REVIEW: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

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MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

I was having mixed feelings about this reboot of the classic Mad Max series, about halfway through, until the last act when George Miller cranks it up to 11 and delivers an opera of chaos and carnage to match…or maybe even outdo…the finish of his classic The Road Warrior.

Fury Road takes place years after the world has collapsed and finds ex-cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a samurai-like loner wandering the wasteland, taken prisoner and brought to desert oasis of The Citadel by the forces of the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, the Toecutter from the original Mad Max). At the same time, one of Joe’s top imperators, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) rebels and takes Joe’s wives/breeders out of The Citadel in a massive war rig. War parties are sent in pursuit with Max reluctantly brought along. Now Max must find a way to escape in the middle of a high speed road war and choose a side if he hopes to survive…but either side might want him dead.

Any reservations I was having from George Miller’s return to this classic character after 30 years was because the co-writer (with Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris) and director is a little too eager to get things moving at first and starts his epic chase saga in motion when we could have spent a bit more time in the Citadel, getting to know our villain better and understand more clearly why Furiosa is willing to throw everything away to escape with Joe’s prized possessions. We also need to get reacquainted with Max, as this is a new version of the classic character with a new actor’s interpretation. Instead I was left a bit cold and emotionally detached till we start to get some character and story development while on the road and on the run. Even still, by the time the credits roll, we realize there wasn’t all that much of a story anyway…and the earlier films indeed had a story to tell amongst the carnage. What we do get, thought, is almost two hours of some of the most incredible and energetic stunts and action since Miller first grabbed us by the throat with The Road Warrior…and no matter what we see in the first two thirds, it’s nothing compared to the jaw-dropping demolition derby that he makes his last act finale. The stunts and crashes are absolutely amazing and Miller has not lost his touch filming them. You’d think he would have run out of innovative ideas by now…but he hasn’t lost a beat. The film is also a stunning visual feast and John Seale’s cinematography is sumptuous as is the shot composition by Miller. The film is simply amazing to look at. The score by Junkie XL is both pulse pounding and melodic depending on the mood of the scene and production design on all fronts is spectacular. The film is as epic in scope as the action within it. Best of all, there are some subtle nods to the original series that should delight long-time fans and the film returns to a harder edge after the PG-13 Beyond Thunderdome.

Miller has also assembled a fine cast of actors to portray the eccentric and oddball characters that populate his post-apocalyptic world. There is no better choice to pick up the mantle of Max than Tom Hardy. Hardy’s ex-cop is more of a man of few words than Gibson’s portrayal and he conveys the essence of a man who is hardened, dangerous, yet, with a glimmer of humanity left buried deep inside. Max’s past is a bit vague for those who aren’t familiar, but we do see glimpses of flashbacks where loved ones were lost. Charlize Theron is also a strong and determined warrior as the mechanical-armed Furiosa. She is tough and dangerous and like Max, still has a touch of humanity left. Keays-Byrne makes a sleazy and omnipotent tyrannical warlord, though I wish we had a bit more time to really get to know how awful he is to give him more intensity. The actor is delightfully over-the-top, but most of the time is just staring angrily from behind the wheel of an oversized vehicle and doesn’t have any of the memorable lines his Toe Cutter or even Lord Humongous had. Even his thugs aren’t anywhere near as memorable as Vernon Wells’ Wez. Nicholas Hoult rounds out the main cast and is over-the-top fun as one of Joe’s War Boys, Nux, who winds up joining Max and Furiosa on their quest. The girls playing the wives (including  Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) are all pretty, but get little to do and there is also a cast of hundreds of extras to add to the film’s epic feel.

So, as a fan of this classic film series…and one of my favorite movie characters in Mad Max…this movie won me over and then nearly blasted me out of my seat with it’s final third. Sure, I wish there had been a bit more of a story and I do wish there was more character development so I was more emotionally invested by the time the action started. But Miller gives us some amazing action and it’s wrapped in a stunning visual feast and no matter how intense the action gets, it is nothing compared to the massive chase that finishes things out. Hardy makes a fine choice for the new Max…though it took about a half hour to warm up to him in the role…and Charlize Theron proves yet again that there is a versatile actress beneath that beautiful exterior. And what Mad Max fan wouldn’t want to see Keays-Byrne in action again, even if his character could have been stronger. Maybe not quite the masterpiece I had hoped for, but it can proudly sit among the previous installments and delivered some of the best chase action since…well, The Road Warrior.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Mad Maxes…Hardy style.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: WYRMWOOD (2014)

