Sunday, May 17, 2015

What a lovely weekend for 'Mad Max'

I finished 'Age of Ultron' tops box office for second week with a program note about an upcoming movie more on-topic for this blog.
For something more post-apocalyptic, Mad Max premieres this Friday...Stay tuned.
I begin this entry as I did the previous Sunday entertainment entry, with an excerpt of a report from Variety by way of Reuters: 'Pitch Perfect 2' Races Past 'Mad Max: Fury Road' With Outstanding $70.3 million.
"Pitch Perfect 2" hit all the right notes at the box office, snagging first place on the charts with a smashing $70.3 million debut despite fierce competition from "Mad Max: Fury Road."
"Mad Max: Fury Road" also put up strong numbers, racking up $44.4 million across 3,702 locations. The Warner Bros. release capitalized on rapturous critical notices with some reviewers tossing around words like "genius" and "masterpiece."

"It's a film where there's a lot of applause at the end of the movie," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief. "A lot of people coming to the movie went purely on the reviews. The conversation about it is so strong about what an incredible ride this is that it's going to propel us right into the meat of the summer."

"Mad Max: Fury Road" needed the critical notices, because three decades separated chapters in the apocalyptic franchise and original star Mel Gibson aged out of the role/had one intemperate outburst too many and had to be replaced by Tom Hardy. Moreover, the film carries an R-rating which prevents teenagers from attending the picture without a parent or guardian, potentially limiting its audience.

"Mad Max: Fury Road" has much more ground to make up before it pushes into profitable terrain. "Pitch Perfect 2" cost a modest $29 million to produce, while "Mad Max: Fury Road" carries a $150 million price tag.
Follow over the jump for more of those critical raves which generally praised the movie for being a great work of art that explores serious themes, including feminism as well as resource scarcity, in addition to being wonderful entertainment as well as a video explaining the plausibility of the premise, including a discussion of peak oil.

Following my usual M.O. of "if it moves, it leads," here is the Wall Street Journal's video review Morgenstern on 'Mad Max': Joyously Crazed.

"Mad Max: Fury Road" is a gleefully mind-boggling joy ride through the post-apocalypse, WSJ film critic Joe Morgenstern says. He joins Tanya Rivero to discuss. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures.
That was certainly a glowing review that convinced another person to see the film based on the feminism woven into an action film.

Next, Charlie Jane Anders of io9 declares Mad Max: Fury Road Is An Astonishing Work Of Art.
You don’t realize just how crappy most action movies are, until you see something like Mad Max: Fury Road — a movie in which there are no “action scenes” because the action pretty much never stops. And the film’s constant sense of violent motion is in the service of incredible imagery and transcendant moments.
Lots of directors have tried to do what George Miller pulls off so astonishingly in Fury Road — the feeling that shit never stops blowing up, the intensity, and above all the sense that the heightened reality of comics and video games is finally appearing in live-action films. I’m thinking of Zack Snyder, Michael Bay, Robert Rodriguez and a few others.

But Mad Max: Fury Road is still in a class by itself. There are so many moments in this movie where I found myself saying, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m seeing this” — either because the visuals were so insane or so extreme, or just because there was intense beauty filling the frame. These moments, cumulatively, turn what could have been a run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic fight-chase-fight movie into something actually poignant and emotionally engaging — because your mind is flooded with so much insane imagery, you get opened up to the actually quite good performances by Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy and others.
All that is about the art of the film.  What about the kind of substance most germane to the project of this blog?
In Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s the same post-apocalyptic world that you’ll remember from The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, more or less. Everything has fallen apart, and there’s been some kind of ecological collapse — and in a modern twist, there’s not enough water, either.
In fact, this movie reminded me of nothing so much as Snow-Piercer, both in its focus on battles aboard a moving vehicle in an extreme environment, and in its heightened-reality, absurdist take on an apocalyptic world.
Which brings me to the nut of what makes Fury Road such a unique theatrical experience. Miller uses the constant motion of the film to enhance its sense of scale (because duh, if you cover a lot of ground quickly, you reveal the true vastness of the landscape). Immortan Joe’s insane villain lair is huge, and so is his horde of unsafe drivers. And the land around them, most of all, is just massive — the untameable, unknowable desert plays a starring role in this movie, at least as much as the vehicles do.

