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The "Divergent" series' middle installment cracks open the series,
bringing the entirety of the Dystopian world Veronica Roth created to
viewers. We get a glimpse of the factions Amity and Candor before the
very faction system is on the brink of dissolving.
"Insurgent" starts more less where "Divergent" left off. Our hero, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is hiding out with her new beaux Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and frenemy Peter (Miles Teller) in the Amity compound following her dismantling of the totalitarian Jeanine's (Kate Winslet) attack on Abnegation. But Tris has come out of that mess a little traumatized, and Jeanine's hunt for divergents, specifically one special enough to open a nifty box she found, is bound to bring it all to the surface.
Like the "Divergent" script, this screenplay touches on the key moments from the book but doesn't do much to mitigate the confusion between what's going on with all the factions and who is allied with whom you know, really building out world and the supporting cast. And so much of the action in this movie takes place in Tris' nightmares or in simulations that are obviously simulations, zapping it of a lot of suspense.
Tough to blame the writers too much, however. Summit hired two of the most seasoned script doctors out there in Akiva Goldsman ("The Da Vinci Code," "I Am Legend") and Mark Bomback ("The Wolverine," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes") and while everything about the story ends up making sense and being compelling enough to watch, the heart of Roth's books how she hooks you with Tris' thoughts and emotions plays second fiddle.
Woodley is a terrific actress and she sells all of Tris' self-hating inner demons exceptionally well, but she feels more like a cog in the story machine than the driving force behind the story itself. Director Robert Schwentke, who replaces "Divergent" director Neil Burger, gives her moments and lets her be raw, but it hardly compares to the introspection we've seen in "The Hunger Games" series and how that franchise has focused around its heroine.
Schwentke proves a competent guide for this series, but not so much a creative one. The aesthetic of "Insurgent" does not capture the imagination, nor do the simulations and nightmares, which offer a lot of creative license to a filmmaker. Burger, I feel, handled those better.
Yet there's enough talent to go around (including the additions of Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer and Daniel Dae Kim to the cast) to keep the film afloat. The scenes that need to get your attention get your attention; the actors put you in their characters' shoes; the story moves at a good pace. Honestly, there's nothing especially awful about any aspect of the movie (aside from some of Winslet's unfortunate dialogue), it just feels par-for-the-course. The books are kind of that way too, so maybe enjoying "Insurgent" is just about appeasement. It's about satisfying fans of the book and people who enjoy the genre but don't need intellectual stimulation or riveting character drama. I'll stand by the idea that this series could be done better, but maybe not in a way that meets teen blockbuster criteria. I'm at peace that the latter is the direction producers chose to go.
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In the midst of "The Avengers" and the countless other successful films
that Marvel Studios has turned into the mega-franchise of the last
decade, "Ant-Man" has never felt like a priority. It has taken the
studio ages to figure out how Ant-Man, who originated as a founding
member of the Avengers in the comics, would fit into their
multi-billion dollar machine, and now that they slipped him in, he just
might be the most interesting weapon in their arsenal.
Although this is the first "Ant-Man," the film feels far from an origin story, partly in the clever way that the story involves two "ant-men," Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Marvel movie fans are asked to believe Pym was merely an unmentioned part of S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades, but regardless, Pym hand-picking and training his successor is a new dynamic for a superhero film.
Lang is a burglar with a background in electronic engineering, and unlike his major Avengers contemporaries, he's a family man too, albeit his daughter lives with his ex-wife. Fresh out of prison for stealing millions from a crooked organization, Lang gets pulled into a new job by his buddy Luis (Michael Peña), which leads him to Pym and the Ant-Man suit. Pym is in need of someone with Lang's skills to infiltrate his former company, now run by his ruthless former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who is on the verge of a breakthrough in his attempts to replicate Pym's shrinking technology.
If "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" was Marvel Studios' take on a spy movie, then "Ant- Man" is its heist film. Although the break-in to destroy Cross' data and yellow jacket suit isn't the sole focus of the movie, it's the highlight in a film that ends up being way more fun than even the most optimistic Marvel fan would've imagined.