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WYRMWOOD (2014)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

“The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.”- Revelations 8:11

Leave it to the Australians to give life back to the stale zombie genre with this delightful mash-up of Evil Dead and The Road Warrior. This fun and sometimes intense and gruesome flick, tells the story of brother and sister, Barry (Jay Gallagher) and Brooke (Bianca Bradey) during a mysterious zombie outbreak. Not much is given to us about the cause except for an abundance of shooting stars on the night it begins and a biblical reference to Wyrmwood, a star which falls to earth during Revelations and brings a plague of death. Barry is with his family and Brooke doing a photo shoot in the town of Bulla Bulla. Barry looses both his wife and daughter to the mysterious condition which, for some reason, spares those with A- blood. He eventually teams up Aborigine camper Benny (Leon Burchill) who lost both his brothers. Together they run into some locals and discover that while this ‘situation’ has rendered gas and fossil fuels inert, the zombies’ blood is quite flammable and the methane-like gas they exhale works as a fuel substitute. So, they go out armed and armored to gather ‘fuel’ and rescue Barry’s sister. Brooke, on the other hand, has been kidnaped by a sinister military group who keeps her restrained and gagged in a lab where there are performing experiments on zombie and human alike. Experiments, unbeknownst to her captors, that render Brooke with the ability to telekinetically control the living dead. Obviously the two siblings and their stories will come together…and then the bloody fun begins.

As directed by Kiah Roache-Turner from a script he co-wrote with his brother Tristan Roache-Turner, this flick is a blast of fun and a breath of bloody fresh air for the zombie sub-genre. A sub-genre made stale by an over-saturation of movies and weekly zombie TV shows. They make even the silliest aspects of the story work, and work very well. They take their story very seriously…though it is laden with that off-beat Australian sense of humor, which seems to fit in perfectly with the more gruesome aspects of this deviously twisted tale. The film has a really cool visual style and is obviously made by those who love these kind of movies and who also know what makes them work. This energetic mash-up is filled with subtle references to films like Dawn Of The DeadEvil Dead, the Mad Max films and even a playful nod to The Walking Dead involving a Samurai sword. Roache-Turner, however, creates his own flick from all the hat-tipping, despite borrowing concepts from George Romero and George Miller and makes his homage to the movies he loves in his own style. One of the things I loved most about it was that the combination of eclectic elements is mixed so well and works far better than it sounds like it should…cause it’s mixed in the right amounts and given the respect it deserves. The film is action packed but, never at the sacrifice of it’s off-kilter story, or characters, and can be very intense at times. There is also a lot of gory violence, which appears to be mostly…and thankfully… well-rendered live effects, too. Abundance of action and bloodshed aside, though, what makes it really work so completely is a charming group of main characters and some delightfully eccentric supporting characters, such as a sinister scientist who prefers to listen to K.C. and the Sunshine Band while he conducts his gruesome experiments. There really is little to not like about this film, made by film geeks for the film geek in all of us. Roache-Turner is certainly a filmmaker to watch.

As for the cast, they are all engaging. Gallagher is a charming and solid hero as Barry. Despite his loses and what is happening, he is valiantly going to find his sibling, as she is all he has left. Burchill is delightful as the oddball Benny. The character is given a lot of charm by the actor and is extremely likable. He has some of the best lines and is a perfect side-kick for Barry. As Brooke, Bianca Bradey is strong and sexy and her tattooed heroine becomes quite the powerhouse once she learns to use the side-effects of the experiments against those who hold her captive. The actress spends about 75% of the movie tied up with a fetishistic gag in her mouth and has to express her emotions and thoughts in her eyes and body language and Bradey does a great job. Long before she gets free, we like her immensely and are rooting for her. The supporting characters are also an eccentric lot and help add an offbeat atmosphere to the story and film. They seem both over-the-top and yet, somehow believably human, at the same time.

What little faults the film has are minor and not really worth bringing up when the filmmakers get so much, so right. They somehow mash-up quite a few different genres worth of ideas to fuel their homage and, as such, make sure to give nods to the types of film’s that inspired them. It reminded me of Neil Marshall’s Doomsday in that the entire film existed to pay homage to others yet, somehow, is it’s own movie. Energetic, delightfully gory and with a fast and furious pace, Wyrmwood is a real blast of George Romero meets Sam Raimi meets George Miller and yet remains very Kiah Roache-Turner. One of the year’s best horrors, so far, in my book and by a filmmaking talent to keep a close watch on!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Road Warrior-esque zombie fighters!

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