06 November 2015

New Blog

To anyone that may stumble upon this blog and wishes to further read my work, I have moved over to Tumblr. My new blog can be found here: http://networkoncinema.tumblr.com/

27 June 2015

Beyond Hollywood: "Mad Max: Fury Road" Review

(Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)


Today’s Hollywood is interested in two things: making films and making money. With the latter being more important the best films to produce are ones which will attract the biggest audiences. Although there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, what results is a market dominated not just by the typical blockbuster spectacle but by constant sequels and remakes of older franchises that are sure to already have a big and established consumer market. What’s left then are usually films of lackluster product, ones which focus more on the marketing of their familiarity in order to haul in more tickets rather than quality of the film itself. George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” stands as one of the exceptions to this rule. Two decades after the last entry in the series, “Beyond Thunderdome,” Miller successfully manages to breathe new life into the franchise by way of cinematic surgery. In doing so, Miller deconstructs the imagery of his previous trilogy before smartly reconstituting them together. The resulting product is a modern film that still retains the old spirit of what originally made “Mad Max” Mad Max.

In a post-apocalyptic future where the Earth has been ravaged by nuclear war, the vestiges of humanity live across the planet’s desert wasteland. Like the seamless switch in James Bonds, Max is now played by Tom Hardy, who begins the film with a bleak monologue on his inability to save his loved ones and the current state of humanity. Dialogue in the film is sparse yet key moments such as this one, in combination with Miller’s technique throughout the film to show and not tell, allow Miller to deeply flesh out his characters. Max is more than just the typical B-movie action hero now but is given more of an introspective side. Max’s penchant for few words and violence become more than just a trope but turn into a way to understand not only his character but the world around him. Max and the rest of Miller’s characters then become micro-narratives which help build Miller’s overall world. In the setting of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” survival is above everything else which Max wanes on. Survival is difficult for Max, however, who’s now constantly haunted by those he’s failed to save and in a twist of ironic humor, Max is shortly captured by bandits.

Max is then taken to Citadel, an outpost of civilization that’s ruled by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Miller begins to carve a distinct style for the film here through Max’s escape from prison. The movement of bodies are edited to appear sped-up, giving them an inhuman appeal. This aspect of inhumanity is further fueled by the various jumps and grunts of the bandits, an attitude that, as Miller points to in the film, stems from their warrior-like religion where death on the battlefield is welcomed with open arms. What Miller is doing here is more than, once again, building several narratives that expand on the cinematic world of “Fury Road,” but finding ways to translate the abstract narrative aspects of the film into the physical realm of the camera—a technique that’s only possible with the film genre.

Interspersed with Max’s capture, Miller takes the time to introduce the character of Furiousa (Charlize Theron), the film’s second protagonist. Furiousa is immediately, at least visually, characterized by her bionic arm and shaved head—two testaments that prove her survivability and strength in the wasteland. Furiousa stands as one of Immortan Joe’s chief bandits and it’s through this trust that Furiousa takes the opportunity to skew a raiding mission for supplies into a rescue mission of Joe’s prisoner concubines. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, Immortan Joe stumbles into an empty home to be greeted by a painted message on the walls, citing: “We are not things.”

A pursuit begins with Max at the helm of things in the most literal manner. In a world where modern technology is scarce, bandit engineers turn to other resourceful ways to carry on with their lives. In this case Max has been turned into a blood bag to be hooked up to and used by Nux (Nicholaus Hoult), a lowly positioned warrior who’s driven to death on the battlefield for Joe. While the circumstances behind their transformation into commodities or “things” are vastly different, there’s a parallel between Max and Immortan Joe’s concubines. Max as a human blood bag and Immortan Joe’s prisoner concubines are concepts that can only exist within Miller’s world. “Fury Road” differs from its counterparts through its exploration of social roles that women play in a post-apocalyptic world. Women aren’t dispossessed to just be escaped concubines however—they also play the role of high ranking warriors like Furiousa or the potential saviors of humanity as shown by the character credited as “Keeper of the Seeds (Melissa Jaffer)”, a farmer/warrior who plants seeds around the desert in hopes of reviving vegetation.

After a battle through the desert, where he’s freed, Max ends up having to join forces with Furiousa in order to survive. In essence the rest of the film from here is one long chase sequence, although that’s not a bad thing. Like in the previous trilogy, Miller understands that these are films that are at their strongest during movement. That is to say, it is during these chase sequences--be they on foot or in a car--that Miller is able to work best, bringing the “Mad Max” series to its own original aesthetic peak.

From start to finish the action in “Fury Road” never dies down and the entire film almost feels like one long-take because of how Miller handles the transition in narratives between scenes. There are reprieves as well as time devoted to exposition, yet these moments are brief and Miller weaves the latter into the action pieces seamlessly.

 In comparison to the original “Mad Max,” released in 1979, Miller’s filmic style has both evolved and kept true to its spirit. The sparse use of dialogue, the chase sequences, Max’s hardened attitude—these are elements which all remain. What’s affected “Fury Road” the most in making it a different film is the change in Max’s dominance of the screen. Furiousa plays the deutertagonist and alongside her is a slew of female characters when compared to their female counterparts in previous films, play much more important and better roles. Miller emphasizes this balance between Furiousa and Max in a variety of ways yet the most subtle one—as well as coolest—stems from the manner in which Furiousa and Max battle Joe’s bandits. With minimal spoilers, in one scene after missing his previous shots and only having one left, Max reluctantly hands Furiousa the sniper rifle, who, admittedly, is the much better marksman between the two.

