Mad Max: Fury Road (3D)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) by George Miller

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I had no intention of watching this movie. It interested me about as much as watching snails mate before someone dropped the f-word. And by f-word I mean feminist, a feminist Mad Max-movie.

madmax2But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s what it’s about:

Mad Max (Tom Hardy) lives in a post-apocalyptic world and every day’s a struggle. He’s captured and used as blood donor for the cancer-ridden Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a warrior for the great Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) escapes with his whole harem of breeders (among them Zoe Kravitz), Immortan Joe and his posse take to the Fury Road to get back his property. A mad battle over freedom and hope begins.

And suddenly Mad Max is not the most insane character on this odd-yssey. But I liked it. I know that I have at least watched one of the original Mad Max-movies (the third), I’m not sure about the others. I don’t remember it being so… wild, but then I only remember Tina Turner being in it, so.

I thought this was going to be just another one of those dick flicks, male heroism-laden, totally FURY ROADboring and interchangeable movies that we all have watched a million times. It was not, at least not on all these counts. But we should be real here, it’s not anything great or surprisingly innovative. It’s very good entertainment, you’ll not be bored. You’ll see stuff explode, and car chases, and disgustingly violent things happening, all the things you would expect from a movie like this. There’s some humor randomly added, a little love story that doesn’t take up too much time or space.

Is it a feminist film, though? I would agree with Charlize Theron that it is not, but for different reasons. Post-apocalyptic worlds usually mean that there’s need for offspring. Thus women are being held captive, forced to breed. Oftentimes they’re being raped, or make that all the time since their autonomy over their bodies is taken, period. And this is where Miller starts his tale and tries to right this wrong. This is surprising. The story follows a couple of women who try to escape their circumstances and get unexpected help from a stranger who is on his path to redemption.

madmax3While the focus on the women is surprising, there is no way Miller could make them equal to Max. He needed a female hero as well, and this is Imperator Furiosa. A woman who has gone through the same hardship as the girls she’s trying to save. And she is presented as an equal to Max. While his (mental) disability isn’t visible, hers is: she’s missing part of her left arm. But she’s a fighter and a no-nonsense hero. She does what is necessary to get the women to where she came from, to where she was taken from. As this is post-apocalyptic, this home away from male domination isn’t all it was supposed to be.

Furiosa is equal to Max, in this you could say it’s actually feminist. If you look at any other characters, though, you see that it does not extend beyond the heroes. The matriarchal clan Furiosa came from is down to a handful of women who resort to killing men because they can’t trust them. The women at the citadel are used as breeders or as providers of milk and care takers. And if you look at mere numbers, well, men everywhere, fighting, dying, rocking FURY ROADout to the sound of their own deaths. Male dominance is very much alive.

Still, some men complain over the female-centric plot, over the fact that Max is not the single hero. Check you priviledge, guys. If you don’t like it, watch one of the gazillion films that’s been made about your entitlement and shut the fuck up.

Les Misérables

Les Misérables (2012) by Tom Hooper

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Finally, Les Mis opened in Germany! Finally, I watched it!

You might think that this has been a livelong dream of mine, that I could think of nothing else while waiting for it to happen, that I was thrilled by the choices of actors – or devastated. But you would be wrong. I knew very little of Les Misßerables before, and I don’t feel that I know a lot more now. Sure, the plot is fairly clear now, some quotes that I may have heard before make sense – but I have never read the novel by Victor Hugo, I haven’t seen a version of the musical before now.

lesmis4And still, when people started talking about it on the blogosphere, I became intrigued and I wanted to see it – even more so when I heard that Helena Bonham Carter would be in it, singing once again as she had already done on Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Anne Hathaway? Can she sing? Russell Crowe? Can HE sing? Hugh Jackman? Awesome, he can sing! The list of cast just got better and better and then I waited, patiently. Until yesterday:

The year is 1815, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has spent 19 years in prison, five for stealing a loaf of bread, 14 more because he tried to escape. Now he’s on parole and he’s given the chance to better himself. But he can’t do that while still wearing the stigma of a con – so, he makes his former self disappear and builds a new identity. One, that becomes mayor of some city and a respected businessman. At his factory works a young woman by the name of Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who is dismissed by Valjean’s foreman after finding out that she has an illegitimate child.