And the hugeness and terribleness of that bleak landscape makes the larger-than-life characters feel weirdly at home, even as it informs the movie’s key themes of trying to fill that dead void with something. After three previous Mad Max films, Miller understands that the post-apocalyptic story isn’t so much about the collapse of society’s institutions, but about what replaces them — and he’s fascinated by the twisted attempts to create a functioning society in the ruins of our own.

In a lot of ways, the Mad Max franchise belongs to the same subgenre as the Judge Dredd comics — it’s about a world that’s been laid waste, but also about the absurdity of surviving in that world. The heightened reality and bizarreness of both worlds is about holding up a mirror to show us how artificial and bizarre our own identities are, and then creating a new, extreme context where only ridiculous and psychotic selves make any sense.

What’s new in Fury Road is an obsession with fertility — one character carries around “heirloom” seeds, that stubbornly refuse to grow in this dead world. Immortan Joe counsels people dying in the desert not to become “addicted” to water. Immortan Joe’s most prized “possessions” are his breeders, four women whose existence is only aimed at carrying Immortan Joe’s babies. And the War Boys have an ideology built around death and birth — if they die in Immortan Joe’s service, they will be reborn. Even the perennial Mad Max concern with fuel is somewhat reinvented, because now it’s also about water, and the ability to create green.

Agriculture is a collective enterprise, in which the individual has to become part of the collective, and so is human fertility, to some extent. So Fury Road is all about the rights of the individual in the face of the obsession with fertility — and in the end, this does become an overtly feminist issue. Imperator Furiosa and the “breeders” are fighting for their freedom, but also searching for an alternative vision of society that doesn’t see them as nothing but objects — without going into too much spoilery detail.
This review points out the serious purposes behind all the blowing stuff up, which makes this film the opposite of those of Michael Bay in that sensation doesn't rout sense but serves it instead.

One more critical rave, this time from Todd VanDerWerff of Vox, who explains the importance of the film to the genre.
But even if you haven't seen a Mad Max movie, you've seen a movie influenced by a Mad Max movie — whether you know it or not. At the end of a recent screening of the film, director Edgar Wright (of Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim fame) opined that modern cinematic dystopias fall into one of two categories: Blade Runner or Mad Max.

And it's hard to see how Wright could be wrong.
How much influence has the Mad Max series had on other films?

So much. Just the idea of a desert wasteland populated by nomads who occasionally do battle with motor vehicles didn't really exist pre–Road Warrior, and now it's essentially a staple of post-apocalyptic fiction.

Miller was building atop other post-apocalyptic scenarios when he constructed the Mad Max universe — the idea of small communities hanging on in the face of absolute devastation is a staple of the genre — but by melding that concept with elements of the Western (the aimless drifter who comes in out of the wilderness) and action movies (all those car chases!), he invented a new subgenre almost entirely on his own.
Finally, the Mad Max films are responsible for so much ephemera that has worked its way into the general pop culture subconscious. From the phrase "two men enter, one man leaves" — a gift from Thunderdome — to the way the apocalypse seems to give everybody license to wear lots of leather, every other scene in the first three movies will make you say, "Oh, that's where that comes from."
That's about the franchise's influence on other films.  What does VanDerWerff think of the themes?
The Mad Max films are, on some level, about humanity's inability to properly manage resources, and both the third and fourth films feature some sneakily feminist moments.
What about Fury Road's feminism? Aren't people on the internet angry about this movie?

So-called men's rights activists are upset that Fury Road tells a story where a woman attempts to take other women away from a system that subjugates them, in order to establish some sort of matriarchy elsewhere.

