‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ goes balls to the wall

To paraphrase my favorite line from “Mad Max: Fury Road” – “Oh what a film! What a lovely film!”

Recently I’ve started to bemoan the death of the classic action flick. The intricacies of a mind-blowing action scene have been rendered simplistic by nerds with a mouse. CGI and green screens have replaced jaw-dropping stunt work and brilliant choreography. But leave it up to 70-year-old director George Miller to truly go old school with “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The director of the original “Mad Max” from over 35 years ago returns to the franchise that put him on the map and gives audiences what will probably be the action movie of the year. And yes, he’s also the guy who directed “Babe.”

Here’s five questions for “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

What’s it about?

Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is a prisoner who’s used as a universal blood donor for an army of war boys. He finds his chance to escape when he tags along with Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who decides to betray Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and return to her homeland. An insanely memorable two-hour car chase ensues.

Really? The film is a two-hour car chase?

Pretty much! I remember when I first saw “Speed” and left the theater with my heart still pounding because the film never let up once it got started. It was just one breathtaking action scene after another. Well, think of that kind of pedal-to-the-metal type of pace, but 100 times more intense. That’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

One might think that an overload of action would just numb one senseless with all of the constant visual stimulation. One could not be more wrong. Each action sequence stands on its own, with each subsequent chase scene bringing in a brand new element to keep things exciting. Your adrenaline will be pumping hard for this one, so take your medication if you’re weak of heart. I’m serious.

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But does all that action mean that the characters suffer from lack of development?

Surprisingly, the character I found to be the least memorable was Max himself. He’s a man of action rather than words, but I feel like he could have been played by almost any tough, rugged actor. But every other key character besides Max is easily memorable. There’s the guy with all the nipples, the huge baby guy, the electric guitar guy… I’m kidding. I mean, those characters really do exist, but I really want to applaud the supporting cast for a job well done.

It’s almost insulting to categorize Theron in the supporting level because it could actually be argued that this is her movie and not Max’s. Theron gives a tremendous balls-to-the-wall performance that will undoubtedly go down as one of her most memorable roles. Nicholas Hoult also does a splendid job as Nux, the war boy who turns on his lord to help Max and Furiosa. He brings a lot of heart to the film. Hugh Keays-Byrne is excellent as the villain and the actresses who play his wives on the run also develop their own personalities and are easily distinguishable.

Do I have to watch the previous three Mad Max movies to know what’s going on?

This may surprise many because I consider myself to be a movie geek, but I myself have never seen any of the previous “Mad Max” films. I went in with a clean slate and obviously enjoyed the hell out of the movie. So I’m sure that fans of the previous three films will have a blast as well.

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So where does “Mad Max: Fury Road” stand in comparison to other action classics?

It’s not quite at the same game-changing elite level as “Die Hard,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or “Hard Boiled,” but it comes really close. “Mad Max: Fury Road” comes at a time when special effects pass for action so is extremely refreshing as a result. But the film is more than an achievement in action. It is also technically brilliant. The cinematography, editing, camerawork, even the music are all award-worthy.

It may only be May but we already have a contender for one of my best films of the year.

 

No one is in ‘Hot Pursuit’ of this film

One’s straight and narrow. The other’s wild and exotic. When they’re not too busy fighting each other, they have to fight off the Colombian drug lords.

Sound cheesy? How about nacho cheesy? Here’s 5 questions about “Hot Pursuit.”

What’s it about?

An uptight by-the-book police officer (Reese Witherspoon) is assigned to escort a criminal’s wife (Sofia Vergara) across the state of Texas so that she can testify against the local drug lord. Of course, the drug lord doesn’t want her to reach her day in court so he sends a couple of goons to kill her. Imagine “Thelma and Louise” meets “Midnight Run.” Laughs are supposed to ensue.

hotpursuit1How funny is it?

Put it this way. Even with only an 87 minute running time, I was checking my watch. This movie is as generic as it gets. Witherspoon and Vergara have both been much better in other films but are hampered by a horrible, lazy script. Their characters are clichéd and unlikable, producing barely a chuckle. The movie isn’t horrible. It just shouldn’t exist.

Why does Sofia Vergara have to yell every single line?

I’ve watched a lot of TV’s “Modern Family,” and Vergara’s over-the-top line delivery is tolerable, if not entertaining, in small doses within the framework of the show’s huge cast. When asked to carry a film, she can get a bit grating. Vergara comes from the school of “the louder you yell, the bigger the laugh” and when it works, she reminds of you of Lucille Ball. When it doesn’t, she’s Charo. Witherspoon doesn’t come away clean either. Her Texas twang is a bit much to take too.

hotpursuit2Why is Reese Witherspoon slumming in this film?

Despite earning an Oscar nomination last year for “Wild,” it’s been a number of years since she’s had a mainstream hit. As a producer for the film, Witherspoon obviously thinks “Hot Pursuit” is the vehicle that will bring her back to the A-list. The film is nothing but quick cash grab.

Could this be one of the worst movies of the year?

While terribly boring and predictable and low on laughs, “Hot Pursuit” isn’t really offensively bad. No, that award still belongs to “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.”

