what i watched last week

We Are the Best! (Lucas Moodysson, 2013). This really belongs under the “By Request” banner, except I couldn’t actually remember who recommended it (hi, Rosalie!). “Charming” isn’t a word I normally associate with Punk, but this story, of young teenage girls in Stockholm in 1982 who identify with Punk, is charming above all else, even though it retains an affiliation with a movement that never wanted to charm. The three girls are outsiders, which in itself aligns them with punk. Bobo and Klara stumble onto the idea of forming a band, even though neither of them can play any instruments. They get access to a public rehearsal place that has a small drum set and an old bass guitar, and they are off, playing an awful racket while practicing their one and only song, “Hate the Sport”, which is both an ode to an oppressive gym teacher and a condemnation of all that is wrong in the global political world. (“Hate the sport! Hate, hate, hate the sport! People die and scream, but all you care about is your high-jump team! Children in Africa are dying, but you’re all about balls flying!”) Later they recruit a third, Hedvig, who has the advantage of actually being able to play guitar. The girls’ outsider status is magnified by the fact that by 1982, everyone tells them punk is dead. But they are locked into punk’s essence, as a culture and a musical genre that makes room for those dissatisfied by their condition. (That these middle-class girls actually have a decent life with decent families is both thankfully anti-clichéd, and true to life, since no one thinks well of their family when they are 13 years old.) The plot is ramshackle ... there is one live performance that evolves into Klara changing “Hate the Sport” into “Hate Västerås!” when their first gig, in Västerås, is poorly received (the crowd calls them communists, among other things). But the performances of the three girls are what makes the movie charming ... you could imagine any or all of them going on to greater things (it’s the first film for all three). I suspect everyone will have their favorite, but Mira Grosin as Klara gets my vote, perhaps unfairly, since the other two play more withdrawn characters while Klara is more explosive. #368 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 8/10.

Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014). It took awhile for me to lock into the film, but I enjoyed it once I gave myself over to it. It will remind you of any number of other movies and books. It’s The Big Lebowski as P.I., it’s The Long Goodbye with marijuana, it’s The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, it’s Cheech and Chong. It ambles along at its own pace. Joaquin Phoenix is amiably befuddled as the main character, and there are some fun cameos from a plethora of stars. Benicio Del Toro gives a reprise of his Samoan attorney from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. If Inherent Vice isn’t quite as good as the things it emulates, at least Anderson shows good taste in choosing what to copy. #371 on the TSPDT 21st-century list. 7/10.

Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982). There was a Devo video once ... it might have been “The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise” ... during parts of the video, the band members were playing with a baby, and as I recall it, the baby didn’t look like it was having much fun. Fitzcarraldo was famously a movie where no one was having much fun. (I haven’t seen Burden of Dreams, so I’m going on hearsay.) Werner Herzog wanted to make a movie about an obsessed man trying to get a ship over a hill, and he did make that movie, but Herzog made sure that he also got a real ship over a real hill while the cameras rolled. Leaving aside stories about how insufferable Klaus Kinski was during the making of the film, I wanted to know the same thing I wondered about that baby in the Devo video: did all of those natives who Herzog used to make his movie have fun? What was it like to pretend to be slave labor in the movie, when “pretend” meant to actually do the labor? Everything is submerged to Herzog’s vision, and hooray for committed artists and all that, but I wasn’t surprised to learn that the natives eventually burned down the set. Meanwhile, the leisurely pace isn’t my cup of tea, but what’s worse is that Herzog denies us the payoff: we see the struggle to get the ship up the hill, and then suddenly, it’s on the other side going down the hill. I guess I wanted some of that leisurely pace to stick around for a bit so we could see the actual moment the ship crested. Nowhere near as good as Aguirre: The Wrath of God. #411 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time. 6/10.

Memories of Murder (Joon-ho Bong, 2003). 7/10.

by request: memories of murder (joon-ho bong, 2003)

(Requested by Kasey Ellison.)

