Mad Max: Fury Road Movie Review

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Review:

Note: This review contains spoilers.

Wowie zowie, counting Cinderella and Age of Ultron, I’ve now seen THREE movies in theaters this year, which may be more than I’ve seen in the previous three years combined. It’s tough getting to the theater when you have a toddler and no babysitter! However, now that he’s in daycare three days a week it’s a lot easier, even though I still feel kind of weird going to the movies in the morning.

Cinderella was a treat for my daughter and Age of Ultron went without saying, thanks to my current Marvel obsession, but Mad Max: Fury Road I went to see for political reasons. I’ve never seen the original Mad Max or either of its other sequels and the trailers for the current sequel/reboot looked weird in a way that was off-putting to me, so before its release I really had no intention of seeing it at all, let alone shelling out seven bucks to see it in theaters. But then the film opened, and people started saying stuff like this about it:

I didn’t expect to see the best female character in an action movie I’ve seen in over a decade.

(Source)

the heroic characters in fury road are literally–LITERALLY, I’M NOT IN ANY WAY EXAGGERATING–fifteen women and tom hardy. i can’t believe this is a movie i saw with my eyes in the year of our lord 2015.

(Source)

The most violent death in the movie was the death of the Bechdel Test, which they dragged behind the car the entire time.

(Source)

The whole movie is about a group of women fleeing toxic patriarchy only to realize that the only way to escape is to topple that system.

(Source)

I like to vote with my pocketbook for stuff, and better female representation in film (especially action and sff) is something I feel pretty strongly about, so clearly I needed to re-evaluate my previous stance on seeing the film!

In fact, Hollywood, I’m going to say this explicitly, just to be sure I’m not misunderstood: I decided to spend $7 bucks to see Mad Max: Fury Road in theaters despite originally having almost zero interest in it because you gave us a movie with a badass female lead who was never sexualized or thrust into an unnecessary romance or love triangle, as well as so many supporting female characters that the Bechdel Test became completely irrelevant. Thank you. I honestly didn’t think you had it in you.

Though I wouldn’t describe Mad Max: Fury Road as groundbreakingly feminist, it hit a lot of feminist notes dead-on in a way that threw many other films and TV shows into kind of stark relief for how much worse they are. For example, one of the things that stood out to me, as someone currently trying to decide whether I want to continue watching Game of Thrones or not in light of its tone-deaf treatment of rape as a trope, was the fact that even though the film makes it 100% clear that the “wives” (several – possibly all? – of whom are pregnant by the revolting Immortan Joe) are escaping a life of sexual slavery and rape and will be subjected to more of the same if they return, their abuse is never shown onscreen and thus is never made titillating or voyeuristic in the way violence – especially sexualized violence – against women so often is in Game of Thrones and (to be fair) many, many other films and TV shows.

Moreover, although the women are treated as objects by Immortan Joe and the other male leaders of the Citadel – and they rebel explicitly against this treatment with the repeated line “We are not things” – the film also balances this treatment of its female characters by making it clear that men are also used as objects. Max himself is literally used as a living blood bag for part of the movie, and though the “warboys” might initially seem to have higher status than either Max or the wives, it’s clear that they are, in fact, regarded as nothing but cannon fodder by the higher status men. As The Verge points out, “When [warboy] Nux encounters the “wives,” they’re the ones who end up trying to help him — not because of women’s civilizing influence, but because they already understand how rigged the system is.”

Aside from the refreshingly feminist themes of the film (bonus points for the subtler environmentalist messages as well), the action scenes were also fucking incredible. The movie is essentially an extended car chase and it reaches new and impressive heights in the art of controlled chaos. As Unfogged points out (I recommend the whole post, which also includes a funny smackdown of the MRA boycott of the film):

The new Mad Max movie may be the most guy movie ever made. The plot is literally Tom Hardy (Mad Max) and Charlize Theron (Furiosa) rescue scantily-clad supermodels. If you asked me when I was 15 to list movie ideas, the list would have gone something like: scantily-clad supermodels, 18 wheelers, guys getting shot, guys getting blown up, fist-fights on top of an 18 wheeler, guys with chainsaws, guys getting run over by 18 wheelers, guys with guitars that shoot fire, and cars crashing into 18 wheelers and blowing up. This list is basically the script for Mad Max: Fury Road. The only thing missing is a helicoper piloted by velociraptors crashing into an 18 wheeler. But there’s always the chance of a sequel.

