Fun Stuff

Furiosa Road, or why Mad Max Fury Road is refreshingly feminist

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[WARNING: SPOILERS FOR MAD MAX FURY ROAD AND THE MAD MAX SERIES]

The Mad Max series always had a string of strong and interesting female characters, whether they were in the foreground or just supporting the main plot. From Max’s gun yielding neighbour in Mad Max to the warrior women in Road Warrior, and of course, Tina Turner in Beyond Thunderdome. However, in Fury Road, George Miller has introduced a story that not only features mainly women in the centre plot but also which is about the liberation of women and through that, the liberation of humanity.

“Men’s Rights Activists” aside, the world is in love with Fury Road. Its chase sequences, practical effects and stunted action has taken the world by storm and have indeed earned Miller the title of “mastermind” he is given in the trailers. But what is really impressive about this film is how the women are dealt with and how they are characterised. Especially our action hero, Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron.

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Furiosa is Immortan Joe’s favourite lieutenant and, during a trip to gas town to get petrol for the Citadel, she goes off course and betrays her leader. It is an important moment, because it makes Furiosa the catalyst of the events of the film, while Max himself is just in the middle of the action almost by accident. In perfect Mad Max fashion, Max isn’t in the centre of the narrative, he simply aids whoever the film is about, and in this case, it is Furiosa and the “wives” of Joe — Toast the Knowing (Zoe Kravitz), The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley), Capable (Riley Keough), Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton), and The Dag (Abbey Lee) who want to be free. So Furiosa takes her chance and flees, taking the oil rig with her, and with the help of Max and Nux (Nicholas Hoult), she and the other women manage to leave the War Boys chasing them behind to find the green lands Furiosa remembers from her youth.

During the many, many action sequences, Furiosa constantly shows her prowess in combat. She has amazing aim and is brilliant with guns, she is by far the best driver between herself, Max and Nux, and she always puts herself in danger in order to save others. All that with a robot arm, which is nothing but another part of her. So not only we have a lead action heScreen Shot 2015-05-18 at 21.36.37ro who is a woman that is capable out of her own efforts and for her own reasons, who also is disabled and is never seeking respect or pity or revenge because of her disability, but rather who just lives with is as a matter of fact, which is how disabilities work in real life.

Besides all that, she is never sexualised in any way, or a punch line to an eventual romance between herself and the lead action man. That is not her mission or her purpose. Her character has shit to get gone, and boy does she do it! And she is never too proud or too stubborn to accept help — she can recognise when someone is going to be helpful in her mission and allows them to aid. Even though she and Max had a less than perfect first encounter, they both managed to put their differenced aside in order to help each other and work as a team. She doesn’t suddenly become his sidekickScreen Shot 2015-05-18 at 21.36.22 as soon as he joins them in the oil rig, instead, they communicate and exchange ideas and achieve goals.

Now to Toast, Angharad, Capable, Cheedo and Dag. At first glance they might seem like your average action flick vulnerable women, standing by the oil rig, bathing themselves. But soon we see that they all have distinct personalities, and are sweet girls who want to see peace in the world even though their lives have been filled with misery in the hands of Joe as his breeders. Angharad and Cheedo are both pregnant as well. And though Angharad doesn’t make it to the end of the journey — her apparent death causes a stir between the group at first, but then proceed because otherwise they would be captured — they all pull together and contribute to the action, providing as much help as Nux and Max. They all have their moments — Toast with the guns, Capable befriending Nux after she finds him hiding in the oil rig, Dag showing a want plant, and Cheedo in the final fight when she helps kill Joe by pretending to go willingly into his car.  Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 22.28.31

But still, as representation at that point, the film still fell short. There wasn’t much diversity in the group of women, as they were all good-looking and young (on purpose, of course, since they were part of Joe’s harem), so when they reach their destination, where Furiosa thinks will lead them to the green lands she remembers from her youth, we meet another group of women, old fighters who have lost their land and are now living in the desert. They all belonged to the land Furiosa came from and are now homeless, so they join their quest to take back Citadel, and bring with them as much fierceness and action prowess as every younger fighter in there. You won’t see such a group of fighters in any other action film, most likely, and it is a breath of fresh air to see that older women can still be portrayed as just as much badass as men.