Fantine takes to the street while Valjean has to face his past in the figure of lesmis2Javert (Russell Crowe) who was a guard at prison and recognizes the man. Valjean finds Fantine and takes her to the hospital where she dies after Valjean promises her to find her daughter, Cosette, and care for her. He does but has to flee with the small girl (Isabelle Allen) because Javert is after him again. Nine years later in Paris, Valjean and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) live in hiding. Cosette falls in love with a young revolutionist, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Javert once again enters their lives. Trying to escape they are caught up in the machinisms of a revolution and everybody has choices to make, debts to pay.

The story isn’t the greatest part of it, and I’m not even sure if it’s Hugo’s doing or simply the script of even the musical version, but there are certainly a few questions that are left unanswered, a little too many coincidences happening. But these probably shouldn’t even be mentioned in the light of a fantastic cast lesmis3giving a breathtaking performance. Yes, they can all sing and they do. And while they’re all really wonderful, it is Anne Hathaway who blows everyone else out of the water. Oscar-worthy performance? Abso-fucking-lutely (pardon my French, and the pun)! There are no words to discribe her intensity. She makes the audience feel lost with her, makes everyone want to reach out and protect her. She is the face that has been ruined, not by her own doing but by others judging her. She should have lived where others died but she doesn’t. She dies and the audience cries for her.

Luckily, they bring Anne Hathaway back for the grand finale because by then you have missed her – not because it had all turned boring and lame by now but simply because she was THAT good.

Whoelse was good? Well, you guessed it: Helena Bonham Carter. It doesn’t really matter what she does, she does it all fabulously. And the weight of not letting the whole show drudge into misery and sorrow lay heavy on her and Sacha Baron Cohen’s shoulders and they pulled it off and making it look effortlessly.

I’m mentioning these two actresses but I should mention everyone involved. lesmis9The cast was fabulous. I think I was most surprised by the role of Javert. It would have been easy to have him being the villain, somebody who doesn’t care. But Javert does care. He really believes that Valjean belongs in prison, that he’s a dangerous man. He also believes in the system, in the law, and that’s exactly why he must fail in the end – because the system fails him. He is confronted with the question of right and wrong and must admit to himself that he has been wrong all along, because he has put himself on the wrong side. I feel, that his is really the most complex of roles, more so than Valjean’s, because Valjean has the opportunity to redeem himself – Javert doesn’t. And Crowe is really great at protraying this.

There’s another interpretation that lends itself to these two characters, of course. It feels a little like a love story between the two men. None of them seems to have any other romantic linkages but one is always following the other, watching for him. Yes, there’s antagonism but there’s also honor and a sense of one coin with two sides. One is Valjean, the other Javert (their names are eerily similar with the prominant Vj/Jv sounds in them). It’s really a kind of symbioses that binds them, they cannot let go, they cannot carry on.

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There is so much in the story, there’s so much in the songs, there are emotions and thoughts. I will watch it again and listen to the soundtrack and maybe even read the novel – hopefully it will all make sense at some point, or at least the things that I found a little lacking in the plot. It was the only thing that lacked anything really, as this was a brilliant movie. Now go see, if you haven’t already.

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Book vs. Film – The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (2008) by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (2012) by Gary Ross

It’s been awhile since I read the book and I read it in two days – the following two days I read the second book. Which is to say that my memory of these four days that happened sometime last August are vague at best. Also, these four days immediately followed me writing my bachelor thesis… wow, I just remembered that. I am amazed that I  remember reading The Hunger Games at all.

