Beat Breakdown #4: No Country for Old Men

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PLOT SUMMARY

In the grand tradition of Coen Brothers films, the story revolves around an average Joe whose avarice overpowers his common sense. Upon inexplicably stumbling across an inordinate amount of money that doesn’t belong to him, our protagonist, Llewelyn Moss, is beset by Mexican cartels, the inescapable reach of the law, and the relentless, unstoppable pursuit of a cold-blooded hitman. 

INCITING INCIDENT

(Pages 5-12) While hunting in the desolate Texan desert, Llewelyn Moss discovers the aftermath of a brutal shootout between members of a Mexican drug ring. A payoff, Moss presumes, went spectacularly awry, leading to a collection of dead bodies and an unattended leather case containing two million dollars. Naturally, Moss snatches the goods, setting the stage for a brutal tale of retaliation and greed. 

PLOT POINT ONE

(Pages 50-55) The first major plot point actually occurs fairly late in the script. Moss, in one of his rare moments of forethought, flees his home with the money in tow. He rents a motel room in the next county over and hides the case in the air vent in his room. Unbeknownst to Moss, the case is outfitted with a tracking device which leads the hitman, Anton Chigurh, right to his doorstep. After slaughtering some Mexicans in pursuit of the case, Chigurh attempts to confront Moss directly, only to find that he has escaped with the money during the confusion.

MIDPOINT

(Pages 60-65) A gunfight between Moss and Chigurh serves as the film’s midpoint. What we have here is a battle of wills; Moss perhaps represents the futility of defying fate, or maybe blind greed and the inevitable consequences thereof, while Chigurh represents the physical manifestation of death, coming irrevocably to execute cosmic retribution. Moss wounds Chigurh and escapes, succeeding only in buying himself a little more time. Both Moss and the audience know, however, that nothing can really stop the predator Chigurh from eventually catching his pre

PLOT POINT TWO

(Pages 80-84) The second plot point wraps up a sup-plot involving another hired operative, Carson Wells, who claimed that he could offer Moss and his wife protection from Chigurh and the cartel in exchange for the money. Moss, apparently determined to continue making phenomenally poor decisions, declines Wells’s offer. Though Wells insisted that he was the only one who could be relied upon to offer protection from Chigurh, he’s easily eliminated in his own hotel room. During a brief telephone exchange between Moss and Chigurh, the assassin promises not to harm Moss’s wife as long as the money is returned promptly. 

CRISIS AND CLIMAX

(Pages 95-100) The climax of this particular film is an interesting one, as we end up in a sort of bait-and-switch situation. The protagonist, whom we’ve mostly followed since the beginning, is killed-off without ceremony. Llewelyn Moss is thus revealed to be what is generally referred to as a “false” or “decoy” protagonist, meaning that the emotional core of the film also changes, in addition to the main thrust of the message. It’s revealed that the true protagonist is the beleaguered Sheriff Bell, whose town has been shocked by the violence wrought by Moss and his ill-gotten wealth. 

DENOUEMENT 

(Pages 112-118) After the subversive reveal of the true protagonist, we’re left with Sheriff Bell as he tries to make sense of the slaughter that he’s been witness to. In his own gruff, unsentimental way, Bell seems to find some strange solace in the fact of the inherently uncontrollable and senseless savagery that seems to saturate the starkly binary, law-and-order world in which he lives.

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Insidious: Chapter 3

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I’ve gone on the record as saying that Insidious is probably one of my favorite horror movies of the last decade. Sure, it doesn’t really have that much to compete with, but still. Sadly, Insidious 2 shat all over the success of the original in a misguided attempt to wring a few more dollars out of the property. So, here’s Insidious: Chapter 3 to complete the process and turn the franchise into another Final Destination or Friday the 13th or whatever.

Horror icon James Wan steps away from the director’s chair for this entry in the series to be replaced by his long-time writing partner Leigh Whannell. Wan and Whannell have been collaborating for years, and their combined efforts have yielded some modern-day horror paragons like the Saw and Insidious series. However, as I said way back in my Insidious 2 review, the story was well and truly over even after the first film and just continuing to tack on more installments was just blatantly unnecessary.