This film isn’t “feminist propaganda” as some people might accuse it to be. We as a film-viewing society have just forgotten that women can be leading action ladies and kick ass and be awesome, without any superfluous romantic subplots or gratuitous nudity moments. These women are portrayed as humans, saviours, sisters, mothers, friends and heroes, and they never have their femininity under threat because that isn’t an issue. The fact that they are women is just an uncompromisable fact that doesn’t deter their pursue of justice and freedom, and for that I salute George Miller because in the midst of all the pumped up, overly masculinised, masturbatory action films of the past many years, it is fantastic to see that this kind of story can still be get majorly released and be a success.

article by Mariana Duarte

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Banal Thoughts on the Star Wars Teaser

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We all love Star Wars right? With its Spaceships and lightsabers and funny droids what else in popular culture has resonated quite to the extent that this series has? In the thirty-five odd years since Star Wars (latterly rechristened A New Hope) was released the core plot has covered itself in a variety of disguises; Lego, Family Guy and Eragon have all left their marks on the Lucas legacy each to incredible financial success. In short the human race is addicted to Star Wars so it is no wonder that since the release of the new teaser trailer on the 28th of November 2014 the internet has become polluted with unfunny gifs, banal commentaries and a bunch of idiots reacting to those famous 90 seconds…

Hello!

My initial reaction upon viewing these clips was indifference. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason for my apathy but there it was. I just didn’t care; naturally I have since watched it about twenty times since and formed some thoughts.

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The twin-sun cooked desert planet of Tatooine is inevitably the first and most important clip on offer; after all this is where our journey began in 1977. The cogs in the minds of the editors at Disney were clearly working in overdrive because this single shot says so much. “This is classic Star Wars… None of that Naboo shit here; but ooh, what’s this? A BLACK GUY?” Yeah, well done JJ; I actually am impressed. There’s a famous joke/criticism based on the original films. Star Wars is just a bunch of white heroes fighting the blackest man in the Galaxy – Darth Vader. The first African American hero that we come across is Lando and BOOM! Betrayal over Bespin. Straight away in the teaser we are shown that this is not our father’s sci-fi nonsense, it’s a Star Wars for the modern age. It’s street; it’s cool; it’s multicultural and look at that, he’s a Stormtrooper! Glass ceilings are being descimated, the plot implications are immense. Those faceless Stormtroopers from the original trilogy finally get some character. What’s it like being one of their number? What’s the experience of Stormtrooper training? And weren’t they all meant to be Jango Fett clones? For fans of the films there is so much opportunity here to learn more about the world we love and not those bits we don’t care about (e.g. Luke’s mum used to be an elected queen who had silly hat-hair) this information matters!

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From here on though, the teaser oddly chooses to waste about fourty five of its ninety seconds. The dramatic rancor-fighting music shouldn’t have to stoop to accompany a shot of a wee ball-droid and who care about some woman on a clunky hover-bike? Rancor-fighting music is better than this! There’s a couple of X-Wings in there. I guess that’s cool. I like X-Wings. I made one out of Lego but they’re not the most exciting of spaceships. They’re not Slave I. Come on J.J., show us some characters or flashes of violence or even a tiny bit of Mark Hamill’s old face! We haven’t seen Mark Hamill in a film since that last Star Wars came out. It’d be a real Dear-Diary moment.

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This said the remaining clips are rather intriguing. The newly designed Stormtroopers captured my imagination and the hand-held camera style of direction here makes it look as though we’ll be put right into the stifling conditions of an actual Star War. Maybe some of the film will be devoted to generating sympathy for the armies of the Empire, maybe we’ll get to walk side-by-side with the soldiers into battle. It’ll be like Halo or Private Ryan. Most importantly maybe some of the grit has returned to the Star WarsUniverse.

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And then there’s that lightsaber! Why does it have the cruciform hilt? That looks a little impractical but I don’t really care. It became tradition for each new SW film to showcase a new design of red-saber. What with Dooku’s pointlessly curved handle and Maul’s double-blades this is all par for the course. What really intrigues me is the drunken, animalistic swagger of the hooded sith. So much drama and character has been conveyed in just a moment of screen time.

People have been postulating that this unsavoury customer is everyone’s favourite public-school-alumni Benedict Faversham but it would be a bad idea to keep shoving him into every franchise going as the same kind-of-clever-but-a-bit-sadistic baddy. Besides, there would surely have been an announcement by now declaring his participation in the film. That sort of promotion would get many non-sci-fi nerds immediately invested in the picture. He’s valuable property at the moment.

For my money, I think it’s either weird and wiry Adam Driver or the king of my heart Domhnall Gleeson both of whom have been announced as cast members for the film. Rumours have been abound for months about Driver’s role; claiming that he will be the three movies’ primary villain. This naturally makes him the ideal candidate but I like Domhnall Gleeson for the part and not just because I’ve loved him ever since I realised Bill Weasley wasn’t his fault. Gleeson has proven himself a very versatile actor, performing minor roles in numerous films over the last four or five years. I picture his sith lord as not so much of an About Time Domhnall:

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But as a Dredd Domhnall.

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Yeah, look at that creepy-sonbich.

Oh Star Wars, the power you have over me. Even after feeling thoroughly underwhelmed by your 90 second teaser I’ve still managed to write 1000 odd words about it. This is our first glimpse at a piece of history. Everyone knowsStar Wars and Luke and Leia and Padme and Jar-Jar and we’ll be getting to know these characters (Boyega Stormtrooper, Creepy Domhnall and Girl) very well very soon.

Dah dah dah dah dah dah

Doo doo doo daaaaaaaah daaaaaaaah dah dah dah daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah daaaaah dah dah dah daaaaaaaaaaah daaaaah deedle dee dum….

Live Long and Prosper

analysis by Stephen Higham

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2014 Recap

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This year, for the first time, I volunteered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. I worked at the Registration Desk, which meant giving delegates (guests, press people industry members, etc) their passes and sometimes picking people up at the airport. It was a lot of fun, and a great way to see who was coming to the festival, which directors and actors were doing what when, which press representatives were coming as well. That’s how I saw that Chris Hewitt (from EMPIRE) was doing a little talk at the Festival Sq, so I attended! Overall, I’d have to say this was a fantastic experience. I got to meet wonderful people, including but not up to Elijah Wood, Rose Leslie and Liam Cunningham (*wink*), saw some wonderful films, attended amazing events, and watched Simon Helberg play jazz piano at a party. Truly an experience I’d love to repeat next year!

Now, moving on from the sappy stuff. Because I had lots of airport and afternoon shifts, I didn’t watch a whole lot of films, but I did manage to attend nine screenings, plus the EMPIRE Podcast recording (which was brilliant! it featured Brian Cox and Elijah Wood, and you can check it out here). I’ve been putting off writing reviews for these films because I wanted to do a neat little round-up, and since the festival ended yesterday (*sobs*), the time has come!

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Life After Beth, 2014
dir. Jeff Baena

“Broken-hearted after the death of his girlfriend Beth, Zach is initially delighted to be given another chance when she returns from the dead.” Described as a zom-rom-com, Life After Beth is a sweet if slightly creepy love story. The humour is understated and not in-your-face like a mainstream zombie comedy would do (yes, I’m referring to Zombieland), rather it has a little of the same DNA of Shaun of the Dead, while it focuses more on these central characters rather than the whole world. Dane DeHaan as the grieving Zach carries most the film in a very subtle way. In just a few days, this character suffers so many changes, and with a more over-the-top actor, it could have been goofy, but with DeHaan, Zach is a likeable, realistic person. However, all the other characters are also very well-developed. His parents, played by Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser, are very odd and they don’t really understand what is happening to their son, and his brother, played by Matthew Gray Gubler, is kind of a dick, but also a bit crazy in a sweet sort of way. And Aubrey Plaza as Beth steals the show whenever she is on screen. Different from her usual deadpan, slightly angry characters, Beth is a lovely girl who just doesn’t understand what is happening to her (with, you know, being undead and all), and through her we get glimpses of her relationship with Zach pre-death. In the end, this film is mostly a character study hiding behind a plot-driven zombie-comedy, and it explores human nature and interpersonal relationships in an interesting way.

My rating: ★★★☆☆

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Runaway Day, 2013
dir. Dimitris Bavellas

“A strange epidemic strikes crisis-torn Greece: hordes of Athenians are fleeing the city for no definite reason.” As a concept, this is seemed quite interesting. However, the execution left a lot to be desired as the film followed the paths of Maria Fragoyanni, a housewife, and Loukas Tsitsanis, a nerdy unemployed man who has a lot of debt with the bank. There isn’t a specific story, the films switches from Maria to Loukas as they run away from their lives, and sometimes it switches back to their homes, Maria’s husband and Loukas’s mother and brother. On all the televisions, the same show is playing, a man talking about the disappearances, asking why this is happening, and his speech seems to trigger these people who run away. He was similar to Roger Allam’s Lewis Prothero in V for Vendetta in the way that he addressed the audience. Sometimes the film would cut to this young girl who met with Maria or Loukas at times, and she’d take their hand and take them places. She seemed to know what she was doing, and there was even a sequence when there was no running away, only Maria, Loukas and the little girl watching a band play at a park. More and more people started to run away, children, adults, Maria’s husband, Loukas’s mother. In the end, it wasn’t a character study, and it wasn’t a story with a plot, it was very dull, really. Far too long for what it was trying to accomplish (though what that was remains a mystery to me).

