feminist message? Maybe. At one point, a woman screams, “Then who broke the world!?” and it’s easy to read a lot into that. But so what? We need films with a feminist focus. We need films that challenge the rampaging cockforest of Hollywood and prove that the all-male extravaganza is a choice, not a necessity. Because, above all else and without any reference to politics, this is first and foremost a fucking superb film, packed with amazing heroes and blistering action and everything else I’ve talked about above. And, as my pal said, every time someone watches Fury Road, an MRA loses his erection. That only adds to the reasons to watch.

Driving home, I just wanted to ram all the other road users out of my way, spray my teeth chrome and blow shit up. Seriously, go and watch this film. It entirely lives up to the hype.

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ABE – Short film

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September 5, 2013

A strange conversation on Facebook today led me to discover this short film. It’s a rather disturbing and dark sci-fi exploration of robots and feelings. Great production values.

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Pacific Rim – Peter Watts says it all

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July 18, 2013

I was going to blog about the awesomeness that is Pacific Rim. Seriously, guys – giant robots smashing the shit out of giant kaiju! What is there not to love about that? I wanted to talk about the amazing effects, the reason it works even though it’s absolutely fucking ridiculous. In fact, right after the movie, I tweeted:

My Pacific Rim review: Absolutely fucking ridiculous. Absolutely fucking tremendous. 5 Stars.

And really, that does say it all. But I wanted to blog about why. Thankfully, I don’t need to, because the excellent Peter Watts has done it for me. He says exactly what I thought about this film, so go and read his post here.

The joy of dumbness.

…in terms of sheer dumb popcorn-munching fun, no other movie I’ve seen in the past year comes close to Pacific Rim.

Word.

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Video trailers for RealmShift and MageSign

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March 28, 2013

I’m very pleased with these. My publisher, Gryphonwood Press, has put together these two simple video trailers for my dark urban fantasy novels, RealmShift and MageSign. I’m very much of the opinion that a simple trailer for a book is the best option. If you have loads of money to spend on a really professional, slick video, then great. But if you do it on the cheap, it looks tacky and… well, cheap. And that does no favours for your book. But Gryphonwood Press commissioned top notch voice actor Jeffrey Kafer to voice these trailers and just used the book covers for the visuals. The result is simple and effective. At least, I think it is! What do you think?

Here’s RealmShift:

And here’s MageSign:

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Dredd – movie review

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October 30, 2012

Dredd is the second attempt to make a movie from the incredibly enduring 2000AD comic strip, Judge Dredd. The last attempt, with Sylvester Stallone in the title role, was such a smouldering pile of crap that I refuse to say any more about it. Does the new version make up for that? Actually, yes it does.

Dredd is the story of a future Earth where nuclear holocaust has reduced the vast majority of the planet to radioactive wastelands full of mutants, generally referred to as The Cursed Earth. The surviving, unaffected members of humanity live in massive, sprawling cities that cover thousands of square miles, called Mega-Cities. The biggest of these, covering the vast majority of the east coast of the US and home to some 800 million people, is Mega-City One. Most people live in Blocks, mega structures of some 200 stories each. As you can imagine, people crammed in those kind of numbers into that kind of space means crime and violence are everyday dangers. The only line between the people and utter chaos are the men and women of the Hall of Justice, known as Judges. They are judge, jury and executioner, dispensing justice and sentence wherever they go. Of all the Judges, Judge Dredd is the Judgiest. An absolute law man, with a perfect working knowledge of every aspect of Mega-City One’s fascist and brutal justice code and a black and white eye for resolution.

This is a world and a society that has grown incredible detail over the decades, so to tackle the subject in a single 90 minute film is daunting, to say the least. The makers of this film, however, were smart and, after some opening sequences through Mega-City One, they locked two judges in one block and the rest of the film played out there. It’s the story of one particular crime boss, known as Ma Ma, and her control of the new drug Slo-Mo. When you take Slo-Mo, you perceive the world as passing at 1% its normal speed, which gives the filmmakers an excuse for some awesome and beautiful super slo-mo sequences. Also some truly brutal ones, but we’ll get to that.

Judge Dredd is saddled with a new rookie judge, Anderson. The rookie failed her test to become a judge, but only just. She does, however, have a pretty powerful psychic ability and the Chief Judge tasks Dredd with taking her out for a day’s assessment to see if the slight fail can be ignored if Anderson’s psychic abilities prove her to be a good judge on the streets. On investigating a triple homicide in Peach Trees Block, they find themselves trapped in Ma Ma’s web and the crime boss seals off the block with war protocols and orders everyone inside to find and kill the judges. Thus begins a Die Hard-esque fight for survival while Dredd and Anderson try to stay alive and dispense justice.

Seeing as I’ve been a fan of Judge Dredd since before my age hit double figures, I was scared about how faithful to the comics this film would be…

Read the rest of my review at Thirteen O’Clock by clicking here.

