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Entries in charlize theron (5)

Thursday
May142015

Mad Max: Fury Road

It has been exactly 30 years since George Miller brought us the seemingly final entry in the “Mad Max” trilogy with “Beyond Thunderdome.” With action movies having evolved since then, the original movies, especially the first one, now look dated. Although stylish for the 80s, they lack much of the pizzazz modern day action movies possess. The newest installment, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” looks to reinvigorate the franchise with the same level of over-the-top excitement we see in cinemas today and it succeeds. Unfortunately, it retains most of the problems from the original films, as it focuses more on chases and explosions than it does story or character development. Like other movies of this ilk, “Mad Max: Fury Road” rings pretty hollow, but it’s fun while it lasts.

The story is simple, nigh inconsequential, as it exists solely as a means to lead to action. All you need to know is that Max (Tom Hardy) is on a cross-desert trek with Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is helping female captives known as the Five Wives escape from a ruthless clan leader named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Pretty much everything before and after this part-way through set-up is narratively irrelevant. Sure, lots of things happen, but like the other “Mad Max” movies, nothing really happens.

At its best, though, “Fury Road” is a mesmerizing action movie, with enough impressive stunts to keep any filmgoer entertained. It begins and ends without doing or accomplishing much of anything besides mindless action, but that action is something to behold. Suicide leaps, fisticuffs atop moving vehicles, crumbling landscapes and more give the action an edge few other action films have. Even at the age of 70, director George Miller hasn’t lost a step. One could easily scoff at a man whose last three films were “Babe: Pig in the City” and both “Happy Feet” movies for trying to provide what many other directors have already seemingly perfected, but he has, in fact, surpassed those people, as he delivers some of the most impressive action put to screen in many years despite having not touched the genre in three decades.

Even better, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is an absolute beauty, one of the most gorgeously shot action movies I’ve ever seen, to the point where it should be given serious cinematography Oscar considerations. Couple that with terrific art direction and costume design, where the inhabitants of this post-apocalyptic world sport chapped lips and scarred skin due to an overbearing sun and lack of resources, and you have a film that is a sight to behold. Pure chaos and destruction has never been captured onscreen so beautifully.

If only such praise could be given to the other facets of its production. In a welcome surprise, Theron owns this movie and is even given the expected payoff at the end, but it nevertheless comes as a disappointment that Hardy is so underutilized. A terrific actor in his own right, he is given almost nothing to do except grunt and groan and stand broodingly. His scenes of dialogue are so few and far between that you start to wonder if poor Max somehow became a mute in the time period between this movie and its predecessors. While you can certainly develop a character without dialogue, the attempt here is poor and his lack of speech doesn’t do much to help. He is still emotionally suffering from the loss of his family (though they don’t contextualize it in any meaningful way for those who haven’t seen the first film), but instead of exploring it through character, they give him a few sudden flashbacks and hallucinations in a lame attempt to give his journey meaning.

The movie also suffers from the questionable decision to speed things up, a move done in the previous films to, one can assume, mask budget constraints. Here, it’s completely unnecessary. This world is so vividly realized and the action so stunningly choreographed that it comes as a disappointment that the film so often doesn’t give us enough time to truly appreciate it, as it instead cuts to the next explosion or gunshot. It doesn’t help either when the narrative can legitimately be compared to the frowned upon practice of backtracking in video games, as it gets them from point A to point B only to turn them around and send them back to point A again.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is simultaneously a disappointment and an absolute blast. It’s hard to argue against its visual quality and exciting action, but it’s also easy to destroy its thinner than thin narrative and lack of substance. It’s one of those movies you’ll watch once in the theater and then never watch again, but during that one viewing, boy, is it something.

Mad Max: Fury Road receives 3/5

Friday
May302014

A Million Ways to Die in the West

There’s a moment in Seth MacFarlane’s previous film, “Ted,” where Ted the bear makes a joke, which is then told again by another character in a slightly different way. Ted then remarks in a condescending manner that the character did nothing more but repackage his own joke and deliver it again. It was an ironic moment because MacFarlane, for all of his perceived edginess, has been doing that for years. Despite a setting that, in a more flexible comedian’s hands, should prevent the same old gags from reoccurring, his latest, “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” manages to include more of the redundant, played out humor he’s known for in a shoddy looking movie with a poor story and jokes that are intended to shock or offend rather than amuse. While I’m sure fans will find something to appreciate, I personally found this to be the worst comedy since Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups 2” and easily one of the worst of the year.