My rating:  ★☆☆☆☆

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The Skeleton Twins, 2014

dir. Craig Johnson

“When a failed suicide attempt lands aspiring actor Milo (Bill Hader) in the hospital, his long-estranged twin sister, dental hygienist Maggie (Kristen Wiig), invites him to recuperate at her house.” At first, it looks like The Skeleton Twins is going to be very depressing. And why would you even hire Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader to play such sad characters? But as soon as we se Milo’s suicide note (“see ya later :)”), we see what this film is truly about. These two characters have so much history, so much emotional baggage, and the audience arrives right in the middle of it, in the climax of their lives. Maggie and Milo are both lost in very different ways, and they can’t really cope alone. This could have been Lifetime-channel sad, it had all the markings of it, but with the talents of Hader and Wiig, and the wonderful script written by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman, these two characters are quirky, sweet, a bit depressing, and even really funny at times. Ghosts from Milo’s past return in the shape of his old English teacher, Rich, played by Ty Burrell, and Maggie has to struggle with feeling trapped in her marriage with Luke Wilson’s Lance (whom she loves but maybe not enough) and wanting to be free. They come together and fight, argue, dance, sing, get high. It’s a beautiful story about sibling-hood and family, as well as the many shapes and forms of love. And it’s such a beautiful film as well, set in the suburbs of New York in the autumn, when everything is shades of orange, yellow and brown, and the Halloween scenes are absolutely stunning. This is a wonderful film that deserves to be watched again and again.

My rating: ★★★★☆

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Set Fire to the Stars, 2014
dir. Andy Goddard

“Celebrating Dylan Thomas’ centenary, this intriguing semi-biographical drama focusses on a week in the life of the great poet as he prepares for a series of performed readings in the US.” This biopic is, as Elijah Wood pointed out during the Q&A after the screening, a character study. Here we are introduced to Dylan through John as they go on readings, to pubs, and when John takes them to his parents’ cabin in Connecticut before they go to Yale. It’s intimately shot, and especially with the black-and-white, it looks like an old film. Celyn Jones and Elijah Wood have fantastic chemistry, and they play off each other really well during their many confined scenes. This is a extraordinarily ambitious and successful directorial debut by Andy Goddard. But perhaps what is best about this film is the music. The score written by Gruff Rhys is incredibly jazzy and it flows seamlessly throughout the film. When they characters were silent and the music played, it added a whole new meaning to their actions, and in the opening sequence it definitely set the tone of the entire film.

Sometimes it felt like the film went on for a bit too long, and there wasn’t enough of Kelly Riley, who played Thomas’s wife. But overall it was a stunning film, and a brilliant effort from a first-time director.

My rating: ★★★☆☆

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Honeymoon, 2014
dir. Leigh Janiak

“What looks like the perfect honeymoon turns more and more sinister.” Another directorial debut, now by Leigh Janiak, who also co-wrote this script with Phil Graziadei. This film follows Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) as they go on their honeymoon in Bea’s family’s cabin. It’s a secluded place, right before summer, and there is no one around, except another couple, Will and Annie, whom Bea and Paul encounter once while looking for somewhere to eat. After that, strange things start to happen, especially after Paul finds Bea “sleepwalking” during the night, naked, having lost her nightgown. It is an intense horror film. There aren’t jump-scares, only the rising tension as Paul tries to find out what is happening to Bea, who keeps forgetting things, being distant and strange, acting completely out-of-character. At the beginning of the film, we get to know these characters, and see how loving they are with each other, and everything that happens between them throughout the fuelled by love. There are elements of Cronenberg, Hitchcock and Kubrick which manifest more clearly from the middle. The end is completely unexpected in the best of ways. This is definitely the best, cleverest horror film I’ve seen in a long time.