I loved the book – the first one, that is. It is well-paced, it is exciting, it is captivating. Katniss Everdeen is not a likely hero, sometimes she is not even likable. But she is practical, and I think this is one of her best characteristics. It is what makes her effective, leave it to Peeta to be likable.

The story is not simple: Thirteen districts fought against the Capital in a war  about 74 years ago and they lost. That is why “The Hunger Games” were invented. Each district – except 13, because 13 has been wiped off the map – sacrifices 2 of their children to these games where only one will survive. A cruel concept, kids killing each other off and this concept works much better in the book than it does in the movie.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) from District 12 volunteers to participate after her sister Prim has been chosen. She and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son, travel to the games. Katniss makes an impression with the judges when she shoots an arrow at a roasted pig they are about to eat while she is performing. She is considered to be a strong fighter but also a high risk by President Snow who fears an uprising of the 12 districts.

And he is right: Katniss’ behavior in the arena defies standards. She becomes a recognizable face who cares for others. She becomes the underdog everybody loves – including Peeta who has been in love with her since forever. It is this love that sponsors and audience crave and the organizers of the games use it to their advantage. But in the end it is Katniss who challenges everybody and wins – but the price for this victory might be high.

The movie follows the same storyline. Katniss Everdeen has been well cast with Jennifer Lawrence. The fighting is amazing, the supporting cast is great with young and older actors/actresses that show great performances. Still, I did not enjoy the movie half as much as those two dazed days I read the book.

Of course, there is always the premise that the book is considered better, more elaborate. The story has more space to reveal itself, we learn more about the characters, a new world opens infront of our eyes. But it is not only these undeniable truths that pretty much work for every literary adaptation. I felt that the movie lacked a lot of the warmth the book holds. Katniss is a loving person, even though she is not the most show-y when it comes to affections. She cares deeply. The movie shows very little of this. It seems the movie makers readily sacrifice the warmth of the book for the Twilight-look, as I would like to call it. Well, with vampires this might work but The Hunger Games is about human beings – even though some of them have a twisted sense as to the definition of entertainment.

A lot of the coldness of the movie derives from the sterile settings. From the book, I had the sense that everything in the Capital would be luscious, overly plushy, kitschy. But many of the settings were bare. The scenes in the training area are especially disappointing, metallic, and, yes, cold.

This, of course, does not a bad movie make. I am usually not someone who builds too many expectations but I was still disappointed. The movie in all was entertaining but not something out of the ordinary. The best aspects were the great cast, and seeing some of the more memorable scenes of the book unfold – though the whole storyline with Rue (Amandla Stenberg) was… again, disappointing.

I have already mentioned that the aspect of kids or young adults killing each other is more difficult to put into a movie than a book. Although the book was quite graphic, it was not visual. The killing of that small curly-haired boy (was he from District 5?), for example, was gruesome. The premise of The Hunger Games is, of course, this same cruelty, the unfairness, the paralysis of the parents but actually seeing these young people killing others their age (and some of them even enjoying it) is disturbing, especially considering that many among the audience are the same age as the youngest that are being killed here. I am not exactly a prude when it comes to violence in the movies (horror after all, is one of my favorite genres) but this was harsh… maybe because it felt real.

The love triangle is certainly something I could have done without – book and movie. Considering the book, I always hoped that the girl who gave Katniss the mokingjay-pin would reappear (she was the mayor’s daughter but I don’t remember her name) and I totally would have shipped them. But she was cut from the movie (which made for an awkward mokingjay-pin exchange with Prim as a token that was not really a lucky charm). Just like in the book, I found movie-Gail much more appealing than movie-Peeta, so, I guess, you can put me down for Team Gail (Liam Hemsworth).

On the whole, the movie was okay, entertaining, with a great cast. But make no mistake – the book was AWESOME.

