Wednesday, 30 July 2014
Tuesday, 29 July 2014
Monday, 28 July 2014
Easily Michael Bay's best film, The Rock strikes a balance between the director's inherent vulgarity and some genuinely compelling character work. As was the norm with the Bruckheimer / Simpson machine, The Rock's script passed through many hands before arriving on-screen. Known contributors include Robert Towne, Quentin Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin. Since Sean Connery's onboard, John Milius might've had a pass too. On the Criterion commentary track Nic Cage and Ed Harris both state that their readings informed revision, Cage even stating outright that he reworked pages. So while the dramatic shape of The Rock is malformed and ludicrous, the characters sing.
The three leads, Dr Goodspeed, Captain Mason and General Hummel, have been worked and reworked to the point where they're multi-dimensional personalities rather than just rote archetypes. There's no doubling, characters don't share histories or hang-ups. Instead they're three different kinds of professionals dealing with an extraordinary situation. Stanley Goodspeed could be just a neurotic sidekick prone to outbursts. While that's still there, it's tempered with an underlying sense of duty. Goodspeed is ill-equipped to deal with the violence inherent to this situation, but he shoulders it because lives are at stake.
Goodpseed finds his centre in the ability to dismantle the VX poison rockets. A skill no-one else possesses. A character that could have been lost to comic relief is then elevated to reluctant hero. The audience can invest in his failings and delight in his triumphs. There's an emotional consistency to Goodspeed too. He isn't mutated by the experience. Crucially, killing never becomes comfortable for him. It's always his last recourse in a desperate situation. These writing decisions keep Goodspeed human, informing the relationships he develops, most crucially with Mason.
The Rock also functions as a far better send-off for Sean Connery's 007 persona than his last stab at the role, Never Say Never Again. That film only lightly touched on the idea of a defunct, decrepit Bond. The Rock revels in it. It proposes a Bond that has found himself abandoned by his Universal Trading superiors. John Mason has had decades to ponder the fallacies of nationality and patriotism. The archetypal company man was discarded, despite his talents. There's an element of Ian Fleming's The Man with the Golden Gun at play. A slower, meaner spy, past his prime and searching for a good death.
Mason has had time to consider and re-evaluate his place in the world. An element of sentimentality has crept into his thinking. He wants to engage with his estranged daughter - the result of a one night stand during his last escape. After breaking a few arms, Mason manages to give his FBI handlers the slip. He uses the opportunity to reconnect with his offspring. When Goodspeed and a legion of San Francisco's finest crash the meeting, Mason is thankful for Goodspeed's discretion. These are new emotions for a Bond character - vulnerability, the desire to make connections, gratitude even.
Connery's Bond, especially under Terence Young's direction, was a bastard without peer. He roughed up allies and manhandled women into the path of bullets. He was a user. A man programmed to think and act like a shark. Now his back pains him after a fire fight. James Bond has never really been given a last case. He's never died or been confronted with finality. The character's forever locked into his late thirties, voraciously consuming. The advancing age of his actors barely figures into the portrayal beyond the odd joke. Mason is Bond confronted with age as reality. His body doesn't work the same way anymore and he's ostensibly alone.
While he has a daughter somewhere, at best she's tentative. The route he took to meet her did reveal somebody he can unburden himself on - Goodspeed. Stanley's underlying decency is at odds with superiors who routinely tear up pardons. Mason takes note, making him for a man he can trust. This is one of The Rock's strongest points. It has Heroic Bloodshed ideas in its head. The twin protagonists aren't competing, they're complimenting each other. It's a male relationship film that takes a cultural icon from the 1960s and transforms him into a patient father figure, guiding the nervous young buck.
A lot of the reasons Mason has for staying are contrived - he's decided he's too old to swim the San Francisco Bay - but they play into Mason's emerging vulnerability. He's found a friend in Goodspeed and doesn't want to leave him to his death. There's a hint of shame too. Goodspeed doesn't stand a chance but he's still game. How can a former super-spy excuse doing less?