Another solid entry from Bong, and once again I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t know any longer why I continue to be surprised ... I’ve liked every one of Bong’s movies that I have seen, and each of them have refused to be held down to clear genre expectations. They are all different on the surface, as well ... I’ve seen four, and one was a monster movie, one was a mystery thriller driven by a mother’s love for her son, the third was an action sci-fi picture. And now there’s Memories of Murder, which came before the others. It’s a police procedural, a bit like the SVU version of Law & Order, although it more resembles the movie Zodiac. Bong is capable of anything.

Again, he smoothly blends genres. The local cops are, if not incompetent, at least crippled by the backwards nature of their small town department. They work like comic relief for much of the movie. A big-city detective from Seoul joins the case, and he accentuates the clumsiness of the local guys. But as the case progresses, his methods don’t work any better than his counterparts, and he gradually turns sadistic in his quest for truth. All of the policemen are so set on solving the mystery that their obsessions get in the way. Meanwhile, the body count of women sexually assaulted and murdered keeps rising. By the end, there is nothing funny ... it’s hard to even remember the comedy of the early sections.

Most of the film takes place in 1986. My knowledge of South Korea in 1986 is limited, so I have to rely on others. The general opinion seems to be that Memories of Murder does a good job of portraying life at that time. The military dictatorship was brutally oppressive, and this shows in contextual ways. When the call goes out for more forces to hunt down the murderer, the call is rejected because troops are needed to control a rebellion. Everyone assumes that the police torture innocent people, and indeed, questionable tactics are used by the “heroes” of the movie.

This is not a movie where you get to root for characters. What you want is for the mystery to be solved, and you understand the ways the police turn vicious as the case eats away at their insides. But there is no happy ending.

Thus far, Bong has demonstrated the ability to make very good movies, but for some reason, I wouldn’t put any of them in the “great” range just yet. He’s got time, of course, and he has yet to make a stinker. Even his American movie was good (Snowpiercer). Bong is reliably consistent, even though there is no telling what he’ll come up with next. #144 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century (it even sneaks in at #998 in the all-time list). 7/10.

what i watched last week

The Love Goddesses (Saul J. Turell, 1965). I suppose I expected a sexploitation film, but instead I got a documentary about the history of sex in the cinema as represented by the leading women. It includes most people you’d think of (albeit with a bit of a Hollywood bias), and some of the older clips are pretty interesting. The narration makes fairly large claims that may or may not be true, relating social conditions to how women were shown on screen. It’s not that the points are invalid as much as they go by too fast (the film covers around 65 years in around 80 minutes). Every opportunity is taken to show nudity, which is pretty forward for 1965 ... most of it comes from silent films, along with a few from more recent European movies. There is no real attempt to explain exactly what each featured actress had that made them special ... it’s more “Liz Taylor was beautiful” and “Betty Grable was the girl next door” than anything deeper. Of course, a deeper approach would have required fewer actresses or a lot longer running time. It is odd that Shirley Temple and Hayley Mills are included ... they were important, particularly Temple, but more explanation is needed for why they are part of the love goddesses. All in all, it was an amiable look back and nothing more. Additional context comes from Turell’s biography. He was the head of Janus Films beginning in the mid-60s, one of the great distributors of “art films” and thus an important contributor to the film education of countless Americans. Turell was also the driving force behind the 60s TV series Silents Please, a half-hour show that offered classics from the silent era. I remember this show, even though I was only 7-8 when it was on. (My memory is there were reruns long past that time.) Finally, Turell won an Oscar for his short documentary on Paul Robeson. 6/10.

How to Survive a Plague (David France, 2012). Documentary about the early years of the AIDS epidemic. France draws a lot on archival footage of meetings, confrontations, and actions, telling a chronological story of events that are still fresh in our minds. The footage is raw ... it matches its subject matter, forcing the audience to confront the personal damage of the plague, much as ACT-UP did during its civil disobedience strategies. The title gives away the approach of the movie. France offers a blueprint for useful activism, and the film works as well as a primer in such action as it does as a heart-wrenching reminder of the recent past. #611 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 8/10.

