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Posts Tagged ‘Charlize Theron’

There comes a point during F Gary Gray’s Fast and Furious 8, possibly when the great Vin Diesel is jumping his car over a nuclear submarine in order to rid himself of the heat-seeking missile which someone has inconsiderately launched at him, when it is entirely reasonable for a person to forget that things were not always thus with this franchise. The last four or five installments have been such utterly reliable, if slightly ridiculous, big-scale entertainment, that you might assume that this is really an in-name-only sequel to the moderately gritty and down-to-earth 2001 progenitor of the series.

This is about as good a hopping-on point for newcomers as any film in the series. As things get underway, man-mountain boy-racer and mastermind of good-hearted skulduggery Dom Toretto (Diesel) and his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are enjoying a postponed (since F&F4) honeymoon in Cuba. This involves Toretto launching burning cars into the harbour at supersonic speed, backwards, but romance is a personal thing, after all. Meanwhile, colossus of justice Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is enjoying a little down-time, until someone arrives to deliver some important exposition. Thus we get a scene where someone is trying to explain to Hobbs about a stolen doomsday weapon while he is distracted and trying to coach his daughter’s soccer team.

Well, Hobbs retains Toretto and the rest of the F&F All-Stars to help him get the doomsday widget back, not realising Toretto has fallen under the sway of evil cyber-terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron), who gets him to pinch the widget and zoom off with it, abandoning the rest of the All-Stars. But how is this possible? Given that Dom devotes most of his dialogue in these films to rumbling on about the importance of ‘fam-er-lee’, what could possibly make him sell out his nearest and dearest this way?

Anyway, Hobbs gets slung in the chokey for his part in the failed mission, and ends up in the next cell to Deckard (Mr Jason Statham), the villain of F&F7, conveniently enough. Energetic prison-riot shenanigans inevitably ensue. In the end, shady intelligence puppetmaster/plot device Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) gets the All-Stars, Hobbs, and Deckard together and tasks them with finding Toretto and Cipher before they can do anything too naughty with the stolen doomsday widget. Cue a succession of monumentally overblown car chases and fist-fights, a peculiar bromance between J-Stat and the Rock, some extremely broad humour, and more than a whiff of sentimentality as people bang on and on about ‘fam-er-lee’…

The key question about this one, I suppose, is whether or not you can make a viable and satisfying Fast and Furious movie without the late Paul Walker (or, for that matter, Jordana Brewster, who doesn’t appear either). The answer seems to be ‘yes’, but I get a sense of the film-makers being aware of the change in the essential dynamic of the series – this may be why Diesel is sent off into his own plotline away from the other characters for most of the movie, and Statham and Johnson inserted into the heart of the ensemble (although rumour has it that this may also be due to Diesel having had a bit of a tiff with certain of his co-stars and refusing to share any scenes with them). This is very successful, I would say, because these are two charismatic dudes who deserve a chance to do more than just sweat and either sit behind steering wheels or wallop stuntmen. The dividend extends further, with both Michelle Rodriguez and Tyrese Gibson getting some of their best material in the history of the series. (Scott Eastwood turns up as a new character and also does surprisingly well.)

Even Charlize Theron does pretty well with a character who is, on paper, not much more than an, um, cipher, much given to slightly preposterous speeches about evolutionary psychology and so on (clearly she’s yet another person who’s just read Sapiens). Given the size of some of the performances elsewhere in the movie (and the size of some of the performers, come to that), it’s hard to make a big impression as the bad guy in Fast and Furious Land, but she has a good go, helped by the fact that Cipher steers the series into some properly dark territory – something genuinely shocking and serious befalls a regular character partway through this film, threatening to tilt it all over into the realms of bad taste.

The casual way in which the film recovers its absurd, freewheeling tone is just another sign of the genuine deftness and skill with which these films are made (although this one does seem to score a bit higher on the mindless slaughter scale than most of the others). I do get mocked for my sincere enthusiasm for this series, but it is simply supremely well-made entertainment, and if the combination of stunts, jokes, fighting, and sentimentality is a bit preposterous, so what? With the Bond movies seemingly locked in ‘glum’ mode for the duration, there’s a gap in the market for something so knowing and fun. At one point in this movie, Jason Statham launches himself into battle with a squad of goons, gun in one hand, baby-carrier in the other, and what follows is both a terrific action sequence and genuinely very funny, with all the craziness you’d hope for in one of Mr Statham’s own movies. I do hope they keep Deckard (and his own fam-er-lee) around for the next one.