Which brings us to Ed Harris' General Hummel, a character so well defined and played he unbalances the entire third act. Just so you know he isn't fucking around, Hummel is spoken about in absurd terms. Crisis meetings at the Pentagon are full of hype men talking him up like he's Golgo 13. Hummel appears to have been a sticking point in The Rock's writing. At some point everybody got into a pissing contest trying to explain the psychology and motivations of a man that would do something ridiculous like set up chemical weapon rocket pods on Alcatraz.
Hummel isn't just clarified, he's made sympathetic. His cause is just. He's simply seeking reparations for dead soldiers from an uncaring government. Like Goodspeed, Hummel is made exceptional by his altruistic desires. He's also contrasted with the unit that works around him. Goodspeed's superiors want to melt the island, regardless of the hostages. Hummel's crew want to get paid. They couldn't care less about the General's high ideals, they've sniffed out a windfall.
This is where everything starts to fall apart for Hummel. Rather than have Goodspeed and Mason come in and bust heads, Hummel's group unravels from within after he pilots a rocket away from an American football game and into the drink. Despite his posturing he had no intention of killing innocents. He was bluffing. The Rock lasers in on this moment, hurtling away from the idea of Hummel as a megalomaniac, making the two heroes obsolete in the process.
As well sketched as Goodspeed and Mason are, they are just old ideas with a new coat of paint. Hummel's problems are unique and exciting. Henchmen shouldn't mutiny, they're unthinking limbs. When subordinates start unpacking pistols and pointing them at SPECTRE Number 1's head, we're in uncharted territory. This is The Rock's best moment. A Reservoir Dogs idea given centre stage in a $75 million blockbuster. On release it probably seemed glib, Tarantino regurgitating his John Woo steals for the blockbuster crowd. It works though. We've spent time with these men. We understand the falling out. We noted the tensions. Every scene with the Marines has built towards this.
When Goodspeed and Mason sneak in you're almost disappointed. You don't want them to resolve the situation. They can observe if they want, but you'd rather they just disappeared altogether. Ed Harris has stolen the film. He looks like he's been carved from wood. You can tell he can kill at whim. The frailties that have made Goodspeed and Mason human now read like weakness when regarding this Terminator.
Hummel has won. He has been so magnetic, so unwavering in the face of danger, your allegiance has instantly switched to him. His prowling, arrogant determination is reminiscent of Richard Burton in Where Eagles Dare. Now two Nazis have turned up to stick their fucking noses in. The Rock's myriad writers put their characters first and ended up making something bizarre, a Summer blockbuster in which you root for the bad guy. Rather than resolve with a big win for the home team, events taper off into utter chaos driven, primarily, by spite and greed.
Sunday, 27 July 2014
Pretty good of Warner Bros to get this out quick so I didn't have to hunt down an off-screen version someone's recorded in portrait on their phone. As expected, Mad Max: Fury Road's trailer is so insanely kinetic that I feel like I could run head first through a wall after watching it.
Ahead of the gritty blockbuster reboot, Shout! Factory have announced their intention to release the original Japanese TV series that formed the backbone of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Hacked up for action scenes, Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger was the 16th Super Sentai series and the first to have a recurring sixth superhero. Rather than mess about granting magical powers to the Saved by the Bell kids, Zyuranger was instead about a group of ancient warriors that were descended from a race of dinosaur people. Awakened in the present day, the troop inherit gigantic prehistoric robots and do battle with an evil witch from the Planet Nemesis.
Look! The first (censored) episode of the animated Prison Pit series. If you want to see the gore and hear the swears you have to fork out over here. Despite the truncation, I'm pretty taken with James Adomian's decision to give Cannibal Fuckface a growly Macho Man Randy Savage voice. Love the sparse, deteriorating sound design too.
Friday, 25 July 2014
Stephen Altobello talks us through how the 5.1 remixes prepared for DVD re-releases have messed with original artistic intent, fixing sound cues that may not have been broken. I'm not really sure I understand this particular revisionism. It seems to be predicated on an idea of the audience, rather than the actual audience. As if the film studios believe modern viewers can't stand to hear any sound effect they haven't already heard a million times before on TV.