Like the shot Furiousa makes, Miller has found a great mark in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The new changes are welcome ones, although die-hard fans might miss Gibson or Max’s car, Hardy successfully brings Max’s disquieted attitude back and while the removal of Max’s iconic car is sure to be missed, it’s also representative of Miller casting off the old and bringing something new and modern to the screen.

02 May 2015

The Terror of the Film Spectacle: "Avengers: Age of Ultron" Review



(Photo courtesy of Marvel)
 In creating a grand narrative of films, Marvel has entered a competition with itself in needing to ensure that sequels to their previous blockbusters are even bigger spectacles than the ones that came before it. Pioneers of the “after-credits scenes,” Marvel cleverly built massive suspension leading up to their 2012 mega-hit “The Avengers” by way of offering sneak-peeks to a much bigger film through smaller pieces in their narrative. For fans of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, “The Avengers” was more than just the latest superhero film amongst the never-ending wave the genre seems to offer as of late. “The Avengers” was both literally and figuratively an amalgamation of everything that came before it within the MCU. Characters from a collective of films shared the big-screen together and in doing so, Marvel made sure to keep their fans happy by offering what entertainment spectacles do best—the depiction of unparalleled destruction. The final set piece in “The Avengers” saw downtown Manhattan obliterated on a myriad of levels. Images of overturned cars, giant craters in pavement, average-citizens cowering in fear for their lives, and entire buildings being brought down dominated the screen in a manner that eerily recalled America’s own anxiety after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Yet this depiction of destruction which recalls our own reality is seemingly made alright by way of being fantastical. Colorful costumed super-heroes zip through the air and run through the streets, battling the forces of evil from space and beyond. The sheer absurdity of the battle brings “The Avengers” back to the realm of fictitious cinema, thereby removing the anxiety behind the film’s realistic and destructive images. With the release of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” however, Marvel has needed to create a film which is not only a bigger spectacle than “The Avengers” but also its film competitors in the super-hero genre, namely D.C., who released “Man of Steel” in 2013 which featured citywide mass destruction. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is slowly reaching a limit where images meant to entertain and enthrall become disturbing.

Joss Whedon returns as director/writer and wastes no time in jumping straight into the action. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” begins with a battle between the eponymous superhero group and Hydra, the terrorist organization from the “Captain America” films. There’s hardly anything new here that hasn’t been seen already. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” enhanced its action by way of camera movement, a technique that’s unfortunately absent in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Choreography becomes repetitive with the only refreshing aspect being the quips between members of the group, which successfully keeps the tone between action and comedy that Marvel’s films have established for themselves. The camera movement that is present during these action scenes are jerky due to the constant jumping Whedon uses to showcase everyone , creating a sense of nausea that is further fueled by the various and literal twists and turns of the actors’ bodies. Two new characters are introduced in the midst of the action: Pietro Maximoff, (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his twin sister Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Pietro possess the power of super-speed while Wanda can use hypnosis and telekinesis. Wanda kicks off the plot of the film by hypnotizing Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) into seeing an apocalyptic vision where the Avengers have all died and the Earth has succumbed to an alien invasion. Once the battle ends, the twins have disappeared and the Avengers have become successful in retrieving Loki’s scepter from the Hydra base.

Later in secret, Tony Stark and Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) use Loki’s scepter to create the artificial intelligence Ultron, the film’s villain. Fueled by his fear, Stark wishes to create a being who’d be able to pre-emptively defeat the Earth’s enemies. Like its predecessor, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” mimics the United States’ own reality. Ultron’s function as a machine to enact out premeditated war before a threat can be a threat parallels the United States’ own use of drones in countries where terrorists may exist. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” attains a level of reflexivity where reality is made cinematic and fictional but in doing so foregoes the effects that such images and narratives contain at the cost of cheap entertainment. A franchise dedicated to breaking the billion dollar mark, every new film raises the stakes and the mayhem that comes along with it.

Reprieves between the action pieces offer relief in the way of breathers for both the Avengers and audiences but ultimately showcase Whedon’s inability to evolve as both a writer and director. At the end of the day the superheroes have to band together, because they’re the only ones who can save the world but oddly enough are the same ones who thrust it into chaos. As if aware of being stuck within a repetitive narrative, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) comments on his wont to not be mind-controlled by Wanda as he’s “already done it once.”

The film is never truly over. Even when the action is done, we are given hints to future films within the franchise, be they the inevitable sequel or smaller films that will follow along. Money is at stake here and if more destruction is what brings in audiences, then it’s difficult to conceive where the franchise will go with “Avengers: Age of Ultron” destroying one city and leveling another.
The next step would be of course to destroy even more cities before moving on to planetary destruction, a la Alderaan or perhaps borrow a page from Bergmann’s “Persona,” and literally destroy itself. One can hope.