That’ll Do, Max, That’ll Do

Mad Max 2

Big budget studio movies like Mad Max: Fury Road don’t come along very often.  I can only think of two others that rose to the same echelon and were made in my lifetime:  Raiders of the Lost Ark and Inception.  Like those films, Mad Max: Fury Road begins in the midst of action, slows down to let the viewer get acclimated to the world that has been created, and then once it reaches a certain point propels its audience full throttle ahead through amazing set piece after amazing set piece and explodes in a dynamite denouement.   All three of these films are masterpieces of pacing and editing.

All of the hyperbole swirling around Mad Max: Fury Road is not hyperbole.  Those who have heralded it as the best action movie ever made are saying that because it is.  The reviewer who said it will melt your face off was almost right…for the record, it will rip your face off, not melt it.  Even if you’ve seen the original Mad Max films, you’ve still never seen anything like this.  And if you haven’t seen the previous films, it doesn’t matter one lick.

In a post-apocalyptic hellscape where water and gasoline are the holy grails and people pray to a god called V8 (one is to assume named after the engine and not the drink) while spraying their mouths with chrome before dare-devil-ing to spectacular martyr deaths in defense of their tyrannical warlord Immorten Joe (Hugh Keayes-Byrne), a woman haunted by the distant memories of a “green-land” named Imperator Furiosa (an indomitable Charlize Theron) teams up with a man left for dead and haunted by the ghost of his dead child he failed to save and protect (a perfectly cast Tom Hardy, madly stoic) to transport by oil tanker-turned-war caravan the prized breeders/wives of Immorten Joe to a new-found freedom. Continue reading

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Tea Party Wish Fulfillment, Messianic Fetishism and the American Way in Man of Steel

Muh ha ha...I am a god.

Muw ha ha…I am a god.

To be the smartest man in the room.  It’s a nice place to be.  Christopher Nolan has reached a point in his career where he is the smartest man in the room.  Warner Brothers begged him to reboot the Superman film mythos, but Nolan wisely decreed that he was the last person who should do that.  He knew after his successful reboot of Batman that lightening doesn’t strike twice.  Yet Hollywood lives off the delusion that lightning can strike twice.  So, Nolan, not wanting to bite the hand that fed him, agreed to produce and bring along many of his cohorts (notably screenwriter David S. Goyer and epic score maestro Hans Zimmer) to help breathe life into a stale franchise.  He gets paid no matter what, and if this things bombs, hey, he wasn’t the director (meanwhile he’s busy crafting his own original film, Interstellar).  In comes Zack Snyder, a keen visual stylist who too often succumbs to his own fetishes involving shaky camera-work and overblown non-sensical FX spun into a blender, to direct.  The result is the overstuffed but weirdly entertaining Man of Steel – which brings great comfort to the writer in me, for it’s Goyer’s script (thoughtful, though full of holes and far from perfect) that rises above Snyder’s bombastic attempt to derail the film at every turn.

Man of Steel’s greatest assets (apart from Zimmer’s score) are the cast members.  The filmmakers wisely brought on two of this generation’s greatest character actors to take on key roles: Michael Shannon, enraged and menacing as General Zod and quadruple Oscar nominee Amy Adams as a feisty and smarter than usual Lois Lane.  It’s a real treat to watch Shannon not so much chew scenery as he does annihilate it (literally, his super-alien romper-room shenanigans with our title character bring down buildings) and it’s refreshing to see Adams’ Lois get in on the action and discover Clark Kent’s true identity from the start.  She coos and pants in his arms when he rescues her, but she’s no fool and unlocks the key to bringing down Zod.  Meanwhile, enjoyable cameos abound with Russell Crowe overacting as Jor-El; Kevin Costner under-acting as the senior Kent; Diane Lane pretty, naturally aged and forlorn as Ma Kent; Laurence Fishburne sadly wasted as Lois’ boss; and Christopher Meloni as a noble military man. Continue reading

Alien vs Aliens vs My Childhood

Inspired by the fan-boy raving over at Condemned Movies and in anticipation of the June release of Ridley Scott’s prequel/not-a-prequel hybrid Prometheus, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and revisit Scott’s iconic Alien and Cameron’s raucous Aliens.

What kind of damned robot are you?