It might make sense as an alternative, if the original track is damaged or has elements missing, but not as a replacement. It also speaks to a boring literalism with film sound effects as a locked, indexed idea rather than something fluid and imaginative. Unfortunately, Clint Eastwood seems particularly cursed by this movement. Recent issues of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly have had their buzz bullets replaced with dreary hollow-point rapports.
Wednesday, 23 July 2014
Animation principles haven't tended to get a lot of play in CG blockbusters. There's an ever-present sense of restraint. Nobody wants their robots or their dinosaurs slipping into capering, so movement and expression are kept rather routine. There's an inbuilt critical backlash too. Any film that spends too much time with the effects tends to get labelled as a video game - the vulgar other that most people don't even consider a worthwhile artform. So what should cinema aspire to? Three people bickering in a small room? Why are dynamics so looked down upon? Surely as a visual medium there should be space in the canon for spiky things moving incredibly fast?
Despite his assertions to the contrary, Andy Serkis' motion capture acting has ended up being a vessel for smuggling sustained computer generated animation into mainstream films. As a credible human actor Serkis has become the poster boy for acceptable simulated excess. His loud boasting, coupled with the inherent critical safety his thesp credentials offer, has allowed a feature creep. Films like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes hinge on a lot of time being spent with textured 3D models. Press releases tell us they're just visual approximations of physical on set acting, but it's obvious there's a lot more to it than that. Scour any article in which Serkis evangelises about mo-cap and you'll find a string of animators in the comments section casually chatting about how much, or how little, of his performance they ended up using when constructing their passes.
Serkis has then allowed filmmaking and animation to intermingle at a conceptual level. Films no longer need to stop dead for special effects sequences, the entire film can be one. The apes in Dawn and Rise of the Planet of the Apes inspire a genuine sense of wonder. Higher primates are always fascinating but seeing them act with clear, dramatically delineated agendas is spellbinding. If either film has a fault it's that the human story never grabs the attention in the same way as Caesar's. How could it though? What actor could possibly be as interesting as a photorealistic Chimp that's monarchy personified one minute, extreme personal threat the next? Ralph Fiennes came close recently with a similar kind of performance in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but that film didn't spend actual minutes gazing lovingly at Fiennes while he drew his muscled body up to its maximum height.
Tuesday, 22 July 2014
Originally conceived as a post-SNL vehicle for Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz - that is until producer Don Simpson took the pair to Vegas and horrified them by being a party animal / disgusting fucking pig - Bad Boys eventually landed with Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. Propaganda Films graduate Michael Bay finds himself hamstrung on his first feature trying to make sense of a reheated buddy cop script that frequently rambles off into dreadful. Based on the evidence presented here, it's easy to see why Bay cultivated a distrust for the written word. Four credited screenwriters couldn't shift Bad Boys out of its clunky, tell-don't-show funk. The director gets far better results by just letting the two stars bicker in tight close-ups. Elsewhere, Tea Leoni tries desperately to wring some sort of pathos out of the mumbling, stuttering arc she's been assigned.
Bad Boys is an object lesson in the difference between an actor and a star. Workhorse Leoni sticks to the blueprint and comes off wooden. Lawrence and Smith fuck the script off and ham it up, becoming masculine ideals to 15 year old boys everywhere. Lawrence and Smith's contempt for the basic mechanics of the film they're in saves Bad Boys to a degree. By disengaging they get to be the audience stand-ins, commenting on the formulaic proceedings. The pair don't act anything like your typical, heroic movie cops. They break the law and flippantly talk about killing people. Most importantly they aren't emotionally invested, because, truthfully, neither are we. This is the idea Michael Bay has built a career on. Why bother trying to construct meaningful characters or situations when you can instead shoot your actors like they're in a hyper-sexualised music video? You make your stars the crux of the commercial. The product they are selling is cool.
Monday, 21 July 2014
Sunday, 20 July 2014
Friday, 18 July 2014
Head over here to buy up merchandise to help fund a feature length Prison Pit animated movie. In a perfect world a Japanese animation studio would snap this up and turn into an interminable serial full of nonsensical filler and minimal animation.