Drive

Drive (2011) by Nicolas Winding Refn

I sometimes wonder if I know anything about movies at all. I know I am different in my observations of movies a lot of time, so maybe writing reviews is not really something I should do because 89% of you people out there who read this will probably be of a different opinion about a movie… it’s possible. Well, I like doing this, I like putting my opinion out there maybe especially because it is different from so many others. And having now looked up “Drive” on imdb.com and noticing the splendor of the “Best Director (Cannes)” emblem on the poster, I know that many of you will definately not agree with me. But that’s alright.

So, I went to another sneak preview last week and they showed “Drive.” The movie is about a stuntdriver/mechanic  (Ryan Goling) who at night earns his money as get-away driver. He falls for his beautiful neighbor but unfortunately she has a husband (and a son which is not really a problem, just mentioning it so you know) who is just coming out of jail as our hero tries to get cozy with the missus. Because he is a good guy and tries to be helpful he ends up getting into a lot of trouble when the husband is blackmailed into another heist.

Things get ugly and our hero barely survives – end of story. Well, I wish it would have lasted only the two minutes it took me to retell it… because then I would not have sat through those 100 minutes bored out of my senses. As you should know about me by now, I am generally a little impatient with stories about male heroes. It’s nothing personal, there are just so many of them out there and they are all so similar and taking themselves for so important – well, not to me. But judging by the reactions of the rest of the audience, I wasn’t the only one who was bored.

The title of the movie sure does indicate a fast movie – cars chasing around the city and all that stuff that men love so much, well, there was a little of that but mostly it was about the driver (he doesn’t have a name, I looked it up) looking longingly at Carey Mulligan’s character and trying to keep up with her questions. And I could never tell if Gosling was either as bored as I was or trying to portrait a guy who has fallen on his head too much. That was my impression – although the poster tells me that “Some heroes are real” – which I guess should indicate that this is supposed to be a portrait of a real hero… Joe Average kinda-guy that saves the girl he cannot have but still loves.

Well, needless to say, he wasn’t that to me. And he wasn’t that to a lot of other people in the audience. Maybe this is too American a subject for us to relate – although there rarely is one too American for Germans, we are that Americanized – but maybe the movie is just plain bad, idiotic, boooooring (there ought to be more “o”s in there but I don’t want to bore you by putting all of them that I feel adequate in here), annoying, and stupid. That’s what it felt like for me. Half an hour in I wished I could fall asleep during movies but unfortunately I cannot.

Make no mistake, this is the worst movie I ever watched at the movies. Van Helsing has filled that spot until last week, Van Helsing! It is just a shame about the actors. I mean, how can you not love Carey Mulligan? The cast (I would say except Ryan Gosling) was actually quite good… but WTF?!

Maybe Albert Brooks made a meta-comment when he said that the films his character used to make were considered European… I don’t like European films much, they are too art-sy for me. And maybe this movie is just too sophisticated for me to understand, everything’s possible. But honestly, I don’t think so.

Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens (2011) by Jon Favreau

Well, if you know me a little you might guess why I watched this movie. Right, I watched it for Olivia Wilde. Also, because I think it is a great idea. Some people might think that this is a genre clash that cannot go well but think about this: why should our time (a post E.T.-time, if you want) be the only time that aliens visited. So, maybe there have been ufo sightings back in the days – people just may not have thought they were aliens… I don’t know what they thought they were seeing, maybe they thought they were just incredibly drunk, who knows… where was I, yeah, I liked the idea from that standpoint.

And the movie delivered on it: we had cowboys and we had aliens and they fought each other in an epic battle. I love westerns. I like the premise of good versus evil when you can tell the evil just by the clothes it wears. But this is another ball game and the hero may not have been the best choice of hero but then… in a hard world a good hero is hard to find. And I really like Daniel Craig… so, yeah, he is always a kind of unlikely hero. And he surely can pull off that chaps-look.

The problem with a genre that is so overdone as westerns, is the many stereotypes it serves. I don’t know what was with the Natives/First Nation aka Indians but they have been portrayed less stereotypical warpainty and battlecryey… this was a little disappointing but probably inevitable with this being made from a comic/graphic novel/or whatever the pc for this one is. I can look past that and say, yes, it was a good movie. It has its fun parts, it has its horror, yak, ugly parts and it got some strange no-I-don’t-get-it parts, too. So, in all it is watchable.

