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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
The Best Action Movie of the Decade
After three decades, Mad Max returns to cinemas. I had high hopes for the fourth installment (to my knowledge confirmed as a midquel between Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome) and the return of George Miller's direction gave me hope, even without Based Mel. That is why I am happy to report that Fury Road wholly delivered. It is not as good as Road Warrior, but hey, being 2nd best ain't too bad.
I'll start with the obvious. Tom Hardy is great as Max and is worthy as a successor to Based Mel. His Max carries all the nuances Mel carried and while not as dynamic as Mel Hardy still keeps his stoic demeanor flawlessly through the film. A newcomer in the series is Charlize Theron as the warrior Imperator Furiosa. She's totally badass, even more so then The Amazonian in Road Warrior. She may be one of the coolest female badasses I've seen.
Speaking of these two, what makes Fury Road work as an action movie is how fragile Max and Furiosa are. The peril is real as is the threat of them dying. It is easy to root for them and feels great to see them succeed. However, it is just as easy to root for the villains. They're so delightfully insane that it's just pure jot to see them on screen. One dude has a powdered wig made of bullets and sits in a chair mounted to a car. Another dude is eyeless and rides on top of a car playing a flaming electric guitar for a majority of the film. The villain of the film, Immortan Joe, while not nearly as good as Lord Humungus from Road Warrior, is still pretty cool and his design is one of the best villain designs I've seen in a while.
The guy who steals the show is Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult. He is so insane it is awesome, and his character arc throughout the film is strong, poignant, and genuine. Goofy like the Gyro Captain, but also a tragically well written character, Nux serves as the most memorable side character. Good thing he has lots of screen time. The War Boys in general may easily be the best and most fun group of baddies I've ever seen in a movie. On the downside, the sex slaves Immortan Joe is chasing aren't memorable and are just kinda there and some of their dialogue is confusing. They're walking talking MacGuffins, but what else could they be?
The thing to be most commended is the action. Fury Road starts fast and never lets up. It is basically one long action scene, but the action is so visceral, intense, genuine, and mad that it never gets old or tiring. This is without a doubt the best and most fun blockbuster action I have seen in a theater in quite some time. The direction is pitch perfect and the editing is high octane. The sound also perfectly accompanies the direction in bringing these sweeping car fights to life. The sound effects are perfect and the score, ranging from classical or booming orchestral, compliments each scene.
The plot is-oh come on who watches Mad Max for the plot? There's a truck. In it are sex slaves a tyrant wants. Max gets tangled. Drive away from the tyrant or die trying. That is Fury Road. It serves its purpose and echoes a typical Mad Max plot and serving as a segway into the mind blowing action scenes. For all its runtime the movie is entertaining as Hell while also being masterfully crafted.
In short, this is the Mad Max movie George Miller dreamed of making. As a Mad Max film, it succeeds in leaps and bounds. It is one of the most intense and thrilling action movies I've ever seen and rights all the wrongs commercialized blockbuster have inflicted. Nostalgic without ever feeling rehashed, this trip down Fury Road is one Hell of a ride that should not be missed. Please, I urge you to go see this film if you are A) A Mad Max fan B) An action movie fan C) One who actually cares about great quality high budget movies not about rehashed superheroes or toy lines.
Don't let this suffer the same fate as Dredd. Help the return of the violent R rated testosterone high action movie succeed.
Ex Machina (2014)
Strong Direction and Acting, Weak Story and OST
Ex Machina is the first film by writer and director Alex Garland. It stars Domhnall Gleeson as a man who is tasked by a scientist played by Oscar Isaac to watch over a robot played by Alicia Vikander to see if she is really AI or not.
The strongest point in the film is the acting. There's very few characters in the film and the setting is very claustrophobic. This puts the focus of the film on tight discussions made by the small cast. Tension is high and only increases as the film goes on. Oscar Isaac is excellent as the scientist Nathan. His character is very interesting and has lots of nuances. Alicia Vikander is pitch perfect as the android Ava and she is a very unique cinema robot. Domhnall Gleeson, whom I like as an actor, was only serviceable in the film. This is more the script's fault than his performance. He is not given much to do despite being the protagonist and he starts to behave out of character towards the end.
The direction is mesmerizing and makes even the sluggish parts of the film enthralling. It is shocking to me that this is Garland's first film. He shows lots of potential. Unfortunately, the script isn't strong enough to support the excellent cinematography and visuals. It builds tension up until the finale, but rather than pay off the finale is just a cliché'd mess. Characters behave irrationally, a small little decision is acted without any rational thought put into it, and the ending itself was extremely predictable. The score is also mediocre and is more of that trend in indie films where they think quiet ambiance = a film score.
There isn't much else to say about Ex Machina. It's a beautifully looking movie and the acting makes it as interesting as it can be given the flawed and uninspired script. I can say it is leagues better than Chappie at least. However, it doesn't bring any new and fresh ideas or themes to the genre, making it a pretty forgettable foray into the AI subgenre of science fiction.