Tuesday, 15 July 2014
Monday, 14 July 2014
Transformers: Age of Extinction is the first film in the series I've enjoyed. Previous entries fumbled an easy sale by changing million year old soldiers into uncoordinated idiots, basing the entire third act around racist robots and, in the case of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a truly revolting performance from Shia LaBeouf. Implied domestic abuse aside, Moon did have a few cool beats. Fallen Autobot Sentinel was, thanks mostly to Leonard Nimoy's performance, at least a two-dimensional idea of villainy. Michael Bay's latest easily tops that renegade robot with a PTSD Prime coming to terms with the horrors that have been visited on his kind. Prime is no longer a background player, he's Extinction's dramatic engine. In this sense the film is the closest match to the multimedia brand that was pumped into my brain as a child. So while Extinction may be vulgar, blaring trash, it has enough consistent character ideas to conjure up a few cackles.
Extinction's villain Lockdown operates as an opposite to Optimus Prime, the swaggering mercenary versus Prime's rigid true believer. Lockdown has no allegiance to either the Autobots or the Decepticons. He's something new - a third path. Lockdown's name and occupation springs from Transformers: Animated, were he seemed an attempt to roll Marvel UK's Death's Head character into the Hasbro canon. Lockdown is Lamborghini grey and carries a sickle. He unpacks from a Aventador sports car, his body flayed and athletic compared to the new plate metal Prime. Like Sentinel Prime before him, Lockdown has a human face to stress cunning and duplicity. Lockdown's grasping anti-agenda opens up future conflicts beyond the strict binaries of Autobot and Decepticon. He's a cosmic character with a menagerie of violent, spiky things to command and the ability to reconfigure his face into a gun.
Lockdown, along with the rusting, cantankerous Hound, feels like he's been designed as a personality first and a toy second. He's a Spaghetti Western sharpshooter brought in to throw a spanner in the works. Riding shotgun is Megatron, resurrected as his upgraded form Galvatron. He's visually cleaner, resembling an ogre mocked up by Apple. There's none of the regal splendour of Floro Dery's original design but, like the 1986 Galvatron, he's immune to an outside force trying to rebrand him. As ever, the Megatron personality is persistent, looking for weaknesses in his prison. Extinction's Autobots are no longer hulking do-gooders, they each have own individual outline and colour scheme. Their personalities are violent and disagreeable. Two of Prime's soldiers are openly insubordinate when they think he isn't looking. Fresh recruits are battered into compliance. These kinds of ideas aren't new to Transformers as a property. Flick through Marvel's The Transformers Universe character guides and you'll discover the Autobot ranks are full of sociopaths. How else do you cope with a war that has lasted forever?
Simon Furman, Geoff Senior and Derek Yaniger's Transformers: Generation 2 comics featured Autobots seething with grenade pouches and belts of ammunition. Yaniger using the visual vocabulary of 90s X-Men comics to rejuvenate ailing ideas and characters, making them gritty champions of war that terrify the pacifist aliens they help. Extinction goes a little further, Hound's mek-nificent four are basically 2000 AD's ABC Warriors - a cadre of treacherous killer robots who only respect strength. There's a sense of truth in this idea though. Optimus Prime isn't Superman. He doesn't have a no kill policy when it comes to equals. He's a warrior general fronting an intergalactic establishment in a civil war. Since he carries a God artefact in his chest, he should probably be considered a religious extremist too. This ancient, punch-drunk approach to a Prime adds up. When Marky Mark finds him gathering dust in a devastated movie theatre he's literally decrepit. Peter Cullen's voice has a raspier register this time too, evoking a bone-deep sense of weariness.
Extinction's Prime has been betrayed by the race he tried to help. His preferred team mates have been hunted down and horrifically murdered. So when he takes a moment to lay out the fact that he absolutely will kill a human now, it doesn't feel particularly extreme. If you accept Optimus Prime as a character rather than a special effect, why wouldn't he? Especially locked into this hyper-aggressive Michael Bay milieu. Extinction's Prime is past higher ideals. They died with his comrades. Three films have taught him humans will sanction his actions, attack him and his troops, and now dissect them in pursuit of a pay raise. Prime is a zealot from a world that has subsumed every aspect of their society into pure conflict. Currency is irrelevant to Prime, all he values is subsistence. He's used to total war. So when he brushes up against profiteering and the military-industrial complex why wouldn't he be revolted?