But this is me talking, so, you already know that there is something else coming. The part where I say: no, sorry, but that was not okay. And most of the time this has to do with the depiction of women in movies. And yes, this part is coming. It is not too bad in this movie. I was just disappointed, is all. If you look at the poster left, there are three heroes on it, the movie only delivered on two, unfortunately. If you live in my head and you see a poster like that, you already make up the story in your head and it does not register in my head why Olivia Wilde should be less of a hero than Daniel Craig or Harrison Ford (I actually thought Ford was miscast, but that’s another story). In my head she is not just Craig’s love interest, she holds her own with a gun. Why couldn’t she? I know what you’re thinking: I am being too critical, too feminist, why don’t I just shut up? I cannot. This annoyed the heck out of me. Because the whole film worked on the premise of what that guy said when the troups started to fight: we already have a kid and a dog, why not take a woman, too?

Y’know, to hell with the machismo of the whole thing. Just once, I would like Hollywood to measure up to my standards. They have done that in the past, there are female action heroes out there (Ripley, Sarah Connor) but it’s been a while since we have seen a female action hero that was a hero not despite being a woman but just because somebody had to do the job and she was there. We are too stuck on gender these days and we shouldn’t be. And Olivia Wilde could pull it off, too…

Okay, I will stop. I know no one’s listening. I liked the film although it was sometimes too heavy on the machism and on stereotypes. But I guess that’s what you get when comic book meets western meets evil aliens… and I will just wait patiently for the next female action hero. She’s due.

The Tourist

The Tourist (2010) by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

I don’t know why it is that I have such problems posting about movies starring Angelina Jolie. I guess, I am starting to ramble much in presence of beautiful women and Angelina is stunning…

That said I may be able to continue, then again, this movie plays on her beauty, to her beauty. There is not a minute in this movie where a man does not look at her, after her. She is object of this movie, all scenes play toward her. It’s in your face! And this is something I do not necessarily like, maybe because it is a heterosexist way to portray her since it’s only man looking at her and the women look rather jealously than lustfully at her (which is ridiculous). It also makes the female viewer (and lesbian viewer) painfully aware of Laura Mulvey’s concept of every perception at movies being male perspectives. Though I don’t necessarily agree with Mulvey this movies seems to do so.

It does not look at Johnny Depp as an object (though some of the female viewers might), that is. But okay, enough of the academic analysis and let me say that I enjoyed the movie. Simply because there was nothing that was not enjoyable. The tone was light, the plot not too difficult to figure out, there were references to movies past (though Johnny Depp is not really a Cary Grant-character).

Maybe the movie treaded too carefully at times but then, I would not know what to do differently (unless maybe to have women ogle Angelina, and her wearing some snug jeans, but that’s just something I would have any attractive woman wear in movies). The movie is harmless, it does not make a deep impression, but it will probably make a lot of money (especially on the European market, we so love to see ourselves represented in American films!).

The reason I watched it was Angelina herself. I had already watched the trailer several times and it did not impress me that much though I would usually watch anything with Angelina in it. Still, I did not plan to watch this one. But I was coincidentally (yeah, this happens to me sometimes) near the movie theater in Berlin where the premiere was on Tuesday, and I happened to see the tip of her hair – twice… there were too many people in between us to really see her but… y’know, just the knowledge that there were only a couple of meters between us… it’s pathetic really but it is also uplifting to be so near someone you have admired so long and usually only see on the screen or staring from tabloid covers… so, yeah, I wanted to see what the fuss was about and went to see it the very next day. I couldn’t help myself but I guess that’s what these premieres are for… I wasn’t prepared, though, for the overindulgence of Angelina Jolie I got from this movie. Sometimes less is more, y’know.