 

 

Summer movie preview: The small(er) films

Quick — what films are you most looking forward to watching this summer? Now how many of these are not sequels, reboots or based on comic books? The answer is very likely none.

Fortunately, summer is not all about big money and big explosions. There are a few smaller gems that I’m really looking forward to. Here’s a look some of them, along with their release dates.

“Maggie” – May 8

A zombie movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger sounds like it would be an instant action classic from the ’90s. But “Maggie” is actually a small family film about a loving father coping with his daughter’s transformation into a zombie.

What? Arnold is trying to act? Yes — and from what I’ve been hearing so far, he does an exceptional job.

 

“The D Train” – May 8

Whatever happened to Jack Black? The pudgy comedian has been under the radar the last few years but makes a comeback with “The D Train,” playing the head of a high school reunion committee who wants to ensure a great turnout by inviting their celebrity actor classmate (James Marsden). Throw in some nostalgic ’80s tunes and I’m sold.

 

“Aloha” – May 29

As far as I’m concerned, writer/director Cameron Crowe can do no wrong. With his latest romantic comedy “Aloha” being set in our own backyard, this is one of the most highly anticipated films of 2015 for me.

 

“Entourage” – June 3

I’m a big fan of the HBO series so of course I’m curious about the latest adventures of Vince, E, Turtle, Drama and Ari. Hollywood is never too proud to make fun of itself and I love it when we get an inside look at the entertainment industry. Throw in some celebrity cameos, and “Entourage” looks like a blast.

 

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” – June 12

One of my must-see films at the recent Hawaii International Film Festival Spring Showcase, “Me and Earl” did not disappoint. This movie about high school students who love film but have to cope with a friend’s cancer will both warm and break your heart.

 

“Dope” – June 19

Glad to see Hollywood providing some “urban” entertainment again. For a while, all we had to satisfy our cravings for black films were Tyler Perry movies. Brought to you by the same filmmaker who gave us “The Wood.” Ticket, please!

 

“Southpaw” – July 31

Jake Gyllenhaal is a chameleon who will commit 100 percent to a role. He was absolutely robbed of Oscar recognition for his work in last year’s “Nightcrawler.” His physical transformation for “Southpaw,” where he plays a boxer, looks to be just as impressive. Working with director Antoine Fuqua earned Denzel Washington an Oscar for “Training Day.” Maybe it will work for Gyllenhaal, too.

 

“Straight Outta Compton” – August 14

Never mind every other film in 2015 — and yes, that includes “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” “Straight Outta Compton” is the film I most want to see this year. It’s not even close. NWA was such a huge part of my high school years as I listened to their “Straight Outta Compton” CD on repeat over and over and over again. This was back when rap actually carried a message and wasn’t just about clubs and hos. Believe me, I will be the first in line for this one.

Summer Movie Preview: The Blockbusters

Last week “Avengers: Age of Ultron” officially kicked off what potentially could be the biggest summer movie season ever. Summer is always a time when studios roll out their big money franchise films where to quote a huge summer movie of the past, they’ve “spared no expense.”

These are the 10 blockbusters that I’m most looking forward to this summer. I’ve listed them in order of release dates so that you can start filling out your movie viewing calendar now. Bring lots of popcorn.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” – May 15

“What a day! What a lovely day!” I’ve been throwing this quote from the trailer around for weeks now because that’s how excited I am to see this film. This reboot of the Mad Max franchise looks absolutely coco for cocoa puffs and I can’t wait to see if the best trailer of 2014 delivers one of the best films of 2015.

“Tomorrowland” – May 22

I was instantly floored by the first trailer to this film. This is the kind of movie that looks like it will inspire awe and wonder with its stunning visuals. Then I found out it was based on a Disneyland theme ride. Say what? Oh well, the last film that was based on a Disneyland theme ride (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) did pretty well so this one should do so too.

“Jurassic World” – June 12

Chris Pratt is the current leading man flavor of the month in Hollywood. After headlining last year’s huge success “Guardians of the Galaxy,” he’s #1 on everyone’s dream casting list, even rumored to be the next Indiana Jones. But before he dons the fedora and whip, he’ll have to deal with some pesky killer dinos. Can “Jurassic World” improve upon the classic “Jurassic Park” released over 20 years ago? We’ll soon see.

“Inside Out” – June 19

I had my doubts about what basically appears to be an animated version of the ’90s TV show “Herman’s Head” but then I remembered, oh yeah, it’s Pixar. Of course it’s gonna be good. The animated short “Lava” which premiered in Hawaii at the Hawaii International Film Festival last year and featuring the voices of local talents Kuana Torres Kahele and Napua Greig will also play before “Inside Out.”

“Ted 2″- June 25

Yes, I’m not afraid to admit I enjoy immature bathroom humor and apparently I’m not the only one because “Ted” grossed over $200 million domestically. Writer and director Seth McFarlane had a setback last year with the horrible “A Million Ways to Die in the West” but should bounce back solidly with more adventures with America’s filthiest teddy bear.

