Bird Box (2018): A Fantastic Post-Apocalyptic Horror Thriller

I loved “Bird Box.” This is a movie that has become a meme due to the sheer popularity it seems to have taken on, which given how Netflix turned “Stranger Things” into a cultural artifact it is no surprise that this movie would do the same. In both cases the emphasis is on character and fear of the unknown, which is executed beautifully in how the story is told. This is a film built on characters and tension and from there executes a beautiful masterpiece. Susanne Bier did a great job directing this film. I’m definitely interested in seeing what she makes next after this.

The story follows Malorie (Sandra Bullok) in the past as she groups up with a bunch of survivors in a home trying to make sense of the strange event that has occured that is driving people outside to kill themselves and in present day where she guides two children down the river, with each of them blindfolded to some how stave-off this unknown threat. From here the two timelines converge as we learn about what happened to our world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and does a great job of making everything vibrant. Even the house covered in paper to keep people from looking out has a sickly glow to it. Whether it is night or day you are given a reason to fear what is outside. This works well too in action scenes where characters have to act without seeing, whether it is Malorie with the kids on the river or the drive in a covered car to the supermarket. The visuals keep the threat alive, even though they never show you the demons outside of what a character perceives them to look like through pictures. The visuals and I should also mention the sound design here, keep the tension alive.

The Ensemble Cast – The cast is fantastic. BD Wong appears as a minor character who is on the empathetic side of the surivors contrasted with Malkovich’s Douglas who doesn’t care about anyone outside of himself for the longest time and the characters who are on different sides of this. United in fear they slowly open up to one another and there is just the right amount of characters from a cop in training, an ex-druggie, a grandma, a writer who works at a supermarket, Olympia the idealistic mom contrasted with Malorie’s cynicism and Rhodes’s Tom who is largely the protector and semi-leader of the group.

Creating Family – One of the running themes of the film is the creating of family. We see this in the literal sense of Malorie and the other mother Olympia about to have kids. The survivors are an expression of this too as Malkovich’s Douglas goes from someone who only cares about himself after his 3rd wife is killed in the event but is willing to risk his life for the others when the survivors are all at risk in the end. We also witness it in love that forms between Rhodes’s Tom and Bullok’s Malorie as they come to love each other and become a couple and Malorie raising the two kids and opening up to them. This is one thing the film excels at and my guess is why it is so loved, outside of how well the terror is executed. I cared about the characters and seeing how they became invested in one another was the reason why.

The Unknown Fear – We never learn what the event is. It seems to be implied it might be Lovecraftian demons (the whole looking at them would drive you crazy fits with Lovecraft lore as well as their consuming the populace in metaphorical way) it works and is my kind of horror. We only see the implication it could be these demons based off drawings from one of the men who is let into the survivors home and tries to force them all to see. The drawings are dark, tentacles and hidden terror. This is what gives me the biggest implication that they are the ones responsible but given we never see that first hand, only the impact it could also be some virus or disease that spreads through the eyes when one is outside. Either one works for me and in this case I like not knowing, the consequence of whatever it is, is enough. You fear for the characters because the moment they look they’ll hurt those around them or kill themselves.

The Cons:

Characters Not Learning – At one point the characters should know not to let anyone on the outside in. One of them does and they stand by her doing this. After this everything goes to crap. I can understand why it happened, it was empathy, but at that point the characters should have known something was up with the guy. Things had been silent for so long and some of the group had died from experiments of watching what the outside. Of course this wouldn’t be a horror movie without at least one character making a stupid mistake so I won’t hold this too much against the film, but it is still a con.

“Bird Box” is worth the hype is if you love character stories or horror films. This is a film that excels at both and manages to have less stupid mistakes on the part of the character choices than “A Quiet Place,” which is also a great film. I just think “Bird Box” does horror and tension ever so slightly better. There is power in not seeing the monster but seeing what it does and not knowing the answer in this case pays off. The story isn’t about the mystery, it is about the survival of the characters and their individual arcs and this is what the film does really well. If you have Netflix definitely check it out. This like “Infinity War” lived up to the hype.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10.

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The “Mad Max” Films – Worst to Best

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        It’s been a while since “Fury Road” appeared in theaters but I’ve been meaning to do my rating of the “Mad Max” Franchise from best to worst, so no time like the present to do so. Even at it’s lowest, this is a franchise that is fun. It brings madness to the apocalypse and the stories that Max witnesses are interesting, even if I don’t always like them. I’m grateful that George Miller brought this franchise back and I can’t wait to see what other films he makes in this insane universe. So without further ado, here are my ratings of the “Mad Max” films from worst to best, with summaries and a link to my full reviews.