If Fast and Furious 8 is silly or ridiculous (and it really is), I would suggest it is silly and ridiculous in an entirely intentional way. And underlying all this is a script that regular writer Chris Morgan genuinely seems to have thought about – he doesn’t quite do his usual chronology-fu, but nevertheless he’s locked onto the fact that ever since the first one, the best of these films have all been about the camaraderie and sense of belonging you get from being part of a gang, or a family, and this informs the plot of this one in a fundamental way – that’s the thread linking the new film to the original one. Silly is not the same as stupid.

So I suppose it’s possible to genuinely dislike Fast and Furious 8, in the same way it’s possible to dislike any movie – but that doesn’t make it any less successful in hitting the targets it has set for itself, or indeed any less entertaining for the rest of us. If every film were made with this degree of skill and attention to detail, then the world would be a happier place.

 

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All things considered, it’s not a tremendous surprise to find adverts for new Jurassic Park and Terminator movies hanging around the trailer portion of the cinema-going experience – these series both have the feel of studio cash-cows about them, regardless of how they appear to have been mucked about in a dubious attempt to make them appear fresher and more original. Slightly more unexpected is the first Mad Max film in thirty years, directed – as before – by George Miller.

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-lovely-day

For the purposes of Mad Max: Fury Road, Mel Gibson has – not surprisingly – been replaced by Tom Hardy. This appears to be another instance of that modern plague, the reboot, inasmuch as the events of the story seems to replace or overwrite those of Mad Max 2: Hardy starts the film in a costume clearly derived from Gibson’s, and is driving a very similar car, but things take a different turn when he falls into the clutches of a post-apocalyptic warlord known as Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who of course played the main villain in the first Mad Max in 1979).

Things look bleak for Max as he is pressed into service as, basically, a source of medical supplies, but all is not well in Immortan Joe’s kingdom, when his trusted lieutenant Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) makes a break for freedom in a heavily-armed battlewagon, taking with her the warlord’s harem of young brides (including Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley as the slimmest-ankled heavily-pregnant woman in history). Immortan Joe, following standard post-apocalyptic warlord procedure, mounts an energetic pursuit in a variety of peculiar vehicles. One of these is driven by Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a young warrior whose need for regular medical fortification leads to his mounting Max on his car as a sort of hood ornament. Could this be Max’s chance to make a break for it? Can he find enough common ground with Furiosa and the others to form an alliance? And what are the chances of Miller doing another Babe sequel?

Just to reiterate, there is a complete absence of Mel Gibson as far as Fury Road is concerned, and as his replacement Tom Hardy is… hmmm, well, we’ll come back to that one. I can’t imagine that anyone will miss Gibson too much, however, as all the other elements of Mad Max movies of years gone by have been reconstituted, albeit in a larger, glossier, and louder form. The central through-line of the plot is the same as that of previous sequels – damaged loner Max reluctantly finds himself making common cause with a group of other survivors, and much vehicular carnage ensues – and while it would be overstating things to say that Fury Road is basically just the final chase from Mad Max 2 stretched out to two hours with some of the weirder and more grotesque elements of Beyond Thunderdome drizzled lightly over the top, neither is this a completely unfair description of the film.

Certainly there is not a great deal of plot taking place here beyond an extended pursuit across some extraordinary, devastated landscapes, and what gives the film its drive and identity is the sheer raw energy of the thing, along with some strikingly bizarre art direction. There’s a lot of inventive mutilation and mutation even before the bullets start flying, and the initial assault of the film – its first act – is almost oppressively relentless in the succession of over-the-top images and moments it delivers, never quite giving you time to assimilate them. It calms down eventually, though not by much, and you’re never very far from something exploding or a gory death of some description. Did I mention that George Miller is 70 years old? This film looks like the work of somebody many decades younger.