Claire’s Knee (Eric Rohmer, 1970). A bunch of articulate people talk a lot. Nothing much happens, which only intensifies what little action there is. Rohmer creates suspense from conversation ... we know what is going through the characters’ minds, and thus we anticipate their actions (the anticipation is suspenseful). Our anticipations aren’t always right, which makes the characters seem complex. The interplay between Jean-Claude Brialy as a soon-to-be wed man and Aurora Cornu as a novelist is like a more mature version of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in Breathless, without the pop energy. They talk and talk, and as we listen we get a feel for what each person thinks of themselves. Brialy also has several conversations with two teenage girls who are the object of his ... let’s call it interest. Laura, played by Béatrice Romand, is by far the most interesting ... in fact, she’s the most interesting person in the movie. Claire, though, has a knee, which becomes identified with desire, suppressed either voluntarily or socially. Most of the suspense in the second part of the movie comes from waiting to see if the man will ever get to interact with that knee. It’s definitely a Your Mileage May Vary kind of movie. I found Brialy’s obsession (and his talking about that obsession) to be a sign of self-absorption, but others might find some deep philosophical material here. #544 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.

what i watched last week

Cronos (Guillermo del Toro, 1993). I’m a fan of Guillermo del Toro ... Pan’s Labyrinth is a 10/10, Pacific Rim was a very good blockbuster ... I even like The Strain, his (and Chuck Hogan’s) comic book turned TV series. Cronos was his first feature film, and without ever seeing it, I confused it in my mind with the 1950s sci-fi B-movie, Kronos. They are nothing alike, although I wouldn’t mind seeing Kronos again some time. When you’re dealing with a distinct talent like del Toro, it’s fun to see his early work. You can spot many of the things he used in his more noted films ... I can understand why the old auteur theory critics would get excited about seeing a bit in an Howard Hawks movie that Hawks had returned to in a later and more important film. Del Toro treats fantasy rather like magic realism, although the emphasis is often on the magic more than the real. He has a feel for childhood vision ... in Cronos, a young actress named Tamara Shanath, who rarely appeared again in movies, plays a child who barely speaks, yet we know what she is thinking, and she seems to connect with the oddities in the world of the film. Ron Perlman has a major role, and he’s a bit ordinary, which in this case means he’s quite odd indeed, for why would anyone treat this world as ordinary? Plus, Perlman plays an American who barely speaks Spanish (del Toro is Mexican, and the film takes place in Mexico), so he uses his size to command attention and acts like he knows more Spanish than he lets on, but can’t be bothered to use it. All in all, a quirky movie that will be appreciated most by del Toro fans. 7/10.

what i watched last week

I rarely write about a movie directly after having seen it. Seems like it should marinate a bit before I expound. This practice caught up to me this week, as I watched four movies and, so far, only wrote about one (Purple Noon). So now I have to think back on two I watched early in the week, and do a rush job on one I saw this afternoon. Truth is, what I really want to write about is the season finale of Outlander, but that most definitely cannot be a rush job. So ...

Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, 2014). I might have anticipated a disaster movie, since all I knew going in was that there would be an avalanche in the French Alps. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a film that examined expectations around masculinity and family dynamics, something of a chamber piece that was a bit reminiscent of some of the work of Östlund’s countryman Ingmar Bergman. The whiteness of the snow engulfs the screen ... it feels like we are always in a fog. Some have found a bit of humor in the film, but I must have missed it. And some have seen it as exposing the pretenses of the bourgeoisie, but I preferred to think it exposed all of us. The ending ironically brings things full circle. #273 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 7/10. Watch it with Scenes from a Marriage.

Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952). Takashi Shimura plays a long-time bureaucrat who finds he has cancer and begins to reevaluate his life. Shimura does such a great job of portraying a man beaten down into nothingness that you eventually want to slap him around and tell him to quit being so pathetic. Eventually, he does something with his life, and dies ... at which point there’s still half an hour to go. By the end, even the most hardened viewer (i.e., me) will have felt a case of allergies in the eyes, and it won’t even feel cheap. Not a masterpiece, but very good. Two years later, Shimura starred in Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, which is certainly a change of pace from what he gives us here. American fans of a certain age will recognize him for some of his later roles in movies like Godzilla, Gigantis: The Fire Monster, Mothra, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, and Frankenstein Conquers the World. #114 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10. Go ahead, watch it alongside Mothra.

San Andreas (Brad Peyton, 2015). If The Rock hadn’t been in it, I probably would have skipped it. I’m glad I didn’t. It’s a winner in the Truth in Advertising contest: it promises earthquakes, and it delivers them. There is no use expecting anything more. It hits all the standard moments (scientist trying to warn everyone, hero trying to re-connect with ex-wife who has a lame boyfriend, nubile daughter with potential suitor), which fill the space between disasters. We’re not exactly talking Mad Max: Fury Road here ... I don’t feel the need to see it again any time soon. But it’s never so stupid you want to give up, the cast is appealing (lots of eye candy between The Rock, Carla Gugino, and Alexandra Daddario, all of whom do good work), and the special effects are worth the money. It’s a perfect example of a movie that lies somewhere between 6 and 7 out of 10. I hadn’t decided which way to go, when I got some comments about the movie on Facebook. One friend said she was eager to hear what I thought, since she loved earthquake movies. Another friend said the idea of watching San Andreas was disturbing to her ... she spoke of people she knew who were still dealing with the devastation in Nepal, and then recommended a book, “for reality, not Hollywood bullshit”. Your own opinion of the movie probably depends on where you lie between those two responses. 7/10.

blu-ray series #20: purple noon (rené clément, 1960)

There are many oddities on the surface of this French film. The main characters are Americans in Italy, played by French actors (Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, and Marie Laforêt). The colorful look features pastels and bright, sun-filled scenes (the original title, Plein Soleil, roughly translates to “Full Sun”), yet the movie plays on tropes of film noir. Even the U.S. title is odd ... “Purple Noon” is never explained, in or out of the movie. (The title of the original novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, became better known in later years, when it was remade as a film with that title.)

Most of this goes unnoticed, though, once the film begins. (OK, I found myself confused a few times, not quite understanding that those characters were American.) What you do notice are the hints of the French New Wave, the sneaky way the film goes from airy travelogue to dark character study, and the way Alain Delon seems to intuitively know what makes a movie actor. It is rare that you see Delon doing anything ostentatious, and in those rare occasions, he is serving the script. For the most part, he watches others, learning how to become them in the manner of a chameleon, while his physical beauty grabs our attention no matter who or what else is on the screen. This makes Delon a perfect person to play the sexually ambiguous Tom Ripley ... it is easy to understand why every character in the film would be attracted to him.

I feel like I didn’t give the movie the proper attention ... it had been a long day, my mind refused to focus. Thus, I suspect if I watched Purple Noon again, I might give it a higher rating and a longer review. I might also give it a higher rating if the ending were different. For now, 8/10. The obvious double-bill companion would be The Talented Mr. Ripley.

