Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Back in 2015, the Mad Max franchise got a fast and furious revitalization with the universally-lauded Mad Max: Fury Road, which introduced the fearless Imperator Furiosa, portrayed by Charlize Theron. To fill out his Mad Max universe a bit more, mastermind George Miller has returned to direct Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, a prequel that doesn’t necessarily improve its predecessor but at least gives us an excuse to revisit this vivid and distinctive cinematic landscape. For some, the film will come across as a sampler platter that cobbles together aspects of the franchise to make a decent enough meal. For others, this could be seen as the most accessible chapter in the series and might be an unexpected favorite for those who haven’t spent much time in this world yet. For me, it’s an improvement on Fury Road but still falls short of the mark of greatness.

Filling in for Charlize Theron, Anya Taylor-Joy and Alyla Browne play younger versions of the Furiosa we knew from Fury Road. We first meet her in the heart of the Green Place, an oasis in the otherwise barren wasteland of post-apocalyptic Australia. When a biker gang from the outside world stumbles upon their paradise, Furiosa is kidnapped and taken back to the gang’s leader Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) as a bargaining chip to find the Green Place once more. That plan doesn’t come to fruition, so he later trades her to warlord and Citadel leader Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) in exchange for control over an oil refinery called Gastown. The agreement between Dementus and Joe doesn’t take long to sour, leading Furiosa and fellow Citadel soldier Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke) to lead an assault on Gastown and reclaim it for the Citadel.

Where Fury Road was essentially a two hour-long chase with brief interjections of character development, Furiosa is more conventional in terms of its narrative arc. It’s still an action movie through and through but there are more scenes that are dialogue-driven and meant to dig in deeper with their characters. Ironically, Furiosa is a very tight-lipped character and even fakes being mute for a section of the film, which leads one to wonder why Miller thought this was the best character to put at the center of a spin-off. Fortunately, Anya Taylor-Joy is able to tell much of Furiosa’s backstory with her expressive face and impressive physicality. As good an actress as Charlize Theron is, I’m glad they didn’t try to cast her again and de-age her with CG effects. Taylor-Joy does a tremendous job filling some presumably sand-filled combat boots.

As with Fury Road, the main selling point of Furiosa is the impeccably coordinated action setpieces involving overpowered automobiles and the madmen who crawl in and out of them at top speeds. Perhaps I was even more taken with them this time around because there’s more breathing room around them. The film is split up into 5 chapters and the middle section, titled “The Stowaway”, is 30 minutes of stellar action choreography that benefits from being preceded by scenes of more subdued tension. Set around the Citadel’s “War Rig” tanker as it’s being ambushed by raiders en route, the extended sequence features one ingenious moment of kinetic precision after another. Attacks not only come from the ground all around the War Rig but also from the sky, thanks to parasailing bandits who latch onto the tanker.

On paper, Furiosa could be considered a disappointment in terms of what a prequel should do. It doesn’t really expand on the mythology of this world, nor does it give us a much better sense of who Furiosa was before the events of Fury Road. It’s also about 30 minutes longer than its 2015 companion and, at times, feels its length. And yet, the movie delivers simply because the world that George Miller has created is so spectacularly different from anything else out there in the cinematic realm. The characters are so bizarre, the setting is immaculately rendered and the timbre of the action is a gleeful lunacy that no other director can convincingly replicate. Furiosa might be frustrating for those who consider Fury Road an instant classic but I found the balance of action and story worked even better than I expected.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Ezra, a dramedy starring Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne about a stand-up comedian who goes on a life-changing cross-country road trip with his autistic son.
Also playing only in theaters is In A Violent Nature, a slasher starring Ry Barrett and Andrea Pavlovic which follows a mute killer who targets a group of teenagers in the Ontario wilderness, with the events observed largely from the killer’s perspective.
Streaming on Max is The Great Lillian Hall, a drama starring Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates about a beloved Broadway actress who begins to forget her lines and must reckon with the sacrifices she made for her career.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

I Saw The TV Glow

A couple months ago, Justice Smith starred in The American Society Of Magical Negroes, a story of a meek young man dealing with identity issues in a world he feels is indifferent to his existence. He now leads the new A24 experimental horror film I Saw The TV Glow, which also tackles the thorny but evergreen theme of trying to find one’s place in their surroundings. While the former movie does so with a combination of racial satire and romantic fantasy, the latter is much more atmospheric and esoteric in its exploration by comparison. It comes courtesy of trans filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun, whose 2021 effort We’re All Going To The World’s Fair garnered them widespread praise for its transportive aesthetic and wholly unique take on a coming-of-age tale. While TV Glow casts something of a similar spell, its unconventional storytelling makes it trickier to grasp, at least on first viewing.

