Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mad Max and Star Wars, high tech remakes

As if I needed a reminder that I am growing older than the target audience for TV and movies, I was surprised by the news that many film reviewers picked Mad Max, Fury Road as the number one film of 2015.

Even the usually more intellectual New Yorker, in its May 25, 2015 review of the movie by Anthony Lane said, “ . . . for better or worse, Mad Max: Fury Road gathers up all that we seem to crave, right now, from our movies, and yanks it to the limit. For anyone who denied that Titus Andronicus could ever be mashed up with The Cannonball Run, here is your answer, and we are only too happy to follow Nux as he cries, ‘What a lovely day!’ and accelerates into a whirlwind of fire.”

That character Lane mentions, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), is probably the only actor I noticed acting. For the most part the actors of Mad Max, Fury Road, are hidden behind makeup or masks, have sparse dialogue, and their characters are under extreme stress while in fast-moving vehicles, surrounded by explosions and gunfire. No time for chit-chat. Max, played by Tom Hardy, and Charlize Theron playing Furiosa, both of whom I think are fine actors, have basically one expression they wear throughout the movie. Like the characters Keanu Reeves usually plays, their parts don’t require any emotional depth. Fury Road is a dash for survival, so there are no grins or quick quips while facing imminent doom.

And that dash for survival is the second thing that keyed me to Mad Max, Fury Road being a remake of The Road Warrior, starring Mel Gibson. My first tip-off was in the current movie’s opening sequence, where Max grabs a two-headed lizard and jams it into his mouth, chewing it up. It amps up the ewww and yuck factor of  the Road Warrior. There is a similar sequence at the Road Warrior’s beginning where Max is eating out of a dog food can. The chase scenes in both are similar, although the bits of action business that are done in the new version are different. The chase scenes are sped up to what looks like about twice the speed the vehicles were actually going. There is a lot of jumping from vehicle to vehicle. That was true in Road Warrior, also. Director George Miller read my mind, that people are getting tired of CG effects, and went when he could with all stuntmen and live action stunts. I can appreciate that, at least.

There are some other things I like about the movie. The cinematography is excellent. I like the theme of empowered women. But when you boil down what is seen on screen you have a chase movie, where the main characters go from point A to point B while being chased, then decide to go from point B back to point A, still being chased.

If you put your brain in neutral, it is easier to accept the post-apocalyptic absurdities played out in over-muscled vehicles by over-muscled people. It is an enjoyable movie, but top movie of 2015? I don’t have a vote for best movie, but if I did this would not be at the top of the list.

I also ask myself, what would Pauline Kael think of this movie?

Sally and I saw Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in a theater right after New Year, when people went back to work and kids went to school. We shared the theater with 25 or 30 people who looked to be in our age group. I wonder if they had the same feelings Sally and I did? No one seemed overly enthused or jubilant at seeing this latest chapter of the franchise (the first one done without its creator, George Lucas). I would have been willing to wait a month or two so I could hear some more about the movie, but Sally's hairdresser said it was great, and I don’t want to argue with her over her hairdresser’s opinion. What happened to me was the phenomenon of watching a movie and having it make so little an impression that I left it in the theater when it was over. I cannot remember more than a couple of things about it.

Once again it is a combination of factors, including my age, but first and foremost I think the movie was seriously over-hyped, as Star Wars chapters tend to be. If the movie could not be brilliant, at least the marketing was top notch. They put the toys out well ahead of Christmas, and then opened the movie on Christmas day. The holiday was blurred with the movie. My feelings about the movie blend into how I feel about Christmas, that it is a big build-up for a small payoff.

Not for the Disney company, though, which probably made hundreds of millions of dollars in licensing and royalties before anyone paid to see the actual movie in a theater. By then, if the audience was disappointed, it would be too late.

Like Mad Max, Fury Road, the new Star Wars is a re-hash, even a remake of earlier movies. The one scene I can remember is the one where Han Solo confronts his son, and it is a flipped around version of Darth Vader and his “Luke, I am your father” showdown.

When I wrote a post about the early hype for the movie, “Built-in disappointment with the next Star Wars” in May, 2015, I said I would skip the movie until it came on cable. Well, I obviously chose to see it, anyway. I am not sorry I did, because it keeps me from watching it when it eventually comes to cable. And I definitely will not bother with any subsequent movies.

As The Who would say, “Won’t get fooled again.”

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The nude vampire girl; or, Mathilda May made quite an entrance


Also not for those too young to be looking at nudity on the Internet. Kids, be good and leave now. I mean it.

Lifeforce, a movie directed by Tobe Hooper and released in 1985, is unusual. It is unusual because it had talents like John Dykstra (2001 A Space Odyssey) on special effects, and Henry Mancini doing the music. It has actors like the underrated Steve Railsback (Helter Skelter) and British actors Peter Firth (Equus), Frank Finlay (The Three Musketeers) and even Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard himself!) But it was made by Cannon Films, a company with a checkered reputation for pure exploitation and frankly, many of its movies were crap. The documentary, Electric Boogaloo, currently appearing on Netflix, tells the history of Cannon and its executive producers, Menahem Goran and Yoram Globus.

When Lifeforce came out I remember it had odd and mixed reviews. No reviewer really knew what label to put on it, science fiction, horror, action picture, psychological thriller...the documentary shows Leonard Maltin calling it “berserk.”

What the movie also had, besides dessicated corpses sucked of their lifeforce by a space vampire (done with mechanicals in that pre-CGI era), was Mathilda May. May, who was French, had been a model and a ballet dancer. She also had an incredible body. A quote by Tobe Hooper from the documentary is, “Finding Mathilda May was an achievement. One of the most striking young women I’ve ever seen.” Indeed! From the moment she comes back to life in a laboratory on Earth, until she exits the facility, leaving behind some carnage of stupified men with their lifeforces now kissed out of them, in three-and-a-half minutes she presents the most incredible introduction of any “striking young woman” I believe I have ever seen in a mainstream motion picture.