what i watched last week

Closer (Mike Nichols, 2004). Mike Nichols’ first film as a director was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (see below), which got the audience’s attention in part by giving us Elizabeth Taylor, at the time 34 years old and one of the most beautiful women in the world, puffed up by 30 pounds, playing a much older character, drinking way too much and emasculating her husband in front of others. It was harder to shock audiences in 2004, so we get Julia Roberts saying she likes it when Jude Law’s characters comes on her character’s face. Closer isn’t quite as focused as Woolf ... while the latter features one couple battling each other in front of a second couple, with one cross-couple attempt at sex, in Closer, Dan and Alice are a couple, then Dan and Larry have cybersex without knowing who the other is, Larry and Anna become a couple and then marry, Dan and Anna become a couple on the sly, then openly, Anna sleeps with Larry one last time, Dan gets pissed, Anna goes back to Larry, Alice (remember her?) goes back with Dan, but by then she had slept with Larry, and at the end, we find that Alice’s name was really Jane. It’s enough to make one yearn for the simpler times of George and Martha. Some of the dialogue is cutting, and the actors give their all (besides Roberts, there is Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen). Roger Ebert loved it, drawing particular attention to how articulate the characters are. I found everything rather tiresome. #832 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 6/10.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966). Nichols’ debut won five Oscars, including Best Actress Elizabeth Taylor and Best Supporting Actress Sandy Dennis (Richard Burton and George Segal got nominations, as did Nichols ... there were 13 in all, Best Picture among them). The actors all seem to be trying just a bit too hard, with the possible exception of Segal, and Nichols (and Haskell Wexler, who picked up the Oscar for Best B&W Cinematography) pulls a reverse on the usual trick of “opening up” a play for the screen. Instead, Nichols fills the screen with close-up after close-up, as if seeing the pores on Liz’s face will convince us she’s really acting. Which is unfair ... everyone pulls their weight here, and no one embarrasses themselves. If it gives a bit of “much ado about nothing” after all these years, a decent fire remains. Try as they might, though, this isn’t anywhere near the level of A Streetcar Named Desire. #695 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10. For a companion to either of these movies, try Wit, yet another play adaptation from Nichols, but much better than the above.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black, 2005). I’m in a hurry, and this movie doesn’t deserve much of my time, anyway. Black is very bright and is happy to show off, Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan are game for anything, and so fucking what. #739 on the TSPDT list of the top films of the 21st century. If you figure out why, keep it to yourself. 5/10.

by request: easy money (daniel espinosa, 2010)

Movies that utilize American genres in new settings can be enlightening as well as just plain good. Sergio Leone’s westerns are a prime example. You see the same old thing from a different perspective.

Easy Money is a crime thriller out of Sweden. On the surface, it is nothing special: a young man from the lower classes aspires to something more, and turns to crime to help accomplish his desires. He is a student in economics, and he pretends to more resources than he has, all the while driving a cab to support his too-lavish public lifestyle. His boss introduces him to the cocaine trade, and as things progress, his acumen in economics makes him valuable to his superiors. But the cocaine business is much dirtier than he imagined, and he is more replaceable than he thinks.

This young man, “JW”, is played by Joel Kinnaman, the Swedish-American actor who made his name here on the TV series The Killing. Easy Money is the movie that pushed him to stardom in Sweden, and it’s clear how this happened ... he has tall good looks with a hint of mystery, which also describes JW. JW is too smart for his own good, and his moral center emerges rather erratically ... he has the makings of an anti-hero, but he is never important enough to reach such a level. Easy Money shines a light on people who want more, with the title serving as an ironic reminder that “easy” is rarely an accurate descriptor.

Kinnaman is solid, and the supporting cast includes some people who are very menacing (Dragomir Mrsic, for instance, is a former bank-robber). Many of the characters, though, are in over their heads, whether they recognize it or not. Attempts are made to humanize them ... even Mrsic’s “Mrado” is driven by the need to take care of his young daughter. But these characters are not crime bosses, nor are they on their way to becoming bosses. Easy Money is not the story of Tony Montana. This lends an underlying class structure to the film, which connects specifically to JW’s posing above his class, and then going down a dark road to turn the pose into reality.

