In Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller distills his influential film series down to a single, film-length chase. Captured by a warlord, Max (now played by Tom Hardy) finds himself embroiled in a breakout orchestrated by metal-handed warrior Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and enslaved “wives” who are tired of being considered things. This is the sum of the plot, but it is not the story. For the fourth outing, Miller approaches Max as an ageless specter of the wasteland, living a purgatory existence haunted by the people he failed to protect throughout his years as The Road Warrior (particularly a child who calls him by name). Hardy is hunched and reticent, nervously darting his eyes, his Max utterly broken. Survival has become his only goal, momentum the only tool to achieve it.
In Furiosa, Max first sees a convenient alliance. She’s stable, pragmatic, laser-focused on her goal, and drives an armored big rig. By necessity, he makes himself useful to her. As they fend off the pursuing warlord and minor, offshoot tribes in a future-shock version of Stagecoach, sympathy emerges. Rather than one trying to dominate the other, the pair set tasks for themselves and their charges, taking turns shooting, driving, repairing. The spaghetti western loner redeems himself by integrating into a group.
Miller approaches these character arcs through action. He cycles between incidents in every scene, often as many as a dozen people scrambling in, on, or around a rusting, jagged, mobile fortress. Yet we never lose sight of who is doing what where or why, because camera movements are graceful, editing is sparse. We’re always following these bodies, even when they fall, crumple on the ground, and get trampled by tires.
Excitement doesn’t come from how fast stimuli is thrown at the audience, but from how these moving parts intersect and improvise. A boy sent below to repair an engine kicks Max to safety when a fight leaves him dangling on the side of the rig. A chain which bound two people becomes the key to winching the rig out of mud. A sharpshooter sneaks up beside pursuers on a motorcycle and headshots them. There’s a surprising detail or movement or story in every frame. Action movies don’t get much finer.
A series of inadequately reheated cliches, Extraterrestrial isn’t good for much. Too familiar to surprise or shock, even when it goes crude. In the third act, there’s both a probe joke and a probe scene, which includes a brief shot of a bare ass as the device approaches, followed by a cut away as some blood spatters, then the victim going limp. Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz probably high-fived when they wrote this into their script. The duo come across as self-satisfied, with a screen credit as “The Vicious Brothers,” a nom de plume which only betrays how safe their every choice is. There’s the party-hard jerk who chickens out when everything gets too freaky, a sheriff with a personal vendetta, and the final girl whose entire dramatic arc revolves around saying “yes” to her boyfriend’s marriage proposal. Even the downer ending happens like it’s being crossed off a list. Supposedly, the joy comes from watching some minor gore effects or listen to the jerk make jokes about his girl’s period, an affectation indie films like this share with small press comics still plying the ‘offensive’ card. Naturally, it was picked up by IFC.
The only person who bothers in Extraterrestrial is Michael Ironside. Playing a pot-growing Vietnam vet who spouts conspiracy theories, Ironside uses his distinguished snarl and grimace to suggest shellshock. He briefly menaces the film’s twenty-somethings in paranoid outbursts, only to sweetly smile at the final girl when he recognizes her. He even occasionally looks ridiculous in his T-shirts with goofy prints. The blank, staring eyes remain constant, though, his head still in the war. He almost looks happy to have a last stand in the underbrush of his grow house. The performance is frayed, almost compelling; no wonder the Vicious Brothers write him off as fodder.
A continuity entry, packaged first as an episodic game, Revelations 2 almost functions as a demonstration of the Resident Evil games’ various mutations. Resident Evil 4‘s over-the-shoulder gunplay, the partner characters of 5 and 6, even a step-tracing plot for its second protagonist similar to Code Veronica all factor in. We open with the inexplicable abduction of Claire Redfield and rookie counter-terrorist Moira, gradually revealed as part of an experiment in yet another bio-weapon (the implications of which are only given lip-service, unfortunately). Six months later, fellow series staple (and Moira’s father) Barry Burton comes looking for them, only to befriend a mysterious child named Natalia. The innovation in Revelations 2 is the ability to alternate between partners in each pairing (or have the role filled by a second player), a mechanic Capcom get some mileage out of. Claire and Moira quickly figure out how to utilize their dispositions in combat: gun-shy Moira picks up a flashlight and quips “Guess I’m on light duty,” then spends the game blinding undead enemies so her counterpart can blast their skulls apart. Barry and Natalia more resemble the dynamic of The Last of Us, a middle-aged man leading a surrogate daughter through an infected hellhole (the undead here occasionally blossom weak points similar to the fungi of Naughty Dog’s monsters). Natalia can distract enemies by throwing bricks at them and squeeze into small spaces to unlock doors, but is mainly used to sense approaching danger. The pairs crisscross over space and time, Barry often left wondering about the causes of the ruinous scenes he comes across. Fitfully exciting amidst the franchise piece-moving and thrills recycled from the Shinji Mikami days.