Though probably not to the degree of a 15 year old guy, as a woman with a weakness for the Rule of Cool, this is the sort of movie that makes me really wish I had design skills – any design skills – because my god, does it look like the design team had fun. Kudos on the awesomely spiky demon cars in particular, though the flame throwing guitar should not be overlooked. The cinematography was also stunningly beautiful, especially the scene as they’re racing towards the dust storm.

On the less pleasant side of things, there was some pretty gross body horror stuff, which is largely what originally turned me off the film after seeing the trailer. I don’t handle body horror very well at all, and there were a couple scenes that made me cringe and hide behind my hands.

Other than that, my only complaint about the film was that there were some poor music choices. Mad Max: Fury Road has relatively little dialogue and a couple of the few scenes with anything approaching a monologue had rather melodramatic music that made the lines seem way more on-the-nose than they would have with something a little subtler and more understated.

The lack of dialogue does, however, give lots of opportunities for some pretty impressive acting with body language and eyes, something I’ve become more attuned to since being bowled over by Sebastian Stan’s work in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Both Hardy and Theron are equally impressive here.

Overall, one of the best action films I’ve seen.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

More commentary I’ve enjoyed:

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The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet Review

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Review:

I enjoy the Brother Cadfael mystery series, by Ellis Peters, so I was excited to discover the Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet, which was written by the same author under her real name, Edith Pargeter, especially since it is about Llewelyn ap Griffith and his brother David, who are also two of the main protagonists in Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Princes trilogy. I thought it would be interesting to read another author’s version of the same story and I wasn’t disappointed.

Pargeter’s version is narrated by a fictional servant of Llewelyn named Samson, and is more romanticized than Penman’s. It’s deliberately written in an old-fashioned and poetic style, to mimic the style of medieval chroniclers, and I actually started underlining some passages because they were so beautifully written I wanted to be able to find them again. Despite Pargeter’s beautiful writing style, I do prefer Penman’s series overall, as her characters seem more human. However, I definitely recommend the Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet if you enjoy historical fiction.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Criminal Minds Series Review

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Review:

I started watching Criminal Minds on the recommendation of a friend. Despite the fact that I love mysteries and crime dramas, it took a little bit of persuading, because Criminal Minds follows the  FBI’s (real but fictionalized) Behavioral Analysis Unit – profilers – a group that deals frequently with criminals who are the sickest of the sick: serial killers, serial rapists, pedophiles, etc. Quite frankly, I was afraid the show would give me nightmares, and this turned out to be a totally legitimate fear, because it has given me nightmares on multiple occasions and to this day there are certain episodes I can’t rewatch because they’re just too horrible.

Despite this, I ended up really enjoying the show and watched it until partway through the 6th season. I broke up with it rather reluctantly and still sometimes think about going back and picking it up again, but so far have not. I stopped watching because I thought there was a noticeable decline in the quality of the cases starting in season 5 and there started to be too many arcs I didn’t like (spoilers, click to view): fridging Hotch’s wife, for example, and the whole thing with Prentiss.

I remember the show as a whole pretty fondly, however. Most of the cases were interesting and well-written, but what really made the show great was the team dynamics. Though I was never a huge fan of Gideon, I adored the rest of the team. Penelope Garcia, the team’s hacker, is probably my favorite, because she is adorable, but it’s such a tough call, because Prentiss! Morgan! JJ! Reid! Hotch! I love them all so much, and they work so well together as a team that it’s hard to separate them in my head.

One of the things that helped persuade me to give the show a shot despite my apprehension about how well I’d be able to handle the nature of the cases was several excellent meta posts by fans and I wanted to quote a bit from a post by Synecdochic for you, because it’s totally true and also part of what makes even the most nightmarish episodes in this show bearable, at least one time:

For a show that’s about the horrible things that human beings can do to each other, it reinforces — over and over and — that even victims (especially victims) still have agency. The victims who fight are the victims who win. The victims who give up and lie down to die are the ones who don’t make it. One of the most awesome statements that keeps running through the whole show is that even when there are things you can’t control, even when horrible things are being done to you, you do still have power — even if you might have to squint to see it — because the person who’s doing it needs something from his or her victim, and that gives the victim power. Part of what the show is trying to do, I think, is trying to show the watchers that when you only have a little bit of power in a situation, you can still use it. No matter how bad the situation is.