Easy Money connected with the audience in Sweden, where two sequels have been produced. There are, of course, the usual rumors of a Hollywood remake. Zac Efron is the name most-often associated with this, but nothing seems to have come of it in the five years since the original was released. Easy Money is a touch above the average crime thriller, smart and stylish, recommended to fans of Kinnaman or to those looking for a different angle on the genre. 7/10.

what i watched last week

À Nous la Liberté (René Clair, 1931). I watched this after I had written my postscript to Snowpiercer, but some of what I said there could apply in this case as well. À Nous la Liberté is an early sound film with some humorous, if obvious, comments on modern society. We see prisoners working an assembly line making toy horses. We see workers on an assembly line making phonographs. The similarities between the two far outweigh the differences: prisoners and workers perform highly regimented functions while dreaming about a freedom that is always out of reach. Clair is clever, and his approach to sound is inventive for its time. Also, his attitude towards capital (favoring the workers), combined with the afore-mentioned regimented approach to production, clearly influenced Chaplin for Modern Times. The film’s ending, with the workers owning the factory (allowing them a life of complete leisure), is both optimistic and ironic. Yet, despite the ingenious set design and staging, À Nous la Liberté isn’t nearly as good as Modern Times. The latter was funnier, and it has Paulette Goddard. À Nous la Liberté is gentler, and I appreciated it without laughing very often. #852 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10. The obvious companion piece is Modern Times.

Monkey Business (Howard Hawks, 1952). David Thomson called it “a version of screwball as if done from lawn chairs at the end of a fine summer evening”, and I think he’s right. But he thinks the movie is a “casual masterpiece,” while I find myself not as interested in the casual screwball of lawn chairs. Monkey Business is ripe for those who find subtext more important than laughs in a comedy. Hugh Marlowe being scalped isn’t funny because Marlowe looks silly with his fake hair, it’s significant as a symbol of castration. Your enjoyment will depend in part on how much you like excavating subtext. And how much you like Marilyn Monroe, who has a supporting role and doesn’t have much to do. For me, that’s a good thing ... she doesn’t have time to overdo those facial things that always irritate me. Best moment: when Ginger Rogers does a balancing trick with a coffee cup. Howard Hawks is one of my favorite directors. This is not one of my favorite films. 6/10. See Bringing Up Baby instead.

I Shot Jesse James (Samuel Fuller, 1949). Fuller’s first film as the man in charge (he wrote and directed) is an economical 81 minutes, which ought to embarrass anyone associated with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which took twice as long and was many times more boring. Fuller’s approach can be found in the title: this isn’t a movie about Jesse James, but rather a movie about Robert Ford. Fuller is fairly sympathetic to Ford’s problems, although Ford also comes across as a bit of a dimwit. (Hat tip to John Ireland, who does a fine job as Ford.) In this telling, which is at least as unreliable as other attempts to tell the tale, Ford hates himself for what he has done to his best friend. Fuller shows that Ford became famous in the “wrong” way. At one point, Ford takes part in a play that stages the James’ shooting ... Ford walks off the stage, not being able to recreate the crime. And in another scene, a troubadour comes in and sings a song about “that dirty rotten coward” Ford, not realizing Ford is right in front of him. Ford demands the singer finish the song, taking the punishment for what he knows he shouldn’t have done. There are plenty of such interesting touches, but in truth, the film doesn’t amount to much. Interesting side note: two of the actors in the ensemble, J. Edward Bromberg and Victor Kilian, were later blacklisted, while Ireland sued producers who thought his politics were shaky. 6/10. For another Fuller film, try Shock Corridor.

Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015). 10/10.

mad max: fury road (george miller, 2015)

There are a few reasons why Mad Max: Fury Road feels familiar. First, it’s the fourth entry in a continuing series. Second, earlier editions were influential, such that many inferior copycats were made over the years. (There is even a Wikipedia page titled “Mad Max series legacy and influence in popular culture”.) And by now, we’ve become used to expensive summer action pictures.

So yes, it is safe to say if you liked the earlier Mad Max movies, you will like Fury Road. Even though it has been 30 years since George Miller gave us a Mad Max movie, he hasn’t lost his talent or his desire to put something great onto the screen.