Smith plays the withdrawn and soft-spoken Owen, whom we meet as a seventh grader in the mid-90s. While waiting for his mom to vote at his school that’s serving as a polling place, Owen meets ninth grader Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) as she studiously reads an episode guide for a show called The Pink Opaque. Upon watching the show for the first time, Owen is transfixed by it and a friendship develops between himself and Maddy, who hosts him for sleepovers so they can watch the show together. Their ritual continues for years until Maddy mysteriously disappears one day, leaving him without his only friend and what quickly becomes evident is one of his only tethers to the real world. In her absence, Owen ruminates on the connection and begins to believe that events from The Pink Opaque may not have been contained to the realm of the fictional.

As the lines between reality and fantasy blur for Owen, the passage of time in I Saw The TV Glow mirrors that of mind-benders Synecdoche, New York and last year’s Beau Is Afraid. Similarly, what is actually happening versus what is happening in the head of the protagonist gets more difficult to sort out, which can make the story frustrating at points. Outside of 90s shows like Are You Afraid Of The Dark? and Buffy The Vamprie Slayer, which are clear influences for the in-movie young adult series The Pink Opaque, Schoenbrun seems to be most inspired by David Lynch’s work in Twin Peaks. There’s a transcendent musical performance in a dive bar called Double Lunch with cameos from Haley Dahl and Phoebe Bridgers which calls to mind scenes from Lynch’s series that take place in the Roadhouse bar.

While an otherworldly mood permeates every moment of I Saw The TV Glow, Schoenbrun renders an half-remembered atmosphere that should resonate even more with those of us who were coming of age in the 90s. The first encounter between Owen and Maddy is partially lit by the beacon of a Fruitopia vending machine that’s wallflowering with the couple in a multi-purpose room. The hypnagogic vibe recalls a generation hypnotized by the flickering lights emitted by the cathode-ray tubes of now-massive television sets. If we fall asleep in front of our TVs, how can we be fully convinced of what’s been broadcast when our eyes are closed? Last year’s similarly challenging Skinamarink evoked this lucid-lit state even more directly but was marred by a stubbornly opaque storyline. Schoenbrun does have a narrative in mind with TV Glow, although it’s difficult to suss out what exactly is allegory and what is literal most of the time.

The film is co-produced by married couple Emma Stone and Dave McCary, the latter of whom directed Brigsby Bear in 2017 before moving on to produce several other A24 projects. His lone film has quite a bit of overlap with TV Glow, in that it’s also about an obsession over a children’s television program that spills into the protagonist’s life. The Sun-Stealer character from that movie closely resembles the Pink Opaque villain Mr. Melancholy, although both are clearly influenced from early silent classic A Trip To The Moon. But McCary has an infectious way of channeling his characters’ exuberance of their fandom that Schoenbrun forgoes for anxiety and dread. It makes I Saw The TV Glow a moody but maddening affair that succeeds on the strength of its world-building above all else.

Score – 3/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, an action epic starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth which serves as a prequel to 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road centering around the titular mechanical-armed heroine.
Also coming to theaters is The Garfield Movie, an animated comedy starring Chris Pratt and Samuel L. Jackson in which the lasagna-loving comic-based canine is reunited with his long-lost street cat father and is forced into joining him on a high-stakes adventure.
Streaming on Netflix is Atlas, a sci-fi thriller starring Jennifer Lopez and Simu Liu that finds a data analyst with a deep distrust of artificial intelligence as she joins a mission to capture a renegade robot with whom she shares a mysterious past.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Fall Guy

