Archive for Charlize Theron

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2015 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Mad Max Fury Road Poster

There has been a lot said about the ‘feminist agenda’ of Mad Max: Fury Road, that issue won’t be touched upon after this first paragraph, because it really isn’t an issue. Some of the best action films have strong female leads: the Alien quadrilogy, Terminator and T2, Kill Bill Parts 1 & 2, Hanna, The Hunger Games, Kick-Ass and the Resident Evil movie to name but a few. Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of them.

That said, there has been almost nothing but praise from all right-minded people. But, does the film deserve it?

There is absolutely no question that it’s a visual spectacle, made all the more impressive when you take into account that a lot of the on-screen action is real – flipping cars, people strapped onto poles being swung in an arc through the air while racing through the desert, fighting on top of moving vehicles. It makes a huge difference to see stunt being performed by real people, on camera and not a group of pixels added in post-production.

The look of the world is visceral and fully formed with no particular back-story to explain it, which is also a breath of fresh air. Too many films take too long to set up the world so you can believe in it before the plot can kick in, director, George Miller throws you straight into the story after just a couple of minutes and if you aren’t up to speed, that’s tough.

And, action there is. In abundance. The film is pretty much a giant car chase up a road and back down it again, but so much goes on you barely notice the fact there’s hardly a plot. Add to this that Miller is 70 years old and the scale of the ambition of this film is almost too much to take in. How does a man that old have the energy to make this?!

This is, however, not a perfect film. It is a B-movie after all and despite the praise heaped upon this film there are a few things that are wrong with it. Firstly, it’s very difficult to understand what virtually anyone is saying because Max (Tom Hardy) is mumbling incoherently, or characters are screaming at the top of their lungs over the sound of the engines, or Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) has a mask over his mouth the whole time, or the fact they all speak in A Clockwork Orange’s Droog speak. It also grates that neither Hardy or Theron can be arsed to do an Australian accent. Hardy gives it a go at the beginning, but less than halfway through stops using real words altogether, relying instead on grunts and facial expressions instead. Theron doesn’t even attempt to change her American accent.

There, those are the only gripes I have with the movie. Well, that and the character who gets blinded. That was a bit much. But, as stated earlier, this is a B-movie.

Thank whatever god you pray to for directors like George Miller. Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolute treat for the senses. It’s loud, garish and not ashamed to spray you with shiny chrome and send you into the eye of an apocalyptic sandstorm strapped to the front of a car.

Oh yeah, …those car designs! Wow.

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Review: Snow White & The Huntsman

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2012 by Tom Austin-Morgan

This year’s second adaptation of the Snow White fairy tale hit the cinemas this week and, rather than the camp Julia Roberts led Mirror, MirrorSnow White & The Huntsman is a darker take on the classic tale. If you’re expecting bright colours and sing-alongs with a cute girl and her seven small friends you’re in for a shock. This in no way resembles the 1937 Disney version.

Well, actually the story is fairly close, in that Snow White is the object of jealousy by the evil queen and there are seven dwarfs, though instead of names like Doc, Sneezy and Grumpy they have names like Duir, Muir and Gort. There are all the metaphors of lost innocence (forbidden/poisoned apples) as well as the moral message that jealousy is ugly and all-consuming. This retelling is a much darker and fantastical version than any we’ve seen before.

We are shown the story of a king and queen who have a daughter called Snow White and we are told of the queen’s passing and the consequent remarriage of the king to a woman he rescued from a magical army. His new queen, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), murders him on their wedding night and takes over the kingdom and swiftly imprisons Snow White. Over many years the kingdom falls into ruin, even  nature kills itself, rather than live under Ravenna’s rule.

Many years later Ravenna is running out of young women to suck the life out of to keep herself young and powerful that she consults with her magic mirror once more. The mirror is one of the most visually impressive things in the film as it cascades from the wall to form a molten-gold human shape in front of the queen with the deepest baritone since Darth Vader. It tells her that the way to break the aging spell she has been put under is to cut out the heart of Snow White (now played by Kristen Stewart).