And it is an excellent effort in the context of the series, at least the equal of The Road Warrior, and far better than Beyond Thunderdome. Which, for those of us who loved past entries, means we’re pretty much guaranteed a good time. (A few years ago, I listed The Road Warrior as the 51st-best movie of all time, so you know where I’m coming from.)

The most notable thing about Fury Road is that many of the things that make it a clear counterpart to the earlier films is also what sets it apart from other action movies in 2015. As noted on the IMDB, “Over 80% of the effects seen in the film are real practical effects, stunts, make-up and sets.” In recent years, the stuff that amazes generally comes from the astounding things that can be done digitally. Fury Road goes back to a different time, one that seems more “human”. Watching Mad Max: Fury Road is like checking out an old silent Buster Keaton feature or a Jackie Chan HK film. Real people are actually doing these things. Add to this the care with which Miller presents the action, and you have a movie that has rarely, if ever, been topped for its genre.

You could say that the film is nothing but one long car chase, and you wouldn't be too far off, although I admit I thought there would be even more action. I understand the argument that Fury Road may be near perfect, but it’s still just a near-perfect car chase movie. I think the adrenaline rush of the film squashes such complaints, but your mileage may vary.

There is one other notable point to be made regarding the most obvious difference between this film and the prior Max movies. Charlize Theron plays a female version of Max, and she is so good, and her part is so integral, that the only reason “Mad Max” appears in the title is for brand recognition. This isn't the story of Max and his sidekick, it’s the story of two people fighting (mostly) in tandem. Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is actually more important to what plot there is than is Max. This led to the remarkably absurd article by Aaron Clarey, “Why You Should Not Go See ‘Mad Max: Feminist Road’”:

This is the vehicle by which they are guaranteed to force a lecture on feminism down your throat. This is the Trojan Horse feminists and Hollywood leftists will use to (vainly) insist on the trope women are equal to men in all things, including physique, strength, and logic. And this is the subterfuge they will use to blur the lines between masculinity and femininity, further ruining women for men, and men for women.

So do yourself and all men across the world a favor. Not only REFUSE to see the movie, but spread the word to as many men as possible.

Clarey’s paranoid position strikes a chord with some men, I’m sure. But his screed actually falls into the hole he argues against, for I’ve read more discussion of feminism and Fury Road inspired by his broadside than I have from any other source. (An update at the website on which the original article appeared claimed, “Our Call To Boycott Mad Max Movie Spurs Avalanche Of Mainstream Media Anger”.) If he was worried that we might look at Fury Road through a feminist perspective, well, he has helped that process along.

How feminist is Fury Road? There is no one kind of feminism, and any simplistic response to the question will refuse to acknowledge the breadth of feminist thinking. Yes, Imperator Furiosa is the match of Max Rockatansky. Yes, Charlize Theron is the match of Tom Hardy. And I admit, many of my favorite female characters are ones that kick ass (Buffy, Starbuck). But that taste preference is limiting in that too often “kick ass” means “acts like a man”, which shouldn’t be the only point. Furiosa may be remembered as important a film character as those played by Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, or Sigourney Weaver in the Alien movies, and that’s a fine thing (and Theron is good enough that she deserves to be mentioned along with those others). But for the most part, Furiosa can be described as a woman who kicks ass as well as a man.

There are some plot details that change my simplification a bit ... for instance, Furiosa is trying to save sex slaves. But I would argue that plot details are more irrelevant in a movie like this than is the norm, because no plot point works as anything other than a breather between action scenes. One reason Beyond Thunderdome was a letdown was that it had too much plot.

Judged as an action movie, as part of the Mad Max franchise, which is how I prefer to judge it, Mad Max: Fury Road is at least as good as The Road Warrior. I gave that movie 10/10, so you know what I’m giving Fury Road. 10/10. Best companion piece is obviously The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2).

Postscript: we saw Fury Road on the first night (Thursday). I hadn’t done the “gotta go to the first showing” thing since On the Road two years ago. Apparently, I have a thing for movies with the word “road” in the title.