"Ant-Man" has two tricks up its sleeve that prevent it from basically being an "Iron Man" knock- off: a hero who can change his size instantly and a loyal army of ants. The size factor creates infinite creative action sequence possibilities, which is nothing to brush off considering how many times audiences have seen a man in a suit fighting bad guys in the last 20 years. The ant factor is also easy to underestimate, but they add such unique flavor to movie and are integral to the plot.
No fan would ask for Marvel to pick the director of "Bring It On" to bring Ant-Man to life, especially when that man (Peyton Reed) was stepping in for geek-revered auteur Edgar Wright, but it's clear by how clever "Ant-Man" is that Wright's story and screenplay work were still influential. With a screenplay from Wright and Joe Cornish revised by Rudd and modern comedy writer/director Adam McKay ("Anchorman"), it's amazing that "Ant-Man" is a cohesive, exciting action film that's also funny, rather than just ending up plain silly.
There is a definite limit to the praise that can be heaped onto "Ant-Man," particularly as it relates to its conventional plot and a few bland characters, but it absolute hits the mark on the entertainment factor in a way no Marvel film has since the original "Avengers" (outside of "Guardians of the Galaxy"). The humor definitely helps, and one prime example of its keen use is when Lang asks Pym why he doesn't just get the Avengers to do the job. That little bit of self- awareness is good for the tone and rewarding to fans of Marvel films. A scene in which Ant-Man takes on one of the Avengers, though superfluous for the film, is a delightful bridge to the greater universe and serves to put more points in the entertainment column. The tie-ins don't hinder the film as much as you might expect; Marvel Studios definitely strikes a balance between the ingenuity of Wright's original concept for this movie and its overbearing necessity to be part of a "phase" of superhero films with bigger objectives.
Ant-Man is a welcome member to the Marvel movie family and he might just even steal some votes as a fan favorite Avenger over time. It's too bad Marvel doesn't plan to let him fly solo again between now and the final two-part "Avengers: Infinity War" in 2018-19, but hopefully the reaction to this first installment will change their minds, or maybe they've got bigger plans for their tiniest hero than we realize.
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Amy Schumer has made the jump to the big screen in a big way with
"Trainwreck." The comedian whose Comedy Central show has gathered a
well-deserved fan base couldn't have made a better choice than to team
up with Judd Apatow to bring her self-deprecating and shameless sense
of humor to a movie genre in great need of it.
In "Trainwreck," there's a fine if not blurry line between conventional romantic comedy and flipping rom-com clichés on their head. Schumer plays Amy, a 30-something staff writer for a superficial men's magazine who overindulges in pot, booze and one-night stands, in large part because she internalized the advice her father (Colin Quinn) gave her and her sister Kim (Brie Larson) when they were kids: "monogamy is not realistic."
Amy's personal rules about not letting men sleep over are soon tested when a work assignment has her interviewing wildly successful sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), who is best pals with LeBron James and loves sports, which Amy detests. After seducing him, she soon finds herself in an uncomfortable, exclusive situation.
Hader and Schumer seem like an unlikely pair, but Hader's improvisational brilliance and Schumer's clever writing work well together, and they also have terrific repartee with the supporting cast, from LeBron James to the nearly unrecognizable Tilda Swinton as Amy's editor. These talents (yes, even James, but especially Schumer) pull of some of the script's really corny moment by infusing a little extra honesty and self-awareness into their performances.
Then there's the Apatow factor. True to the types of films he has made since his career took off with "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," there is a strong dramatic element in certain aspects of the film, namely Amy's relationship with her father and the way she treats her happily married sister. Schumer colors these moments with some somewhat dark humor, but both she and Apatow are not interested in just fluff, which is interesting considering how cookie-cutter much of the plot of "Trainwreck" is.
