In "Mad Max: Fury Road," Immortan Joe(Hugh Keays-Byrne) celebrates a… MoreIn "Mad Max: Fury Road," Immortan Joe(Hugh Keays-Byrne) celebrates a trading run to another town that is being led by Imperator Furiosa(Charlize Theron) by sharing some water with his subjects. Things go well until Furiosa abruptly changes course and Immortan Joe notices exactly who is missing from the Citadel. So, he sends his war boys after her. One of them, Nux(Nicholas Hoult), has Max(Tom Hardy) as his blood donor/hood ornament.
As a movie of few words(one of the most meaningful ones being 'redemption'), "Mad Max: Fury Road" is an exciting, superb and thrilling movie just like they don't make any more that is ruled much more by superb production design and astounding stunts than empty CGI effects.(In fact, this would be the kind of movie that Quentin Tarantino would make if he were not so very self-indulgent.) Overall, this provides a bleak vision of humanity at the brink and few options, with an even more damaged Max than previously seen. What's especially refreshing and extremely cool is how feminist this movie is which you might also have read about elsewhere.
Even with twins Pietro(Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda(Elizabeth… MoreEven with twins Pietro(Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda(Elizabeth Olsen) escaping with their own agenda, the Avengers make quick work of Baron Strucker(Thomas Kretschmann) and Hydra in the fictional country of Sokovia. Tony Stark(Robert Downey Jr.) even finds a magical doohickey which may help him develop an artificial intelligence. But when they get it back to base, him and Bruce Banner(Mark Ruffalo) cannot get it to work at first. However, a connection is soon made and Ultron(James Spader) is none too happy at not being invited to the party.
With the sequel "Avengers: Age of Ultron," writer-director Joss Whedon displays more confidence in his handling of such big budget material. That allows him to give characters more depth and thankfully something for Jeremy Renner to do this time around. At the same time, the party scene goes on way too long and there is one case of Too Much Information.
That confidence also extends to the political level, as the movie also brings up blowback when Tony Stark's past as an arms merchant comes back to haunt him and the team big time. Plus, Stark references Neville Chamberlain's infamous "Peace in our time" but not in the way it is usually misunderstood. Here, and mind the Chomsky, it is applied to a situation when one evil is favored over a potentially greater one, which then backfires horrifically. And if you don't believe me, check out the freighter Churchill where a major battle breaks out in the film.
In "Mud," best friends Ellis(Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone(Jacob Lofland)… MoreIn "Mud," best friends Ellis(Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone(Jacob Lofland) travel to their favorite island, with the promise that Ellis will be back in time to help his dad(Ray McKinnon) with deliveries. While there, they discover a boat in a tree before finding it lived in. Its occupant, Mud(Matthew McConaughey), seeks to cut a deal with the boys while waiting for news of Juniper(Reese Witherspoon). Ellis spots her in town before he makes quite the impression on May Pearl(Bonnie Sturdivant).
With each movie he makes, Jeff Nichols shows improvement and with "Mud," he shows he can handle a complex narrative, with the help of a very good cast that also includes Sam Shepard and Joe Don Baker. But just as much, this movie meanders like the grand river where it is set, eventually setting on the usual cliche for its climax. That's not to mention also forcing the parallel between Mud and Ellis, instead of just framing this is as a boys' adventure intruding on an adult world.
On his not quite standing room book signing tour, Hall Baltimore(Val… MoreOn his not quite standing room book signing tour, Hall Baltimore(Val Kilmer) comes across a town that is so small that it does not have a bookstore but does have a giant clock with seven faces. So, while signing books in a hardware store, he encounters an actual fan, Sheriff Bobby LaGrange(Bruce Dern) who shows him the latest body in the morgue. But what Hall is even more interested in is a drink, being drawn to a bar where Edgar Allan Poe(Ben Chaplin) used to hang out.
To be honest, "Twixt" does not really work as horror, mystery or personal filmmaking, as Francis Ford Coppola takes a step back artistically in his late period. But that's not to say there is nothing of interest here, as there is just enough eccentricity and weirdness to at least merit a look.
In "Oz the Great and Powerful," Oscar Diggs(James Franco), a stage… MoreIn "Oz the Great and Powerful," Oscar Diggs(James Franco), a stage magician of little ability, makes a stunning escape just in front of a rampaging mob in Kansas in 1905 in a balloon. The bad news is that he flies right into the middle of a tornado...
...and out the other side into magical land where he eventually lands somewhat roughly. There he is rescued by Theodora(Mila Kunis) who also fills him in on where he is and of the prophecy he might play a large part of.
Trying to follow a beloved classic movie with a prequel already is quite a challenge for filmmakers.(Not to mention the fact that "Wicked" is supposed to be really good.) But then "Oz the Great and Powerful" does itself no favors with its extended prologue, overreliance on CGI and miscasting, especially James Franco, who while with "True Story" proved he can play a shady character, does not have the chops to play the showman part of his character, unlike say Bruce Campbell who has a brief cameo here. Overall, this simply comes off as flat, uninspired and surprisingly slow.