Still, it would all look very much like a hollow sort of retread of past glories, were it not for the core of the story, which is something new and quite different for a major studio action movie, namely some of the most uncompromising sexual politics I can recall seeing in a mainstream release of any kind. ‘Feminist’ doesn’t begin to do it justice: the plot is initiated and driven by the female characters and it’s the women in the film who are presented as competent, sympathetic, and sane throughout – the men are all crazed, unpleasant, acquisitive fools obsessed with ideas of theology and possession. You could even argue that the whole film is ultimately the weirdest statement in favour of womens’ reproductive freedom in world history (a prominent scene has the harem clipping off their chastity belts with bolt cutters). Even Max, the ostensible hero, doesn’t get very much to do in terms of actually shaping the plot: he’s an entirely passive figure for most of the first half hour, for example. It’s not really surprising that Theron, as Furiosa, shares top billing with him, as she is essentially the main protagonist of the film.

Perhaps my view of this film has been somewhat coloured by an early review I saw entitled something along the lines of ‘New Mad Max movie is so feminist it made my nuts drop off’, but I really don’t think so. Nevertheless, as usual I can’t shake my suspicion of any film which suggests that real feminism is about women acting so viciously and violently they are almost indistinguishable from men, and I do think the film is compromised by the fact that it is, even if only putatively, about a male hero. (Still, I’d be fascinated to learn more about Miller’s creative process – did he decide to insert the political angle into a pre-existing idea for another Max movie? (This one seems to have been in development hell for at least a decade.) Or was it just that he wanted to make a film about these ideas and concluded that he’d have the best chance of financing another SF action film, rather than something more overtly political?)

Maybe I am overstating things, because even if you’re oblivious to the ideas involved, the film has more than enough energy and grit and movement to be fully acceptable just as an action movie. After a slightly wobbly start, not helped by the fact he spends a fair portion of the film with some kind of gardening implement attached to his face, Hardy brings his customary charisma to bear and is an entirely satisfactory lead – even if he arguably doesn’t get the material he deserves. One could, perhaps, suggest that Hardy’s accent goes on a wild geographical odyssey of its own in the course of the film (he starts off apparently attempting an Aussie accent and by the end seems to be doing the Bane voice again), but this is not really a serious issue for him or Fury Road.

I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t turn up for Mad Max: Fury Road with especially high expectations, mainly because it did just look like a karaoke version of the earlier films, with a vast budget taking the place of any real invention. Well, this is not the film that I was expecting, but something with a much more twisted and subversive edge to it. I still wouldn’t say it was in the same league as either of the first two films, and it’s obviously not going to have anything like the same kind of cultural impact, but it’s still going to satisfy fans of both this series and action-oriented fantasy in general. The other SF revenants I mentioned at the top of the page look like being, at best, good Bad Movies. This is quite probably a Good Movie, full stop. Worth a look.

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In this world, there are advertising campaigns, and there are Advertising Campaigns – and, let there be no doubt, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus has well and truly been the recipient of the latter. It feels like every time I’ve been to a film with a vaguely appropriate certificate over the last few months, it has been preceded not simply by the trailer for this movie, but also by a short film ‘introducing’ it – basically talking heads of the creative people involved come on and talk about how great it is, while behind the scenes footage rolls. Long ago I learned to be skeptical about this sort of thing.

(And, while we’re on the subject of advertisorial film nonsense, it appears that winsome Kim has been sacked from the reliably irksome Live From The Red Carpet slot in the commercials. What the hell…? Winsome Kim was just about the only thing that made this exercise in utter bumf tolerable, and there are surely few women in the world who can complete a handover to an animated piece of chocolate with the same degree of self-possession and charm that Kim did. Bring back Kim at once!)

Anyway, the promotional carpet-bombing is arguably a dodgy move as it manages to be inescapable across all media, to the point of actually becoming annoying, while remaining irritatingly coy about all the things about Prometheus most people are going to be interested in: namely, this film’s connections with a particular series of well-regarded and hugely successful SF-horror movies.

Scott’s movie opens with breathtaking landscapes and the strange death of an alien traveller, apparently by his own hand. It’s a powerful, striking moment, setting the film’s tone well – everything is reserved, thoughtful, visually awesome, and not a little oblique: there’s something Kubrickian about Prometheus in its most majestic scenes.

From here the story shifts and we meet late-21st century scientists Elizabeth Shaw (insert Doctor Who gag here if you’re so minded), played by Noomi Rapace, and Charlie Holloway, played by Logan Marshall-Green. They have discovered a series of obscure archaeological sites which not only suggest extraterrestrial contacts occurring in humanity’s remote past, but also provide a map to the visitors’ point of origin.