Romantic comedy fans will feel at ease in this story: wild woman figures out a way to settle down with guy, they hit a major roadblock and things get bad for awhile and then she must decide if she's really committed to him and if they can live happily ever after. The biggest difference, however is the gender roles are reversed. Normally it's the out-of-control guy who finds "the one" and nearly loses her. So in one sense, Schumer has written a film that flies against Hollywood gender roles, but on the other, she hasn't at all.
So, somehow, Schumer and Apatow have crafted a classic date movie yet one that's fresh and a little edgy. More so the former than the latter, but most romantic comedies don't ever find an edge. There's something in "Trainwreck" for everyone, whether you're a guy into sports or not (especially if you are into sports though) or whether you're a woman who loves chick-flicks or a hardcore feminist. Somehow, the film exists as this acceptable contradiction. Schumer might not be able to pull that off time and time again, but she certainly has a promising career on the big screen.
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If I were to tell you "Ex Machina" was a movie about artificial
intelligence, your mind would most likely suspect it a traditional
futuristic science-fiction flick. But "28 Days Later ..." and "Dredd"
screenwriter Alex Garland's directorial debut is anything but
"Ex Machina" wastes no time with exposition. Literally none. We meet programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) as he is selected for a prestigious opportunity by his employer, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the billionaire founder of the world's most popular search engine. A minute later and he is dropped off by helicopter at Nathan's reclusive research facility where he learns that he will be the human subject in a Turing test with Nathan's new artificially intelligent being, Ava (Alicia Vikander).
What develops is more of a psychological, intellectual and philosophical thriller than any cultish escapist science-fiction. Science, in the case of "Ex Machina," creates a framework for high-level themes and contemplation, not dissimilar to Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar," only much smaller in scope.
The drama picks up when Ava secretly reveals to Caleb that Nathan is a bad person who is not be trusted. From there, the performances really perpetuate the suspense, namely Isaac's confidently enigmatic Nathan and Vikander's alluring, innocent yet poised Ava.
"Ex Machina" has a rather quiet disposition, calling much attention to Garland's visuals. Garland shows some flashes of real talent behind the camera, but not artistic panache. Most of all, it's his patience that gives the film its eerie, ethereal quality. As both writer and director, he trusts his own material he knows when the story works, he believes in his the tiny cast shouldering the brunt of it and so he doesn't need any flashy techniques (or longtime collaborator Danny Boyle) to make the film work.
Although it takes a long time to become captivating, "Ex Machina" does more than the average science-fiction entry in terms of posing big ideas. The script goes well beyond the now trite existential tropes of most films about robots and into a much more complicated examination of the human experience and the characteristics that separate humans from machines meant to replicate their appearance and behavior.
"Ex Machina" will no doubt let down those looking for a more traditional blockbuster sci-fi experience, but for the more artistic, high-brow sci-fi crowd, Garland has delivered the genre something it doesn't see often enough.
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Disney's latest trend remaking its animated classics with live action
and special effects meets the "untold story" motif in "Maleficent," a
spin on "Sleeping Beauty" from the villains' perspective. With traces
of "Wicked" in the story and Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" in the
visuals among other aspects, "Maleficent" has some excellent fantasy
characteristics, and by carefully playing to its strengths, results in
a sufficiently captivating film.
Everything about "Maleficent" starts and ends with Angelina Jolie. Ask the average person some Disney trivia and they probably wouldn't be able to tell you who Maleficent is. The only reason the film received $180 million and a go-ahead was because one of Hollywood's biggest stars had the eyes and cheekbones to pull it off and she said yes. Turns out Jolie has more than the obvious traits to make Maleficent into a sinister and sassy anti-hero. Every little catchphrase she delivers is the acting equivalent of taking a perfect bite out of a juicy apple.
Written by Disney live-action "Alice" scribe Linda Woolverton and directed by "Alice" production designer Robert Stromberg, "Maleficent" feels very much cut from that film's cloth, only it's a little more straightforward and less boring. At a tastefully merciful 97 minutes long, there's an understanding that this is just supposed to be a clever twist on a fairy tale and not the next big Disney franchise.