A woman walks into view, calm, framed by a floor-to-ceiling pane of glass. She’s not quite a woman, though: her face is grafted onto a metal and plastic body, lights and circuitry visible where her abdomen should be. She glances at the man come to see her. He fixates on her. They talk. Attempt to figure one another out–he trying to determine if she has consciousness, she if he will be a friend. But what do they really think of each other? This is the question repeatedly posed in Ex Machina. The man, Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), has been flown out to the mountain retreat of his company’s CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) to test his A.I., Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb is enchanted by Ava, designed specifically to be feminine, but this fact makes him suspicious of Nathan’s motives. Vague hints from Ava herself reinforce this. As in Gone Girl, audiences aren’t allowed one interpretation of each character. Perception is constantly shifting, signaled in Alex Garland’s direction by light and surface details. Naturalist lighting always accompanies frank, chummy discussions, Caleb having a drink with Nathan in his Falling Water-inspired home or talking about his childhood with Ava in her room/cell with a view. When in the box-shaped, cold white hallways and bedrooms of the bunker beneath Nathan’s home, his character turns more sinister, goading Caleb into an NDA with broad-reaching privacy implications. When the colors go garish, either during power outages or during a round of drunken cavorting, characters break even further: Ava reveals her suspicions about Nathan, he becomes ghoulish and crazed. Caleb ping pongs between these layers, his own motivations and sanity in doubt. His attempts to figure out man and machine are never complete, his own, limited perspective a blind spot.
Last week, Konami parted ways with Hideo Kojima, one of an ever-shrinking number of game developers who could be considered an auteur. One of the casualties of this parting was Silent Hills, a PS4 installment of the Silent Hill horror series Kojima was to develop with director Guillermo del Toro (and starring Norman Reedus, of The Walking Dead). This despite the popularity and excitement generated by a demo of the game, called P.T., which Knoami announced it was pulling right before officially cancelling the game.
Silent Hills‘ cancellation might not be the end of the series, but the news has been greeted as an obituary in some corners of the gaming world. Not without reason, either: after four stellar games, from Konami’s internal “Team Silent” group, a series of lackluster, outsourced titles cropped up. Silent Hill: Homecoming was a transparent attempt to capitalize on the Resident Evil franchise’s transition to action/shooter gameplay, jettisoning the kaleidoscopic visions of mundane Americana and psycho-sexual horror for adolescent thrills and bland monsters. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories showed more promise: a loose remake of the original game which emphasized running from the town’s horrific manifestations, there’s at least an effort at engaging with psychology and symbolism, but it’s a trace element in an adventure game broken up with chase sequences. It’s too mechanical and neat, lacking the ratcheting tension which Team Silent mastered. Finally came Silent Hill: Downpour, which had Homecoming‘s bland monster concepts and Shattered Memories‘ lip-service psychological horror. It passed with little notice. After those disappointments, the sudden, inexplicable end of a high-profile attempt to rejig the franchise, along with showing the door to an acclaimed developer like Kojima, can’t help coming across as final.
Sylvester Stallone repurposed his rejected Beverly Hills Cop pitch into a clash between Dirty Harry and the slasher movie. A cult, led by perpetually sweating muscle bomber the Night Slasher (Brian Thompson), is cutting people up left and right. The police have no leads. Thankfully, they have a man for situations like this: Marion ‘Cobra’ Cobretti (Stallone), a state-sponsored vigilante. Squirreled away in an apartment stockpiled with weapons and a criminal database, Cobra works like a fanatic, every action intending precision. Precision at what, though? Tasked with protecting a witness to Night Slasher’s killings, he instead chases cultists (witness in tow) following an attempt on her life, more concerned with punishment. Stallone embodies ‘tough on crime’ policies, openly spiteful of the idea constitutional rights are for everyone. He’s always verging on throttling some weaselly liberal who dares ask questions (a bespectacled rival cop; a reporter questioning his use of force during a grocery store standoff). Actual criminals are regarded as ‘disease,’ to which he and his armory are ‘the cure.’
Heavily edited and re-shot to avoid an X-rating, the film acts as a Republican fever dream. Action is choppy, continuity errors abound, space is obliterated. Stallone’s hired hands behind the camera, George Cosmatos and Ric Waite, crank up the incoherence to make Night Slasher and his minions omnipresent. Murders occur fast, victims barely comprehending their fate. Downtime consists of standing in industrial rooms, clanking murder weapons in unison with theme music. They seek to cull the weak, creating a “New Order” to humanity. Of course the only thing that can stop them is the latest model Callahan! The parallels between Night Slasher and Cobra–their mechanical natures, disdain for rules, the rending of others into their ideal vision–are left dangling, without comment, half-remembered. Stallone burns out the disease and rides off.
