Mad Max: Fury Road Movie Review



Buy at Amazon

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.

Buy at Amazon

My rating: (4 / 5)

More commentary I’ve enjoyed:

[Read more…]

Battlestar Galactica, Season 4 Review



Buy at Amazon

Review:

Sooooo, season three of Battlestar Galactica was a bit of a mess, but had some redeeming points. Season 4? I don’t even know. I disliked it so much that I’ve never gone back and rewatched any episodes. I suppose if I did, I might find myself liking it better?

But then again, maybe not. As I said back in my review of season one, I got invested in these characters. I cared about them. And I feel like almost all of them were completely shat on by the final season.

In retrospect, some of this started as early as season two, but it accelerated in season three and was practically intolerable by season four. Characters that were once lovable turned gross. Characters that were once fascinating got boring. Yet others broke so badly and so completely that the pieces were impossible to put back together and it was not a tragedy but a relief when they died.



Buy at Amazon

And that’s not even getting into the ludicrous mess that was the series finale.

So the question becomes, can I in good faith recommend that people watch Battlestar Galactica when I and a significant percentage of its fanbase were not just dissatisfied but actively infuriated by the final season? Maybe I’m masochistic, but I think the answer is yes. Battlestar Galactica may be a cautionary tale about how badly a great show can go astray, but when it was great, it was really great. As painful as it was watching them fall apart, my imagination would be a poorer place if Starbuck and Roslin and Adama and Six and Cain and Shaw and the rest had never flown in and taken up residence.

My rating: (2 / 5)

[Read more…]

Battlestar Galactica, Season 3 Review



Buy at Amazon

Review:

So, after two seasons of exceptional television by really any measure, season three of Battlestar Galactica is where it started to go off the rails. After a fairly strong start on New Caprica with what is probably the single most spectacular battle scene in the show’s run, the rest of the season frequently floundered. It became increasingly clear that not only did the Cylons not have a plan, the writers really didn’t either.

What the plot lacked in logic and continuity, it did make up for in shock value, especially in the killer season finale: “Crossroads, Part 2.” Unfortunately, a few big shocking moments don’t make up for the muddled mess that was most of the rest of the season. The season was partially salvaged by some great character work from the actors, but overall, it was a disappointment.

Season three does, however, seem like a good time to point out something I was remiss in not mentioning earlier: the music! Battlestar Galactica has an absolutely beautiful score composed by Bear McCreary, whose blog posts also offer some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits. Here’s the show’s opening credits music as a sample:

Why is season three an especially good time to mention the music? Another of the most memorable music choices in the series takes place in the aforementioned season finale as the Final Five are revealed to the immortal strains of Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

Buy at Amazon

My rating: (3 / 5)

[Read more…]

Battlestar Galactica, Season 2 Review



Buy at Amazon

Review:

Season two of Battlestar Galactica was just as outstanding as season one. It’s my favorite season of the show, largely because of the intense Battlestar Pegasus arc in the middle of the season, when the Galactica unexpectedly finds another ship that survived the Cylon attacks but has taken a very different moral path in the intervening months. The discovery of the Pegasus was the catalyst for some of the best performances of the whole series, including Tricia Helfer’s as the Number Six copy called Gina Inviere and guest star Michelle Forbes’s remarkable work as Pegasus’s Admiral Helena Cain.

I also enjoyed some of the stand-alone episodes this season, especially the uplifting “Flight of the Phoenix” and the considerably angstier “Scar.” As a huge fan of Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), I thought this was Sackhoff’s best season, thanks to her performances in those two episodes, the Pegasus arc, and the Caprica arc.



Buy at Amazon

While season two itself is great, I was kind of annoyed that they chose to break it up into not one, but two DVD box sets when they released it. I mean, they managed to fit season one into a single box set and it had the extra three hour miniseries on top of the regular episodes. It kind of seems like a way  to charge fans almost twice as much for the same amount of content. Nevertheless, I clearly fell for it, and evidently so did plenty of others, because they did the same thing with season four.

My rating: (4.5 / 5)

Battlestar Galactica, Season 1 Review



Buy at Amazon

Review:

I heard rave reviews of the 2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot for a couple years before I actually sat down to watch it. This was partially because I was confused about where to start, so just in case somebody else has the same question: you start with the miniseries. The miniseries is included with the season one box set, so you don’t need to buy/rent it separately (although that is an option).

Once I finally sat down to get started, I was quickly captivated. In fact, I think the miniseries and first couple seasons of Battlestar Galactica are some of the best science fiction ever committed to screen. The storyline focuses on the captain (Edward James Olmos) of an outdated starship that is about to be decommissioned and turned into a museum. Shortly before the ceremony is scheduled to take place, the ship’s crew receives word that human civilization is under attack by their former robot slaves, the Cylons, who have attained sentience and turned on their former masters. The massive attack is carried out so swiftly and comprehensively that within hours, the human race is reduced to just 50,000 survivors.

Battlestar Galactica never struggled to find its footing, as some shows do early on. The writing in the miniseries and first season is solid throughout, the special effects are excellent, and the large ensemble cast, led by Olmos and Mary McDonnell, is outstanding. Like many great sci-fi series, the show grappled thoughtfully with serious real world religious, philosophical, and ethical quandaries, even as its characters wandered alien star systems in search of a legendary planet called Earth where they hope to find safety. At the same time, it held the interest of less philosophically inclined viewers with gripping storylines and plenty of space battles.

For me, one of the main strengths of Battlestar Galactica is its characterization. I thought the writers did a great job juggling the many different arcs and storylines and making each one both individually and collectively interesting and appealing. I quickly grew to care about nearly all the characters and even though I became increasingly unhappy with the direction some of the character’s arcs took in later seasons, I never lost my fundamental investment in the characters and their fates. This turned out to be both good and bad in the end, as I’ll discuss in my reviews of the later seasons, but it was unequivocally a good thing in the miniseries and season one.

Not going to lie: eye candy is an additional bonus of the show. I started watching the miniseries one evening without my husband. He passed by the tv at one point and practically got whiplash from Number Six, who is played by Tricia Helfer, a rare model-turned-actress who can actually act. (Grace Park, who played Number Eight, also got her start as a model.) For the ladies, you have Jamie Bamber (though the infamous towel slip is in season two), Tahmoh Penikett, and others.

Buy at Amazon

My rating: (4 / 5)

[Read more…]