Stromberg's visuals are as impressive as his resume would suggest, having won Oscars in art direction two years in a row for "Alice" and "Avatar." The world of fairies doesn't play an integral role in "Maleficent," but when the film does take us there, it's something to marvel at. Given these visuals exist for the sake of being beautiful, not because they serve a greater purpose, it speaks highly to the art team of "Maleficent" that they distract from the narrative blah of the film.
The problem with "Maleficent" is that its premise is far more interesting than the actual plot. Woolverton twists the classic story of "Sleeping Beauty" to make Maleficent so totally misunderstood and in doing so shakes up the traditional and often gendered archetypes of fairy tales. That's how the film hooks the audience, not with riveting suspense over how it will all play out.
In a nutshell, Maleficent was a kind and beautiful winged fairy, and a human boy, named Stefan, being as human boys are, stole her heart and betrayed her so he could become king. So when King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) and the queen give birth to Princess Aurora, Maleficent's curse on the curl is much deserved pay-back. And as it turns out, as Aurora (Elle Fanning) comes of age, Maleficent isn't simply hiding in the shadows.
On one hand, there's something frustrating about how narratively, "Maleficent" is about two adults who can't talk about their feelings and instead wage war against one another, but on the other, watching the film is like diving quickly into a beautifully drawn picture book that reinterprets a classic story. There's a nice message about true love in there too that really makes the whole concept a worthy exercise. No one will call "Maleficent" an excellent film in anything but its production value, but it should enjoy a long life as a visually fun and delightfully campy fairy tale twist.
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When it comes to "Jurassic World," critics will be damned. To date, the
film has grossed more than $1.4 billion worldwide, good for fifth most
all time, so nothing anyone was going to say could influence the desire
to watch this highly anticipated return to Isla Nublar and the world
first created by Steven Spielberg. Why audiences were so eager,
however, is in ways more intriguing than the film itself.
From the trailers, nothing about "Jurassic World" appeared to be novel the park was rebuilt, and now something bigger and scarier than a T-rex has gotten loose. So that suggests the film was an exercise in nostalgic thrills, the excitement of the big bad dinosaur running amok that inspired studios to produce countless '90s and 2000s monster-driven blockbusters. And to that end, "Jurassic World" succeeds.
A long 14 years since the failed "Jurassic Park III" and more than 20 years since the original adventure, enough time passed to build up this franchise's novelty value, a wisely calculated move by Universal Pictures to be sure. Although "Jurassic World" doesn't inspire awe and wonder in the same way "Jurassic Park" did, it feels refreshing to return to the franchise's overall aesthetic.
Entrusted with created the "dinostalgia" is director Colin Trevorrow of the indie sci-fi comedy "Safety Not Guaranteed" and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver of the recent "Planet of the Apes" prequels. While Trevorrow must simply keep the thrill and pulse of the film alive and throbbing, it's Jaffa and Silver who must create a captivating story that stays true to the formula of "Jurassic Park."
Jaffa and Silver were an ideal choice, having taken a previously bygone franchise in "Planet of the Apes" not to mention one focused on animals and humans and surpassed all expectations with the quality of storytelling. "Jurassic World" has plenty of compelling moments, effective suspense and a strong sense of danger it's the character development that's lacking.
Not that anyone remembers "Jurassic Park" for the characters, but "Jurassic World" can't lean on the "wow" factor in the way the original could. The main characters comprise an undeveloped mess of two boys, the park director and a dinosaur trainer. All the lovable charisma of Chris Pratt, who gets top billing as the man who has tamed velociraptors, can't save the two- dimensional Owen despite getting all the big reveal/epiphany lines, and as a selfish stick of a character, Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire takes a long time to warm up to. Yet neither is the movie entirely about the two young brothers, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), trying to survive. Their troubled home life and fraternal bond gets shoved into a film much more concerned with its dinosaurs.