Here's Aaron Clarey at the blog Return of Kings, in response to reviews pointing out that Furiosa is essentially the lead character in Fury Road:
[What's at stake] is whether men in America and around the world are going to be duped by explosions, fire tornadoes, and desert raiders into seeing what is guaranteed to be nothing more than feminist propaganda, while at the same time being insulted AND tricked into viewing a piece of American culture ruined and rewritten right in front of their very eyes.

The truth is I’m angry about the extents Hollywood and the director of Fury Road went to trick me and other men into seeing this movie. Everything VISUALLY looks amazing. It looks like that action guy flick we’ve desperately been waiting for where it is one man with principles, standing against many with none.
Somehow, Clarey misses that the original films are Australian in origin and take place in futuristic Australia, but that's neither here nor there. The larger point is that Miller has turned what looks like a hyper-masculine action film into a larger treatise on how little room there is for women in hyper-masculine action films — suggesting that perhaps there's a better way, not just for post-apocalyptic societies but for our own. He even called in Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler to consult.

As Keith Phipps (whom I have worked with before) points out in his review at the Dissolve:
Rather than confining this element to the margins, Fury Road takes it as a primary theme, revealing Furiosa’s journey as not just flight from Immortan Joe, but a search for a safe place removed from the madness and tyranny of men. The question, "Who killed the world?" gets raised a couple of times, first as graffiti, then as a bit of dialogue, and it’s always a woman asking the question.
The larger point is that the Mad Max films have always taken place "a few years from now," in a world that is like ours, but twisted a few degrees to the right. People fight over increasingly scarce resources. They form tribal societies that suspect outsiders. They settle things through bloody but inventive combat. It feels a little like where we live, just heightened, as if we might descend into this situation at the drop of a hat.

Fury Road's feminist themes, then, don't just take aim at the hyper-masculine world of action films. They take aim at any time men mistreat women at all, then suggest that that mistreatment is fundamental in making the world a worse place. It's a bold tack to take in a film that is, on some level, about who can drive a car the fastest, but that's part of what makes Fury Road feel less like yet another sequel and more like the start of something new.
No wonder the people I snarked about in Recycled comments about the men's rights movement don't like this movie.  In that case, welcome to having the right enemies.

When the negative review of the movie by the MRAs came up at Furious about Furiosa: Misogynists are losing it over Charlize Theron's starring role in Mad Max: Fury Road at We Hunted the Mammoth, I left the following response.
The MRAs would be even more ticked off if they read actual news reports instead of using the voices in their heads as reliable sources.  For starters, I present this headline from Reuters: Actress Charlize Theron urges women to stand up for equal pay.
After negotiating a salary equal to her male co-star for her upcoming movie, Hollywood actress Charlize Theron has called on other women to take a stand when it comes to equal pay.

Theron said she was outraged when leaked Sony emails showed a gap in what male and female actors were paid for the film "American Hustle" and she insisted on being paid on par with co-star Chris Hemsworth for the Snow White sequel "The Huntsman".

"I have to give them credit, because once I asked, they said yes," Theron said in an interview with British magazine Elle UK.

"They did not fight it. And maybe that's the message: that we just need to put our foot down."
Go, Charlize!  That's one way to get  equal pay for equal work in Hollywood.
That's enough about the film's feminism.  What about our inability to manage our resources?  Kyle Hill of Nerdist asks Will We Ever Have a MAD MAX Gas Shortage?

In the MAD MAX universe, gasoline is a precious resource. But will we ever experience this kind of apocalyptic fuel shortage scenario in real life? Kyle explores the concept of peak oil and modern drilling techniques on Because Science.
The good news is that people are discussing Peak Oil.  The bad news is that a key fact was ignored.  Here's the comment I left on the YouTube video.
U.S. oil production has increased as you described since 2008. Even so, it still is not at the level it was back in 1971, when the country produced 9.5 million barrels per day. Peak oil for the U.S. did happen on schedule. It's just not as bad as people thought it was going to be.
Just the same, Kyle's right about one thing; we will have to do more with less.

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