The thin plot follows Albert (MacFarlane), a lowly sheep farmer in 1882 Arizona. His girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), has just broken up with him and he’s lost without her. In an effort to win her back, he befriends a pretty woman named Anna (Charlize Theron), who agrees to pose as his new girlfriend and teach him the skills he needs to impress her. What Albert doesn’t know is that Anna is actually the wife of the most famous outlaw in the West, Clinch (Liam Neeson), and if he finds out what Albert is doing with Anna, he’s a-gonna be lookin’ for revenge.

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” starts promisingly enough. Similar to a film from the heyday of the Western genre, the credits play before the movie starts, complete with a stylized font, while sweeping shots of the majestic Western lands and a musical composition befitting of the genre set the stage for your senses. Unfortunately, any hopes for intelligent genre parody, or even homage, are dashed shortly after, the bulk of the film’s jokes coming from a mindset that believes merely hearing modern phrases and curse words in the context of the old West is somehow funny. When the first joke is meant to instill giggles in the 13 year olds in the audience who still think merely hearing a curse word is funny, you naturally assume “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is likely to put forth a minimum amount of effort.

And such assumptions aren’t only justified; they’re proven to be correct. As the film goes on, it repeatedly sinks to the lowest common denominator, relying once again on the most puerile jokes imaginable. To put things into perspective, a penis joke, gay joke and racist joke all appear within the first minute of Albert’s introduction, and the rest of the film never rises above it. Take, for instance, the recurring jokes about a Christian prostitute “saving” herself for marriage, which aren’t funny the first two or three times, much less the 14th or 15th times when the film still hasn’t let it go by the end of its overly long and exhausting two hour runtime. At one point, a periphery character makes a lousy joke and Albert turns toward the camera and asks why anyone would think what is being said is funny, the irony being that I had been asking myself the same thing the entire movie, as nothing that comes before it (or after) is any better.

If one relief comes from this film, it’s that there isn’t a 9/11 joke, a strange fixation MacFarlane has, what with it appearing in both “Ted” and countless episodes of “Family Guy.” One could argue the exclusion is due to the time period the film is set in, but such is not the case, particularly when he makes references to other films with non-sequiturs that differentiate themselves from MacFarlane’s television endeavors only in that there are no cutaways; they are instead just stumbled upon.

What it all boils down to is that “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is lazy. Its jokes are obvious, like when it unamusingly points out that a single dollar was a lot of money back then, and many of them are in poor taste, like when Albert and Anna go to the “Runaway Slave” shooting booth at the town fair. There are a handful of deserving chuckles, usually when the film actually makes an attempt to parody the times, but those moments are few and far between and certainly aren’t plentiful enough to justify sitting through this bloated and meandering comedic disaster.

A Million Ways to Die in the West receives 0.5/5

Friday
Jun082012

Prometheus

Early word on Prometheus was that it was going to be a prequel to Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi terror, Alien. Later, word came out that it had blossomed into an entirely different story completely separate from the Alien world. Finally, we were told it would exist within the same world of Alien and maybe cross paths, but still have its own mythology that won’t interfere with what Alien established. I hesitate to divulge how integral it is to the Alien movies, but whatever it is, it’s solid. It’s not the scariest movie in the world, nor the most exciting, but it has ideas and explores a question that has plagued mankind since its creation: how did we get here?

The movie begins in Scotland in 2089. Two researchers, Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan-Marshall Green), have just stumbled upon a cave painting that dates back at least 35,000 years. It predates any similar discovery they’ve ever made, but it shares a common characteristic: it depicts humans pointing towards the stars. In each painting, the stars were shaped in the same manner, exactly like a galaxy that those primitive cultures never should have (or could have) known about, given that it was too far away to be seen with the naked eye. This leads the researchers to believe that there may be life out there and that maybe that life created us. A few years later, after sleeping in stasis aboard the spaceship Prometheus, they, along with 15 other crewmen and women, arrive to explore a planet that they hope will give them meaning to their existence.

If you’re alive today (and if you’re reading this, I have to assume you are), chances are you’ve thought about the meaning of life. You’ve wondered how we got here, what the purpose of our existence is and who, if anybody, created us. Prometheus wonders that too. The screenplay (and therefore, the characters) taps into our natural human curiosity, our intellectual need for answers. It has a natural wonder of how life began and how important (or, just maybe, unimportant) it is. Their search is what keeps you drawn in because their curiosity is our curiosity. Although obviously fictional, what they discover is mind-blowing and only those without a similar intellectual desire for answers will find their revelations uninteresting.