Prime survives in the company of Cade Yeager, a deranged possessive with a knack for engineering. Yeager repairs Prime and speaks to him like an equal. Yeager is also keen to use Cybertronian technology to join the fight. To a ruthless utilitarian like Optimus Prime Yeager is genuinely useful, he fulfils the same battlefield function as Prime's deactivated warrior-medic Ratchet. Sam Witwicky was always just collateral damage waiting to happen, a human germ who had his action heroics mapped onto a secondary character. In contrast Yeager tracks after Prime providing suppressing fire. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger repeatedly stresses Mark Wahlberg's character with the same old-fashioned masculinity as Prime. He's the Father God who plays with his children's lives but will ultimately die for them - when Yeager's government threaten him and his family, Prime is explosively angry, abandoning his disguise to immediately go on the attack.
Extinction stays entertaining because it's about an ideological clash. Optimus Prime is the supreme commander of the Autobot faction of Cybertronians. It's a position he's won through bloodshed and maintained with respect. Extinction also posits that it's a role run on fear. Prime is so terrifyingly powerful no-one dares challenge him. Even skyscraper tall Tyrannosaurs get their jaws broken trying. Prime is then the totality of a government state, a fascist ideal programmed to fulfil every executive role in an endless war. If he has found a use for Cade Yeager, who the fuck are Frasier or the American Government to disagree? Age of Extinction has bum jokes, a peeping Tom gaze and a runtime that feels like punishment, but it also features an Optimus Prime who is so absolutely fucking disgusted by the race he's found himself protecting that he's excited to blast off into deep space on a suicide mission.
Sunday, 13 July 2014
Saturday, 12 July 2014
For all its faults Hellraiser at least had a solid dramatic idea underpinning the vivisection. Hellbound: Hellraiser II doesn't even bother. The film begins well enough - Julia is dragged out of the underworld by Dr Channard, a lobotomist who is sexually excited by flayed bodies. Early scenes of the Julia drifting around Channard's house, leaving bloody handprints all over his all-white interiors are at least visually interesting.
Julia and Channard make for an intriguing couple too. Channard's an Aleister Crowley fan who uses his position at a psychiatric hospital to requisition police evidence and stage satanic ceremonies. Julia seems to be working directly for the geometric shape that twists and turns at the centre of hell, claiming black souls for augmentation. Neither get much to do beyond that. Julia is stuck glowering at the dreary heroines, boasting about her new role as a wicked witch. Channard gets a Cenobite makeover, falling apart at a crucial moment for no particular reason. This is Hellbound's problem, characters and actions aren't tracking towards organic conclusions, they're simply grist for risible splatter effects.
Friday, 11 July 2014
Clive Barker's directorial debut takes a sunday evening television idea and thoroughly vandalises it. Hellraiser's adulterous love triangle involves married couple Larry and Julia, as well as his flick knife carrying brother Frank. Weeks before Larry and Julia's wedding, Frank made a point of fucking Julia with such expertise that she's never been able to shake the memory.
Following a prolonged disappearing act from Frank, the bickering bride and groom move into his former lodgings, the decrepit old family home. Unknown to them, Frank met a sticky end in the attic after purchasing an ornate puzzle box. Whilst moving a mattress, Larry snags his hand on a rusty nail. Being of a weedy constitution, Larry rushes upstairs to show his wife, spilling copious amounts of soupy gore on the bare floorboards. This blood offering returns the dead Frank back to life as a dessicated, vampiric corpse. Reunited with Julia, Frank sets about manipulating his former plaything into bludgeoning drippy businessmen for him to feast on.