All of these flaws feel irrelevant until the story loses a grip on the suspense it so effectively builds in the first act and most of the second. In fact, there's a quiet moment amidst the chaos of pterodactyls descending upon hapless park tourists that marks the beginning of the film's unraveling. Something happens that proves the film has a poor perspective on its characters and it betrays the credibility of the story in a really unfortunate way.
From that point on, "Jurassic World" finds a few nice plot twists, but devolves into your typical mindless blockbuster rather than an extraordinary or noteworthy one. You can sense its desire to be the biggest and most epic "Jurassic" film rather than holding onto the simplicity that made the original so great that opened up a sense of wonder, fear but most importantly, curiosity. That's where the heart of Spielberg's film (and so many of his films) comes in, and "Jurassic World" never strikes those chords.
The most obvious candidate for a sequel since "Avatar," the franchise can only succeed in this way going forward the with a focus on Owen, filling in all that was missing in his back story and giving Pratt a chance to actually shine with the talents he has. That, or wiping the slate clean and giving the new faces a chance to connect more with this exciting world of "Jurassic Park."
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The days of the classy '60s spy films seemed long lost. The world has
gotten too complicated for simple stories of agents in tuxedos squaring
off with megalomaniacs. Yet in walks "Kingsman: The Secret Service,"
based on a Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons offering that sleek look and
those beloved spy genre conventions but with plenty of modern-day
If Matthew Vaughn wasn't already a candidate to direct a future James Bond film, behold his audition tape. The "Kick-Ass" (also from Millar) and "X-Men: First Class" director makes yet another stylish and wickedly fun comic adaptation, raising his own bar for creative action sequences. More underrated, however, is his partnership with screenwriter Jane Goldman. This duo has yet to slip up, impeccably balancing the tropes and formulas of action flicks with just enough originality to keep their stories engaging from start to finish.
"Kingsman" stars newcomer Taron Egerton as Gary "Eggsy" Unwin, a street kid recruited by Kingsman agent Harry Hart, codename "Galahad" (Colin Firth) to join the top-secret organization after they lose an agent. Eggsy's father was a Kingsman, and Harry sees that same potential. As Eggsy undergoes a competition with other young men and women to fill the vacancy, Harry works to uncover a sinister plot being orchestrated by tech mogul billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson).
The script does gloss over Eggsy's development from troubled thief to top-flight field agent, perhaps the film's biggest flaw, but Vaughn and Goldman maintain suspense is basic yet effective ways. Will Eggsy in fact win that spot with the Kingsmen? And what's Valentine up to anyway? They recognize their best cards and play them at the right time, and that's what a good blockbuster does. Some impressive twists toward the end of the second act also rejuvenate that intrigue when it starts to wane.
Egerton is a solid young talent and he's surrounded by a cast who would do just as well in an Oscar-contending drama with Firth, Jackson, Mark Strong and Michael Caine. Some gravitas was definitely required to legitimize Kingsman in the eyes of the audience; without it the concept would feel too much like a cheap knock-off. These heavyweights help the film give off the vibe of an homage to the spy genre with contemporary twists. The character Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), Valentine's "muscle," a double leg amputee with those springy leg prosthetics used by runners but outfitted with piercing metal blades, is not dissimilar from the Bond character Jaws.
With plenty of creative action sequences, many of which have surprises built into them, "Kingsman" entertains with a relative ease that so many similar action films and obscure adaptations seem to so rarely replicate. Not to mention Vaughn is becoming a bit more of an auteur, crafting fight scenes like dances but filming them with a visual roughness so as to get the best of both the practically slow-mo stylish action approach and the physical "Bourne"-style approach.
Vaughn will likely abandon the "Kingsman" series (should it become a series) as he did with his previous efforts that received follow-ups, but where he goes next is worth tracking, especially if Goldman's in tow. And hopefully a serviceable blueprint remains in the hands of 20th Century Fox to try their luck with developing the next modern spy franchise.
