Mad Max: Fury Road

Review by Michael E. Burdick

Review by Michael E. Burdick

With a casual glance, Mad Max: Fury Road has all the ingredients of a forgettable, violent, superficial, souped-up-B-grade action movie; a haunted loner, a badass chick, and a group of scantly clad women all trying to outrun a tyrannical cult-like leader and his army of loyal blood-thirsty ravagers across a post-apocalyptic landscape. So why did I see this three times in three separate theaters? Why were there moments where I melted into my seat overwhelmed with an awe reminiscent of viewing Frederic Edwin Church’s Cotapaxi? Why did I grin in delight when–during a scene transition’s brief interlude–I heard the collective audience catch its breath? For nearly two decades Miller strived to reboot his and Max’s bizarre, fully-realized nightmarish world. He armed himself with a talented collective that would help him create what he saw in the sand. Believable practical effects, trapeze artists and beautiful, colorful cinematography and more breathe bizarre life into every eccentric character, letting us witness one of the greatest action movies ever made. A violent, souped-up-A-grade action movie.

★★★★★

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Terminator Genisys

terminator-genisys

Old, but not obsolete.

Now we’re on to Terminator 5, or as it’s actually titled Genisys. The previous film, Terminator Salvation (the dust-covered, self-serious, post-apocalypse Terminator starring Christian Bale), was the first in a planned trilogy that was aborted due to low ticket sales. So is true with Genisys. It’s basically a mountain of silly acting, and time paradoxes. If you like dumb movies, this one is pretty fun; be on the look out for a bullet counting scene, lots of cameras being shot at, a cartoon silhouette while someone changes clothes, and nonsense Terminator references thrown all throughout. Yeah, it’s dumb. Arnold Schwarzenegger is still pretty good though.

Poltergeist (2015)

They're here . . . again . . . again.

They’re here . . . again . . . again.

The least-essential release of 2015 will undoubtedly be the Poltergeist remake. It’s an ugly, lifeless, poorly made remake/knock-off that has zero redeeming factors. It can’t even properly steal from the original. Google the tv shot from the original movie poster – notice how composition and tone are measured and precise. The new one has a little girl in front of a tv, but it’s like a high school film class where they recreate all of the elements without any of the skill, or artistry. A telling sign of idiocy in the remake is Sam Rockwell buying everyone pizza and presents in a strange, forgotten subplot where the family is out of money. Let’s treat this movie like it treats that scene and never speak of it again.

★★★

Dope

dope

I got your sandwiches right here.

Dope doesn’t entirely work. There are too many characters and sub plots and dumb stuff (the “punk” band, the Harvard interview, the Bitcoin explanation, the surface level references to 90s pop culture, the half-baked romance) holding it back. But, sometimes it all comes together. Weird conversations and strange comedy combine with a chase sequence, and the plot juggle pays off. Nothing amazing, but worth watching for sure.

★★★★★

Spy

spy 2015

I look like someone’s homophobic aunt.

Spy, like Paul Feig’s previous film The Heat, is pretty funny. The Heat was a surprise hit in 2013 – who knew that a buddy-cop comedy starring two forty-year-old women would be so successful. We even got a knock-off this spring (in the form of Hot Pursuit starring Reese Witherspoon) so who knows, a more mainstream, more boring, less weird, probably not R-rated Spy knockoff might be coming in a couple years. It definitely won’t have a 50-Cent cameo where he talks about Goulash, and it certainly won’t have a scene where Jason Statham brags about sowing his right arm back on with his left arm.

★★★★★

Ex Machina

ex-machina

There you go again, Mr. Quotable.

From Alex Garland (screenwriter of Danny Boyle’s The Beach, and 28 Days Later) comes his directorial debut – yet another sentient machine film. Unlike last year’s Transcendence, Lucy and Her, Ex Machina strikes a minimalist tone with a very small cast of characters. It also purports to be the thinking man’s singularity film. The brains opposite Her‘s heart. But it doesn’t really live up to its image. Something doesn’t seem right about a super genius who is incredibly stupid to suit the narrative. Nice looking, but not good enough.

★★★

Tampopo

tampopo

First, observe the whole bowl. Appreciate its gestalt. Savor the aromas.

Some great movies work so well because they stick to a simple plot-line. Tampopo is a great movie that works the exact opposite. It is overflowing with creativity. It’s like a sports training movie— if Rocky wanted to make ramen instead of being a boxer. But it’s also punctuated with random vignettes all centered around eating: eating customs, erotic eating, forbidden eating, even how hobos eat. The common thread, food . . . and an overabundance of good ideas.

★★★★★

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

insurgent

Which Oscar winner will be murdered execution-style next?

My one takeaway from Insurgent is the large amount of shocking violence. Even without blood, execution style murder (gun to back of the head in most cases) committed by the good guys is quite strange. The fact that it happens in a movie that’s so lifeless, ugly and directionless is even more weird. But maybe it’s all part of the plot. Turns out, according to a late-film hologram, that inciting a high body count internal war means that humanity has matured. Uh, OK. I’m sure it all gets cleared up in part 3.

Chappie

chappie

Chappie has books? Chappie’s stories?

Just before Chappie premiered director Neill Blomkamp spoke out against his previous film Elysium. “I just didn’t make a good enough film” he said. That left plenty of room for Chappie to impress, or frankly, to just not be terrible. But not only is Chappie awful, it is laughably, unbelievably inept in pretty much every sense (besides above par special effects). South African Zef-Rap freaks Die Antwoord play themselves and wear Die Antwoord clothing. Chappie himself is an unholy mix of Johnny Five and Jar Jar Binks. And the insane innocent-sentient-robot-turns-into-lowriding-trailepark-gangster plot is dumb beyond words. Good thing it’s all unintentionally funny. Big shout out to Yolandi for wearing a Chappie t-shirt at the end. I thought it couldn’t get dumber and I was wrong.

It Follows

it-follows-burdick

Review by Michael E. Burdick

During a Q&A with director David Robert Mitchell at his hometown theatre, Mitchell admitted that the concept’s origin for It Follows was from a recurring nightmare he had as a child; he was hunted by a relentless anonymous figure, always just ever-walking straight toward him. Even though he could quickly escape and run away when it found him hiding in a room, the growing anxiety from the eternal hide-and-seek was crippling—how long could he successfully evade the predator before he carelessly let his guard down or finally succumbed to the exhausting stress? Mitchell’s sophomore effort (after his widely acclaimed low-budget Myth of the American Sleepover) has Maika Monroe (The Guest) playing Jamie “Jay”, a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, afflicted with this very curse after she escapes her suburban safety-net and discovers the risks and consequences of young adulthood. It Follows reanimates the horror genre’s clichés: holding tension and creating paranoia, expertly reproducing the encroaching dread from J-horror-style dead-on shots, finding faith and strength in numbers, and a strikingly original electronic score (a nice homage to John Carpenter). These strengths are all balanced with a thoughtful eye and a surreal purgatory-like set. Mitchell’s decision to use the sin of female pre-martial, promiscuous sex however, is one cliché he could have expanded on. Ultimately, even if It Follows front-loads its most fantastic scenes Mitchell still successfully passes his haunting nightmare to the audience.

★★★★★