Although Doug Bradley's Pinhead gets all the attention, Hellraiser is really Julia's film. Barker and actress Clare Higgins take what could be a sleazy, one-dimensional role and beef it up with anxiety and hesitation. Julia is willing to help her flayed lover but she isn't brazen, it's an obligation. A unpalatable task to churn through. The hammer murders she commits are also framed by her disastrous interactions with men. Julia's husband is a loud-mouthed dolt who keeps pawing at her even when she's sobbing. The suits she picks up to feed Frank are either sneering yuppies or ditherers who turn rough behind closed doors. Frank, Julia's idea of salvation, doesn't even pretend to love her.
S&M debauchery aside, a sense of sadness hangs over Hellraiser. Julia has spent her life settling. Her marriage is so lacking in passion that she's willing to cave other people's heads in to feel desired. Julia is used to putting up with slights and soldiering on. She doesn't even flinch when Frank starts making it obvious he's lusting after Julia's stepdaughter Kirsty. She simply looks the other way.
Disappointingly, Hellraiser the film eventually loses interest in Julia as well. Despite doing all the heavy lifting in the second act, Julia is dumped as soon as the demonic Cenobties turn up. Hellraiser had developed two competing ideas of how female sexuality is commodified - youth versus experience and expertise. Sadly they barely clash. Julia's discarded, skinned offscreen. Kirsty ends up front and centre, banishing monsters by solving a Rubik's Cube.
Wednesday, 9 July 2014
After surviving a hit-and-run incident involving a plane, the thick-headed Max makes his way to Bartertown, an oasis in the endless Australian desert. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is a further reorganising of the series' mythos, this time paying strict attention to the shape and heft of mid-80s blockbusters. In deference to the market, the ever present sexual danger of the previous films is scaled back and action scenes are now peppered with Chuck Jones sight gags. This time Max must brave a fracturing proto-capitalist milieu, learning how to be a hero again in the process.
Max begins the film as a long-haired hermit loaded down with camels and more pistols than Carlos Ezquerra's El Mestizo. His dealings in Bartertown bring him to the attention of Aunty, a businesswoman looking to consolidate her hold on the settlement. In this section Max is willing to play assassin as long as it benefits him. Previously Max has needed an emotional investment to commit to a particular cause, even if it's something as slippery as pride. Thunderdome's Max begins as the inverse, he needs a reason not to kill.
Despite the PG-13 taming of the wasteland wanderer idea, Thuderdome proceeds from the most nihilistic point yet. Max never stopped moving. In two decades he never found anyone to share the day after with. Max has become a fallen hero, willing to murder someone he doesn't know to put money in his pocket. The third Mad Max then is about a man rediscovering himself bit by bit, testing his limits to redefine who he will be. Along the way several spectral signifiers present themselves to prod Max along.
Certain characters represent key decisions for Max, Thunderdome is rife with doppelgängers lifted from the highwayman's previous lives. The first significant signpost is Blaster, the armoured muscle that helps run Bartertown's subterranean pig farm. Blaster's true face, revealed after Max strikes off his metal helmet with a gigantic mallet, gives our hero pause. Glances are exchanged. Blaster smiles. Max relaxes. Perhaps Max remembers Benno, the strapping farmhand who lived with his friend May in Mad Max? Master talks about his beefy companion in exactly the same way May did - both are said to have the mind of a child. Either way, Max immediately snaps out of mercenary mode, ditching his weapon and revealing Aunty's seditious plot to the assembled crowd. Noble qualities are beginning to re-emerge.
Jedediah the aircraft pilot who mugged Max at the beginning of the film is played by Bruce Spence, who previously starred as the Gyro Captain in Mad Max 2. Aside from both character's aeronautical bent, there's little evidence to suggest they're both the same man. We were told by the Feral Boy's closing narration that Gyro lived out his days as head of the great Northern tribe, not as a bleach blonde sky pirate. Apart from an opportunity to bring back the wonderfully slimy Spence, Jed plays like visual shorthand to stir something in Max - lanky beanpoles as an avatar for aerial escape.
Most importantly of all there's Savannah, the surrogate mother to a gang of lost children. Savannah is the sea change in Max, the person whose actions force him to stop and consider what he has lost and who he has become. Savannah is youth, decency and a sense of adventure, everything Max no longer has. She's Max's dead wife Jessie reimagined as a spear-wielding teenager, a female equal to The Road Warrior. Primarily, Savannah is used to demonstrate how far Max has fallen.