Mad Max Poster

4th) Mad Max

   The first “Mad Max” film is excessive and feels incomplete. It starts out with a car chase that goes on way too long and the main villain Toecutter was never all that scary. I get that this started the Franchise but I truly hate this film. It feels like a concept idea that was done lazily, and as we witness later, George Miller was and is capable of so much better. There is no reason to watch this film in my opinion, unless you want a lesson on how not to make a film. Practical stunts aren’t enough to carry a film, be it action or otherwise. The action is stupid and our characters do nothing of consequence except dying in some cases, but we are given no reason to be invested in them, leading this to be one of the worst films I’ve watched.

Final Score: 3 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/mad-max-1979-stupid-action-with-no-interesting-characters/

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

3rd) Max Mad 3: Beyond Thunderdome

  “Beyond Thunderdome” is a film that has a lot of good ideas but due to the tone being all over the place isn’t one I can entirely recommend. My thoughts have changed in regards to Tina Turner’s Lady Entity and I like the idea of her character not wanting to kill Max, I just wish we had seen that more. This is a film that wants to be Stephen Spielberg (Wild Kids that Max needs to rescue, adventure music, etc.) but doesn’t really work due to the nature of how dark this universe is. The tone was what got me the most about this and I wish it had chosen to be consistently fun or consistently dark with double dealings and betrayal. Throwing both in made it a confused mess, even though it does still manage to be fun.

Final Score: 7 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/mad-max-beyond-thunderdome-1985-power-plays-and-safeguarding-the-future/

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2nd) Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

    “The Road Warrior” is a great film. It has a fantastic villain in Lord Humungus who is the Ayotallah of Rock and Rolla and it really sets the tone for this post-apocalyptic world as a village with gas is being harrassed by Lord Humungus and Max is pulled into helping them, even though he doesn’t want too. It has some of the best action, a great villain and in the end captures the idea of Max being a symbol of stories from the Wasteland as the film is recounted by the Feral Child who later becomes the leader of the survivors and recounts how they betray Max after he helps them escape.

Final Score: 9 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/mad-max-2-the-road-warrior-1981-discovering-the-reason-to-fight-for-humanity/

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1st) Mad Max: Fury Road

  “Fury Road” might be my favorite film of 2015 and is easily one of my all time favorite films. This is a film that has a great villain in Immortan Joe and his cult of death, Max and the characters around him are seeking freedom and redemption as Theron’s Furiousa frees Joe’s birthing wives and attempts to get them to her home of old that is ruled by old Matriarchs. The cinematography and action are beautiful and it has a message that is powerful showing how rigid systems of patriarchy can be stopped and changed by those who are a part of it (Furiousa, the wives, Nux) challenging it. We also see a soldier get past his conditioning (Nux) and find meaning in life beyond violence and death as his arc really illustrates the power of this story. I can’t recommend this film enough.

Final Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/mad-max-fury-road-2015-healing-redemption-and-actions-that-matter-in-a-world-gone-insane/

    This is a universe that is so much fun and within it you can find deep stories filled with action in stories like “Fury Road,” fun adventures in films like “Beyond Thunderdome” and great nihilistic action  and betrayal in films like “Road Warrior.” Within the wasteland there are countless stories to be told and still to be told and through the eyes Max we will no doubt see more come to the screen. I will be surprised if any future installments surpass “Fury Road” but they don’t have to. This is a Universe that George Miller loves, and as long as I keep seeing that love in his films, I will be there to witness those stories.

The World’s End (2013): Alien Invasion Meets “Hangover” Meets the Apocalypse

The World's End

    “The World’s End” is better on a second viewing but is not as good as “Shaun of the Dead” or “Hot Fuzz.” It’s a film that has too many similarities to the party comedies like “Hangover” and comes off weaker because of it, the arcs are also less apparent in many cases which hurts the overall story and there are a few other issues too I’ll get into further in the review, though I do still recommend this film and consider it good. It isn’t bad, I don’t think Wright and Pegg together are capable of creating a bad film.

   Being the 3rd film in The Cornetto Trilogy the film was directed by Edgar Wright and who also co-wrote the film with Simon Pegg and produced by Nira Park, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.

     The film involves Gary King (Simon Pegg) getting his old childhood friends together to finish “The Golden Mile” where they hit up all the pubs in Newton Haven but conflict occurs when all of them have grown up while Gary is still the same Gary and soon they realize the unchanged town is more than it appears to be.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography – Bill Pope does a wonderful job on the cinematography creating a picture perfect image of the town and later a sci. fi. nightmare when the alien invasion is revealed.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack has lots of great rock and is good at capturing the mixed perspective of our drunk protagonists as well as the rising tension as the aliens slowly close in around them. Steven Price did a great job.