Greater emphasis could have been put into the validity (or lack thereof) of religion in regards to their findings, which would have made a powerful real world statement on an important modern issue, especially given that one of the characters carries her faith with her regardless of the contradictions she discovers along the way, but religious observation is not the movie’s goal. Its ambitions go much higher than that—besides, human existence probably isn’t as simple as many religions make it out to be—but that ambition is its primary problem. Aiming high and hitting the target is a hard thing to do and Prometheus doesn’t quite reach the standards it, and its eagerly awaiting fans, have set for it.

Ridley Scott tries to convey the same sense of terror portrayed in his quintessential 1979 science fiction landmark, perhaps in an effort to make some type of tonal connection between the two, but his ambition requires a broader scope that contradicts Alien’s more focused nature. Alien took place all on one ship where there was nowhere to hide, giving it an unsettling, claustrophobic feeling while Prometheus takes place across multiple locales, both land and ship. The characters travel all the way through space and explore a previously unexplored planet and what appears to be an elongated cave with its own breathable atmosphere. It also introduces far too many characters, 17 in total, most of whom get only a minute or two of dedicated screen time before essentially disappearing. It focuses on a select few people, including the captain (Idris Elba), Meredith (Charlize Theron) and the ship’s android, David (Michael Fassbender), as it should, but it only brings forth the question, why even have the other characters?

Regardless of its sci-fi content, Prometheus is a human story. Its grandeur may not match its ambition like Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the fact that it has ambition at all is worthy of praise. Those looking for another Alien movie will walk away disappointed—in nearly every regard, Prometheus is quite different—but those who have a natural wonder about where we came from and what our purpose is will find Prometheus both profound and awe inspiring.

Prometheus receives 4/5

Friday
Jun012012

Snow White and the Huntsman

It may only be a minor consolation, but it’s worth noting that Snow White and the Huntsman has very little to do with the Twilight series beyond its lead star. Pre-release comparisons purporting their similarities are nothing more than cynical assumptions. Those people who scoffed at its existence will most likely find themselves pleasantly surprised after viewing. Coming hot on the heels of March’s Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman once again tells the oft told story of Snow White as she conquers the evil witch and claims her rightful place as queen, but the story is tonally more aligned with the original Brothers Grimm story than the cutesy versions we show our children. The movie is dark, violent, sinister and frightening. Other movies glossed over the evil underpinnings of the story, including the eventual murder of the title character, but not this one. This is a mature telling that is worthy of admiration.

Snow White (Kristen Stewart) used to be a happy girl. Her father and mother, the countryside’s king and queen, loved her and each other dearly. Unfortunately, her mother quickly fell ill and passed away. Her father was overcome with grief until he met a beautiful woman named Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who he immediately married. However, right as they were about to consummate their marriage, Ravenna murdered him and began a takeover of his city, locking Snow White in a tower. Years later, right as Ravenna is about to take Snow White’s life, she escapes. Ravenna, determined to get her back, employs a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to track her down, but he soon learns of Ravenna’s wicked ways and instead helps Snow White in her quest to bring justice to her land.

Snow White and the Huntsman does for the classic story what Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban did for that popular series—it progresses it with true passion, meaning and thematic growth. It’s not just an attempt to cash in on the Snow White name or the star power of Kristen Stewart. It is instead a visionary approach to the story, full of beautiful imagery and wondrous imagination. Throughout the movie, the characters travel to different places, all with their own distinct feelings and visual styles. Some are bright and lovely like an animated movie come to life, a place you’d love to spend time in. Others are morbid and unsettling, like the Dark Forest Snow White escapes to, which gains its strength through its visitors’ weaknesses. It’s the place nightmares are made of. Other landscapes include beautiful snow covered gardens, war torn battlefields and more.