After Max refuses to be recognised as a messiah, the braver factions within the child tribe set off to find their promised land. Max uses a rifle and his physical power to restrain them, striking Savannah unconscious in the process. The children collectively wince. The film cuts to a scene later that day, the kids huddled together under a primitive log ceiling. They look glum. Savannah is bound and gagged while Max, dressed in furs, gorges himself on fruit. It's a small, fleeting scene but it's probably the most important sequence for Max the character. This is his lowest point, Max falling into the same vile behavioural patterns as his psychotic enemies.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is an uneven film. Its hero barely drives it, preferring to take a backseat and react his way through situations. It's telling that in the film's concluding chase we spend far more time following the misadventures of Ironbar, Aunty's muscle, than Max. Thunderdome is discursive and meandering where the first two films were dynamic and relentlessly kinetic. We spend a massive amount of time in the company of white children dressed as Aboriginal Australians telling pidgin tales about a boring, specifically nuclear apocalypse. Action scenes are also few and far between, seemingly built to stress the more exciting moments from the previous year's mega-hit Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
What Thunderdome has going for it though is a certain kind of bravery. It doesn't just put its hero at a disadvantage, it organically takes him to place that borders on the repulsive. The desert photography is relentlessly beautiful and directors George Miller and George Ogilvie aren't afraid to stop the film dead to detail their world. In these moments the film crackles. There's very little in the post-apocalyptic canon as poignant as a little girl and boy huddling around a dusty old record player to learn French.
Friday, 4 July 2014
Thursday, 3 July 2014
Mad Max 2 is a narrowing of focus, a rawer model of film than its predecessor, stripped of extraneous features like hesitation or emotional availability. There's no safety net here. Everybody acts out of pure, avaricious instinct. Even the Bronze are gone. Given their highway patrol outfits, Lord Humongous' marauders might even be what's left of the police. A mono 4:3 recap gives us the skinny upfront, the Cold War boiled over and society ate itself. Max has survived, buried his family and wandered out into the wasteland to become something mythic.
The events of Mad Max were predicated on Max's ability to love and, when he lost those closest to him, to use that emotion to engine his hate. This Max is a burnt out veteran, an expert traversing the desert in search of the only thing that matters in this world - gasoline. Stagnation is death. Better to keep moving. Mad Max's dissolved editing process is reorganised as a chase narrative - flee and forget. For their sequel George Miller, and screenwriters Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant take a leaf out of the Akira Kurosawa playbook, transforming their hero into a post-fall Ronin.
Although the morality here is a little more binary than in either Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars, the basic blueprint remains intact - a rootless wanderer antagonises two warring groups before settling down long enough to help a child. Mad Max 2 is an exceptional stranger film with the added benefit of knowing the events that shaped the man. Sergio Leone is stressed again in Max's relationship with his foil, the Gyro Captain. Their callous deals within deals recalling Blondie and Tuco's interactions in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
George Miller is one of those rare directors that understands action as something more than punctuation. The chase sequence that swamps Mad Max 2's finale is a mini movie with its own rhythms and reveals. A silent stunt spectacular built around the idea of how a tribe of Neanderthals, armed with arrows and grappling hooks, might halt a monstrous, speeding truck. A battered Max pilots the tanker, incidentally the greatest technological force we've yet seen, against the fragile insects that buzz around him. Miller's sequence is infectious and exciting primarily because it was obviously incredibly dangerous to create. Real cars buckle and break in the path of the tanker, stunt men tumble through the air with legs locked at unseemly angles. Miller hurls us back and forth, drinking in the convoy one minute, wincing at steel hands around Max's throat the next.
Action is typically resolved much how we expect in films. Cause and effect never getting much more complicated than a basic call and response. Mad Max 2 is completely different, its thinking is inventive, designed to confound. This unusual ordering best demonstrated by an early attempt to slow the eighteen wheeler. A biker hurls a tethered hook at the tanker's rear gun pod, ensnaring one of the settlers helping Max. There's a brief pause to linger on the pain of the trapped man before physics kicks in. The rusty old dune buggy at the other end of the rope weighs a fractional amount compared to the tanker. It upends and breaks, dragged behind like a trophy. Miller and his team aren't interested in brief, shocking confrontations anymore. They're remaking Buster Keaton's The General in hell. Over thirty years later, nothing else even comes close.