Lost River (2014)
Strong Direction Ruined by Weak Script
Lost River is Ryan Gosling's directorial debut that follows a single mother in a Michigan town who is swept into a dark underworld, while her teenage son discovers a road that leads him to a secret underwater town. It's also a complete trainwreck.
I'll start with my most important point. Ryan Gosling has done a fantastic job, regardless of this being his first film as director. The cinematography is breaktaking. The score is mesmerizing. The actors all seem like they know what they're doing. And that's it. The writing, also by Gosling, is aimless and empty. He tries too hard to be deep, symbolic, and expressionist. The central theme (Chasing the American Dream) has been done to death, and done much better by even Gosling's peers like Nicolas Winding Refin, whom it feels like he's trying to replicate.
The first half is solid. It sets up the characters and plot very well. But then it slowly degenerates as the running time races on. The final third in particular is a jumbled and rushed mess that screeches to a premature conclusion with many character arcs either unsolved or unsatisfied. The performances themselves aren't very standout. Christina Hendricks is ample as the single mother but she never gets a chance to shine. Actually, that's something I can say about everyone. Their acting wasn't bad, but they have nothing to do. They're hollow shells. It makes the plot hard to care about and makes it feel like it's being dragged on despite it also being too short and rushed.
From what I know, the film was poorly received at Cannes and 15 minutes were cut out. I wonder if these 15 minutes would make the film better or worse. It's a shame. There is some great talent and originality at work here, but it's squandered by a quite frankly terrible script. Pure style over substance, but man is the style nice to look at and hear.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2015)
The Cinematic Equivalent of Getting Shot in the Face
Speed 2. Caddyshack 2. Exorcist 2. Star Wars Episode II. These are what are typically named as the worst direct sequels ever.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 may be worse than a quadruple feature of all of those. I mean it when I say Paul Blart 2 is one of the most unfunny, moronic, brain cell killing experiences I've had in a cinema. There's an extended sequence where an old man eats a rotten banana that goes on for around 15 seconds. The film begins with Blart's elderly mom getting killed by a milk truck. There's a part where Blart interrupts a stage show and knocks out all the dancers by spinning around on a rope while squealing. There's a part where Blart is attacked by and beats an exotic bird while a piano player nods and smiles (DUDE JUXTAPOSITION LMAO). There's a entire segment dedicated to showcasing multiple Checkov's Guns in the form of a mall cop convention (As if those even existed). I dunno I didn't enjoy it.
Blart is somehow more unlikable this time around. Rather than a smug dumbass, he's now a smug asshole. The "film" is 50% him making fun of people, 30% Blart falling down, 20% plot holes, and 0% funny. I maybe chucked at some points, but truth is I don't even remember the movie or what it was I chucked at. I can say for sure there are more helicopter shots reminding the target audience (Who to be fair also probably need to be reminded to breathe and blink) that the movie is set in Vegas than there were chuckles.
You know that rotten banana I mentioned? Paul Blart 2 is that banana, and the man eating is is the decrepit and moronic public eating up the film's schlock yet again, probably paving the way for another opportunity for Adam Sandler and co. to shill even more money out of Hollywood for his posse. Like my painful experience with Transformers 4, people once again applauded upon conclusion, one elderly couple saying "That was too funny!"
There's tastes in humor and then there's standards in humor. Paul Blart 2 wasn't unfunny to me because it did not pander to my sense of humor. If anything it should have; with all the misogyny and ridiculing of fat people it should have struck my dark humor funny bone. However, there's no gags, there's no punchlines, there's no jokes. There's also no emotional backbone, chemistry, or even real characters to back it up. Characters literally appear and disappear throughout the narrative. I don't even think the villain had a name. I don't think anyone not buds with Blart had one.
This time around, not only is Paul Blart a bland copy of Die Hard, but Taken and Ocean's 11. The plot is a cluster-f of nothing. The first 45 minutes are, like I mentioned, just Blart riding around and getting up in everyone's faces for "comedic" purposes, with plenty of empty time given for the target audience to laugh hysterically at like a bad sitcom. The actual "Paul Blart beating baddies" isn't until the film's finale, and even then he doesn't actually beat anyone, because all of his "weapons" are stupidly non-lethal, including a stun gun that only stuns people for 5 seconds, a gun that shoots gum, a gun that spills marbles vertically, and a bean bag cannon. Two characters actually fall asleep in the movie, one of them twice. I felt a kinship to them for that reason.
There's a romantic subplot with Blart's daughter and a bellhop that goes literally nowhere and an even more forced "romantic subplot" between a hotel manager and Blart. She gets progressively wetter and wetter for him throughout the film, which to me is too far of a stretch of imagination to comprehend and accept. This also leads to nowhere. The female cop on the horse in he trailer? That is literally the ending. Blart himself is beyond unlikable and revolting. He is not reluctant like John McClain from Die Hard, he craves to be the center of attention since his saving on the mall 6 years ago became utterly irrelevant the day after (I wish I could say the same for the movie itself). He's incompetent, rude, crude, and physically unable to actually do anything heroic. He'd make a good anti-hero if he wasn't presented as this humble all American goody two shoes as the movie does.