This is an incredibly powerful message, and not just if you happen to get snagged off the street by a serial killer.

A couple other meta posts I recommend were written by the SFF writer Elizabeth Bear, who’s also a fan of the show. This one discusses thematic elements in the show, and this one discusses some of the very interesting things the show did with gender expectations in the early seasons, including its tendency to cast male characters in traditionally “feminine” roles and female characters in traditionally “masculine” ones and then play against type even then. For example:

Mom and Dad. Because if the team is a family (and they are, complete with sibling spats and looking out for little brother) then Mom and Dad are the two senior supervisory agents in charge of the zoo. And again, they are totally cast against type. Because Hotch [Thomas Gibson] is a three-piece-suit and wingtips, marksman-qualified, stern, unsmiling, ambitious piece of work. And Gideon [Mandy Patinkin] is soft-spoken, manipulative, casually dressed in soft colors, with a cluttered office full of pictures of the children he’s helped save.

Gideon is Dad and Hotch is Mom.

Anyway, all three meta posts are thoughtful and interesting and I hope they’ll inspire you to check the show out as much as they did me, because when it was good, it was really good.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Middlemarch Miniseries Review

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Review:

Adapting a novel as rich and multilayered as Middlemarch is a feat that, honestly, I might not have thought possible, but this 6 hour miniseries did a surprisingly good job. It makes a well-acted and enjoyable introduction to the story for those unfamiliar with it, and a pleasant accompaniment for fans of the novel.

However, it certainly doesn’t substitute for reading the book! Naturally, some subplots had to be trimmed or cut entirely and the miniseries never achieves the remarkable psychological depth of the novel, especially with some of the more unlikable characters. Casaubon, in particular, suffers – reading the book, you dislike him but you understand and even pity him to some degree. In the miniseries, you’re stuck at dislike and this makes it harder to understand Dorothea and her choices as well.

The biggest failure of the miniseries is the characterization of Rosamond Vincy, who becomes, of all things, weepy. The Rosamond of the novel could crush that pathetic and annoying creature like a bug. (And probably would!) Most of the other portrayals are pretty true to character, however, and several of the casting choices, most notably Rufus Sewell as Will Ladislaw, were absolutely inspired. This film was my introduction to Sewell’s work and I’ve been a fan ever since.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Earth Then and Now Book Review

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Review:

Here’s a book that really demonstrates the truth of the old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words. Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World, by Fred Pearce is an eye-opening collection of before and after photographs demonstrating the startling ways the world has changed in the last 200 years. The book is divided into six sections:

  • Environmental Change – dealing mainly with the effects of climate change, pollution, and natural disasters
  • Urbanization – before and after photos of cities
  • Land Transformation – photos of dams, deforestation, mining and resource extraction, urban renewal, and more
  • Forces of Nature – photos of volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, avalanches, hurricanes, and more
  • War and Conflict – before and after photos of war zones, including images of both destruction and recovery
  • Leisure and Culture – a variety of images, including restored archaeological remains, various major construction projects, and much more

A very interesting book to browse through.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Man-Eaters of Kumaon Book Review

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Review:

A really well-written and fascinating memoir by Jim Corbett, one of the world’s greatest big game hunters, about his experiences tracking and killing man-eating tigers in India, including the infamous Champawat Tigress, who killed 436 people in Nepal and India before being shot by Corbett in 1907. Although I’m an avid hiker, my tracking skills are basic in the extreme and it was really fascinating getting a peek into the mind of a great tracker like Corbett. The amount of information he could pick up from something as simple as a footprint or tuft of hair was mind-blowing. There’s also quite a bit of interesting information about tiger behavior and habits.

As somebody who is morally opposed to big game hunting, there were a few chapters I found sad and depressing to read, because several of the hunts he discusses in the book were in pursuit of tigers who were not man-eaters and who he killed due to their large size or a similar factor that I don’t consider justification for murder. (Later in life, he apparently had a change of heart and refused to shoot any tiger that was not a proven man-eater, as well as lobbying for the creation of India’s first national park to protect tiger habitat.) However, the chapters on the man-eaters were thrilling reads.