Wednesday, 2 July 2014
Dragon Ball: Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans is an updated, shortened redraft of an OAV originally released in conjunction with a NES game. Continuing the interactive tie-in theme, unless you live in Japan, this TV episode length fighter is only available with the Dragon Ball: Raging Blast 2 video game. Although stuffed with beefed up versions of pre-Cell movie villains, Eradicate centres around the throwaway idea that the Saiyans were not indigenous to the planet Frieza destroyed.
Eradicate begins with Giant Ape Saiyans trashing the science civilisation of the Tuffles. The dying race's greatest scientist Dr Lychee constructs a machine powered by grudges that gathers the animosity created by the brigandish Saiyans, eventually giving birth to an avenging android named Hatchiyack. In this sense, Eradicate is essentially a galactic reconfiguring of Dr Gero's Red Ribbon revenge with Hatchiyack standing in for Cell.
Hatchiyack isn't really up to the high standards of Akira Toriyama's bestiary. There are few interesting design flourishes - an executioner's cowl and suspenders, both cerise coloured growths covering his milky pink flesh - but the artificial fighter reads more like a background heavy. Eradicate should be great, a short, concise rummage through Dragon Ball's action tropes, but it comes off businesslike and impersonal. It's not all drab though, a few wide shots have spikier, off-brand renders of the main cast and Hatchiyack's defeat as at least built out of a Son Goku character moment. The best bit is when all the Z cast line up to throw their ki blasts, their cataclysmic powers warping the visuals into fluid, molten energy.
Mel Gibson's Max Rockatansky is a Bronze, a mobile future cop prowling the Australian outback. Max operates out of a derelict municipal building, his fellow cops are damaged children living out comic book fantasies. Any centralised sense of law and order is long gone. In Mad Max society is fundamentally unsound to the point of being almost feudal. Although the odd university lecturer still exists, popping up to berate Max and chums after their latest collision, it's obvious they're the last of a dwindling bourgeois. Everybody else is in deep shit and fighting for their lives.
In the face of total socio-economic collapse, what's left of mankind has huddled in townships for protection. Motorcycle marauders zip from place to place imagining slights and forcing confrontation. Violence is flippant, catalysed by the most mundane of interactions. Bodies remain where they fall, feast for carrion birds. Mad Max isn't post-apocalyptic in the traditional sense, there's no obvious sign of a nuclear exchange or biochemical disaster, rather everything, including people, has simply ceased to work. These survivors are beaten, stuck living in the ruins of the twentieth century.
Environment established, Mad Max concerns itself with several sequences of visual transformation. When we first meet Max he's a creature of stillness, the suicidal pilot of a yellow interceptor programmed to make criminals cry by driving straight at them. Mad Max's first chase clues us in to how events will unfold - a couple of subordinate highwaymen repeatedly crash and disfigure their vehicle, refusing to abandon the chase and the excitement it represents. During their last attempt to stay involved their car is completely deformed, its hood a ruin of spiky angles and leaking machinery.
After his best friend is killed, the baby-faced Max dumps the leathers and retreats into a white cotton minimalism that emphasises softness and his youth. During the holiday Max's family are killed by a pack of pursuing bikers. Max breaks. In George Miller's film revenge is more of a punchline than a prolonged narrative state. It's short and sharp, capping a long, miserable set-up. Max becomes an unfeeling ghost disguised as a cop. Max's mission isn't glib or celebratory. He's relentlessly attacked - a chunk of his leg is blown out and his arm mangled beneath a motorcycle's wheels. An action star who slowly mutates from a louche avenger into a shuffling special effect. The bouncy, boyish Gibson becomes a monster, a brain full of hate dragging along an uncooperative, malfunctioning body. Miller holds on this Max. We will his broken bones to take him further, to make it to the finish line.