Mad Max Fury Road (15)
I’ve got generally happy memories of the older Mel Gibson series. I enjoyed them, though I haven’t seen any of them for well over a decade. Mostly I remember being surprises that petrol and gimp-wear survive the end of civilisation. And the films being bonkers.
George Miller’s new, production hell film brings Mad Max gloriously up to date. Mullet and mostly S&M wear free, this has instantly become my favourite film of the year. It looks incredible, and contains some of the most beautiful desertscapes and depictions of cruelty and bleakness and desperate hope I’ve seen.
It starts with a clearly mentally unwell Max (a magnetic Tom Hardy) hallucinating his family and others who have died in his care. He’s immediately captured by a gang of white painted war boys and taken to a mesa topped with farms and filled with cogs, chains and lunatics.There he’s dehumanised into a ‘universal donor’ and imprisoned. Meanwhile, the right-hand woman (Charlize Theron: incredible) of the mesa’s insane partly crippled leader breaks away with his breeding stock. That’s the setup, and it’s all the film needs to explode onto the screen. What follows is visually stunning, heart rending and thrilling with almost no pause for breath.
Themes of redemption, sacrifice, equality and depression are deftly wrapped up in explosions, terrifying and relentless physical stunts, violence and piercing moments of happiness and relief. Every human in the film is disabled, either physically, mentally or emotionally. The villains and their victims are victims of radiation sickness and deformities (and the awful post-apocalyptic world they inhabit), Theron’s character has an awesome prosthetic arm (possibly the best since Evil Dead II), the breeders’ fertility is turned against them and becomes their sole value, the war boy who turns good (Nicholas Hoult) spends the film on the verge of death from tumours and his psychological conditioning to accept Immortan Joe as a god who will lead them to Valhalla.
The apparent lunacy of the trailer is given enough grounding by the story, superb performances from the cast and (again) the shocking stunt work of hundreds of people. Fucking ace. Watch it.
Tomorrowland – A World Beyond (PG)
Disney seem to be struggling to make good live action films these days – not that they aren’t financially successful – they’re just terrible. Maleficent and Cinderalla were remarkable failures in story telling . So I was bit wary of this newest exploit. It opens with straight to camera exposition by George Clooney, interrupted by Britt Robertson. It’s a tedious device and I was grateful when it ended and they got on with the story (which was perfectly self-explanatory). The World Fair 1964 sees Clooney’s young inventor recruited by one of Tomorrowland’s robot agents, the excellent Raffey Cassidy (sorry for the spoiler, but really – it’s obvious), some stuff happens and we skip to the more-or-less present. I can barely be arsed to explain the story – basically the future (which isn’t actually the future) is in danger and Tomorrowland (which isn’t actually the future either, but is also in danger – I’m not sure why) may have a solution.
Tomorrowland contains lots of things I really liked – a retro-futuristic world lifted directly from The Jetsons and dozens of films from the last 30 years, but we’re only briefly invited in and when we finally get there it’s into the broken down, empty boring version with Hugh Laurie being a bad guy/Republican. We get robots, big chunky ones (again, for about a minute) and some androids who are cool, but are just Terminator-lites. Their big grins and creative deaths are pleasing, but they get phased out of the film and forgotten. The female leads are superb – very enjoyable and a nice counterpoint to broken-hearted Clooney, plus they mostly ignore his instructions (and I do like it when people do what they want). There’s a fantastic steampunk scene featuring the Eiffel Tower (worth watching it for), a great fight in a sci-fi and fantasy shop, some cool gadgets, stunts and flashes of what Tomorrowland could have been. Stitched into a different film I’d have loved it.
It’s a film that’s bothered me more since watching it. I get wrapped up in whatever I see and am happily whisked to the ending only to look back and sigh. I completely approve of the film’s message – we are fucking up this planet and failing to do anything about it. They literally state that in painful moralising dialogue during the film. We’re also accused by the film of revelling in catastrophe and dystopian apocalyptic fiction; we’re so in love with those ideas that we’ve assumed they’re going to happen and that’s the other reason we’re doing nothing. Even more so – those constant images of an apocalyptic future are directly affecting us and our future (yup, it’s a parallel dimension paradox thing) and we should just stop, y’know and watch old Disney movies and become better people and inhabitants of this planet. It’s a clumsily wielded sledgehammer which derails the story and characters. It also doesn’t make any sense. There’s no point having Tomorrowland in the film – it’s not the future, it’s a parallel dimension that great inventors have discovered and semi-developed. Instead of sharing the technological benefits with the Earth or y’know, moving everyone to that bright future it’s fallen into disrepair and depopulation because… Earth is going badly? I’ve stopped caring.
If this is the best film that Brad Bird can make, the man who brought us the finest superhero film ever made The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, then bring on the apocalypse.
Moomins On The Riviera
I hardly know where to begin. In case your own childhood wasn’t traumatised by Tove Jansson’s bizarre albino hippos leaving in the creepy Finnish forests, you really ought to take your kids or heavily drugged adults for the experience. There’s even a comment about them not actually being hippos, leaving the viewer even more disturbed by this weird, self-aware film.
It opens with the Moomins hosting a party on a cliff, featuring a little folk music, a fire and fireworks that fail; the gathering is disappointed, “not this time” says Moomin Papa. It’s a strange note of despondent acceptance to start a film with, but it perfectly fits whatever philosophy lies behind this creation. Soon the cast are joined by pirates and the malicious, vicious Little My (who begat nightmares when I was a child) and her big sister. Shortly after salvaging whatever they could carry from the ship (books and fireworks), the pirates arrive seeking their treasure.
Then the Moomins decide to go for a moonlight sail into a massive storm, because such things are good for the soul… They find the Riviera, source of Snorkmaiden’s socialite/womens’ magazine fantasies. There they take up residence in a bed inside a hotel room (they assume they are guests in someone’s house, and the room is too big). Soon, Moomin Papa and Snorkmaiden are deep into the bohemian and celebrity lifestyle. Meanwhile, Moomin Mama and Moomin (the son) go to live on the beach and get back to nature by making a rock garden.
Ultimately the lifestyle proves shallow, though Snorkmaiden’s hell on the roulette wheel and Moomin Papa and his new sculptor pal raise hell introducing art to civic society. They leave under a cloud, racing away from arrest (but paying the vast hotel bill with Snorkmaiden’s winnings), and distract the police and beach by unleashing a bagful of fiercely swearing insects…
“What the fuck?” is an appropriate reaction. It was certainly ours, and the four other people who saw it. If it sounds crazy and disconnected, that’s because it is. The film is a bizarre sequence of events, peculiar folk philosophies, satire, and nightmarish characters. It’s a bit like Hellboy 2 for children. One of my favourite moments is as they arrive at the hotel: Sniff (possibly a rat) stops to take aside one of the rats who works at the hotel – “I need you to take my place in the story – I’m going to get married.” And indeed he does.
Moomins on the Riviera looks great – they’ve kept the look and feel of Janssen’s comics and cartoon and it perfectly scales up to the big screen. It’s gentle weirdness saturates your mind until you wake up nights later sweating. I both enjoyed it and deeply regret watching it.