My rating: ★★★★☆

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Joe, 2013
dir. David Gordon Green

“An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin.” Nicolas Cage’s most subtle, nuanced performance in a very long time. Cage’s Joe is a man who has a quiet intensity about him, and the performance is breathtaking, a show-stealer amongst an array of brilliant acting. Though the film begins slow, simply showing the simple life led by these central characters in this small, dangerous community, as the relationship between Joe and Gary (Tye Sheridan) begins to develop, the story picks up an interesting pace. They become almost like father and son, and Gary has to struggle to protect his mother and sister while keeping away from his father, who is a good-for-nothing, violent alcoholic. And all the while, we are also introduced to the supporting characters, who are mostly three-dimensional and well-developed, except perhaps for Connie, who seems mostly pointless. In fact, the female presence in this isn’t particularly strong, and even when they are there, there doesn’t seem to be a lot for them to do. Except for Joe’s female dog, maybe, who is definitely the strongest female character in this film. Still, it is a fantastic film, gritty and intense, with a somewhat surprising ending.

My rating: ★★★★☆

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Coherence, 2013
dir. James Ward Byrkit

”A dinner party is disrupted by a power failure. Initially attributing it to unusual occurrences caused by a comet passing close to Earth, the guests eventually realise that something is terribly wrong.“ This is weird. It’s science fiction and suspense, and the concept seems fairly simple, but it is very weird. The start is normal, just a bunch of friends gathering for a dinner party, it could be start of any horror film ever. There’s the introduction of the characters’ relationships in a very obvious manner, there is pleasant conversation – it feels a lot like a mumblecore film at the start actually. But then it all gets so strange after the power goes out. Not much can be said about it without spoiling the plot of the film, except that it sort of makes sense in a weird sci-fi kind of way. The acting is solid, the highlight being Nicholas Brendon, who is probably used to acting strange events since he played Xander for seven years in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the end, for such a weird film, this was surprisingly funny and enjoyable.

My rating:  ★★★☆☆

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Snowpiercer, 2013
dir. Bong Joon-ho

”In the near future, attempts to find a technological fix for global warming have backfired disastrously.“

Brilliant. Stunning, intelligent, and brilliant. A comment on society and class, this film follows Curtis (Chris Evans) as he reluctantly leads a revolution on the train which carries the last humans on Earth who embarked after an attempt to end global warming backfired and brought the ice age back. In the train, the lower class lives in the tailgate, the back cars, whilst the richer classes live in the front, enjoying the luxuries of the ecosystem inside the train, and all of it is led by Wilford, the creator of the train. During the film we learn more about what happened to Earth, how they all got inside the train, how the train works, and what life was like in the tailgate compartments in the beginning. It is a poignant story, nuanced, terrible, sad and touching, and it puts the class system into perspective. Chris Evans carries this film beautifully. Curtis is the most interesting, different character he’s ever played, and he does him in a fascinating way. However, the whole film is awash with brilliant performances, from Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer and Jamie Bell, as well as Kang-ho Son and A-sung Ho, who speak mostly in Korean during the film. Snowpiercer is an immersive experience, and the most beautiful and gritty film in a long time.

My rating: ★★★★★

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We’ll Never Have Paris, 2014
dir. Simon Helberg, Jocelyn Towne

Based on the real-life events that brought Helberg and Towne together, We’ll Never Have Paris is a bit like Annie Hall. It’s got the neurotic leading man, the kooky best friend who has an esoteric side, an odd unsatisfying rebound relationship. However, Devon is nothing like Annie Hall, which is a good thing, because she is a much stronger woman, she knows what she wants, even as she tries to find herself. There is something very charming about these two main characters, and Helberg’s Quinn (who is based on himself) is much more likeable than Woody Allen’s Alvy, perhaps because his efforts of getting Devon back are borne out of genuine love rather than Not Wanting to Be Alone. Still, the film suffers from a lack of Alfred Molina, who is Quinn’s father, and an overabundance of Maggie Grace’s Kelsey, who is the girl Quinn “leaves” Devon for. However, after Quinn decides to pursue Devon again, and flies to Paris, the story truly picks up, and that’s when some of the funniest parts happen. This is a surprisingly laugh-out-loud film, not only a feel-good summer rom-com, but also filled with genuine comedic moments (though I still wish there’d been a Nic Cage impression there, because Helberg does a fantastic one). And as the film ends, we are hopeful for Quinn and Devon’s relationship. It’s a wonderful, happy film, and it was a great way to close the festival.

My rating: ★★★☆☆

review by Mariana Duarte