The Characters – The main characters are still great, and even a few of the minor characters even if they don’t have the same level of depth and comedy of the minor characters in other films.

Basil – David Bradley is back as the conspiracy theorist and one of the few people who doesn’t get turned into a blank by the network. He does a great job as the clearly mad man who in this instance happens to be right.

Oliver – Oliver is the guy who is all business and whose sister tends to be the but of jokes. Martin Freeman is awkward and does a great job as the one who is mostly doing things out of obligation. When he is turned into a blank (an android) he still keeps his personality as a Realtor after the world ends at the end of the film.

Steven – Paddy Considine plays the one good guy of the group whose arc is finally falling in love and starting a life with Sam as he shows that he is the most mature person of the group. He was a good minor character.

Sam – Rosamund Pike is awesome! In this she is great at setting boundaries with characters and also is able to find happiness and to save the guys when they are living their idiocy of the pub crawl as the Network slowly kills and replaces them with Blanks. She like Steven is one of the few mature characters.

Andy – Andy is Gary’s former best friend and played by Nick Frost. For him it is standing up to Gary and them resolving their issues with one another as Andy becomes the most hardcore drunk once the alien invasion is in full swing and is their biggest threat. In the end he becomes a child again but finds himself as the storyteller and friends again with Gary though he loses Gary after the World and Newton Haven are destroyed leaving an apocalyptic wasteland.

Gary King – Simon Pegg is great as the friend who is an ass and assumes privilege over everyone. His arc is realizing that he really is a mess up and it is at the end of the world that he finds his place in the world as a man fighting for the Blanks who are recreations of his childhood friends as they wander the wasteland together. He also no longer drinks as the end of the world solved his drinking problem. A better film would have been their adventures in the Wasteland not the “Hangover” type Satire that we got.

The Blanks – The Blanks are androids/robots until the end when they come into their own and deal with discrimination from the populace. Them as a sect of the people is wonderful to see and deal with and I wish they had received more development.

The Message – The message is to choose to be free and not conform even if the rest of culture sees you as a loser. To some degree I think this makes sense, at least in the political sense when dealing with fascism and control…but eventually you have to grow up as it seems Gary King does as he is a good survivor after the end.

Okay: The Satire – I never felt the films like “Hangover” were being fully satired, it was almost like celebration at times and the alien invasion story that was “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Day the Earth Stood Still”esque fell apart due to the Network being such a weak villain and idea. The satire was sill there and decent but the fact that it wasn’t as clear as “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead” was obvious, also at the end of the day this film was just less funny.

The Cons: The Network – Villain that replaces people with robots blind to it’s will and apparently it part of a larger collective of aliens? The proposal struck me as full of crap and a okay satire of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” where a fascist alien collective wants to raise humanity up but sees they are too ruled by fear. Same deal here with the Network but it replaces those who don’t conform. So glad it left. Poor villain which brought down the script and story.

The Drunk Film Tropes – The guy who doesn’t drink gets drunk, Gary can’t remember anything, drunk man confesses feeling and gets the girl (Steven and Sam) and drunk man becomes a hero (Gary and Andy). These tropes are tired and they weren’t pulled off creatively at all.

   This is the weakest of the Trilogy but is a lot of fun on a second viewing. It is truly a good but not great film and it is not a favorite by any stretch of the imagination, but it is still a good film. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright are geniuses at their craft and really, I’d so far recommend anything they’ve worked on and this film is no exception…with it’s flaws and all.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Terminator Genisys (2015): Terminator Referynce With a Great Missed Story

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    “Terminator Genisys” had the potential to be the best of the story, wholly original and able to stand on it’s own, without referencing any of the past “Terminator” films. Sadly I’d be expecting too much from the studios and writers for that to become a reality and because the film tries to be all the Good Terminator films it fails to stand wholly on it’s own. It isn’t the worst of the “Terminator Franchise” by any means and it is enjoyable in it’s own right, but it falls short because it lacked the confidence to continue on threads that weren’t dependent on past films.

    The film was directed by Alan Taylor, written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier and produced by David Ellison and Dana Goldberg.

    The story involves John Connor (Jason Clarke) leading the final assault on Skynet headquarters in the Post-Apocalyptic future of 2029. He suceeds but not before Skynet sends back the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to terminate Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). He decides to send back Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) in order to protect her. When he returns to 1984 he finds a Terminator has already been sent back to protect Sarah and the timeline has changed. It is up to them to stop Skynet before it comes online as the Timeline is in flux and the future has changed.