The first Insidious is a bit of an odd duck for me, because while it really doesn’t do anything new or advance the genre to any great degree, it executes its tight, self contained story so well and with such undeniable style that I didn’t really care. There was such a constant atmosphere of oppression and hopelessness, temped with a beautifully slow-boil kind of tension that built to an emotionally harrowing climax.

While Insidious 2 let itself down on pretty much every one of those points, Insidious 3 at least maintains that methodically building tension, but really missteps when it comes to paying it off. The highlight of the experience for me came around the midpoint when our protagonist, Quinn, lies in her bed with two broken legs, immobile and incapable of defending herself. The monster of the hour appears in a nerve-wracking sequence, and essentially begins toying with Quinn, throwing her out of bed and slowly, methodically moving around the room, closing the curtains, shutting her laptop, and really eliciting the kind of psychological torment that we don’t see enough of these days. I was kind of stunned; the Insidious 3 cash-grab was the last place I expected to find such a beautifully crafted and genuinely frightening sequence. That’s horror, my friends: being absolutely alone and defenseless against something that hates you and is determined to gradually wear away your resolve until you’re little more than a quietly weeping mess. It is not, however, a super-powered granny using a Dragon Ball Z super stomp attack during the film’s climax.

Yes, things really fall apart at the end as the film kicks any notion of a tense and emotionally satisfying climax in the head. You were doing so well, Insidious 3! It turns out that all that tense, atmospheric intrigue that had been building up is pretty much thrown out the window in the final act, in favor of Lin Shaye’s Elise Rainer running around a slightly dark maze and performing the super-stomp on the bad guy at the end. That ain’t my Insidious, I can tell you that.

The recurring “comedy” characters in the series, Tucker and Specks, played by Angus Sampson and Whannell, respectively, also make an appearance, but I find their necessary inclusion kind of misguided. Whenever these jokers show up, the tension automatically dissolves because it’s hard to maintain the proper tone with Laurel and Hardy bumbling around. As far as the plot is concerned, their presence is hardly necessary and it seems like they were just included because that’s what the first Insidious did.

Look, either be a horror film, or be a comedy. When you try to be both at the same time, you end up with a movie that so schizophrenic in tone that it ought to be in a straight jacket. I can appreciate the desire to include some moments of levity to juxtapose with the horror so that the really dark moments are more emotionally impactful, but horror and comedy are such opposites that a major tonal shift half way through the movie is going to undermine everything you’ve been working for up until that point.

Insidious: Chapter 3 is marred right off the bat by being an unnecessary sequel, but if you can manage to look past that, it’s competently paced and builds up to a frightening moment or two around the midpoint. After that though, it’s all down hill. The atmosphere and tension whither away into nothing when Jake and Elwood show up, leaving the film to potter around for another hour before winding up with the incredibly disappointing granny super moves. If you look closely, you can see glimpses of the original winning formula, but the original vision has been exploited for coin twice now, so it’s not entirely surprising that the idea well is running dry.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

 

San Andreas

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I’ve got to level with you guys, I really don’t want to do this one. Actually, my own mother was the only person I know who was excited to see it. She was all like “did you see the trailer for that? The cruise ship part looked delightful.” And I was like “Yeah, if you like the CG department jizzing in your eyes for two hours.” I mean, I didn’t say it to her face, obviously.

I’m really having a difficult time deciding how to start, because what we have here is a film without a single original thought in its head. When you’re trying to write about a uniform, grey gelatinous mass, which part are you supposed to cleave out and analyze first? I might as well start with the visuals, since they seem to be the only real selling point. As we’ve established in previous articles, this current-day RealD malarkey looks just as bad in San Andreas as it does in every other summer blockbuster, particularly near the end of the film. For whatever reason—perhaps because the budget ran out—the CG really seems to start lacking polish and begins looking really “video-gamey,” if you will. I’m hardly surprised at the slapdash approach to visual storytelling, but I do find it ironic that the only new, unique thing that the film purports to offer turns out to be of embarrassingly poor quality.