I have such fond childhood memories of Scott’s Alien.  Even though I first watched it at a very young age (I think it must have been around the time of Aliens‘ release so I would’ve been about seven), it’s not memories of the film scaring me that I remember most, but memories instead of my parents telling stories of how it scared them when it came to theaters in 1979, also the year of my arrival into the world.  There was pent-up giddy kid-wild anticipation in the Schleicher household as our parents regaled tales of the shock and horror and the downright badass spookiness of Alien – a film that took old-school monster-movie horror and melded it with a new wave of gritty futurism.  It was both a throw-back film and pop-avant-garde.  And I remember feeling truly special when my parents finally let us watch it.  The initial shock of the chest-bursting scene lasts with me to this day as well as fractured fairy-tale memories of a an android that bled milk, an acid-filled face-hugging bug, a pretty girl in her underwear, and a kitty that must be rescued! Continue reading

Shooting Circles Around the Heart of Joe Wright’s Hanna

"So this one time, there was this girl named Hanna, and she was like a super freak, but still totally cool, even though she killed people and stuff."

Hmmm…who knew?  That Joe Wright is quite mad, isn’t he?

In his fourth film, Hanna, director Joe Wright shatters all sensible expectations.  It’s almost as if this (and not the regally refined Pride & Prejudice) was his first film.  Or could this be the first Joe Wright film?  Maybe the rest were compromises, and it is here where he throws everything and the kitchen sink at us and begs, “How do you like me now?”

The art-house action film is a rare breed indeed.  Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional and Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run are probably the most well-regarded.  Hanna, about a teenage girl/uber-assassin out for revenge, will likely join the ranks of those two and in some ways surpasses them.

So in this demented girl-power, Euro-trash, Clockwork Orange-esque, quasi-futuristic, 80’s-retro-ish, techno-club music, beat-boxing kaleidoscope of a film, what does Joe Wright throw at us?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  Here’s the laundry list of treats (potential spoilers ahead) in store for audiences who take on Hanna: Continue reading

Prawn of a New Age

A Review of DISTRICT 9:

An alien mother-ship makes a pit stop over South Africa, where its living “cargo” is dumped and then regulated to a massive slum called District 9 in Neill Blomkamp’s audacious feature film debut.  When the government decides to liquidate District 9 and move the aliens (hatefully referred to as “prawns”) to a glorified concentration camp further outside the city limits after local riots and growing concerns from the human populace, all hell breaks loose after a mid-level and bumbling bureaucrat (Sharlto Copley) is accidentally exposed to “something” that leads to…well…I don’t want to give away too much.

For whatever reason, District 9’s success has come as a surprise to some.  Continue reading

A Review of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”

CAPTION:  Cate Blanchett tells Harrison Ford, “YOU MUST RELIVE YOUR CHILDHOOD.”

Where Were the Dinosaurs?, 25 May 2008
6/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Nineteen years after the alleged Last Crusade, producer George Lucas, director Steven Spielberg, and over-the-hill star Harrison Ford reunite for a fourth Indiana Jones film with The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  Only in our overly ironic post-modern world could a film like this exist where Spielberg attempts to recapture those magic movie moments he created back in 1981 with the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was an attempt to re-imagine the classic action-packed serial adventures from the 1930’s and 1940’s. But can those magic moments ever truly be recreated?  Though it stumbles through nostalgia tinted frames, Indiana Jones and the Kindgom of the Crystal Skull is by no means the disaster that was Lucas’ Star Wars prequels or the mind-numbing exercise that was last year’s Transformers.  Those were four dour commercial films coldly designed to evoke feelings of a lost childhood era that were saved only by amazing visual effects. Surely we hope to say more about this film.

Indy deserves to be cut a certain level of slack. Many of the complaints swirling around this long-awaited flick (i.e. the screwball dialog, the cornball stunts, and the cheesy effects) were present from the very beginning of the franchise. And lest we forget, a large portion of people were initially appalled by the heart-ripping Temple of Doom and mildly disappointed with the creaky Last Crusade.  Even the holy grail that is Raiders of the Lost Ark ended with a lame special effects sequence (and one hell of a face melting). Those who love big set driven stunt action complete with one-liners and death defying tumbles will eat this stuff up just like they did the first three films. My major complaints with this fourth film are the cinematography from Janusz Kaminski, who hyper-lights everything to the point of images being washed out or made smeary, and the lazily lame screenplay from David Koepp, which borrows far too liberally from X-Files era rejected story lines.

The cast is hit or miss with Ford about as effective as you would expect at his age, Cate Blanchett acting the crap out of her villain role (and what great fun she has with that Ukrainian accent), Shia LaBeouf (he’s no River Phoenix) barely tolerable as a motor-head punk kid, and Karen Allen all fun and smiles, most likely from finally securing a big payday after all these years. The update to the 1950’s didn’t quite work for me as no amount of Cold War hullabaloo and Chariots of the Gods style mumbo-jumbo could replace the inherent kick-ass spookiness of Nazis hunting for religious relics. Storywise, Spielberg manages to fit in all of his recurrent child-like obsessions with divorce and aliens, and he playfully recycles his greatest hits not only from the first three films but also from other flicks he’s crafted over the years. When the adventure moved to the Amazon rainforest, I half expected a T-Rex to come traipsing through the jungle for a spell.