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El Orfanato (The Orphanage) – DVD Review

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October 17, 2012

I’ve been a fan of Guillermo Del Toro for a long time and his films are usually well worth the time. In this case, the Pan’s Labyrinth director is a producer for director Juan Antonio Bayona’s gothic horror about an old orphanage that is being reborn under the care of an ex-resident. As a child, orphaned Laura lived in the big old house by the Spanish seaside and has fond memories of her time there. She was adopted and left the home. Now in her mid-30s, Laura returns to the dilapidated institution with her husband, Carlos, and their seven-year-old son, Simon, to reopen the orphanage for just a handful of special needs children.

But, naturally, there is something weird going on in the beautiful old house. Simon’s behavior begins to grow increasingly strange and Laura and Carlos start to think the boy is getting carried away with his imaginary friends. On the opening day of the new orphanage, Simon’s bizarre behavior is written off as a bid for attention until truly strange events occur and Simon disappears. The search for Simon leads Laura deep into her memories of the orphanage and she begins to uncover troubling things that occurred after her own adoption…

Read the rest of my review at Thirteen O’Clock.

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Colin Harvey Memorial Ebook Bundle from Angry Robot – All Proceeds to Charity

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August 17, 2012

Angry Robot author, Colin Harvey, died of a massive stroke on August 16th 2011, aged just 50.

To mark the one year anniversary of his passing, and to continue to bring his work to the wider audience it so richly deserves, Angry Robot Books are offering a bundle of Colin’s ebooks – his two Angry Robot novels, Damage Time and Winter Song, plus his flash fiction mini-collection – for the special price of only £6.00 (approximately US$8), via the Robot Trading Company.

All proceeds from the sale of this bundle will be donated to Colin’s favourite charity, Above and Beyond.

You can get all the details in this heartfelt post from Angry Robot‘s Lee Harris. That post also has a short film by Sam Lemberg embedded, based on Colin’s short story, Chameleon. It is a brilliant film, well worth 6 minutes of your time.

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Batman action figure animation

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August 10, 2012

You know how much I love a bit of Batman action. Well, thanks to @RedBakersen on Twitter for pointing this one out to me. It’s a 6 minute film using action figures and toys from Christopher Nolan’s Batman films (and a cameo from somewhere else). It’s some pretty clever work, even if it does go a bit haywire in terms of story! Enjoy.

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Judge Dredd: Countdown Sector 106

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August 2, 2012

This is a new one for me and it seems very cool. Aussie voiceover artist and friend, Kevin Powe (@voiceover_au), put me onto this as he has the incredible honour of supplying the voice of Judge Dredd himself in this new gamebook for iOS. Dredd! It’s the first Dredd iOS gamebook and it comes from Tin Man Games. Here’s the official blurb:

Drokk! It’s an adventure game. It’s an interactive book. It’s an RPG. You are Judge Dredd, the toughest judge to patrol Mega-City One, a vast futuristic city, set in the 22nd Century!

Sector 106 of Mega-City One is short of senior Street Judges and only the most experienced Judges have been reassigned to fill this shortfall… foremost among them yourself, Dredd! What begins as a routine patrol arresting juves and skysurfers, turns into a race against time, as mysterious “Voices of Dredd” find their way into the hands of the local perps. Riding your Lawmaster bike and armed with your trusty Lawgiver, you must pit yourself against Sector 106′s brutal criminal underworld. Quick Dredd! The countdown has begun…

It’s basically an interactive story where you play the role of Dredd and choose your path. Remember the old “Choose your own adventure” books from Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone? This is the modern incarnation of those. With voiceover by a local boy, no less. Sounds brilliant.

It looks like loads of fun – I’ll be checking it out. I have to say, I’m pretty pleased to see the current resurgence in Dredd and 2000AD. I read the comic throughout my teens and still read it to this day, and have a deep affinity with many of the characters. My friends and I have spent many hours playing the Judge Dredd: The Roleplaying Game as well. This iPhone app strikes me as a sweet little nostalgic revisit to those days. And the new mnovie looks like it’s a pretty solid homage to the original vibe of the comic stories, so I’m cautiously hopeful about that too.

You can learn more about the game here: http://gamebookadventures.com/gamebooks/judge-dredd-countdown-sector-106/

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The Dark Knight Rises – thoughts on a trilogy

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July 27, 2012

There aren’t any spoilers in this post, but there are some spoilers at the places I link to at the end, so be warned.

It’s no secret that I’m a Batman fan. In fact, that’s an understatement – I fucking love Batman, in a totally platonic way. I’ve often said that Batman and the Joker are the two greatest fictional characters ever created and I stand by that. So when talk of a new Batman film started back in 2003 or 4 or whenever it was, I was dubious. But it was to be made by Christopher Nolan, a man whose talents I already admired. The result was Batman Begins, the first of a proposed trilogy. I was very pleasantly surprised.

The first thing to remember when films are made from established literary canon, be they novels, comic books, games or anything else, is that a film is a self-contained thing. It’s finite. Batman comics have been going since 1939 and there’s a metric fuckton of established canon and ongoing story with which a film can’t hope to compete. Nor should it try. So a film will always make changes to established canon and we fans can’t be precious about that. It’s how the film plays with that canon that matters.