Ravenna sends her servant of a brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), to bring Snow White to her, but she is ready for him and slashes his face with a nail she pulled from the wall. She escapes the castle and is pursued into a malevolent enchanted forest full of plants that shoot hallucinogens into the air and trees that grab at her as she stumbles deeper, away from Finn and his men. When Finn returns empty-handed he is ordered to find someone who knows the woods to go and capture her. Cue Chris Hemsworth as The Huntsman.

The Huntsman goes after Snow White and return for Ravenna promises to bring his wife back from the dead, though Finn lets it slip that she can’t just as they find the young princess.  On this news The Huntsman decides to spare the girl, he kills the guards and leaves Finn in a huge cloud of hallucinogenic spores. Finally, after all that exposition, we get to Snow White and The Huntsman forming a begrudging alliance over a lot of walking and mild peril.

What I will say about this film, if you haven’t already worked it out, is that it’s a bit long-winded. But once you get past this first half hour or so and things can slow down a bit there is a pay off; the dwarves appear from the undergrowth and provide some much-needed comic relief, though it does feel slightly out of keeping with the tone of the film at times. For example, Ray Winstone’s character manages to slip in two or three jokes about poo, which seems a bit childish for such a po-faced script. Nevertheless, I could have watched a film about the dwarves for a couple of hours and not been bored. The effects used to miniaturise actors like Winstone, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, Danny Marsden, Toby Jones et al is amazing, even though you’ve seen it done in Lord Of The Rings, the effects here just look better.

The special effects and design department are really what make this film, when the dwarves lead Snow White and The Huntsman into The Fairy’s Sanctuary which, compared to the rest of the dead world outside is vivid and full of life. It is also just about the most beautiful environment I’ve seen on film since Pandora in Avatar. The effects used in Ravenna’s transformations from old to young and her ability to turn into a flock of crows as well as the design for the troll that actually is part of the bridge are also breathtakingly good.

But all this visual spectacle can’t quite make up for the flaws on show here.For a start, Chris Hemsworth’s Scottish accent isn’t the best, but at least it doesn’t wander across the globe like Russell Crowe’s accent in Robin Hood! He also outshines the proper love interest,  the rather wet William (Sam Claflin), and as such steals the show from him (and the eye of Kristen Stewart at times too). His role as narrator never is never picked up again at the end of the film to tie up the narrative, which poses the question, why bother having a narrator in the first place?

Charlize Theron overacts as if her life depended on it, screaming for dramatic effect, but just coming across as brattish as opposed to scary. In contrast I didn’t believe in the strength, both physically and in character of Snow White. She is supposed to encourage the respect and devotion of a nation, but she just seems a bit desperate and whine-y…but the what do you expect when you cast the pouty girl from the Twilight films? And, as for being the fairest of the all? Give me a break!

In the end, this film turned out to be a mish mash of other films: Alice In Wonderland, Lord Of The Rings, Robin Hood, Gladiator to name but a few. The thing is, that all those films are great in their own right, but when put together in the way they are in this film it all adds up to an unforgettable cinematic experience, with only touches of brilliance (the Sanctuary scene and perhaps Charlize Theron emerging from a bath of a thick milky substance!) and no real stand out performances.

I’d rather watch Thor and the Dwarves for two hours.

Review: Prometheus

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2012 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Ridley Scott’s return to directing a sci-fi film for the first time in thirty years has been eagerly anticipated, not to mention the subject of a lot of debate; is it or isn’t it the prequel to Alien (Scott’s game-changing sci-fi/horror movie that scared the life out of audiences in cinemas in 1979 and ever since on home video)? Alien spawned three more films and a number of computer games as well as a successful cross-over with the Predator films. But all of them would never have existed without the dark, suspenseful first installment.

Three decades on, Scott has come back to where he started it all to flesh out his story further (as soon as the trailers were released it became clear that even though this film may not have been about the aliens of the previous films there were so many references to the original that he could deny it no longer).

Prometheus opens with some of the most epic landscape shots I’ve ever seen on film, even better than a lot of nature documentaries, and has you wondering if this is supposed to be Earth or some extra-terrestrial planet. Then we see a space ship leaving behind an alien figure who appears to kill himself, right down to his DNA being ripped apart. He falls into a river and we see strands of DNA beginning to be reformed and you realise that this is the beginning of life on Earth as cells start to multiply and the titles appear.

