Tag Archives: San Andreas

‘Mad Max’: Insane, Intense, Inventive, and Runs on Girl Power

Mad Max: Fury Road
Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (intense sequences of violence, disturbing images)
120 minutes
The film is playing in 3-D, but due to a terrible conversion, it’s best to opt for crisp, clear 2-D.

The mad vision of “Mad Max: Fury Road” is so insane-intense-inventive, it demands to be seen. If you only take in one action movie this summer, this has to be it.

Fans of the original trilogy, which starred a young, crazy-eyed up-and-comer named Mel Gibson, will be pleased to note that “Fury Road” maintains the grotesquely mutated genetic material of its predecessors: parched post-apocalyptic setting, weirdly descriptive slang, colorful, carnie-like characters, hurtling camera angles, a certain Ford Falcon Interceptor and a villainous warlord, played with deranged relish by “Mad Max” villain Hugh Keays-Byrne.

The film functions handily as either a sequel or reboot and boldly announces the return of director George Miller, who conjured up the phantasmagorical world introduced in 1979’s “Mad Max” as only an Australian medical doctor turned film student could.

Miller was 69 during the making of “Fury Road” and his singular perspective comes to the screen undiminished, even enhanced. The movie is part environmental fable, part feminist fever dream and 150% high-octane action extravaganza.

“Fury Road” was intended to be realized a decade ago with Gibson reprising his role as dystopian cop Max Rockatansky. Middle Eastern wars, freak rains in the Australian desert and Gibson’s eventual public meltdown scuttled those plans, paving the way for Tom Hardy to inherit the Road Warrior’s extremely distressed leather jacket.

Hardy dons this mantle as comfortably as if he’d been born to play it. Miller introduces the always fascinating actor’s even wilder-eyed, more desperate, more silent Max on the run.

He never really stops running.

“Fury Road” is essentially one long, ingenious action sequence. In the film’s first hour alone, Max is pursued, captured, tattooed, caged and strapped to the front of a moving car as a human “blood bag” to an ailing “War Boy.”

And that’s before he meets Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, the bad-ass, bald driver of a massive custom truck, aka War Rig, belonging to Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne) the theatrical, oxygen-mask-wearing dictator of Miller’s toxic wasteland.

Joe presides over The Citadel, pacifying the half-dead survivors who reluctantly serve as his subjects with the prospect of clean, cool, gushing water. He sends Furiosa on a mission to Gas Town to load up on the Earth’s second most critical remaining resource, but she has other ideas.

As she and Max are chased by Joe’s entourage, a freak-show caravan of Valhalla-obsessed, albino War Boys and jury-rigged junkyard cars that’s at once terrifying and hilarious (watch out for Electric Guitar Guy), they become unwitting allies in delivering the “treasures” hidden in the hold of Furiosa’s rig to a mythical paradise known as the “Green Place.”

Filmed in the eerily unspoiled deserts of Namibia, “Fury Road” feels remarkably real — tactile, scruffy, dirty — as surreal and strange as its world may be. Miller opted for physical props and old-fashioned, practical stunt work instead of computer-generated imagery. It’s a difference that sets the film above the sometimes soulless CGI of this summer’s blockbuster fare, movies like “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “San Andreas” and “Jurassic World.”

The tribal-punk-rock-scrapyard-demolition derby aesthetic of “Fury Road” is amplified by the film’s minimalist dialogue. The audiences pieces together just what it needs to and infers the rest with an efficiency that imbues the movie with a primitive, streamlined power.

“Fury Road” is ferociously bleak and violent and, yet, it has these small, unexpected human moments that make it almost … lovely?

To say that Miller has done something groundbreaking with the sheer number of strong women included in its bizarre menagerie of characters isn’t an exaggeration. There’s not a useless damsel in distress to be found among the resourceful female fighters who occupy virtually every frame of the film.

Theron’s angry, hopeful Furiosa is an action heroine for the ages — psst, don’t tell anyone, but she’s more the star of the film than Max is — right up there with Ripley and Sarah Connor.

Miller, who conceived the story with comic book artist Brendan McCarthy and actor Nick Lathouris, clearly has serious issues on the brain: the environment, religious fanaticism, oil wars, poverty, the enslavement of women. And, yes, it’s true that playwright and feminist activist Eve Ensler consulted on the film.

If any of this makes “Fury Road” sound like a drag, don’t believe it for a minute.

Mostly, the movie is a mad, mad, mad, mad rush.

 

 

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Are WonderCon Glory Days Already in the Past?

It was a weekend of hellfire and brimstone, and geeks on parade.