So what else can we rag on? I guess we can talk about the mostly non-existent story. It’s that same plot that every disaster movie has, of course; you know how it goes, right? A whole mess of people are gathered in one spot and have no idea that they’re all about to get shafted. The tragedy strikes—in this instance, a massive earthquake rents the ground asunder across the entire San Andreas fault line—and the emotional core of the film is centered on a single family in order to better pull at our heartstrings.

All this is fairly standard procedure and has worked to varying degrees of success in other films. San Andreas, too, has this ongoing plot about a family trying to reunite with each other in the midst of the chaos, but it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why it doesn’t work. It could be because a lot of the characters’ interactions were just a little bit too pretty, a little too cutesy and too “Hollywood,” if you will, to be taken seriously. It might also have something to do with the visuals, as I mentioned before, looking unreal and fake-looking to the point where it really took me out of the story, thus dissolving a lot of the tension that the film’s success hinged on.

One way they might have addressed this issue is by incorporating some graphic deaths or people being wounded in some way—you know, the kind of thing that might happen in a real disaster? Maybe a bit of blood here, some people getting chopped in half by high-tension cables there, would have added a sense of weight to the wide-spread destruction at the heart of the story. Instead, we’ve got the same problem Age of Ultron had, where things just seem to be lacking any grit or humanity. Consequently, without anything to make the audience sit up and take notice, the action tends to blur together in a bland, incomprehensible mass.

Something like Juan Antonio Bayona’s 2012 disaster film The Impossible, which had both an engaging story and impressive visuals, proves that this kind of thing can be done well. Even with the easiest formula in the word, practically tailor-made to elicit maximum audience empathy, San Andreas sill somehow manages to blow it.

There are a lot of reasons why San Andreas didn’t work, and why is was ultimately a boring film, despite the whole “chaos on a grand scale” thing. Mostly though, I think it just came down to a lack of heart. Audiences can tell the difference between a movie that was made because its creators thought it would be fun to watch and one that was made to sell tickets, and San Andreas in almost certainly in the latter category. The film is the epitome of dumbed-down slurry to appeal to the broadest possible audience and, since that’s the case, we’re left with a pretty soulless experience that takes no risks and has no new ideas, and ultimately suffers for it.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Beat Breakdown #2: Nightcrawler

In this installment of the Beat Breakdown we’ll be taking a look at the 2014 neo-noir crime thriller Nightcrawler, written and directed by Dan Gilroy. The film was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay at the 87th Academy Awards.

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To view a .pdf of the screenplay, click here.

PLOT SYNOPSIS

The story follows mysterious loner (and psycho) Lou Bloom as he skulks around Los Angeles in search of gainful employment. With the often reluctant help of world-weary station manager Nina, Lou begins skulking with a purpose as he embarks on an ignoble crusade to capture LA’s most shocking crimes on camera. Lou takes to his new position as a “nightcrawler” with admirable zeal, but is Lou driven by good old professional integrity, or perhaps something infinitely more sinister?

INCITING INCIDENT

(Pages 6-12) The film begins with a bit of exposition, introducing us to Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom, our wiry-looking protagonist with a superficial smile and unnerving presence. As Lou cruises around LA one fateful evening, he happens upon a grizzly scene involving two police officers pulling an unconscious woman from a blazing car. As Lou gapes at the scene, spellbound by the flashing lights and shattered glass, a news van screeches to a halt, depositing a hassled cameraman who immediately begins filming the wreckage. Lou, still enraptured by the profane pageantry a day later, idly sits at home flipping through daytime news channels. Suddenly he stops, frozen, as a report of the wreck from the night before flashes across the screen. We can practically see the infernal cogs inside Lou’s head begin to turn, as the seed of turmoil takes root.

PLOT POINT ONE

(Pages 17-23) So the seed of turmoil has grown into a shrubbery of mischief as Lou acquires the camcorder and police scanner that are the staples of nightcrawling. Gardening metaphors aside, Lou’s luck eventually turns when he manages to get an unrestricted, close-up shot of a shooting victim, complete with graphic brain-chunks a reasonably-sized pool of blood. Naturally, this kind of footage is just what the KSML-TV News crew is looking for. In short order, Lou makes the acquaintance of the station manager, played by Rene Russo, who cuts him a check for his work. Rene encourages Lou to continue his nightcrawling, and offers him this piece of advice: “…to capture what we air, think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

MIDPOINT

(Pages 46-49) To punctuate Lou’s meteoric rise in the world of nightcrawling, Nina when they meet for dinner at Cabanita—which has been called an authentic taste of Mexico City. Nina’s pretensions are shattered, however, when Lou reveals the sociopathic tendencies hiding behind his facade of wholesome professionalism. Lou effectively blackmails Nina into engaging in a romantic relationship, despite her protestations and, in the process, sheds more light on his motivations and goals. In Lou’s own words, he “wants to be the guy who owns the station that owns the camera.” All that’s left for the audience to do is wait for the volatile mixture of complete ethical bankruptcy and psychotic single-minded ambition to come to a head—in assuredly spectacular fashion.

PLOT POINT TWO

(Pages 60-70) It’s business as usual for Lou, who’s taken on a new employee in an effort to minimize his effectiveness while on the job. With Lou now firmly entrenched in the administrative culture of KSML, he’s got find a story worth reporting, lest he lose his position of power over Nina. While pursuing a possible story late one night, Lou picks up another conveniently located crime on the police scanner. Without a moment to lose, he hightails it to the scene, arrive even before the police. Abandoning even the pretense of journalistic integrity, Lou enters the scene to find a murdered family, quickly and efficiently recording the whole thing, naturally. Racing back to KSML to sell the story, Lou promises Nina that the story isn’t over, and that she can expect the follow-up to boost the tin-pot station’s ratings to unprecedented levels. Unbeknownst to Nina, Lou secretly captured the license plate of the perpetrator’s car, meaning that he alone knows where to find the suspects, and subsequently that he alone can break the story.

CRISIS AND CLIMAX

(Pages 81-97) Not twenty-four hours later, Lou has tracked down the suspects and, along with his employee, Rick, plan to tail them, only calling in the cops at the opportune moment. The suspects, a pair a burly gangsters, arrive at a busy restaurant—the perfect place to film their “dramatic” arrest. Rick, however, is given pause for thought as he considers how dangerous this operation might turn out to be. Undeterred, Lou proceeds to tip off the police, already in the prime position to capture the arrest on film. The police arrive shortly, and it’s immediately clear that the suspects have no intention of coming quietly. A thrilling, high-speed chase through the busy Los Angeles streets ensues, ending in the suspects’ car overturning. What follows is difficult to describe in a non-visual medium, but essentially, Lou notices that one of the suspects is still armed, despite his near-fatal crash, and motions for Rick to go over to him and start recording. The suspect, injured and with nothing left to loose, shoots and fatally wounds Rick and Lou captures his last moments on camera. With this, the audience realizes who and what Lou really is, and that there’s nothing he won’t sacrifice to achieve his ends.

DENOUEMENT

(Pages 98-108) Rick’s death serves as the emotional high-point of the film, and all subsequent action does little more than reinforce what the audience already knows about Lou. There’s a truncated police investigation surrounding the killings and the video “evidence” that Lou recorded at the scene, but since the police can’t prove anything, it’s little more than a formality. The film’s ending is appropriately nihilistic, but in a sort of knowing way, as if it’s simply the conformation of something we had known all a long. In the final scene, Lou stands before his new employees, imparting a few words of wisdom before they drive off, documenting and causing mayhem of their own, extensions of Lou himself, as if they were his own treacherous tendrils extending, groping blindly, searching, and gleefully seizing upon and exposing violence and discord in the dark Los Angles night. Lou leaves his new employees with this: “I can tell you from experience that the surest way up the ladder is to listen carefully and follow my orders. You may be confused at times, and other times unsure, but remember that I will never ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.”

Poltergeist

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Between this new Poltergeist remake and the upcoming Jurassic World, I guess 2015 is the year we collectively set aside to lavish Steven Spielberg with tongue baths. I mean, I’m glad we can all agree that Spielberg is a great director, but is there such a drought of new ideas that we have to go about recycling like this? Of course not! It’s just that if it doesn’t carry enough name recognition to make a guaranteed return on investment during opening weekend, then the cynical, ponderous Hollywood mechanism wants nothing to do with it. So then we get soulless, transparent cash-grabs like this.

From a critical standpoint, the film shot itself in the foot from the word “go” by having the temerity to call itself Poltergeist, necessarily inviting comparisons to Spielberg’s original film from 1982—a far superior movie, incidentally; but you didn’t need me to tell you that, did you? For those of you out of the loop, the original Poltergeist was a surprisingly intelligent little supernatural horror flick with an undercurrent of satire aimed at the shallow, superficial suburban decadence that consumed the American middle class in the 1980s, and perhaps still does today. Vitally, that theme was an essential element of the plot, whereas in the new Poltergeist, the “blind consumerism” angle is replaced, in a rather conciliatory way, with an “over-reliance on technology” angle, and even this half-hearted nod to the original is quickly dropped when the writer can’t think of anywhere to go with it.

And speaking of writing, the one responsible for this floundering, go-nowhere knockoff is none other than David Lindsay-Abaire. “Who?” you might ask. Well, he’s the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007 for his play Rabbit Hole, since you’re so curious. I’m told that it’s actually pretty famous as plays go, but that being said, it’s baffling how tepid and all-around bland this screenplay is, considering the acclaim of the author’s previous work. Not even Sam Rockwell, who really hasn’t had a bad performance to date, can save the script from being just generally drab and uninspired.

My main problem with the film is that it’s so overwhelmingly safe. It takes no risks and pushes no boundaries; you know, exactly what you shouldn’t do if you plan on remaking a beloved staple of the horror genre. That new Evil Dead that came out a few years ago—also produced by Sam Raimi, incidentally—was at least something that took a few chances, regardless of it’s overall quality. But what we have here is basically the same points as the first Poltergeist with vastly worse execution. No anthropomorphic trees, no dead-body swimming pool hijinks, no apparitions, no “gotcha” twist ending because the pacing was all wrong, no classic Speilbergian face-melting, and perhaps most importantly, no Tangina Barrons (or equivalent).

While we’re drawing parallels between the two films, allow me to draw another. Remember that little old lady in Poltergeist who came to “cleanse” the house? The lady with the high, squeaky voice and a face like an English bulldog’s? Well, what if I told you that the eccentric medium in question, Tangina Barrons, was basically Spielberg’s answer to Lucas’s Yoda; that is, a physically small and frail being possessed of immense spiritual power. Needless to say, that whole genre-subverting element is lost when you cast someone like Jared Harris in her place.

Likewise, the decision to show the interior of the iconic dead-world wasn’t one that should be taken lightly, as the decision to avoid showing it in the original film and simply portraying it a mysterious, cloying blackness afforded it a certain mystique. While the imagery they decided to go with in the remake is admittedly quite striking—a horde of bodies crawling over each other in a scrambling mass—but to immediately put pay to any good will the film may have built up, they decided to do it in fake-looking CG that comes across as more laughably low-budget that frightening.

Not helping matters at all is the fact that literally every single one of the film’s even remotely scares were given away in the trailer. See, I was always under the impression that a trailer was intended to set the tone of the film, maybe get the audience exited to meet the characters or intrigue them with a unique setting—not, as it’s apparently done nowadays, to serve as a substitute for the film itself.

Frankly, I don’t have much more to say about this disappointing mess of a film. On the bright side, it’s relatively short, so you won’t have to endure it for too long, and “endure” really is the right word. The film does nothing to set itself apart from the veritable stampede of similar “baby’s first horror movies” that get released periodically throughout the year. It’s disappointing because even with a metaphorical cheat sheet—the first Poltergeist movie—Abaire and director Gil Kenan seem to have decided to tackle a remake without a thorough understanding of what made it a good movie in the first place. Ah, but what’s artistic integrity when there’s the movie-going public to fleece, right?

Rating: 2 out of 5

 

Tomorrowland

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I try to go into most movies without any preconceived notions, simply waiting to be impressed. If anything, I was even a little excited for Tomorrowland, because if there’s one fictional sub-genre I can get behind, it’s sci-fi. Despite it appearing in the trailers as a massive Disney advertisement for its own theme park, I saw George Clooney looking grim and Hugh Laurie acting evil, so I though I might as well go in with a good attitude. What a quaint notion that seems now. Lesson learned, though: never have a good attitude about anything, if it can be helped.

As a product of the early 2000s myself, I’ve got a certain amount of nostalgia for director Brad Bird’s work. He directed The Iron Giant back in 1999, which pulled at my juvenile heartstrings even then, as well as The Incredibles in 2004 and Ratatouille in 2007. Though Bird technically made the transition from animation to live-action with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in 2011, I can’t help but feel that something was lost along the way.

From a conceptual standpoint, the art design looks really sleek and cool and sci-fi, and in all honesty, the futuristic city of Tomorrowland seems pretty well realized. In practical terms, however, the CG quickly begins to look laughably fake. I don’t know if I’m just noticing it more frequently now, or if RealD 3D just makes everything look like shit, but I’m appalled at how many 3D films this year look visually repulsive. Seriously, sit too close to the screen and you can see the virtual stitching starting to come undone. It’s like the Star Wars prequels all over again. Maybe I’m being over critical and maybe the sensible, 2D version looks fine, but all I can say for certain is that we badly need to get over this 3D fad before we all contract haemolacria.

Before I get into the minutiae of what ardently destroyed the experience for me, I want to briefly mention the cast. George Clooney, to his credit, really does try the best he can with the pile of trash of a script that he’s insolently been asked to work with.

Likewise, it’s good fun to watch Hugh Laurie hamming it up as the bad guy, delivering the most tortured one-liners ever put to film and slap-fighting Clooney near the end. And even though I was initially down on Ellen Page wannabe Britt Robertson, I kind of warmed to her when I realized that she was trying to act in front of a featureless green screen for ninety-five percent of the movie. She might be forgiven, then, for seeming to over-react to a comical degree in nearly every situation, but one must bear in mind that there was actually nothing for her to react to. Maybe she should have been in charge instead of Bird, since apparently her imagination was way more exciting that whatever was happening on-screen.

And now we’re getting to it, I guess. I’ve danced around this issue long enough. The story. It was only during the credits that I discovered who was responsible for this train wreck: none other than Damon “Prometheus-ruiner” Lindelof. Well, that explains it! I thought. Lindelof’s putrid fingerprints are all over the script, from the insipid, directionless characters to the pedestrian, pseudo-philosophical “fate is what we make it” ending.

The first awful character we’re properly introduced to is Robertson’s Casey Newton: a precocious, tech-savvy young woman, completely without flaw and who, through optimistic energy alone, is able to alter the fabric of space-time. I wish I were making that up. Then we’ve got Clooney’s character, Frank Walker, who’s a bit more well-rounded, being a jaded cynic, basically resigned to the fact humanity is shafted—I found him the most relatable, incidentally. So what happens when you toss these two powder-keg personalities into the same situation? Nothing much at all, frankly, but that might have rather more to do with their dialogue sounding like it was written by someone who’s never interacted with another human being.

My real problem is twofold: 1) neither character is deep or complex enough for me to feel more than superficially invested in their struggles, and 2) neither character really has anything to do, specifically Clooney’s, until right at the very end. The story is your typical “sightseeing tour” affair, with the characters visiting exotic locations with nothing much to do once they get there. In fact, Casey Newton asks at one point, “am I supposed to be doing something?” An appropriate question, to be sure, but I would have extended it to every animal, vegetable, and mineral in the plot up until that point. Hilariously, there’s this ongoing subplot involving the two leads being hunted by kill-droids from an alternate dimension (which sounds way more interesting than it actually is), but it’s blatantly obvious that its entire purpose is to contrive a reason for the protagonists to move along to the next boring set-piece when the story is done cramming exposition down our throats at the current one.

And for a rollicking sci-fi fantasy adventure, there’s a hell of a lot of half-baked exposition that Lindelof insists on spoon-feeding us. The action is so choppy and stop/go/stop because he has to slam on the breaks to crowbar in even more expository bullshit. Show us, Lindelof, don’t just tell us. The indecisive tone doesn’t help the fractured pacing either, as scenes in which multiple people get atomized with no remorse are juxtaposed with scenes in which Hugh Laurie struts around uttering the aforementioned tortured one liners. Speaking of, let’s get around to my other major sticking point, the evil plan.

For the vast majority of the movie, the Earth is threatened with destruction in a wholly unspecific way, allegedly due to a big machine that George Clooney built while he was bumming around an alternate dimension. Neither Lindelof nor Clooney seem to know exactly what the big machine actually does, but the consensus seems to be that it can predict the future somehow. No one knows why the world is going to end though, so they’ve got to travel to the source to figure it out. Once there, Hugh Laurie reveals that he’s the one who’s seeding trans-dimensional bad-vibes to Earth, which is making everyone get really depressed or aggressive or something. But here’s the thing: Hugh Laurie outright admits that even if Earth gets destroyed, it won’t have any impact whatsoever on Tomorrowland. So my question is, why continue to do it even if you know it won’t make any difference to you and yours? Just for kicks? The whole thing is such a contrived, unintuitive mess from start to finish that it’s making my brain hurt just trying to remember it.

And at the very end of the movie, when George Clooney is giving a bit of an epilogue after the big machine gets destroyed, he says something to the effect of, “this is going to be a lot harder than destroying a big evil tower.” Okay, great. Thanks for drawing attention to how idiotic the plot was, Lindelof. But why don’t you change it and make it less idiotic instead of sitting there, grinning and pointing at the massive shit you just took? Lindelof’s absolute delirious contempt for his audience is nothing new, but this reaches a whole new level of awful.

So, to make a long story short, my hopes of a sci-fi fantasy epic were DOA, Damon Lindelof demonstrated what he thinks of the people who see his movies, Disney gets to masturbate over it’s own intellectual property for a while, and 3D is still terrible. See you, space cowboy…

Rating: 2 out of 5

Mad Max: Fury Road

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I’m rolling up to the Mad Max party pretty late, I admit. I’ve had a lot on my plate recently, so it was certainly gratifying to sit down to a screening of Fury Road and enjoy the mind-numbing catharsis for a while, and if there was ever one word to perfectly describe this fourth installment of the franchise, “cathartic” would certainly be it.

Written, directed and produced by the famed Dr. George Miller (he actually does have a medical degree), Fury Road is undeniably biggest, most brash and in-your-face film of the year so far. The sheer density and scale of the world that Miller has managed to create is remarkable in itself, but becomes even more so when the film proceeds to deliver some of the most deliriously fun-to-watch action sequences that I remember seeing, full stop. Critics have described the direction, especially in regards to Miller’s action sequences, and practically balletic and, indeed, the marvelously fast-paced and beautifully impactful action all takes place at break-neck speeds as the combatants hurtle across the dessert at mach 10.

And can I just take a moment to say how damn gratifying it is to see an action film without a color palate consisting of mainly shit brown and dishwater grey? The rich, vibrant primaries offset with the oil blacks and stark whites are really a joy to see from a visual standpoint. Even more importantly, Miller internalizes the concept of “show, don’t tell,” and allows the rich and detailed mythos of the film to be communicated visually, rather than stop the action to shove exposition down the audience’s throats like Tomorrowland or Jupiter Ascending, to use recent examples. The fact that things aren’t out-and-out explained to us makes them all the more intriguing. From characters and costumes to settings and action-setpieces, everything in Fury Road’s universe is lovingly designed and detailed, yet it all makes sense within the context of the world. Nothing seems out of place, and everything is there that needs to be there.