Last summer, Ryan Gosling manifested Kenergy for the blockbuster phenomenon Barbie and this year, he’s doing his part to kick off the summer movie season with the similarly hilarious The Fall Guy. Loosely adapted from the 80s TV series about stunt performers who also dabble in bounty hunting, the film is a big-hearted action comedy that also functions as a valentine to the art of stuntwork. It comes courtesy of David Leitch, who cut his teeth as a stuntman on dozens of projects since the late 90s and has since risen the ranks as director of non-stop actioners like Atomic Blonde and Bullet Train. While he still struggles with storytelling skills like pacing and prioritization, Leitch taps into the weapons-grade charm of his lead actors and puts forth his most accomplished work from the director’s chair so far.

Gosling shines as stunt performer Colt Seavers, who doubles for hotshot action star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) until an on-set injury leaves Colt with a broken back and a broken spirit. 18 months later, the now-reclusive Colt gets a call from big-time producer Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham), who wants him to get back in the stuntman saddle once again for a new sci-fi epic called Metalstorm. Seavers balks at the opportunity, until Gail tells him it’s being directed by Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt), with whom Colt shared a brief romance when she worked as a camera operator on previous Hollywood projects. He makes the trek down to the set in Australia, only to find out that Ryder has gone missing and could be involved in shady dealings down under.

From there, The Fall Guy‘s overly-convoluted plot is mainly an excuse to get Gosling into as many stunt-reliant scenes — be they car chases, shootouts, brawls, or any combinations therein — as possible. Though they wear out their welcome a bit in the extended third act, these sequences are cleverly conceived and as skillfully executed as one would expect from a movie dedicated to stuntwork. The most memorable of these involves Gosling and a personal assistant (played by Stephanie Hsu) in peril, who pop in and out of a seemingly indestructible garbage truck as it tears through the streets of Sydney. Another fun setpiece finds Colt and his stunt coordinator (played by Winston Duke) as they use prop weapons to fend off a gaggle of henchmen. Duke is a hoot as he calls out action stars like Jason Bourne, the way a kid would while playing pretend mid-skirmish, as he puts the hurt on the bandits.

From the romance side of things, The Fall Guy doesn’t care much about creating believable tension that Gosling and Blunt’s characters won’t get together in the end but their chemistry is dynamite regardless. Much in the way that his Ken pined for Barbie last summer, Gosling plays persistent puppy dog in his affections for Blunt’s reticent moviemaker. As terrific as their banter is, my favorite scene between the two is a dialogue-free one set to The Darkness’ “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”, in which they choreograph and shoot an action montage in front of the Sydney Opera House. Their characters have a shorthand and playfulness in their interaction that is absolutely infectious and underscores the unique joy in shooting a film on this scale with people who are on the same wavelength.

On top of the character work, the film has plenty of showbiz in-jokes (be sure to stay through the credits) and meta commentary that occasionally hit harder than it needs to in an otherwise frivolous blockbuster. There’s a throughline about deepfake technology that not only feels relevant, given how often the technique is being used in videos we see all the time, but also makes one wonder how long Hollywood has used it to make stunt doubles look like their corresponding stars. Leitch also sneaks in an acute observation about how female directors can be unfairly pushed around by producers and actors on-set, based on the inference that they’re not as willing to stand their ground. But at the end of the day, this isn’t a treatise on gender inequality or the perils of AI; it’s a popcorn movie whose main duty is laughs and stunts, of which it has both in spades. You won’t see a movie all summer that works harder to entertain you than The Fall Guy.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Out in theaters is Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes, a sci-fi action movie starring Owen Teague and Freya Allan involving a young ape who goes on a journey that will lead him to question everything he’s been taught and make choices that will define a future for apes and humans alike.
Streaming on Disney+ is Let It Be, a recently restored documentary covering The Beatles’ attempt to recapture their old group spirit by making a back- to-basics album, which instead drove them further apart.
Premiering on Netflix is Mother Of The Bride, a romantic comedy starring Brooke Shields and Miranda Cosgrove about a mother who is surprised by her daughter’s spontaneous wedding and is even more surprised to find out that the groom is the son of the man who broke her heart years ago.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup