Movie Review: “Mad Max: Fury Road” (George Miller, Australia/USA 2015)

Back in the early to mid 1970s, a crop of young directors appeared in a government program intended to revitalize Australia’s film industry that had languished since World War II. They were dubbed the Australian New Wave. The program worked, because it found a series of directors highlighted by George Miller, Nicholas Roeg and Peter Weir–directors who found both commercial and critical acclaim. Weir produced a stream of films that received little notice beyond the most highbrow Australian film critics, then broke out with The Cars that Ate Paris (Peter Weir, Australia 1975) (Note: This film has since been retitled The Cars that Eat People, but The Cars that Ate Paris is its original title.), a horror film about a small town that crashes visitors’ cars in order to sell the parts. Weir skyrocketed from that point on and by the dawn of the next decade, he was a critical darling who was about to cross over to the United States and release a string of fantastic, successful films. But probably the most popular film anyone in the Australian New Wave was Miller’s first feature, Mad Max (Australia 1979). Miller took some of the same images and ideas from Weir’s first success and took them to their logical extreme, producing a film about a sort of steampunk desert dystopia where water and gasoline are the world’s most precious resources. His film was a naked revenge fantasy intended to allow him to show off the world he had come up with, a world that shared more than a little with the town of Paris in Weir’s earlier film.

36 years later, Weir is cemented as one of the best directors in modern cinema history, so successful that he can make whatever film he wants and no one really cares whether it has any likelihood of commercial success. Miller, meanwhile, has made a relatively small number of films and some have not been well-received by critics, but every single one has been an incredible commercial success. And so, he’s still continuing his Mad Max saga. After the first film, he made a sequel that was just as much a remake as a true continuation in Mad Max 2 (Australia 1982) (Note: This film was released as The Road Warrior in the US, because Mad Max had not received much, if any, release in the US, but Mad Max 2 is actually the original title.), reveling in the ability to show off the world he had created with a large enough budget not to constrain his imagination. Then he made part of another film before turning it over to another director who turned it into something closer to an addition to John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (UK/USA 1981) before allowing the series to rest for nearly three decades. Still, he has maintained control of this series for so long that it’s impressive, regardless of the quality of the films. Continue reading

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Movie Review: “Ex Machina” (Alex Garland, UK 2015)

The title, the art, and the basic plot description of this film made it sound pretty clear what it would be: a straightforward science fiction film about the possible future of robotics and artificial intelligence. More specifically, it sounded like a film about the singularity (a popular topic in the last few years–ask Wally Pfister and Christopher Nolan).

A funny thing happened on the way to that sci-fi film. The film’s introduction ended and it began its first act in earnest with sweeping shots of a helicopter flying through lush, green mountains. As soon as the lead character entered the building that would be the setting for the entire rest of the film, a Schubert piano sonata with a striking resemblance to a particularly famous John Williams score began. And so it became obvious that the film we were entering was Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, USA 1993). In simpler terms, it was a horror film with a bit of sci-fi dressing.* Continue reading

TV Episodes Review: “Orphan Black” “The Weight of this Combination” (3.01, 2015), “Transitory Sacrifices of Crisis” (3.02, 2015), and “Formalized, Complex, and Costly” (03.03, 2015)

I don’t have some grand unifying theory of Orphan Black at this point. I wasn’t terribly happy with the first two episodes, but I felt the third was an improvement. I’m separating my comments by storyline groups, because the truth is this show feels very fractured right now. Obviously, there has been some overlap with the main storyline, but the clones seem almost like distanced relatives at this point.

Alison/Donnie

Oddly enough, the crazed, manic, half-sensical, “soccer mom”* weirdness of Alison Hendrix that has often served as this show’s comic relief has shot out of the gate as the most interesting aspect of the show. Donnie gets fired and then Alison decides to buy her drug dealer’s business as he leaves for college in order to replace Donnie’s lost income and provide a voter base for her to run for the school board. It’s a humorously crazy plan from a narcissistic, shallow drug addict who likes to wrap herself in the flag of her children.

*This is a phrase I’ve never understood. Why isn’t it just “suburban mom” or “upper middle class suburban mom?” That’s what it means. What does soccer have to do with that? Does it just seem weird to me because nobody played soccer where I grew up?

And she and Donnie of course begin the plan with a great mix of intelligence and pure stupidity. Selling the drugs under the guise of selling home-made soap is a good plan: soap is easy enough to produce and something this client base can justify bringing home. However, they leave the garage door unlocked and don’t consider the possibility of the kids telling someone where they are, so that the school board opponent just waltzes in.

The comic relief storyline is at least going somewhere and it has been repeatedly entertaining, which is more than we can say for some.

Cosima

Cosima is now going through a sort of existential crisis, asking questions like what happened to the male clone’s soul when he died. This crisis is a ridiculous cliche that smacks of having no atheists around to tell them what’s wrong with it.

People become interested in science via curiosity. I found NASA and spaceflight fascinating because I was interested in aliens. I learned about the limits of the human mind’s ability to reason through reading about conspiracy theories. And that’s not just me, that’s how scientific-minded people often end up in that area. The same happens with religious questions. I was interested in the mind-body problem so I thought about it, read about it, etc. and by the end of high school I was convinced that there is no mind (or “soul”). It would take evidence suggesting a distinction between the two to make me question that, not just an emotional experience.

Cosima is having the existential crisis now that she should have had ten years before, and that makes it seem extraordinarily silly.

Delphine/Dyad

Dyad apparently just has a never-ending bureaucracy that never has any clue what’s going on a step below it. And Delphine really hates Rachel. That’s really all there is here.

Well, and Rachel is actually still scary. That stare she gave the doctor when he was testing her visual recognition was the same terrifying stare that she gave before being attacked, and I think that means she’s not out of this game.

Castor

All of these clones seem like the same guy. Ari Millen plays them all pretty close to the same. However, that does make sense given their background–they were all raised and trained together, by the same people with the same rules. Unlike the female clones, these are clones who are put in such a position that they are likely to end up being very similar people.

The downside is that it makes them less interesting. Yeah, it makes sense that they are so alike, but just having ten of the same character running around is just dull.

They’re really after something that the LEDA clones should be after as well, so there’s also no real sense to the antagonism, even before the discovery that they are siblings. It seems pretty clear that at some point, all the clones are going to be working together to get the original data that the military and Dyad have hidden away.

Helena doesn’t seem to be terribly affected by what CASTOR has done to her so far, still acting like the same crazed borderline psychopath she’s always been, even though she’s held where she cannot act as she would like. One interesting aspect of her that was sort of suggested with the military attempted to test her, though: how would you know if she started to show the same cognitive deterioration that Seth showed? She’s so uncooperative and out-of-control normally that it would be essentially impossible. Also, I do like that she sees through the lie about Sarah having given her up.

Sarah/Felix/Mrs. S/Art/about 700 others

One thing that’s interesting to note is that Felix has really drifted away from being the comic relief he was early in the series. While Alison also always provided comic relief, Felix’s unique way with words and often-surprising reactions always also made for great comedy. Jordan Gavaris’s easy naturalism in the role always also made Felix an appealing character. While Felix is still appealing, he’s become far less funny and far more helpful. He’s been forced to take on much of what used to be Mrs. S’s role, and as is Felix’s wont, he’s doing it with aplomb.

Meanwhile, Art and Sarah are trying to figure out what the CASTOR clones are up to, with Sarah hoping to find some way to retrieve Helena. Sarah finds Mark just a bit too late, stumbling across him just in time to see him killed but not in time to find out what he’s found.

Mrs. S’s emotional shutdown is proving to be a minor hindrance, but Sarah keeps finding ways around it or getting just enough from her to continue forward, which makes it all the more emotionally powerful: she cannot even force her way into helping Felix, Sarah, et al. She’s alone and there really isn’t anything she can do.

Notes

  • Did Donnie say “saltwater pool?” I’ve never heard of a saltwater pool and the existence of one seems very weird.
  • I still laugh and think, “It’s Mr. Big Dick!” the first time we see Paul in any episode.
  • Chekhov’s cough from Cosima. Chekhov’s footlocker in Gracie’s hotel room.
  • Why did Mark not even bother to read what was in the footlocker? He really didn’t even consider the possibility of there being a clue somewhere in that paper? I have a feeling someone whose name may rhyme with Quarah might decide to read those later and find something.