“Terminator: Genisys” – July 3

I really don’t know what to expect out of this film. Is it a sequel? A reboot? A mix of the two? Despite starring one of the most boring actors of the last decade (Jai Courtney) and being directed by the guy who helmed my least favorite Marvel film (“Thor: The Dark World”) I have to have faith. That’s because Arnold is back. Fingers are crossed.

“Ant-Man” – July 17

No one would’ve guessed that Marvel’s next franchise character would be Ant-Man. Even comic book fans aren’t that familiar with the character and his super power is what? Shrinking really fast? There was some trouble behind the scenes with bringing “Ant-Man” to the big screen with Marvel having to switch directors but this latest trailer has me sold. “Ant-Man” looks like it’s bringing back the lighthearted comedy so lacking in comic book films recently.

“Pixels” – July 24

If anyone in Hollywood needs a comeback, it’s Adam Sandler and it looks like “Pixels” is the perfect family friendly vehicle to bring him back to the A-list. After all, how can you go wrong with combining a disaster film with ’80s video game nostalgia? I grew up in arcades and I am really looking forward to big scale versions of my favorite games such as Donkey Kong and Centipede on the big screen.

“Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation” – July 31

Tom Cruise just brings it. Every. Single. Time. Dude is as bad-ass as they come.

“Fantastic Four” – August 7

Marvel’s going to keep rebooting this franchise until they get it right. The first two Fantastic Four films were fun, yet seriously flawed. Now, with a new cast and new origin story, Marvel hopes that the radioactive foursome finally clicks with audiences. I really like the four stars but the tone of the trailers have been a little off for me. Still, it’s Marvel so of course we’re all going to watch.

So what summer films are you looking forward to the most?

 

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ is more loose, more fun

I’ll readily admit that I wasn’t as enamored with “The Avengers” as the rest of the world. I thought it was too talky and that the whole process of assembling the team took too long and that there was too much mystical alien mumbo jumbo that quickly made me lose interest in the story.

Well, problems fixed! Not having the burden of showing the origin of the team totally frees up “Avengers: Age of Ultron” to hit the ground running and results in a highly entertaining film full of great comic book action, humor and even a tear. Yes, I did well up at one point watching this film.

Let’s dig into 5 Questions about “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

1) What’s it about?

After the alien attack of the first film, Tony Stark wants to create a security blanket for the world through artificial intelligence. Unfortunately his ambitious intentions result in the birth of Ultron, a sentient android who’s determined to eliminate the human race. Assisting him are super-powered twins Pietro (Quicksilver) and Wanda (Scarlet Witch) Maximoff.

Comic book fans will also be in nerdvana when the Vision makes his debut. His look is spot on, and I loved watching him in action battling alongside the Avengers.

ultron12) How are the action scenes?

There are more action scenes in “Age of Ultron” than “The Avengers” and they are all executed impressively. The visual creativity and choreography are ever stimulating and always trying to show you something new. From the opening act with the Avengers storming a castle to the one-on-one battle between Iron Man and the Hulk and finally the climax against a battle of Ultron’s army, the action is amazing.

I do hope however that future Avenger films go a different direction from the group fight against faceless drones approach. We’ve seen this in both Avengers films now and it’d be nice to see them battle someone truly formidable as a team.

And I still don’t understand how the Black Widow is effective at all in their battles. Shooting bullets at the metal robots is useless and while she may be able to take down a robot or two with her martial artistry, she just can’t compare to the prowess of a Thor, Iron Man or Captain America.

3) Will I laugh?

Yes. A lot. The audience is no longer burdened with the forced getting to know each other exercises of the first film. The Avengers are now close friends and not afraid to crack a joke at each other’s expense. As a result their interaction is much more natural and humorous. There are also a few great random one-liners throughout the film that will definitely have you laughing out loud.

ultron24) How does this Quicksilver compare to the version in “X-Men: Days of Future Past?”

After watching that amazing fight sequence featuring Quicksilver in “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” I had doubts that the “Age of Ultron” version of the same character could even come close to being as cool. I’m so glad I was wrong. Quicksilver is given a much larger role in this film and I loved being able to see his powers in effect in more than just one scene. He plays a key role in battling Ultron and proves to be just as heroic as any of the Avengers.

5) Are there any Marvel Comics Universe Easter Eggs?

Besides the obligatory Stan Lee appearance (he plays a drunken sailor), there are a few nifty Easter Eggs that hardcore fans will instantly recognize. The Avengers’ search for Ultron leads them to Wakanda, the country known not only for its vibranium, but also for being the home of the Black Panther. The Black Panther is slated to receive his solo movie in the coming years so it’s really cool to see the planting of that seed. There’s also a quick scene where Vision saves the life of someone who in the comics he becomes very attached to. Let’s see if that plays out in the future Avengers films. Oh, and of course there’s a mid-credits scene that sets up the future films of the series.

Freedom in storytelling gives “Avengers: Age of Ultron” a more natural, comfortable vibe than the first film and as a result is much more entertaining overall. It’s like when you’re playing a sport. “The Avengers” was the warm-up portion where you work out the stiffness and kinks, just getting a taste of what’s to come. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is the actual game time. You’re loose, relaxed and just enjoying the experience. Let’s hope that the next Avengers films cross the line with a strong finish.