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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Movie Reviews: Mad Max: Fury Road, Still & Pitch Perfect 2

Mad Max
Mad Max

Under the microscope this week, the remake of Mad Max, Still and Pitch Perfect 2

Mad Max: Fury Road

Action/Adventure. Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whitley, Riley Keough, Josh Helman, Abbey Lee, Zoe Kravitz. Director: George Miller. Riley Keough. Cert: 15A HHHHI

 

At the time of going to press, something very curious and unprecedented chatter was doing the rounds online: namely, that Mad Max: Fury Road could well be in line for Oscar glory next year.

It’s not usually chatter afforded to wallet-busting action wheezes, but thanks to Oscar-winning cinematographer John Seale, this film has the makings of a winner. And the look of the craziest, most delirious spectacle you’re likely to lay eyes on this year. As in, sit too close and you might lose your nachos.

The fourth instalment of Mad Max is packed to the gills with big names, but first, a moment of reverence for the film’s director, George Miller.

As the man behind the

original 1979 Mad Max blockbuster, the Australian director’s career has taken him hither and thither in Hollywood, from Babe: Pig In The City to Happy Feet. Long story short: we’re in safe enough hands here behind the camera.

And Miller’s throwing everything at his disposal — technology, cash, vast dusty vistas — to create the epic to end them all.

And it’s all needed to create the desperation of this arid, post-apocalyptic world. Calling the shots is Immortal Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who controls the population’s water supply and produces vast amounts of mother’s milk from his own battery farm of imprisoned pregnant women.

One of his captives, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), decides to escape, falling in with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), another defector.

She is heading back to the oasis that she was snatched from as a child. Trailing her are a raggle taggle of comely sirens; beautiful breeders that warlord Joe wants to have babies with.

Incandescent with rage, Joe chases after them. A showdown of biblical proportions is inevitable.

Out in front of the camera, things are equally as promising as behind it. Tom Hardy, playing our hero Max, has emerged relatively unscathed from Child 44 where he was caught rapid channelling the Count from Sesame Street.

This time round, he’s playing a straight-up hero, no twist. With the right amounts of humanity, herculean strength and tenacity, he’s a compelling Max, if a man of few words and fewer emotions.

Charlize Theron, meanwhile, playing the haunted Imperator Furiosa, is equally compelling. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley looks properly luscious in the role of Splendid, a doomed breeder. Props, too, go to Nicholas Hoult, playing wild-eyed foot soldier Nux with vim.

Ambition of scale does not automatically equate greatness (remember Waterworld?), but in this case, the eye-popping extravagance is a real joy. It’s loud and boisterous to a nerve-jangling point. The action sequences, which are hyper-stylised, unfold at velocities that will make your head spin.

Every so often though, the whole juggernaut runs off the reservation, drunk on its own spectacle. For reasons best known to the film’s creators, the warlord is accompanied by his very own metal guitarist and drummers playing atop a truck (techno, it seems, did not survive the apocalypse. Soz). The pudding is officially over-iced.

But a film that uses 3,500 storyboards and 480 hours of raw footage wasn’t really fated to be a cinematic turkey. It’s not so much Mad Max as… well, maximum madness. Strap yourself in. It’s a hell of a ride.

Rating ****

 

Still

Drama/Thriller. Starring Aidan Gillen, Elodie Yung, Jonathan Slinger, Sonny Green, Amanda Mealing, Kate Ashfield, Caroline Ford. Director: Simon Blake. Cert: TBC

If Mad Max: Fury Road goes at full tilt, this low-key thriller is its polar opposite. Still has a plot that unfolds at a molasses-slow pace, straddling a very fine line between being a slow burn and boring its audience to tears.

I’ve long wondered why Aidan Gillen hasn’t appeared in more big-screen outings, as he certainly has the swagger needed to carry a feature film on his own shoulders. He’s is brilliantly louche and watchable in the right character. Playing Tom Carver, a photographer and bereaved father, the Dubliner is Still’s main draw.

After a seemingly harmless encounter with a teenager, Tom finds himself suddenly embroiled in a feud with a north London gang of feral kids. It’s not long before things get out of hand and Tom — already a man close to breaking point without the interference of pesky local kids — moves ever closer to all-out disintegration and vengeance.

Ultimately, Still takes way too long to reach its denouement. As debut features go, Simon Blake’s film has plenty of style, texture and atmosphere. But ultimately, and despite a competent cast, it’s a film in the hands of a newcomer.

The film’s dark, moody look means that things go unexplained and it’s hard to catch the details that matter.

Still, it will be interesting to see what Blake and Gillen come up with next. For both, careers that end up in intriguing nooks and crannies are theirs for the taking.

Rating ***

 

Pitch Perfect 2

Comedy/Music. Starring Anna Kendrick. Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Katey Segal, Adam DeVine, Alexis Knapp, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean. Director: Elizabeth Banks. Cert: 12A

Now. How to take a one-note Hollywood hit and spin it out into a sequel? This is the conundrum posed to the makers of Pitch Perfect, a film that frankly did better than it had any right to.

The Barden Bellas acapella group came out on top last time, so to be fair, the only way was down for them. And sure enough, thanks to Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) having an eye-watering moment splitting her pants while singing Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, their reputation is in tatters. Le sigh.

Their only shot at redemption in the face of worldwide YouTube humiliation is to win the world championships. It’s an easy enough plan, were it not for the hyper-efficient German group Das Sound Machine, who can knock out a rather mean version of ‘Zis Is How Vee Do It’ (their joke, not mine).

Director Elizabeth Banks (who produced the original and has cast herself as a pundit this time around) has clearly decided not to mess with a winning formula.

Ergo, we are talking much of the same sugary, Glee-encrusted goodness that made the 2013 film a sleeper hit.

It would be churlish of me to say that I spent much of my time in the darkness watching this film, massaging my temples, hoping the throb would go away. Between someone breaking out spontaneously into song for no reason and a parade of lame jokes based on Fat Amy’s weight and cultural stereotypes, this is a musical comedy painted with the broadest strokes possible.

Mind you, Pitch Perfect 2 is oodles of fun if you’re the type of person who takes Vines of yourself singing Taylor Swift songs into a hairbrush. But I’m not, so it wasn’t.

Ultimately, Pitch Perfect 2 is a film where sickly on-stage numbers and a so-so script collide in perfect harmony.

Rating ***

 

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