The beginning of this installment is a tepid mess, but once Karen Allen shows up about an hour into the film to reprise her role as Marion Ravenwood, the film picks up tremendous steam. For about thirty minutes or so, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a rollicking, old-fashioned white-knuckle adventure complete with car chases through a jungle and along the edges of a cliff, sword fights, waterfall drops, and giant killer ants. The kid in me couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when once character’s face is eaten by the little buggers. It was for these thirty minutes that I completely forgot about Raiders of the Lost Ark, whose scenes replayed in my mind for the remainder of this film’s run-time. Were those magic movie moments recaptured? No, but they were temporarily forgotten and clumsily intertwined with some mildly entertaining new ones. I guess that’s about the best we could’ve hoped for. Just think, this could’ve starred Tom Selleck or been directed by Michael Bay.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

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A Review of “Iron Man”

CAPTION:  Gwyneth Paltrow uses a military escort to pick up Robert Downey Jr. from rehab.

Adequate Cure for Cinematic Anemia, 6 May 2008
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

The crown prince of America’s premier weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (a sober Robert Downey Jr.) grows a conscience after being captured by terrorists in Afghanistan and decides to fight for what’s right in an innovative piece of body armor technology that will henceforth be known as Iron Man in Jon Favreau’s predictable but fun Marvel comic film adaptation.

Wisely abandoning the corny mawkishness of the Spiderman films and the recent attempt to revive the Superman franchise, Iron Man instead offers up some light satire, bright-eyed cynicism, and an attempt at witty banter. The always lovely Gwyneth Paltrow is a delight as Stark’s sassy assistant Pepper Potts, and it’s nice to see her doing something light and fun for a change. Also part of the off-kilter cast are Terrence Howard as Stark’s inexplicable military friend and Jeff Bridges bald and bearded as Stark’s mentor (and dun dun dun…enemy?) Downey Jr. apparently ad-libbed much of the dialog, which sometimes falls flat, but for the most part works. It’s certainly far more enjoyable than the typical fan-boy in-jokes that plague most comic book movies.

Certainly this is no Batman Begins in terms of depth and scope of drama, but with slam-bang special effects and an effortless feel (despite a slow build up to the action), Iron Man certainly fits the bill as a better than average comic book/action film. Is it any wonder critics and audiences have embraced it so warmly after suffering through loud obnoxious dreck like Transformers?  While it has been a bit oversold, Iron Man proves that great special effects can be built around a smart story that doesn’t have to pander to the lowest common denominator. Until The Dark Knight it will have to cure our cinematic anemia.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

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A Review of Len Wiseman’s “Live Free or Die Hard”

 

Good Old-Fashioned Shattered Glass Action Flick, 6 July 2007
7/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

“Live Free or Die Hard” is quite a refreshing piece of entertainment this summer in the wake of so many effects-driven computer simulated action/fantasy films. With its silly title, smart-alleck lead character (Bruce Willis as Bruce Willis doing John McClane), and loads of old fashioned stunts involving cars, SUV’s, elevator shafts, big rigs, helicopters, fighter jets, and collapsing highway bridges, this flick is a great piece of shattered-glass entertainment–a throwback to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when movies like the original “Die Hard” changed the face of movie action.

There is some frustration to be had when you start to realize how much they toned down to achieve the friendly PG-13 rating. There’s far less profanity flying, and while the body count is astronomically high (the collateral damage in this film in terms of human life and damaged property is tres magnifique), there’s little blood and guts to be found. Still, die hard “Die Hard” action fans should rest assured knowing there will be plenty of funny one-liners, hot chicks (a wonderful Maggie Q as the bad-ass female villain and the scorchingly feisty and cute Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lucy McClane), super smart bad guys (a very good Timothy Olyphant), and jaw-dropping death-defying stunts.

Director Len Wiseman orchestrates the complicated stunts very well like a masterful puppeteer, which is a shock considering how god-awful his “Underworld” films were. The hand-to-hand human match-ups still bear some of his annoying hallmarks, but he’s learned how to blow things up really well and has learned a thing or two about scope and editing in big action set-pieces. The excellent pacing and preposterousness of the stunts (especially the climax involving the fighter jet and the big rig) certainly put a smile on my face.

There’s a whole lot of computer hacking related mumbo-jumbo involved in the story, and there’s a lot of downtime for male bonding and “explanation” of the finer plot points that slows the film down some but is actually nice to see in a world now ruled by Michael Bay-style non-stop action. Plenty dumb, plenty thrilling, and plenty of fun, “Live Free or Die Hard” is a pleasant surprise considering how unnecessary this sequel seemed from conception.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0337978/usercomments-284