Speaking of, I’m pleased to report that Miller brings back all of that delightful homoeroticism that characterized the series after the first Mad Max. You know: all these characters running around either S&M gear or mostly naked, a sort of fetishistic reverence for the leadership, and in this one, Nicholas Hoult and Tom Hardy spend the first forty-five minutes attached to one another with a chain and a hypodermic full of blood. Tell me that’s not somehow symbolic!

Regular readers will know that it almost killed me to say so many nice things about a movie, so now let’s move on to the shitty parts before I start hemorrhaging internally.

Some cretinous pleb on tumblr claimed that Fury Road was the pinnacle of cinematic storytelling, and I had a good old pretentious chuckle over that. The story deserves close examination because, as is the case with a lot of bombastic action films, the narrative is basically just an excuse to string together some barely connected action sequences that will (hopefully) distract the audience from how insipid the plot actually is. And that’s certainly the case with Fury Road, for what it’s worth. The story can basically be summarized thus: the good guys steal the bad guys’ mcguffin(s), and the bad guys are willing to expend virtually unlimited recourses to get them back. So far, so standard.

From there, it really is just your typical, loosely-connected string of setpieces serving as little more than an excuse to show off the high-octane action, most of which takes place in featureless desert, occasionally swapped out for a slightly different bit of featureless desert, but at night this time.

As is usually the case with these films, Max himself is by far the least interesting thing in it. Then again, the beauty of the Mad Max franchise has always been more about the insane world and less about Max’s more-or-less generic character. This does lead me to question, however, whether Max’s presence is strictly relevant to the plot. Realistically, you could take Max out all together and you’d be left with pretty much the same film. I assume the intention was to retain brand recognition, but if that’s the case, it’s a pretty cynical approach on Miller’s part.

On that note, I was actually kind of disappointed at how archetypical and one-dimensional Miller’s characters tuned out to be. We have Max, of course: the gruff, stoic action hero who thinks a sure-fire way of acting cool is to show as little emotion as possible. Then we have Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who frequently reminds us that she’s seeking “redemption,” though never actually mentions what she wants to be redeemed for. We’re left with a weird scenario in which Furiosa is willing to risk life and limb to achieve her goal, but we don’t actually get a glimpse of her motivation for doing so. Sure, she want’s to be redeemed, but practically speaking, that’s little more than providing a perfunctory and slapdash justification for why the conflict exists at all. The whole story revolves around Furiosa and her decisions, but it’s a shame that she comes across as little more than the stereotypical supercilious bad-ass action chick.

To my mind, the character with the most potential for development was Nicholas Hoult’s Nux, a rather bumbling and inept War Boy, bred specifically to be a member of the main baddie’s personal army. Hoult gives quite an admirable performance, but his character, too, is marred by rushed development and an unfulfilling arc. Nux is originally a zealot, a War Boy obsessed and devoted to his leader, Immortan Joe. At the drop of a hat, however, and a casualness with which one might change a boring TV channel, Nux switches sides and joins Max and Furiosa on their quest for not-particularly-justified redemption. My point is that Nux’s realignment carries no emotional weight because it seems as though the only reason he made the choice that he did was because the plot demanded it, and not, as we might expect, because he felt remorseful or conflicted about his actions.

But there’s me going on and on about the minor flaws in what is otherwise an extremely well-made film. Sure, the characters are kind of flat, and their motivations and arcs don’t make a lot of sense, but the simple fact is that Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most fun and all-around entertaining movies that I’ve seen in a really long time. In many ways, it serves as the perfect counterpoint to, say, Age of Ultron’s cold, superficial and ultimately boring action and story. Amazing, isn’t it? You put a bit of heart and passion into your film and, lo and behold people like it, and rant for way too long about it on a tin-pot movie blog that no one will ever read.

Rating: 4 out of 5