Cut to the not-too-distant-future and the discovery of cave paintings on the Isle of Skye – which is beautifully shot – and see the discoverers (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) begin a voyage to the planet depicted on the cave painting and various others from all over the world. Cue the shot of the titular spaceship Prometheus sliding through the void of space, cut to the interior and instantly get hit by how similar the interiors are to the Nostromo from Alien. David (Michael Fassbender) wanders around the ship making sure the crew are safe in cryo-stasis and boning up on dead languages while amusing himself with playing basketball on a bicycle and watching Lawrence Of Arabia, hence Fassbender appearing to resemble Peter O’Toole. He wakes the crew upon reaching the planet and the briefing takes place.

As with previous films in the franchise there is an instant feeling of mistrust towards the android; Fassbender really plays the part of soulless robot with no sense of morality and an unending curiosity to a tee. There is also the rag-tag team of scientists and security who are all there for different reasons, none of them seemingly knowing what the real mission is, which fuels the paranoia  between them all. Once it becomes clear that they may have been sent on a wild goose chase by two archaeologists to find the race of people who gave life to our planet tensions begin to rise. Things get even more tense as Doctors Shaw (Rapace) and Holloway (Marshall-Green) are taken to one side and told they are not to contact the ‘Engineers’ of life on Earth by the team’s leader Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Vickers is just as – if not more – cold-hearted than David leading you to suspect that not only is she the representative from the Wayland company (a name fans of the franchise will be very familiar with) but could be another android. So, they embark on their mission and things start to go horribly wrong.

The film is styled to within an inch of its life, everything on the ship and other vehicles resemble designs from previous films and the shots of landscapes have no rival. The sense of tension, paranoia and fear of infection is just as palpable as in Alien and the special effects and action sequences are breathtaking. But there does seem to be something missing.

The reason Alien was so scary is that it was dark and hard to see what was going on (mostly to do with the restrictions of the budget and special effects), but now, with clear crisp detail there were no really scary moments. Not even a jump, which says something for me! Also, as much as the deaths were incredibly detailed, they weren’t gory like the horrible chest-bursting and skull-puncturing we’ve come to see in the past. This falls down to the fact that it is a 15 where as the others were (originally) 18s.

There is, however, a graphic caesarean scene where a female character manually cuts an embryonic alien life form from her abdomen before it finds its own way out. This had a lot of people in the screening I attended wincing, especially as the machine stapled her back together again while the alien burst to life and tried to attack her!

There is also one sequence, which is in the trailer, that suffers from what was always silly about cartoons like Scooby-Doo: Vickers and Shaw are running away from a crashing spaceship which is collapsing towards them; it looks spectacular, but I and others around me, couldn’t help wondering why they didn’t just run in the other direction as the ship itself was not very wide. They wouldn’t have had to run as far or fast. Scooby-Doo had that trouble because it was hard for cartoonists to make the characters run into the distance or the foreground, but in this age of celluloid, let alone increasingly thrust-upon-us 3D, how can this be left in a Hollywood blockbuster? That said, some of the minute details were brilliant, such as in the close up of David’s fingertip while he examines some living goo – the logo of the Wayland company is included as part of the ridges in his fingerprint.

Prometheus is well directed, beautifully shot and brilliantly acted by a cast without a weak link; even the supporting cast play their parts well, and the special effects and set design are jaw-dropping. But it seems that this film couldn’t live up to the high water mark that has been set by 33 years of Alien being watched and loved by fans. The baggy continuity between this and the 1979 film show that Scott was aware of this problem and as much as this is a prequel, he looks as if he has tried to distance himself from the original. But if this is the case, why not just write an original script and make a stand alone film? This script would still work, though I’d leave out the second to last shot, which was a bit too ‘happily ever after’ for my liking.

That said, it is an enjoyable ride, but is easy to predict if you know your way around the back catalogue of Alien films. But it did need to be scarier.