The Pros:  The Action – The action is really good in this. From the battle to reach Skynet’s Time Machine and shut down the core, to Pops against The Terminator and Pops, Reese and Sarah against the T-1000 and later on the fights against John Connor as the T-3000. Each fight was really well done and a pleasure to watch.

The Special Effects – The Special Effects are the best they’ve been. When the original Terminator travels back in time he looks nearly like how Arnold looked as he did in 1984. The Terminators also look great too having a dangerous and sleek look to them.

The Final Assault on Skynet – This is the story that I wish the movie had been. I wish we could have witnessed the consequences of the war like we did in “Salvation” and how it had shaped John Connor into someone who was willing to take any risks to defeat the machines and to live. In the end the decision to send Kyle Reese back is made as Skynet’s Avatar attacks and turns John Connor into a Terminator. It’s really cool and if that had been the film with the resistance dealing with the consequences of that it would have been perfect and possibly the best in the series.

J.K. Simmons – Plays a cop who is saved by Reese and pays them back later when the T-3000 is trying to kill them all. His character is wonderful as the one who has seen the robots but no one believes him. I liked the character and it was a nice touch that was different from the other films. Detective O’Brien is a great character.

Arnold Scharzenegger – Arnold is the best part of this film. We see him save Sarah Connor at the beginning and that he has developed an affection for her. It is the most range I have seen Arnold do and he truly is great at this role (Minus “Terminator 3”).

Pops – Pops is the protector and Guardian of Sarah Connor and saved her as a child. We see that his goal is to protect her and stop Skynet (like the one sent back in “T2”) and to this end he trains and prepares her for the arrival of Kyle Reese and “The Terminator.” When the Terminator arrives together they kill it and later he gets upgraded when he falls into the liquid good of the T-1000s in the final battle against the T-3000. He develops an affection for Kyle Reese and a sense of humor too.

The Terminator/T-800/Pops – This role is small but Arnold is great at looking and acting threatening, beating down Pops and nearly killing him if not for Sarah Connor’s sniper shot. It was a great though his defeat kind of defeated the purpose of Skynet’s last ditch effort to save itself…though the writers kind of ignore that when they throw in the T-1000 in the same timeline and later the T-3000. He is called Pops by Sarah.

Jason Clarke – Jason Clarke is carrying this movie with Arnold and lends a lot of humanity to the role of John Connor as someone trying to make a difference and survive in a cruel world where humans are going extinct. This leads to some tough decisions that come back to bite him later. Clarke is great as the threatening T-3000 too.

John Connor – John Connor is a man on the brink who has lost so much and forced his soldiers to make tough choices. This has cost him a lot and at the end when he is victorious his one moment of joy costs him his conscience as he is turned into a Terminator and no doubt turned on his own men he was protecting.

T-3000 – The T-3000 is a Nano Terminator and is one of the best of them as he can mimic almost perfectly and has all the knowledge of Skynet and John Connor. It takes everything to defeat him including Skynet’s last resort Time Traveling Machine to finally end the threat.

Okay: The Ending – Pops gets upgraded and everyone is in 2017. It was way too happy for me as we see Sarah and John begin to hook up, Pops respect Reese and Reese talk to his younger self and give him hope for the future. If they have sequels planned I have no idea how they will pull it off. There are no evidence of Terminators and everything feels done now without opening more cans of worms in the Timeline(s). Also, somehow the Skynet system core survived? I guess it fits the theme of survival of the story but we shouldn’t need an after credits scene to know that it does. That’s a bit too important to leave until after the credits.

The Cons: Kyle Reese – Jai Courtney can’t act. He is super generic and dull as a character and either has a blank expression or annoyed expression (sadly like Emilia Clarke in this film too) and the focus on him just brings down the plot. I didn’t care about his character because he didn’t feel real. He felt like a plot device and not like an actual human being.

Sarah Connor – Emilia Clarke like Jai Courtney is terrible in this. She is flustered most of the time and she feels shoe horned in. We don’t see her arc to become a badass she just is that way because of Pops. She also doesn’t have much of an arc. She learns to love and not fear I guess but always loved Pops anyway so the arc is irrelevant and a poor attempt to hook her up with Reese for plot reasons.

Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese Romance – These two have no chemistry. Any times where there was supposed to be sexual tension felt contrived and tacked on and it felt like Emilia and Jai were just going through the motions.

Plot Holes – Who sent Pops back? How was the T-1000 around in 1984? How was  T-1000 sent back to kill Sarah Connor as a child? Are Time Machines around everywhere in the future? Are the Terminators from other Timelines? The plot is a mess if you think too hard on it, so major con.