In Batman Begins, Nolan turned the notion of Ras Al Ghul a little bit on its head. He made Ras and Henri Ducard the same character, which they absolutely aren’t in the comic canon. He also made Ras an Irishman. But the things he then did with those characters, with Ras’s mission as an idealistic eco-terrorist, were bang on the money. Nolan did a brilliant job of retelling the Batman genesis and origin, and adding in a well favoured supervillain. Within that, he kept the darkness essential to the Batman’s story. He kept the gothic, noir edge of the characters and setting. He made Gotham an integral character in the film. So while he played with some aspects of established canon to make a film-sized story, he did it well and kept enough of what we already know intact to make a very impressive, cohesive whole. I was very happy with the film.

But all along it was touted as a trilogy. And this is where we go back to the nature of film compared to an ongoing series. This film was to be finite in three instalments. The second film, The Dark Knight, stands tall for many reasons. Not least of these is that amazing performance from Heath Ledger as the Joker, which is still the highpoint of the trilogy for me. And again, Nolan took some liberties with established canon, but stayed true to so many parts that we love that we went with him for the ride. I did, anyway. And most importantly for me, he totally got what the Joker is all about. The Joker is the worst monster imaginable, because he’s the embodiment of absolute chaos. No rhyme, no reason, no appealing to any sense or intelligence. Just pure, insane chaos. Some men, after all, just want to watch the world burn.

So I’d been waiting patiently and slightly nervously for The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final instalment. So often a third film is where a series can jump the shark. It can be the step too far. But Nolan always said this was to be a trilogy and I trusted him as a storyteller enough to hope that he would see it through well. Again, liberties were took. The big bad this time is Bane, and he’s very different from the comic book character. In the comics, Bane is addicted to and fuelled by Venom. But in this film, Venom doesn’t even get a mention. Bane’s origin is also played with, as are the origins of other key players (who I won’t discuss for fear of spoilers). But that’s okay, because Nolan is using Bane in his own way, like he used Ras Al Ghul in the first one. And he does a good job of it.

Nolan also does a very good job of using the Selina Kyle character. She’s never called Catwoman in the film, her cat ears are just her night goggles, pushed up onto her head and so on. But the core of the character is there. She’s a tough, sassy, very capable cat burglar. She’s a real-world foil to the Batman’s black and white view of crime and culpability. She’s so much more than a sexy accoutrement and Anne Hathaway does a brilliant job with a character that is very hard to play well.

And using these characters and settings, Nolan brings threads from both previous films together in The Dark Knight Rises and ties them into a truly epic story, worthy of its comic book roots and also worthy of its cinematic grandeur. He does tell a complete story in three films and he does it bloody well.

Each of the films is successively darker, more epic and more daring than the last and by far the best thing about them is that Nolan has made an absolutely self-contained trilogy. It’s not the same as the comic books, because the comics are still going on, and will continue to do so. Nolan has taken the characters and spirit of those stories and turned them into one complete and very clever tale. We see the full life of the Batman, from genesis, through origin, through rise and fall and rise again, right out to final closure. And it’s very satisfying.

Sure, the films have flaws. With The Dark Knight Rises there are illogicalities, there are strange timing issues, there are simple nonsensical things (like the one I mentioned the other day – how the hell does Bane eat? And he’s a big boy, so he must eat a lot.) There’s actually not nearly enough Batman in the third and final Batman film. There are often certain events in the movies which are entirely too convenient and plot-driven. But, these things are relatively few and far between and largely eclipsed by all the good stuff.

There are those who have suggested that this final instalment is a pro-fascist movie (although I disagree with most of that post and the author obviously doesn’t have any real understanding of the ideology of Ras Al Ghul). I mean, sure, all superhero stories are fundamentally fascist – the super power steps in with violence, operating outside the law, to battle the greater threat on behalf of the people. But that’s a whole other discussion and not one limited to Nolan’s interpretation of Batman.

There are those who have asked what the hell happened to the Joker after the second film. Although Ledger died and couldn’t reprise his role, it’s strange that there was never any mention. Though one possible answer lies here.

(Remember – spoilers at the above links!)

There are several other concerns raised in various reviews and posts I’ve read, some valid, some not so much. Regardless, Nolan has created in his Batman trilogy something rarely seen from Hollywood these days – an intelligent, complex, complete and satisfying story along with the incredible special effects and cinematic epicness we’ve come to expect. Effects are so often utilised at the expense of story, but not with these films. The Dark Knight Rises is possibly the best of the three when it comes to simply amazing set pieces of action and downright brilliant photography. But it’s the combined power of the three films together that really stands out as Nolan’s crowning achievement here.

Personally I can’t wait till The Dark Knight Rises is released on DVD so I can put aside a day to sit and watch all three films back to back in a beauteous Bat-filled marathon of cinematic awesomeness.

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The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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