Some years later, the privately-funded science ship Prometheus is approaching that very planet. Shaw and Holloway are on board, leading a science team. Also present are Idris Elba’s rough-diamond space captain, Charlize Theron’s fearsome corporate enforcer, and – most charismatically – Michael Fassbender’s impeccably-behaved android factotum. As the ship touches down on the bleak alien world, a chain of events is set in motion which will reveal much about the origins of the human race – and other things as well. The designation of the planet is LV-233…

So, you’ve got a feisty female lead, a corporate apparatchik with a personal agenda, a reliable old space veteran, an inscrutable android, crews coming out of stasis over unknown worlds, foreboding alien structures, lots of slime… on one level, the makers of this film are enthusiastically revisiting old territory. However, the one question which most people really want answered is the one not even touched upon by the advertising – the question of whether it actually features aliens. Or, to be more precise, the Alien, from the 1979 film of the same name.

Prometheus doesn’t just copy the style and some of the tropes of Alien – from the moment the name of the planet is mentioned, it’s clear that this is openly going to be a prequel of sorts to that film. As well as the characters being drawn from the same set of archetypes, at least one key location reappears, and – rather like in The Bourne Ultimatum – there are moments and lines of dialogue seemingly designed to make you recall moments from the earlier films. Mostly the first two, as you might expect, and the Paul W.S. Anderson take on the franchise is ignored – continuity cops may have fun trying to figure out a way to reconcile those films with this one, but I digress. You yourself may be wondering – does Giger’s masterpiece-offspring make an in-the-biomechanical-flesh appearance? In short, are faces hugged? Do chests burst? All I feel able to say is that I think this element is not handled as well as it could have been.

This is not a major problem, though, as this is a beautifully-designed and lavishly-made SF movie, not afraid to explore big ideas and take, it seemed to me, a genuine delight in doing so. It doesn’t do so in great detail, to be sure, but then again one’s expectations of a $130m studio movie released in 3D must necessarily be limited. Nevertheless, this film is a cut above in most departments, with strong performances from Rapace and especially Fassbender a major plus.

I’m on record as not being a great fan of the original film, to be honest, feeling that Scott’s rather stately and restrained direction didn’t work to best advantage in what was basically an (atypically brainy) exploitation movie. I have to say that, on the whole, I’m rather more impressed with his work on Prometheus – as I said, this is primarily a film concerned with all sorts of big ideas, not an adrenaline thrill-ride or nerve-jangling exercise in suspense. This is not to say that the film is completely cerebral – there’s a memorably grisly sequence about two-thirds of the way through, about which all I will say is that ‘it’s not a traditional foetus’ is a comment no girl wants to hear during a medical check-up – but the plot does seem written to facilitate the ideas rather than vice versa, and the story as a whole never quite engages the emotions.

Nevertheless, I was quietly impressed by Prometheus and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m not sure if people wholly unacquainted with the Alien series will find it especially rewarding, while as for people turning up expecting a bona fide new installment, dripping with fresh acid… hmm. Personally I enjoyed the links, subtle and otherwise, to the other films, while the fact that much of the back-story of this movie is left to the viewer to decipher and come to their own conclusions about was not a problem: it’s nice to be treated with intelligence for a change. Prometheus is a superior SF blockbuster; it may be only a distant and slightly strained relation to Alien, but it does its progenitors no disgrace.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 23rd February 2006:

You can say what you like about the big Hollywood studios (and I frequently have in the past), but sometimes you just can’t help but feel a bit redundant. Mainly because they tend to do such a superb job of exposing themselves to ridicule and thus saving critics the job. In particular this week I am thinking of their behaviour towards the younger actor of the distaff persuasion, particularly those with Oscar form. It has become a truism that if you are a young and attractive female actor, your best (maybe even only) chance of picking up a gilt doorstop is to ugly yourself down a bit and put some weight on. This is such aberrant behaviour as far as la-la land is concerned, that they can’t help but be impressed. (All this goes double for actors who used to be models.)