It was the only place in the country where you could find scowling street preachers, moms and dads with cute, little Jawas in tow, gender-bending Harley Quinns and Hulks, and ladies in anime finery that made all but the perviest of amateur photographers blush.

It was WonderCon, that annual gathering of comic book nerds and pop culture enthusiasts, where the atmosphere is a weird, entertaining mixture of family friendly and R-rated.

Transforming the Anaheim Convention Center into a colorful sea of celebrities, comic book artists, superheroes, Disney princesses, “Game of Thrones” characters and animated critters, the event wrapped Sunday after three days of movie, TV and manga-inspired madness.

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This was my fourth year at WonderCon, an event I anticipate with relish. I love taking in the unusual sights and sounds of the convention, communing with fellow fangirls and -boys, and letting my enthusiasm for pop culture run wild.

This time around, though, the bloom was off the rose. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, or maybe I’m getting old, or maybe I need to take a breather, but the convention is starting to feel a bit repetitive to me.

In 2012, organizer Comic-Con International moved its second largest event from San Francisco to Anaheim, an exciting development for Southern California pop culture enthusiasts. Since then, however, the programming at WonderCon has grown less compelling and less relevant with each year.

This is especially true when it comes to the film-related portion of the convention. Because WonderCon competes with its big sister convention, San Diego Comic-Con, the major Hollywood studios aren’t willing to expend the resources to make appearances at both events.

Disney throws its own convention, D23, so that rules out any Marvel movie or Star Wars presence at WonderCon. Meanwhile, Fox, Warner Bros. and their ilk won’t loan out footage or talent from their most anticipated comic book or sci-fi flicks when they’ll be bringing out the big guns in July at Comic-Con.

Initially, WonderCon organizers managed to scrape together some interesting Q&A sessions and sneak peaks anyway.

In the past, featured films included “Battleship,” “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Prometheus,” “Pacific Rim,” “The Conjuring,” “This is the End,” “Evil Dead,” “Godzilla” and “The Maze Runner.” Stars such as Charlize Theron, Emma Stone, Michael Fassbender and Seth Rogen appeared to discuss their projects.

Those days are apparently over. This year’s Hollywood programming could only be described as dismal.

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Aside from a presentation by horror outfit Blumhouse, the only major movie event at WonderCon this year was a Warner Bros. panel.

What did Warner Bros. deem worthy of showcasing to the thousands of fans who filled the convention center’s flying-saucer-like Arena? Aside from some admittedly electrifying footage from the upcoming “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the studio spent the majority of its (extremely brief) time hawking the cheesy disaster flick “San Andreas,” starring Dwayne Johnson.

The Rock couldn’t be bothered to attend, leaving director Brad Peyton and co-stars Carla Gugino and Alexandra Daddario to congratulate themselves on finding the “emotions” in this ridiculous looking film.

I propose that WonderCon organizers refrain from insulting convention-goers with half-hearted, mediocre offering and just jettison the movie portion of the event. They should focus on their strengths: the comic books, the TV shows, the nerdy Internet phenoms.

That isn’t to say that there wasn’t good stuff to be seen at the 2015 Con. I sat in on a delightful panel for BBC America’s “Orphan Black,” which returns for a third season on April 18.

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There were screenings and signings and sneak peeks galore. Geek icons Felicia Day and Chris Hardwick held audiences spellbound. There were Q&As and special screenings for popular series “Gotham” and “The Flash,” while viewers were courted by newbies “American Odyssey” and “iZombie.”

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The convention’s exhibit hall continues to be an overwhelmingly wondrous place to shop for nerd necessities, like action figures, comic books, T-shirts and pleasingly strange curios, although it does tend to feature the same vendors year after year.

The fans who attend WonderCon never fail to entertain, especially the ones who turn out in the elaborate handmade get-ups that inspire the rest of us to point with childlike glee and whip out our cameras.

My favorites this year included the entire, elaborately costumed team from “Big Hero Six,” a handful of convincing “Game of Thrones” lookalikes, a baby Tank Girl, a couple of tiny Jawas, a fabulous Poison Ivy drag queen and the usual assortment of Star Wars fans, who never fail to pull out all the stops when it comes to wardrobe.

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It has been reported that organizers plan to move the 2016 edition of WonderCon to the Los Angeles Convention Center, a development that raises all kinds of questions for the future of the event.

Will this larger, more Hollywood-centric location inject some much-needed novelty into the event? Perhaps give it the heft it needs to attract stronger programming?

Or will it turn it into the impossible-to-navigate, hyper-commercial circus that San Diego Comic-Con has become?

Only time will tell.

Here’s hoping time will be kind to us, the fans who love WonderCon.

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Photos: Nick Vroman, Lavender Vroman