If nothing else, Show White and the Huntsman is visually arresting, a surprisingly gorgeous bit of eye candy coming from first time director, Rupert Sanders. He puts a deft touch to the tiniest of details, almost as if he had been doing this for many years, and he makes his vision come to grandiose life. Still, being a first time director poses many challenges and he is unable to overcome all of them. Action clichés abound, including an excessive use of slow motion, and though he pulls some decent performances from Hemsworth and Stewart (the former who finally gets to play someone other than the bland and emotionless Thor and the latter who gets to do something other than bite her lip), he fails to contain Charlize Theron. She goes all out in the movie, chewing the scenery like it’s bubble gum. She is so over-the-top, her supposed menace turns to amusement. She’s not bad per se, but she doesn’t fit in what is otherwise a tonally balanced movie.

The film occasionally suffers from cinematic ADD, like when a gruesome troll shows up for a fight and then walks away before anything actually happens, but its biggest detractor is its fluctuation in believability. Kristen Stewart, though more impressive in this role than many others, is not a convincing warrior, making her late movie transformation tough to swallow. Even more difficult to believe is her ability to outrun, outmaneuver and outwit a team of guards (thanks partially to a randomly placed horse resting on a nearby beach) once she escapes from the confined tower she’s been locked in for so many years. Yet the movie still pulls you in, your suspension of disbelief never wavering for too long. Snow White and the Huntsman doesn’t eclipse every adaptation of the story that has come before it, but among the more adult oriented versions, including 1997’s acclaimed Snow White: A Tale of Terror starring Sigourney Weaver as the witch, it stands alone.

Snow White and the Huntsman receives 4/5

Friday
Dec162011

Young Adult

When director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody teamed up in 2007 for Juno, they struck gold. All of a sudden, their small independent movie was seeing a wide release and garnering a number of award nominations, including a nod for Best Picture at the Oscars. Since then, Reitman has directed the wonderful Up in the Air, another terrific movie that, similar to Juno, was met with critical acclaim and awards nominations. Cody, on the other hand, moved onto Jennifer’s Body, a lackluster (if even a bit underrated) horror comedy that tried far too hard to capture that Juno magic. Now she is back with a new script and working with the director that made her somebody. The end result is Young Adult, an occasionally funny, sometimes clever, but all around mediocre vehicle for Charlize Theron in the most unlikable role she’s ever been in. And she was in Monster. Think about that.

In the film, Theron plays Mavis Gary, a writer who is in the process of writing the last book in a popular young adult series. Her draft is due soon, but she has barely begun to write it. This is due to her infatuation with an old fling, Buddy Slade, played by Patrick Wilson. The problem is he’s married and he’s about to have a baby. She knows this thanks to the invitation she was sent to join him and his wife in their celebration, but she doesn’t care. She plans on breaking them up and taking him for herself.

Mavis is a terrible person. There’s no getting around it. Some may argue that as one of the film’s strengths. Some will see deep meaning in her actions and words. They’ll see some statement on humanity and desperation, but they’ll be reaching. Not all movies have likable characters, but those movies don’t necessarily try to make you like them. Young Adult does. You’re supposed to laugh at her excess, her rudeness, her vulgarity, but it’s very hard to do so. She is trying to break up a perfectly happy marriage, one where a kid is on the way, for her own selfish gain. She has one friend in the small town she grew up in, Matt, played by Patton Oswalt, who she treats terribly, despite the fact that years ago he was brutally beaten and left to die by a group of people who just happened to think he was gay. She’s also a hypocrite, telling Matt at one point to stop living in the past and dwelling on his terrible event, despite the entire fact that she’s back in her hometown solely because she wants so badly to be with her high school boyfriend, unable to follow her own advice.

Young Adult may send mixed messages about how we are supposed to approach this character, but it does show hints of intelligence. Mavis, as terrible as she is, is hard to take seriously. She’s a writer of those silly tween novels and she treats her life like one. She has this fantasy that she will ride off into the sunset with Buddy and live happily ever after. She has spent her entire career building unrealistic fantasies that she’s now starting to believe in them. When she has a late movie speech about how Buddy is her moon and stars, it’s not cheesy and laughable like it would be in a different film. It’s actually kind of brilliant.

The relationship between Mavis and Matt also takes some nice unexpected turns and the chemistry between the two actors is surprisingly good. Oswalt in particular plays well in another quirky role, but after starring in the underseen, but absolutely fantastic Big Fan, one can’t help but want more for him. Still, he’s good enough to make this movie watchable, though not enough to make up for its shortcomings. There are some great moments in Young Adult that hint at a great movie hidden somewhere in it. It’s just a shame Cody and Reitman couldn’t find it.

Young Adult receives 2.5/5