Too Many Time Machines – See the plot holes above. Even Pops is able to build a Time Machine….which runs counter to the fact that in “Terminator 2” they were designed to only kill and couldn’t think on a deeper level. Now everyone has a Time Machine so story has no consequence. Everybody lives!

   This was a film that would have worked if we stayed in the future, or ended with Kyle Reese being sent back. From there the story would have been complete without having to explain the Old Terminator and hiding the fact that the writers don’t know who sent him back. We could have still had a good Terminator, the good Terminator could have protected John Connor after being reprogrammed and it having to kill John Connor after Skynet possess him, instead we get the entire timeline rebooted with Skynet pretty much destroyed and Reese and Pops alive. We get a story with no consequences with gaping plot holes, though I won’t deny the ride is enjoyable and Jason Clarke and Arnold are top of their game in their roles.

Final Score: 6 / 10. Would have been the best if we had just stuck to the future and consequences of the war on Skynet and filling in the blanks for “Terminator” and “T2,” without creating more plot holes in the Timeline (and creating more Timelines).

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981): Discovering the Reason to Fight for Humanity

mad-max-2-poster-art-by-chris-weston

      I hated the first “Mad Max” film but I got to say, after watching “The Road Warrior” I am giving this series another chance. What initially sparked it was a friend requesting I see the rest of the series months ago and after “Fury Road” being released. I plan to see the film soon so I plan on doing the reviews of the other two films of “Mad Max” that I haven’t reviewed. Those being this film here “The Road Warrior” and “Beyond Thunderdome,” both of which I’ve heard great things about and in regards to “The Road Warrior,” it deserves all the praise it has received. So much about this movie works, from the action, characters and the plot which I will get into greater detail later on.

     Here is my review of the first “Mad Max” film.: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/mad-max-1979-stupid-action-with-no-interesting-characters/

     “The Road Warrior,” was directed by George Miller who was also one of the writers. The other writers were Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant. The film was produced by Byron Kennedy.

     The story picks up where the last film left off with the narrator recounting how the Cold War lead to the destruction of fuel leading humanity to become like animals fighting for what little remained. From here we pick up with Max (Mel Gibson) who after capturing the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) who was trying to kill him, learns about a town full of oil. He travels there and after saving a man from The Humungus’s (Kjell Nilsson) gang tries to make a deal for fuel but soon finds himself becoming their protector and having to choose between continuing to be alone or fighting for something beyond contracts.

The Pros: The Stakes – The stakes are high, oil is limited and everyone uses vehicles. The Facility that has the oil plans to escape to bring it North where there is talk of making a new civilized world but they are trapped because The Humungus has such a huge gang. These stakes force the selfish Max and Gyro Captain to think beyond themselves and to see a bigger picture again.

The Action – The action is awesome! Unlike “Mad Max” where they went on forever, the action here only goes on as long as it needs too, if someone is going to get caught or killed they won’t linger on it like in “Mad Max” which leads me to believe that Miller had grown a lot as a director by the time he made this film. The final chase where Max and a few warrior are driving the fuel truck is fantastic though as we see one truck used to devastating affect against a much larger force.

The Story – The story is told by a mysterious narrator recounting the past and in the end we learn the narrator was one of the folks Max saved which changed the character to later become the leader of his people as he was shaped by the events and how the people changed in coming together against The Humungus.

The Characters – The characters in this are all memorable, partially because they are all mad and have been changed radically by the losses they’ve experienced in their lives but also because the actors do a great job with the characters they were given.

Wez – Wez is The Humungus’s Dragon and is a gay villain who is actually threatening! So often in fiction if a villain is implied to be gay or is actually gay they are made to be weak and shamed by those around them. Not Wez, Wez rocks as a warrior and fights to the end. He wins almost every fight he gets into and survives up until he’s fighting a truck on his own. He also has a partner the Feral Kid kills which sets off his vendetta against the Facility and Max to an even greater degree. Vernon Welles does a great job.

Gyro Captain – When we first meet the Gyro Captain he is holding an arrow to Max’s head but is only stopped by Max’s dog. From there he is Max’s prisoner and servant until he proves his own in combat and makes the choice to stay with the Facility Survivors which leads to them eventually making him their leader. His arc is coming to care about more than just those who can get him something like gasoline or sex and in the end he risks it all for strangers which is a big reason he becomes their leader. Bruce Spence gives a lot of depth to this mad character.

The Warrior Woman – The Warrior Women is the main military leader in the Facility and she doesn’t trust Max until Max proves his value. After she doesn’t end up with him, which made me happy. Her arc is learning to trust but that isn’t emotionally manipulated into romance. She dies in the final battle but not before taking out a bunch of The Humungus’s men. Virginia Hey is wonderful in the role and I wish her character had got more screentime.

Pappagallo – Pappagallo is the idealistic though in some ways corrupt leader of the Facility. He wants to lead them North to a better land where they can make a world without dealing with raiders and rapists who own the wasteland. In the end he risks everything for this dream including his life when the Humungus kills him. His con is he doesn’t take no for an answer when Max turns down his dream quite a few times. He shows that he is a zealot and is at least somewhat delusional. Michael Preson brings great subtly to the role.

Max – Mel Gibson’s character actually has an arc in this film! In the beginning he is just after fuel and survival and can’t see anything beyond that. After staying in the Facility though he is willing to risk his life so that they can transport the fuel to rescue. He loses his dog in this and nearly his life to Wez but he never takes things personally. Part of me wonders how much he is able to feel at this point, since the empathy we see him present seems learned. He’s forgotten who he was and only exists as a survivor until the purpose he receives in fighting for others  though he does not stay with them, showing he is still searching for a reason to live for.

The Humungus – Kjell Nilsson is fantastic as this narcissistic madman! He’s the king of rock and roll and the Ayatollah of the Wasteland. He is articulate too (like Bane) for speaking behind a metal hockey mask. He is also dangerous too and he and his forces kill most of the Facility’s defenders in the final battle with the Truck. He himself kills Pappagallo. What an awesome villain. He preys on their fears and is evil and knows it. Also he has a great name. The Humungus is such a great villain name.

The Feral Kid – The Feral Kid is the future narrator who later leads the group. Throughout the film he doesn’t talk and only howls, growls and grunts. Eventually he learns speech in the North though recounts the story. Max was a such a major part of his life and inspired him to fight and lead and through it find his humanity again. Emil Minty does a good job in the role.

The Messages – The main messages were those who control fuel control the world, and that that drive for it makes men savages, which we see to this day. Resources drive humanity into savagery which “The Road Warrior” expresses beautifully through Humungus and his gang and Max and the Gyro Captain. The other message is that other people can give us a reason to look beyond ourselves and that no matter how horrible humanity can be, there are those worth fighting for.

Okay: Backstory – The world is so lived in this wasn’t as big of an issue for me as the characters in their mad forms were compelling already but I still wish we could have got what drove the Humungus and Pappagallo to be who they were.

The Cons: The Soundtrack – The music isn’t memorable at all, I’d call it forgettable standard fair but it left no affect on me.

  This is a really good film and solves a lot of the problems I had with the first film. Max is a compelling character this time, The Humungus is a fantastic villain, the minor characters have quirks but don’t feel like caricatures as they change and grow throughout the plot and there are actual stakes! I cared about what happened to the members of the Facility and what happened Max. This I believe is due to the acting and writing that were so great in this film. Suffice to say I can’t wait to see “Beyond Thunderdome” and “Fury Road” after this.

Final Score: 9 / 10.

Mad Max (1979): Stupid Action with no Interesting Characters

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      After being spoiled by “Snowpiercer,” I was expecting more from the Post-Apocalyptic classics…especially the ones that spawned franchises (“Planet of the Apes” series did well at least). After this, I may watch the others in the lead up to the new “Mad Max” film coming out, but if the story and characters don’t improve I’m going to tear it apart as harshly as this one.

      The original “Mad Max” was directed by George Miller who also wrote the screenplay and story, produced by Byron Kennedy who also helped write story and James McCausland who did the screenplay with George Miller. The fact that it looks like they knew what they wanted makes how much it failed to deliver all the stronger.

     The story takes place in a world where law and order have broken in a dystopic Australia and the gangs rule the streets, with the police only functioning as a stronger group of gangs trying uphold the law that once was. Corruption is rampant and the main gang who targets the main character Max (Mel Gibson) for killing one of their boys Night Rider begins reeking havoc all around when they come for revenge. From here the story unfolds as Max is given reasons to seek revenge, and reasons to stay on the police force and stick to the status quo. This conflict eventually comes to a head and the story unfolds from here.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – As much as the characters in this world are one beat and uninteresting and uncompelling…the world they come from is quite rich. From vehicles being the thing everyone needs and basis of power being number of vehicles makes the energy crisis feel real, as the more vehicles and gas…the more power you have. The government is powerless against the gang and government in name only as the world lives in true anarchy. This is the slow reveal over the film and the one thing I really liked about it.

Okay: Max – He has character I guess? When is son is killed and wife is killed he goes and gets revenge on Toecutter’s gang who had also killed his partner Goose earlier and raped two innocents. You get why he’s complacent as his family represents the ideal of safety that he is trying to hold onto. Eventually everything is too much though when he loses that and he snaps like everyone else around him. This isn’t a pro since it happens only at the very end and the structure is horrible in how they do it…I also never got his attachment to his family. They weren’t really characters. He succeeds in revenge and a franchise is set up as he drives off into the sunset. Honestly, “El Mariachi” did the action and revenge thing a lot better.

The Action – There are some good motorcycle and car fight scenes but that is about all the movie has going for it.

Goose – Max’s partner has some personality at least, he’s sensitive (helps comfort a victim of Toecutter’s gang the Acolytes) and also has suave, arrogant charm. When he dies it is one of the few character moments in the film since Johnny Boy is now regretting his quest for revenge. This comes out of nowhere though as well as Goose just taking off on his motorcycle which leads to them trapping him. At least this character was a little fleshed out at least.

The Acolytes – They aren’t great antagonists as I never understood their motivation and what drove them to insanity and destroying of peoples’ lives…but they at least felt like a threat, so I’m putting them in the okay. Toecutter does feel foreboding in every scene he’s in.

May – We don’t get to know her character but she tries defending Jessie and Jessie’s son from the Acolytes with a shotgun. Her moment with the shotgun is pretty cool, but she doesn’t really feel like a character.

The Cons: No Strong Women – Every woman who fights back gets killed, there is a rape…women exist as perpetual victims in this and that isn’t fair. It’s giving the heroes the most basic of motivations and taking away the times they do stand up for themselves…for example Jessie knees Toecutter in the groin, sadly minutes later and he and his gang mow her down and she’s left in a coma. Even May with the shotgun is powerless and the only one who apparently knows how to do it is Max but all Max does is stare angrily and do things that anyone can do (burning Johnny Boy alive, getting the car with the powerful engine and running down the Acolytes). Why even have female characters if they only function as props? That really annoyed me and it brought down an already weak story.

       I would not recommend this movie. I know it’s a classic and some people love it…but I don’t care about Max or any of the characters because we mostly see them doing one of two actions – killing or running. That isn’t enough to get to know a character so they in the end only function as tropes…from the cop out for revenge (which Gibson would do better later), the damsel in distress (every female character for the most part), the mindless bullies (the Acolytes) and the corrupt leaders (the politician and police chief who do nothing but allow Johnny Boy out). “Snowpiercer” was depressing and had a larger point and gave every character their due…this had no point beyond destroying one-dimensional baddies and having the “Good” cop go “Bad.” That’s it.

Final Score: 3 / 10. Stupid action in an interesting  world is entertaining but not enough to carry this script. This is one of the worst films I’ve seen in a while.

The Giver (2014): Bland Leads but Decent Adaptation

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The Giver is one of my favorite books from childhood, and the one that introduced me to the Post-Apocalyptic Genre. The story is introspective and reflective and reveals the horrors of the community very slowly. Lois Lowry is a master of the rising tension and the book does so really well. The movie is different. Here is a good article on the differences between the film and book: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/08/18/the_giver_movie_s_differences_from_the_book_how_it_compares_to_the_lois.html

“The Giver” film had quite a few people on board with it’s creation. From three producers (Jeff Bridges, Nikki Silver, Neil Koenigsburg) two screenplay writers (Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide) but thankfully only one director (much more and I could see this film lacking any coherence), Phillip Noyce.

The basic plot is still the same as the book. After the Great War, in 2048 a community is founded where there are no colors and emotions and the world is one of sameness. It is here our protagonist Jonas is introduced and is assigned the role of the Receiver and to eventually become the Giver (the one who holds all the emotions and memories of the past and present). Jonas finds things slowly getting complicated for him as the illusions of his world break down and he is faced with the Community is missing in it’s sameness. The story continues from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Giver – Jeff Bridges plays the Giver and he does an amazing job. We get to see the details of his backstory, such as his daughter Rosemary and the guilt he feels at giving her the memories of a child lost (euthanized) and how it is common in their world to keep the population in check. We see that he had a relationship with The Chief Elder (played by Meryl Streep) and they have a great debate at the end on the value of emotion in which the Giver advocates for love against Streep’s fight for stability. It is a great scene that should have happened much earlier in the film. He is really what makes the film interesting and he does a great job as The Giver, than again I have never seen Jeff Bridges do a bad job, so this is more of his fantasticness.

The Chief Elder – In the book you don’t see her at all, and I wish we hadn’t had her get so involved this time. Streep is great, but her being so intrusive gay Jonas no reason to stay. She was not really good at giving people a desire to serve and want, which is a shame cause we get moments where she is like that. Still a great character, even if I’d have preferred her as force of nature or background force that doesn’t need to give orders…like in the book (The Elders).

When it’s Black and White – In the book there is not any color and for much of the film, and whenever we get the perspective of a community member, the film is filmed in black and white. I loved that and wish they’d kept it the entire time except for sparing moments. When it got all colorful the fact that it looks like “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and every other Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic Film became apparent. The black and white it what set it apart and part of what made the book so unique.

Gabriel – This baby is awesome! It cries at all the right moments and has some fantastic moments of awe and sorrow when Jonas has escaped. It was one tough baby and managed to be and feel how it was supposed to in all the different scenes. That is a feat in and of itself.

The Red Sled – The part of the book with the red sled is handled well, from Jonas’s first time having the memory of one to finding the house with the family and going down to meet them on the red sled with the baby Gabriel. I loved both those scenes.

Okay: Futuristic – The town is very futuristic, which didn’t quite lend itself to making the movie feel unique. There were drones, which are in every sci. fi. nowadays…at least the sparceness of the Home Units fit with the feel of the community and the injections were a neat update, instead of pills.

Jonas’s family – His Mom is the one who conforms, his Dad cares for and euthanizes children and his sister is represented as hope as she enjoys the joy he shares with her and remembers the thing he tells Gabriel, the baby their father takes in to try and save by giving more time.

Cons: The Three Leads – The first mistake was making a love triangle, I think they chose to though because the three leads cannot act, at all. Like it is pretty bad whenever they are on screen. So love triangle at leads adds drama to what for the most part is wooden acting.

Fiona – She just goes along with whatever Jonas wants for the most part and rebels even though she has no real experience with it. Her love doesn’t quite feel believable too and it’s not just because she hasn’t known it, Jonas’s family does alright in acting…she feels to flat, and nothing she does feels believable.

Asher – He is the friend who becomes a tool and decides to save Jonas because…reasons. He has a permanent scowl and when they say he’s the joker he isn’t funny. They should have got one of the Weasley twins for this role cause this guy didn’t cut it. His friendship ending didn’t feel real because it felt like it was never there, which made him protecting Jonas feel alien.

Jonas – What do you do when your lead has a blank expression for most of the movie? He has some good moments where he is excited with the Giver, but everything else felt so artificial. He was not the right person to choose for the lead. I really wanted to like his character, like I did in the books…but he was so bland that it was hard to form any sort of attachment. The scenes with the Giver only worked because it was Jeff Bridges who can carry a scene on his own. This was sad since this could have been Brenton Thwaites breakout role…though that goes for the other two teenage leads as well.

The Magic Emotion Wall – There is a magic emotion wall that once Jonas passes with Gabriel will give everyone back their emotions. It is a giant magic Mcguffin. I would have preferred the book ending honestly, in this they turn it into a revolution when before there wasn’t a way to reach anyone, people chose to be how they were in the end. This that is taken away and it is much more like a police state (drones and all) and the magic mcguffin wall gives an easy out. Also having them use to save Fiona who becomes his girlfriend in this was an easy play on emotion. It gives the happy ending to a book and story that is best left ambiguous. Jonas even says in the voiceover he has no idea if he’ll be returning back to the community. That would have been a good way to end it. Let people wonder if Jonas’s leaving prompted the beginning of change.

The Lack of Introspection – As seen by the Magic Emotion Wall Mcguffin and the Chief Elder arresting the Giver and Fiona because they helped Jonas escaped showed a major lack of introspection. Again, the people chose to be slaves in the books, it was comfortable, whenever Jonas introduced ideas people went away from him, he was the outsider who saw the truth of the world. Here anyone can know the truth after Jonas shows them something and passes the Magic Wall. Life isn’t that simple and especially a society formed after a great war should be much more entrenched in it’s ways that have worked for generations. This easy out cheapened the plot and made the problems above much more obvious and apparent.

This was an adaptation of one of my favorite novels that’s potential was not fully realized. It played with cool ideas that happened in the book (World in black and white, the red sled) but it needed better young actors and actresses for the leads and The Giver and The Chief Elder better functioned as influences than major characters directing events. It took away the choice of slavery in the books and gave us easy to consume tyranny, which honestly is used way too often in young apocalyptic fiction nowadays. Tyranny should be subtle and ignorance a choice…like in the book. So, would I recommend it?

I will say yes, though it is not nearly as good as the book (seriously, read the book) it is a good adaptation that is carried by Streep and Bridges. Giving them a lot of screentime, though it hurt how the story was shown us, strengthened the movie as a whole, cause the leads were terrible.

My final Score for this film is 7 / 10. Decent adaptation, worth it for the Chief Elder, Giver and the moments where it is true to the book.