Given the era and society in which he lived and wrote, I was pleasantly surprised by Corbett’s sympathetic treatment of both the poor Indian villagers he was trying to protect and the man-eaters themselves. There were several very moving passages about the courage of some of the tigers’ victims and would-be victims and their families and neighbors, including a brave young woman who chased after the Champawat Tigress with nothing but a sickle after it carried off her sister. Corbett also treats the tigers with respect and explains the factors that made them into man-eaters, with harsh words for his fellow hunters when he discovers bullet wounds that disabled but did not kill the animal, forcing it to turn to easier, human prey.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

The Legend of Eli Monpress Book Review

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Review:

I picked this three book omnibus up on sale for Amazon Kindle and was pleased that I did. The Legend of Eli Monpress, by Rachel Aaron, is a light, fun, and entertaining read, and sometimes that’s exactly what a body needs.

It contains the first three books in the five book series:

  1. The Spirit Thief
  2. The Sprit Rebellion
  3. The Spirit Eater

The series follows the adventures and misadventures of Eli Monpress, a rogue, a thief, and a wizard in a world where inanimate objects have personalities and spirits that can be enslaved (by bad wizards) or bargained with (by good ones), as well as his companions Josef, a swordsman, and Nico, a demonseed.

I thought the books themselves got better as they went on. Though The Spirit Thief was a lot of fun and did a pretty good job of setting the world up, the characterizations were mostly paper-thin and the plot was formulaic and relied too heavily on (sometimes literal) deus ex machinas. The later books fleshed out the characters much better and the plots were also stronger, although I remained irritated by the author’s frequent tendency to land Josef at death’s door, only to have him in fighting shape again, like, three days later. Even with an ancient sword that helpfully mends wounds as well as causing them, it was a little excessive.

However, the books were just so FUN that these irritations remained minor.

My favorite part of the series was the worldbuilding. As much as I admire the incredible worldbuilding in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, for example, if somebody gave me a one-way ticket to Westeros, my answer would be an emphatic and instantaneous, “Hell, no!” Dragons or not, I’m female. I have no illusions about what would happen to me in a place like Westeros. The Council Kingdoms of Eli Monpress and his friends, on the other hand, I might have to think a little about. Not only are they a heck of a lot more gender egalitarian, but the ability to interact with inanimate objects is something I’ve always thought would be fun and the interactions in the series are frequently hilarious and sometimes just plain AWESOME. Aside from their occasional problems with demonseeds, enslavers, and capricious goddesses, the Council Kingdoms sound like a pretty darn fun place to live, especially if you’re a wizard. Certainly, they were a fun place to spend a few hours.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

The final two books in the series are The Spirit War and Spirit’s End. I’ve been told they are somewhat darker in tone than the first three books, and haven’t read them yet.

The Redwall Series Review

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Review:

The Redwall series, by Brian Jacques, was one of my favorite series when I was growing up. Although I don’t remember for sure, I think I was about 8 when I stumbled upon Mossflower by accident in the library one day. By the time I was a teen, my brother (also a fan) and I had accumulated a whole shelf full of sturdy hardcover Redwall books, many of them dogeared from re-reading.

The series takes place mainly in and around Redwall Abbey, a sanctuary for woodland creatures such as mice, squirrels, moles, hares, and badgers. They clearly need such a sanctuary, because they’re constantly getting attacked by one foul band of evil-doers or another. High adventure ensues, and I’m warning you now, Brian Jacques is a master of cliffhanger chapter endings, so these books are very hard to put down once you start! For this reason, despite their length, they’re a great choice for reluctant readers. Though I wasn’t a reluctant reader myself, I remember receiving the third book, Mattimeo, for Christmas the year I discovered the series and being extremely proud of myself because I finished the whole thing – nearly 500 pages – in a single marathon reading session on the living room couch, while the rest of the family celebrated Christmas around me.

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In addition to being great adventure stories, the series has a lot of humor, and I also credit it with developing my early appreciation for great food descriptions in literature. The descriptions of the feasts are scrumptious. As an adult, I appreciate the many positive role models it contains for both boys and girls.