Even though it is not part of their normal job description as witch… MoreEven though it is not part of their normal job description as witch hunters, Hansel(Jeremy Renner) and Gretel(Gemma Arterton) still find the time to stop off in a town to rescue Mina(Phila Viitala) from being falsely accused of being a witch by Sheriff Berringer(Peter Stormare). That is the same town, by the way, where children have been disappearing lately which Muriel(Famke Janssen), an actual witch, might know something about.
Despite its admittedly dopey sounding premise, it was still possible for "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" to turn out to be something entertaining, especially after its cool opening sequence.(And it is a nice touch having Hansel being diabetic.) But as it soon becomes clear, the movie has no idea what it really wants to be nor what kind of tone it wants to have.(Adam McKay and Will Ferrell are listed as two of the movie's producers which is a clue but nothing more.) Emblematic of that is the casting. Jeremy Renner's normal understated style clashes with any kind of action while Gemma Arterton and Famke Janssen(both veterans of James Bond films) do very much get the whole larger than life thing this movie might be going for.
In "Far from the Madding Crowd," Gabriel Oak(Matthias Schoenaerts) is… MoreIn "Far from the Madding Crowd," Gabriel Oak(Matthias Schoenaerts) is busy minding his fields and his business when he spies his neighbor Bathsheba(no relation to Katniss) Everdene(Carey Mulligan) riding her horse across the way. After returning her scarf to her, he is so taken with her that he proposes marriage to which she declines, not out of any dislike for him, but more out of not really caring for matrimony. In short time, their paths diverge. She gains an inheritance elsewhere while tragedy strikes his farm, forcing him to move on.
While it can feel a little rushed for the period it is set in, "Far from the Madding Crowd" is still a well-acted and handsomely produced film. But beneath that lush imagery, there is the reality that these carefully tended lives are just one false step from complete ruin, sometimes heartbreakingly so, which is sadly not that different from today. That leads to these characters acting not out of love or desire, but out of complete practicality, leading to some of the most unromantic marriage proposals ever. I mean, what is it with the pianos, anyway?
Caleb Smith(Domhnall Gleeson), of Brookhaven, Long Island! Come on,… MoreCaleb Smith(Domhnall Gleeson), of Brookhaven, Long Island! Come on, down. You've just won an expense paid trip to spend a week with Nathan Bateman(Oscar Isaac), your boss, in the middle of nowhere!
To be fair, it is actually much cooler than that which Caleb learns after he signs an iron clad non-disclosure agreement that may actually involve any hypothetical future offspring. See, Nathan needs an impartial observer to run a Turing Test on an artificial intelligence in the person of Ava(Alicia Vikander) he has just invented and that's where Caleb comes in.
As slow as it is, "Ex Machina" also has more than its share of moments. Those are mostly centered around the movie's thought provoking exploration of artificial intelligence. At the same time, that's not really what this movie is about which is gender. Which would not be a bad thing in and of itself, if it had at least managed to extricate it from the male gaze, especially that belonging to Caleb and Nathan who have much more in common with each other than they would readily admit. By comparison, Root(Amy Acker) referring to The Machine as 'she' on "Person of Interest" is much more revolutionary than anything that happens in this movie.
Just after the end of World War II, Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch… MoreJust after the end of World War II, Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey(Harrison Ford) figures it is time to integrate major league baseball. The challenge comes from finding the right player which is not just about playing ability. He finally selects Jackie Robinson(Chadwick Boseman), a promising young player currently with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. Robinson then takes the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend Rachel(Nicole Beharie, of "Sleepy Hollow"). Before he gets to Brooklyn, he has to prove himself at the minor league level at Montreal.
While steadfastly and endearingly old fashioned, this movie succeeds through a superb performance from Chadwick Boseman portraying Jackie Robinson as a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. And it does not hurt that Harrison Ford is trying for the first time in quite a while. The Pee Wee Reese(Lucas Black) moment is pure lump in the throat(I hadn't realized before that Reese was a southerner which adds to the emotion), before a totally overdone finale that ruins some of the previous good will.
But while I should not be surprised that some details have been simplified for dramatic effect, it should also be noted that Branch Rickey was not operating in a complete vacuum as the film shows. Namely as Dave Zirin pointed out, Lester Rodney of the Daily Worker had been advocating for integrated baseball long before Rickey acted on it, not to mention Bill Veeck(yes, that Bill Veeck) attempting to integrate baseball in 1945 before integrating the American League later in 1947 with Larry Doby and the Cleveland Indians.
The young King of England, Henry(Tom Hiddleston), is out to prove… MoreThe young King of England, Henry(Tom Hiddleston), is out to prove himself. So, he looks longingly across the channel at contested lands in France. However, King Charles(Lambert Wilson) of France replies that he does not think he has the balls to invade, making sure to send him some tennis balls as a message. Regardless, Henry does have some ships for sailing and men under his command. Meanwhile, Princess Katherine(Melanie Thierry) starts learning a little English.
At the end of the first Hollow Crown cycle, we are finally on familiar ground with "Henry V." And as only suitable with such an often performed play, this production highlighted with an excellent lead performance from Tom Hiddleston finds its own angle. That is, it starts with Henry's funeral before flashing back under the watchful eye of John Hurt's stately narration. As odd as that might sound initially, it does highlight well how death hangs over every part of this play, especially as it involves a controversial passage being included for a rare change.