Kyle Miner
Can't Stop the Movies
17May/150

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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The literally-oozing-with-evil Immortan Joe rules the post-apocalyptic colony of Citadel with his army of War Boys. When his own trusted warrior Furiosa (Charlize Theron) helps five women escape sexual slavery and imprisonment, Joe and his army pursue them across the Wasteland. A strong cast of supporting female characters led by Theron often takes center stage over Max (a mostly mute Tom Hardy), which makes for a refreshingly new entry into the franchise focused more on reworking the genre than rehashing the successes of The Road Warrior—though make no mistake, Mad Max: Fury Road is still totally insane.

Mad Max: Fury RoadKyle Like Banner

A kind of consensus has emerged by now that Mad Max: Fury Road will have a place among the best, if not the most elaborate, chase movies ever made, and that's deserved. But to label it as such is too mundane—it obscures all of the other things that it also manages to be. This is a gleeful, grotesque carnival of a movie. It works as an aesthetic spectacle that elevates conventions of the post-apocalyptic genre to a level of pop art, and then packs this visual framework with more details and nuances in passing than most movie worlds manage to contain as their sole points of focus. It's hard to talk about in any way that's not hyperbolic, because the whole movie is hyperbole—it seems director George Miller held onto a growing set of ideas for 30 years and then let them explode unrestricted onto the screen all at once. Several hours after leaving the theatre, I feel like I'm 13 years old again—I'm sorry, excuse me for a moment.

Whether you're familiar with the franchise or not, the story is simple enough you can jump on board for the first time at this installment. “My world is fire and blood,” says Max (Tom Hardy) in the voice-over that starts the film—but it may just as well be oil and water, the only two things that still have any currency in the post-apocalyptic Wasteland the characters inhabit. Almost immediately, Max is taken captive by a group of War Boys commanded by Immortan Joe, a half-mechanical monstrosity covered in sores who breathes through a respirator mask emblazoned with teeth.

Immortan Joe controls the Citadel—the only piece of land in sight with access to fresh water and vegetation—a kind of primitive city where he imprisons women as “breeders” and turns his many sons into War Boys. (“Boys” is apt here, correctly implying a kind of permanent adolescence.) The War Boys are 20-something young men shaved bald with white (possibly painted) skin, all of whom seem to experience profound ADHD. They have “half-lives” as delirious, glory-hungry warriors before being turned into “blood bags,” used to pump fresh blood into other War Boys before and during battles. No one ever explains why the War Boys need constant infusions of new blood—I imagine Joe made a decree one day and everyone just went with it.

4Mar/150

Maps to the Stars (2014)

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David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars presents a semi-sprawling satire of Hollywood, focusing on aging actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), her enigmatic assistant Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) and his wife, and their son, child actor Benji Weiss.

It's available to rent now on Amazon, Google Play, and VUDU.

David Cronenberg's Maps to the StarsKyleDislikeNew

I have generally been a fan of David Cronenberg’s lauded post–A History of Violence shift away from raw sci-fi body horror (which really started with Spider if you want to get picky about it). Aside from Eastern Promises I haven't loved any of these films, but they've all been varying degrees of successful and interesting—those two criteria not always intersecting at the same point on the vertical axis, as with 2012's Cosmopolis. So I came into Maps to the Stars curious, if not altogether enthusiastic, and then added two points for Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska. John Cusack isn't discerning enough in his role choices, so for pre-release anticipation his casting ends up being a zero-sum move.

The results surprised me a little bit—Maps to the Stars may be a better representation of the world it's trying to satirize than any of those involved realized or intended. This is a wonderfully shot, great-looking movie filled with excellent performances at the service of a story designed to suggest depth where none exists. Sprawling casually across three intersecting groups of characters who inhabit various stages of the rickety Hollywood success ladder, writer Bruce Wagner's screenplay has novelistic ambitions—fitting, as the movie is based on his novel Dead Stars, itself supposedly based on earlier versions of the script—but it lacks the patience to develop its characters in any truly meaningful ways. It's a curiosity for a director like David Cronenberg, falling surprisingly flat despite a few inspired moments. Even when discussing his failures, I'd have never imagined Cronenberg capable of “flat.”

19Feb/150

Clenching the Nomination – Birdman

Kyle discusses why the already-iconic scene in Birdman, in which Michael Keaton runs through Times Square in his underwear, secured the film its Best Picture nomination. You can check out all of our overall guesses on the major Oscar categories for 2015 here.

Michael Keaton running through Times Square in BirdmanKyle Commentary Banner

In reality, I think Birdman earned its nomination before it was even released. There's just so much appeal to the Comeback Narrative couched in Hollywood meta-commentary, that when Keaton's performance turned out to be at least a fraction as good as was rumored, the nomination was a lock. This is how the Oscars work—they confirm the narrative myths that Hollywood wants to tell about itself while pretending sometimes to subvert convention with nominees just ostensibly innovative enough to seem like they're doing something new and daring, and not safe and expected. That's a harsher tone than I meant to set starting off talking about Birdman—on to the scene that clenched the Best Picture nomination.

And that scene is the one where Riggan, after getting locked out of the theater during the preview performance, runs through Times Square in his underwear so he can get back inside through the front audience entrance. This scene captures so much of what Birdman purports to be—the simulated single-take camerawork is never more impressive, central to the effect of the scene without being a distraction, as Riggan bursts onto the loud, bustling street, pedestrians slowly realizing who is is and pulling out their phones to start filming.

18Feb/150

Clenching the Nomination – Boyhood

What scene clenched the Best Picture nomination for Boyhood at this year's Academy Awards? Kyle weighs in with his thoughts. You can check out all of our overall guesses on the major Oscar categories for 2015 here.

BoyhoodKyle Commentary Banner

In a way it's both odd and fitting that the same scene late in Boyhood is responsible for both the film's Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress nominations. This isn't a movie that calls attention to itself with cliché, Oscar-bait sequences that beat viewers over the head with its ambitious scope (though it could easily have done so), and that lack of a distinct Defining Moment may account for the universally warm but rarely ecstatic reception on the part of critics and moviegoers. But despite the (refreshing) fact that there are no hammy scenes drumming up false emotion by evoking the narrative surrounding the film's 12-year production, Patricia Arquette's subtle breakdown late in the film manages to reflect the same sense of profound scale, rooted in a character who can't believe so much of her life has just passed her by.

17Feb/150

Clenching the Nomination – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Kyle discusses the scene in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel that he thinks secured the film's Best Picture nomination. You can check out all of our overall guesses on the major Oscar categories for 2015 here.

The Grand Budapest HotelKyle Commentary Banner

The Grand Budapest Hotel introduces no less than three layers of flashback in its first 10 minutes, in a move that draws attention to the over-the-top artifice Wes Anderson has made so distinctly his own. It's an opening that, were it not for the deeper themes of the film, could come off as a kind of cloying embrace of nostalgia—an attempt to lend a superficial sense of deeper relevance by reminding the audience not once, but twice, that the events to follow are being recounted now so as not to be forgotten to history.

But like so much of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson has more vision and control than we might suspect embedded in such an ostensibly silly maneuver. We soon forget that we're not in the film's original, contemporary time at all, with only some conventional voice-over narration provided by the much-older version of Zero (played as an older man by F. Murray Abraham) breaking in here and there. The insular world of the titular hotel is so compelling and refreshing at first that it's easy to forget that the story as we're seeing it is actually Zero's narration filtered through a third man, a writer played by both Jude Law and Tom Wilkinson at different points in time.