Thoughts on Netflix’s ABC’s Disney’s Marvel’s Daredevil. Went from indifference to mild enthusiasm to “it’s okay, I guess?” Don’t want to do a proper review though, so here’s an itemized list:
- Everyone talks about the fights. Mainly on the strength of those in the first two episodes, directed by Phil Abraham. Especially the climactic hallway brawl in the second, “Cut Man,” where the wounded hero takes on Russian thugs to rescue a kidnapped child. Abraham blocks low and wide, borrowing inflections from Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy. Enjoyed the little touches: the ropes wrapped around Daredevil’s hands like boxing tape. How Daredevil’s weakened state is stressed in the fight, staggering and stumbling (though still kicking ass). The initial, unseen portions of the fight, broken by a thug sent though a door, and a TV thrown at another who comes to check on him. Nothing in the Marvel films proper is this good.
- Fights after “Cut Man” don’t fare as well. Editing is choppier, bloodletting gets ridiculous, telling story through action happens less. It’s disappointing.
- Minorities and women continue to be sacrificial lambs in superhero land, and Asian characters are stereotypes.
- The whole Stick episode is pointless.
- How Daredevil and Kingpin contrast threatens to become interesting. Daredevil’s the hero, but he lies to his friends, while Fisk is honest with his. Would’ve loved if they had a Michael Mann-style chat.
- Radar sense was better in the Ben Affleck movie.
- Like everything else post-Dark Knight, the point seems to have been missed the torture in that movie was a takedown of the idea of torture.
- As Sarah Horrocks points out, the dates are the best parts–Karen/Foggy and Vanessa/Fisk notably. Real sense of place and character in both.
- Daredevil’s official costume looks worse than the shitty “homemade” one.
Part of the downward trajectory of Russell Mulcahy’s career post-The Shadow, Tale of the Mummy is B-grade schlock matched with exquisite formalism. An ancient curse is enacted when a group of archaeologists unseal a tomb housing Greek heretic Talos, who mummified himself to escape Egyptian punishment. Appearing mainly as a mound of animated wrappings–whose tumbling evoke the predatory single-mindedness of a brown recluse spider–Talos escapes museum captivity and begins killing seemingly random targets for their organs, prompting an investigation from police (mainly Jason Scott Lee) and members of the archaeological team (Louise Lombard, Sean Pertwee) suspecting the curse is real. Photographed by Gabriel Beristain, Mulcahy’s scenery oozes. Shafts of light invade interior spaces: apartments, sewers, tunnels, tombs, even a red-hued restroom in a nightclub find light from external sources entering the frame. These encroachments match Talos’ unstoppable manner, where no space and no person is safe. This gives menacing texture to a script heavy on a sense of futility. Pertwee, shaven-headed and flailing, appears a madman in his quest to prove the supernatural, the cops suspecting him off the bat. Mulcahy flirts with the hero’s journey at times, but seeming protagonists get undercut at every turn. They don’t disrupt prophecy, they’re roadkill as Talos barrels towards a foregone conclusion like a Hammer villain. The film’s letdown is its primitive special effects for middle act kill sequences. One offender, in particular, involves a man sucked down a toilet, stretching in the rubber band fashion of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Gorgeous scenery and a sense of dread get backhanded by ridiculous, low-budget disaster.
The most horrifying thing about Gone Girl isn’t the crimes or misdeeds of any individual, but a cumulative, societal effort to suppress the truth. David Fincher applies his love of the procedural to Gillian Flynn’s script, depicting a missing persons case, the resulting media circus, and its exponential growth of lies, half-truths, and speculation. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) comes home and finds his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing, signs of a struggle. The local PD arrive, sticky-noting evidence, a narrative forming in their mind. This, in Gone Girl, is how the horror starts. Clues suggest, neat but not too neat, Nick may have offed Amy. Within a week, according to the film’s time stamps, a Nancy Grace lookalike is diagnosing Nick with sociopathy and inferring an incestuous relationship with his sister, among other antics.
Almost everyone in the film is a liar. Amy’s parents appear with Nick for a press conference, but their concern masks crass exploitation–promoting their pseudo-biographical book series within the tears. Nick’s lawyer teaches him how to be sympathetic. Amy’s ex creeps around the edges of the plot, motives shrouded in Nice Guy-isms. Narration from Amy suggests anger at her circumstances, either her lifetime of being compared to a fictional counterpart or conforming to the Hot Cool Girl men fantasize about. Nick wants to be everyone’s best friend, smiling next to Amy’s picture during the conference. He’s pegged as a phoney. Though the couple manipulate everyone around them, they resent acting the parts everyone expects of them, as man and woman, husband and wife. Ironically, they key in to those roles, using the news as entertainment cycle to sell themselves. When one narrative collapses, they simply adjust, even if they have to get bloody. In the land of liars and opportunists, it’s the only way to survive.