Eventually, the books started blurring together and becoming more repetitive, or maybe I just outgrew them, so I ultimately stopped reading in my late teens at book 11 (Marlfox), while the series eventually stretched to 23 books by the time of Jacques’s death in 2011. Despite this, I retain a big soft spot for Redwall Abbey and its furry inhabitants. They were some of the defining books of my childhood.

My favorite Redwall books include:

Mossflower

The prequel to Redwall, and the book that first hooked me on the story.  Martin the Warrior teams up with the woodland creatures to overthrow the cruel rule of the wildcat Tsarmina and found Redwall Abbey.

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Mariel of Redwall

A young mouse maid must save her father from pirates. Mariel is one of the best of many great female characters in the Redwall series.

Salamandastron

This book focuses a lot on the badgers of Salamandastron and features another of my favorite Redwall heroines.

Martin the Warrior

More of Martin’s exciting backstory. I won’t lie, I cried like a baby over a certain scene.

The Pearls of Lutra

My favorite of the later books I read.

The series can be read chronologically or in order of publication:

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Perhaps Love Album Review

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Review:

This is a rather interesting collection of English pop songs as sung by the great Spanish operatic tenor Placido Domingo (my favorite). My mom had this album and played it often while I was growing up, so my feelings about it are colored by nostalgia. I know that some of my non-opera-loving college friends, for example, found the operatic technique a little overblown and Domingo’s accent too thick, especially in his rendition of “Yesterday,” while as a bit of an opera snob myself, I found some of the other songs not quite “worthy” of Domingo’s incredible voice. However, there are several songs on the album that are so knock-your-socks-off gorgeous that I have to recommend it. My favorites include:

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A Song of Ice and Fire Series Review

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Review:

A good friend recommended the A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin, to me and my husband back in 2005, shortly before the release of the fourth book, A Feast For Crows. We both read the first three books in just a couple weeks, waited a couple months to read the fourth… and then were stuck with all the other book readers waiting nearly six years for the next! Your guess is probably as good as mine when next book, The Winds of Winter (book six out of the planned seven), will be published. I’m hoping we’ll at least have an announcement before the end of the year, but who knows?

The long waits between books notwithstanding, I think the series’ reputation as one of the best (if not THE best) fantasy series ever written is well deserved. The depth, breadth, and richness of the worldbuilding is exceptional even by epic fantasy standards. What I like most, however, is the characters. Although there’s SO many it can sometimes be hard to keep some of the minor ones straight, most of the primary and secondary characters are complex, well drawn, and very memorable.

I especially appreciate the diversity of Martin’s female characters. Although I think the extent to which he’s a feminist writer is sometimes overstated and the later books have several parts that I considered rather problematic from a feminist perspective, Martin undeniably has a whole bunch of the most complex and interesting female characters in the fantasy genre populating his books. I especially like and appreciate his ability to show different types of female strength. There are a number of classic tomboy-style “Strong Female Characters,” including Arya, Brienne, and Asha, but also many characters who are both strong and feminine, such as Catelyn, Olenna Tyrell, Arianne Martell, and (increasingly) Sansa. With such a large and diverse female cast, Martin also has the freedom to show women who are not “strong” by any definition of the word without being accused of misogyny or sexism, as well as female characters who are villainous, incompetent, or just plain unlikable.

I enjoy moral ambiguity and byzantine political intrigue, so I enjoy the plotting as well, although it sometimes gets a little too dark and relentless for me. My favorite book is the third, A Storm of Swords, largely because the grayer side of Westeros’s black-and-gray morality actually wins a few battles for once. A Storm of Swords is also packed with many of the series’ most memorable scenes, and some of its most interesting character development. It’s the literary embodiment of epic, and the fourth and fifth books were unfortunately a little bit of a let-down by comparison, but I’m hoping to do a full re-read when the sixth is released, and hopefully I’ll enjoy them more back-to-back than I did six years apart.

Aside from that, the only major complaint I have about the series is Martin’s tendency to overuse catch-phrases to the point of extreme irritation. “Winter is coming” and “You know nothing, Jon Snow” are probably the most famous, but far from the only.

Book 1Book 2


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Book 3Book 4


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Book 5Box set


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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)