The movie doesn't even take place in a mall. What's up with that? With truly atrocious jokeless dialogue ("I will bring a folk guitar to a pumpkin fight, because that's how crazy I am!"), beyond unlikable characters, an incompetent lead, a transparent and personality-less villain, disappearing subplots, stretched imagination, cliché and trope filled writing I can say Baul Plart: pop Tart Too is one of the worst films I've ever seen. Offensively stupid and brash, this blatant cashgrab managed one seemingly impossible feat, sink even lower than the previous film. Utterly baffling, this 1.5 hour Wynn commercial (Not a single scene takes place outside of it once they arrive) is to me the Transformers 2 of comedy, a wretched anorexic piece with no soul, craft, or effort put into it at all. The fraction of points I award it are for the laughs my friends and I had at making fun of it and a single shot that lasted a third of a second that looked pretty cool.
The Return of Spongebob
Disclaimer, I was raised on Spongebob, firmly believe Seasons 1-3 are the only good seasons, Hillenberg was the true brains behind Spongebob, and nevertheless loved the first movie. I'm just going to say this. This is the PG animated equivalent of The Holy Mountain.
It is not some sort of artistic triumph, it's just bizarre as Hell. I came into The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water with minimal expectations and no knowledge of the plot outside of the live action superhero stuff, and boy was I in for a surprise. If you have been avoiding this like a plague because of said live action/CGI hybrid, be calmed because it's only around 10-15 minutes of the movie.
That being said, WTF? Think like if the episode SB-129 was an entire movie. This movie is weird utter insanity. Stephen Hillenberg marks his return to form by writing this movie, and it shows. The movie ditches the saturation and gross out of neo-Spongebob in favor of the anarchist surreal in your face humor found in Seasons 1-3 and Hillenberg's previous show Rocko's Modern Life.
Essentially, Sponge Out of Water begins with Plankton's latest attempt at stealing the secret formula (In a pitch perfect World War II parody) only to have it mysteriously vanish. With Spongebob as his only witness, the two escape Bikini Bottom as it collapses into an apocalyptic state straight out of Mad Max ("I hope you like leather..."). The two struggle to form a kinship for the greater good, as society is based on the Krabby Patty, and with none, all marine life is doomed.
And that's all I'm going to say. The movie quickly devolves into a feverish acid trip of "wtf" that would make Hunter S. Thompson blush and I don't want to spoil what antics Spongebob and Plankton get involved in. Is it as large in scale and plot heavy as the first Spongebob movie? No. In fact, the actual "plot" of Sponge Out of Water is very linear and basic. However, that doesn't really mean it's bad, it just serves its purpose. We're really in it for the nautical nonsense, and Sponge Out of Water is filled to the brim with it. The script is absolute bananas, and it feels to me that Hillenberg was infatuated with Spongebob's pre-movie glory, but that is in no way a bad thing. In fact, it's just what Spongebob needs. It's no Band Geeks or Pizza Delivery, but Sponge Out of Water successfully returns Spongebob to its roots of surreal insanity and nonsensical humor.
Even when the film diverges, it is still fun. The above-water sequences were actually a blast for me. The CGI used for our aquatic friends was actually very top notch, and I believe will be a top contender for an Oscar nom at least for the 2016 Oscars. The editing is ultra slick and stylized and makes the film feel much much shorter than it actually is. There are certain sequences that feel like jarring acid trips and they were done exceptionally well, with the best parody of the "Beyond the Infinite" scene of 2001 I've seen. The music is very fun overall although some people will find the final song a bit jarring at least (I thought it added to the absurdity to the experience and I know young kids will probably eat it up). There's even a moment where The Ecstasy of Gold from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly plays! Such an unexpected occurrence made me laugh out loud.
Hell, I think I laughed harder than most of the kids in the theater. The writing is classic Hillenberg for the most part, although Antonio Banderas's character was pretty flat and uninteresting. However, the actual acting done by Banderas was very fun and fittingly goofy and bizarre. Unlike the first movie, which only gave focus to Spongebob and Patrick, everyone gets a good amount of screen time and jokes (Although Patrick is still a tad too dumb for my appreciation). Mr. Krabs, Sandy, Squidward, and Plankton all get a fair share of gags.
There's many references to the show that old fans like myself will love (Including a return of Squidward's "interpretive dance") but the film never indulges in nostalgia grabbing. I am very sad however that more stuff from the show didn't make it in (Ultimately the only areas from the show seen are the Chum Bucket, Krusty Krab, 124 Conch St., and Sandy's treedome) but at least it brings plenty of new things to the table such as the enigmatic entity known simply as "Bubbles" whom I won't spoil. Also if there's one thing this film has that the first one doesn't, it's the return of "MY LEG!"
Ultimately, if you're not a big Spongebob fan, you will not find any satisfaction in this movie. It is pure off the walls insanity, with a tone and humor similar to the original episodes amped up to 11. It is one Hell of a ride, a visual trip and feast, a good laugh, and I ultimately had a great amount of fun with it. It isn't for everyone, but anyone willing to subdue themselves to the sheer insanity will find something to admire.