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When Pixar announced "Up" and "Monsters Inc." director Pete Docter's
"Untitled Pixar Film that Takes You Inside the Mind," there was little
doubt that the animation giant and its brilliant minds had yet another
work of genius in development. Flash forward and the revolutionary
studio has not disappointed with this endlessly creative, whimsical
journey now titled "Inside Out."
This totally original film couldn't have come too soon for Pixar fans following the commercial cash-grabs that were "Cars 2" and "Monsters University" and the beautiful yet very traditional fairy tale "Brave" (not to mention no film in 2014). It's a huge bounce back, and it would not be a stretch to call this Pixar's most creative film, or even the most creative animated film of the digital era.
The story depicts 11-year-old Riley's first major life challenge: moving from Minnesota to San Francisco with her mother and father. Yet it imagines her entire personality/brain as its own living world, piloted by her five chief emotions, all personified as characters: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).
Narrated by Joy, we see key moments of Riley's life growing up that have become her "core memories," represented as shiny orbs, with each memory triggering a part of Riley's personality. To this point, Riley's core memories are all tinted yellow because they have been joyful, and Joy plans to keep it that way. The big move, however, makes this challenging, and after a struggle with Sadness, Joy and Sadness find themselves booted out of Riley's command center and into her long- term memory.
With only Anger, Fear and Disgust to guide her, Riley becomes unpredictable, and Joy and Sadness must find their way back before the damage becomes irreversible. Along the way, they team up with Riley's imaginary friend, Bing Bong, who assists (and innocently misguides) their journey through all parts of Riley's mind including her abstract thought and subconscious.
The praise for "Inside Out" could stop at the fact that it's a compelling animated film without a main villain. When was the last time you saw one of those? Case in point. The story creates danger and suspense by throwing new obstacles at Joy and Sadness left and right, creating a sense of doubt wondering what might happen to Riley if they can't make it back to "head"quarters. Docter and co- writer/director Ronaldo Del Carmen use sheer creative force to fuel intrigue in the other moments.
"Inside Out" is awe-inspiring in the way it fully develops this personified version of the mind and carries it through to fruition with such conviction that none of the loose ends in the concept derail it. This is exceptionally elaborate, demolishing even "Wreck- It Ralph" in terms of world-building. From how the mind processes and removes memories to what is going on when you dream, the film is an ever-growing tower of "what if we did this?!" ideas piled one on top of the other and it never topples over.
Pixar's trademark tear-jerking, heartstring-tugging M.O. is in place here as well, even if not to the same extent as "Toy Story 3" or the flashback sequence in "Up." The importance of love and support, the challenges of childhood the connections the film makes to the human experience are so profound and direct despite such an abstract premise and unusual storyline.
Topped with spot-on voice casting and a visual style that distinguishes itself while remaining true to Pixar's form, "Inside Out" is an instantly lovable film for kids and adults, one that current children will grow to love different at each stage in their lives. Speaking of, the bar is quite high for a puberty-driven sequel.
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Divorce is usually a detail assigned to a character to make him or her
more complicated or provide some context for his or her world. Rarely
does it play such an integral role as it does in "Enough Said," the
latest from Nicole Holofcener. Starring two actors still best known for
their star-making television turns, there's a lot about second chances
in this story of two middle-aged parents giving each other and
themselves the benefit of the doubt.
There's something so touching, raw and frankly surprising about the chemistry between Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini. Louis-Dreyfus is certainly not known for down-to-earth characters and Gandolfini made his name playing a Mafioso, yet what they have on screen is tender and honest. Holofcener really gets them to click and appear so completely relatable.
Much of "Enough Said" is simply these two navigating each other and their relationships with their children and exes. The only conflicts (though it's a big one) is when Louis-Dreyfus' Eva learns that Gandolfini's Albert is, amazingly enough, her new client/bestie Marianne's (Catherine Keener) ex-husband. Eva's fear that the truth will ruin both relationships pivots the narrative entirely around when Albert and Marianne inevitably find out.
The simplicity is refreshing and charming in a way, but also leaves something to be desired. Holofcener sheds a lot of truth on divorced life and what it's like to raise an 18-year-old with your ex while moving onward, and the simplicity of her story allows this to really sink in, but it's not all that challenging. It's real and it connects, but there's no internal struggle for the viewer to have, perhaps because Eva's situation is so unlikely. The consequences of it all, namely the challenges Eva has with her daughter, Ellen (Tracey Fairaway) and Ellen's friend Chloe (Tavi Gevinson) plus Albert's issues with his daughter (Eve Hewson), create some familiar, smaller conflicts, but they are ancillary at best.
Yet it all comes down to Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini making a tangible connection to the audience. Their relationship is raw, awkward not glamorized like most mainstream films targeting a 40- 60 demographic. In fact, Keener's character, among the least likable, represents that kind of Hollywood-So Cal sheen in a way, perhaps to highlight that distinction. Regardless, "Enough Said" strikes some resonant chords when it comes to relationships and not just romantic ones. Any film that can reach that level of depth deserves a wholehearted commendation.
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As hard as I tried, I could not get into George Miller's "Mad Max" or
"The Road Warrior." Although the latter at least proved to be a more
developed post-apocalyptic Australia concept with progressive action,
it felt like a violent costume party for people who like things with
engines. Now, 30 years after "Beyond Thunderdome," Miller takes his
franchise out of the shed for a new ride, and my oh my has it aged
The cornerstones of the franchise are most certainly there: excessive violence, over-the-top characters and a story more invested in aesthetics than narrative, but the chassis beneath it all this time is rock-solid and effectively compelling.
Tom Hardy takes over the franchise in "Mad Max: Fury Road" as Max Rockatansky, a lone ranger of sorts haunted by wife and child he failed to protect, and countless others. After being captured by the powder-white War Boys, Max becomes a human blood bag for several War Boys soldiers, who worship Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the villain Toecutter in "Mad Max" back in 1979), an overlord running his own colony who promises those who serve him to the death a place in Valhalla, the afterlife.
In what is supposed to be a routine gas-run, Immortan Joe's right hand, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) betrays him and veers off the road, making off with Joe's precious wives as her cargo. He authorizes an all-out chase to run her down and retrieve the wives, a journey Max unwillingly becomes part of.
The plot is a straight shot out of a gun, with just enough of a human element and a couple of complicated heroes to root for, something the previous "Mad Max" films were sorely lacking. The context and character development is still minimal, but Miller and co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris use some creative substitutes, such as Max's hallucinations of his past, that provide just enough depth to garner the audience's investment.
Yet the calling card of "Mad Max" and "Fury Road" is the action and the post-apocalyptic trappings. In an era overripe with computer-generated effects, the stunt-driven visuals of "Fury Road" offer something original, in a sense. Miller has always been one of the greats at practical effects and with a little bit of help from modern CGI, he blends the two in a way the feels more real and more explosive.
The imaginative nature of the series also appears to have taken leaps forward. Even in the more ridiculously campy creative choices, such as a the faceless electric guitar player strapped to one of the trucks who gets an unusual amount of screen time, there's a certain "cool" factor that before just seemed grotesque and frilly. This could simply be that the "Mad Max" look stands the test of time well, that nothing has compared to it in the last 30 years, or it could be that we just don't get ballsy creativity like this in the blockbuster landscape these days.
The "Mad Max" films have never necessitated great talent, but Hardy, Theron and Nicholas Hoult as a fanatical War Boy named Knux definitely add something to the film. They aren't asked to do much in the script, but strong choices in facial expressions can tell a story just as well and it's enough to make "Fury Road" more of a high-stakes grind than a frivolous chain of vehicular stunts.
And for this movie fan, who for years never understood why this franchise held any degree of acclaim, "Fury Road" shows Miller for a true auteur whose twisted little apocalyptic lovechild will likely have a life on screen that surpasses his own.
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