Of course, now you’ve won your Oscar, and thus established your credentials as a serious and grown up artiste, it falls to the studios to find you a starring vehicle in which you can further exercise your talents. Which, as a young and attractive woman, usually translates as ‘comic book and/or cartoon adaptation featuring heroine in catsuit doing kung fu’. It happened to Halle Berry with Catwoman and now it’s happened to Charlize Theron in Karyn Kusama’s AeonFlux, based on a fairly obscure MTV animation.

Ominously, to begin with it looks like Kusama’s film has been assembled solely using material from the Big Book of Sci Fi Cliches. Following a global catastrophe, the survivors of the human race have retreated to the walled city of Bregna where they have constructed a utopia of sorts. But after four hundred years of benevolent dictatorship by the Goodchild dynasty, dissent is growing, fomented further by increasing numbers of disappearances. The rebels’ top agent is Aeon Flux (Theron), a… er, well, we don’t learn that much about her other than her fondness for doing gymnastics while wearing a catsuit. At least I think we don’t. I may have been distracted. After her activities seemingly lead to the death of a loved one, Aeon is delighted to learn that her next mission is to penetrate the HQ of the ruling board and eliminate the big kahuna, Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas). Yes, this 25th century world is ruled by a man named Trevor Goodchild. This may be an exotic name to Los Angeles-based creatives, but to me he just sounds like a round-the-world yachtsman. So off Aeon Flux somersaults, sidekick Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo, who knows a thing or two about dodgy cartoon adaptations) in tow, firmly intent on knocking off Trevor. Well, in the end she does, although perhaps not in the way the rebel mastermind (Frances McDormand in a bizarre ginger fright wig) was thinking of. But there’s more going than that (isn’t there always?). Trevor has a secret. So does Aeon, though she doesn’t know it yet. Sithandra doesn’t have a secret, but following some cosmetic surgery she does have a tendency to get veruccas on her thumbs.

It all seems to go completely bonkers after a while, but even the most eccentric plot developments tend to be accompanied by shots of a strapping ex-model in a catsuit running away from the camera. I found this strangely… well, soothing isn’t perhaps the right word. Bold choices in costume design and art direction mean that for the most part the movie stays engaging after a rather wobbly start (we get a set of captions that set the scene, which are then followed by a voiceover which sets the scene all over again – one or the other would have done). The film scores big points for its willingness to show a truly technologically advanced future without bothering to explain how everything works: the city’s main surveillance centre resembles a fountain, for example, and there’s a laboratory that seems to exist in another dimension. There are plenty of fun gadgets, too: the rebels receive their instructions by pill (eat the pill, get the message telepathically), while Aeon herself is equipped with a set of exploding robot ball-bearings. There’s a nice set piece where Theron and Okenodo have to get to a high-security installation through a garden where the plants themselves have been engineered as anti-personnel weapons. (I was sorry not to see the machine from the cartoon which licked the soles of Aeon’s feet at the end of particularly gruelling missions.)

Sadly, though, the film can’t sustain this level of inventiveness – at least, not while telling the fairly routine tale it eventually opts for. To be fair, the secret of the city comes as a reasonable surprise, but from this point on it all gets a bit pedestrian, with avant-garde techno-weirdness replaced by people running around firing automatic weapons at each other. It stays just about watchable, though. Karyn Kusama does a pretty decent job, but this isn’t up to the standard of her last movie, Girlfight, which brought Michelle Rodriguez to the brink of stardom and told the female-boxer story better than Million Dollar Baby did.

All the same, one would have hoped a woman director might have dodged some of the pitfalls an action movie fronted by a woman tend to fall into. These mainly revolve around the presentation of the main character – it seems than when you tell a group of male screenwriters to depict a confident, independent, capable lead female character, the words which actually hit their ears are ‘man with breasts’, because that’s what Aeon Flux comes across as most of the time. And as soon as she meets Mr Right – well, it’s not a complete about-face for her, but a lot of her ruthless steely resolve goes right out of the window. Aw, bless.

However, it does seem a bit pointless to go all Rev Fem on a movie which has after all been made by the film wing of MTV (not to mention rather hypocritical given how much I’ve been going on about Charlize Theron in a catsuit). This is a reasonable enough movie, if a bit austere and derivative in parts. And if nothing else, Karyn Kusama has manged to make a film about cloning which isn’t an exact duplicate of every other one on the subject we’ve had recently. And that’s a neat trick.

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