“Mad Max: Fury Road” and the Car Chase of the Century

George Miller has some massive balls… which he’ll need to cushion the weight of all the accolades placed on his shoulders.

When I left the theater in a hazy daze of burnt orange carnage and pale painted bodies cartwheeling through the air at terminal velocity, I heard a lady behind me say disgustedly, “Oh, that was a terrible movie!”

The people around her started to beat her to a bloody pulp, all without a single word. As she slowly fell to the ground like Willem Dafoe in Platoon, I decided to lay off the hyperbole and let you know she didn’t get beat up after all – but there sure were a lot of shaking heads after her harsh film critique.

I can’t blame the people who shook their heads, but I can’t completely blame the lady either. Mad Max: Fury Road was awesome. It really was. And director/Mad Max visionary George Miller deserves all the credit in the world. The only way this movie would have been more impressive is if it was a single take that lasted for two hours, and that would have been more of a technical achievement than a legitimately beneficial move.

But an extended car chase that lasts for 120 minutes – even a post-apocalyptic one featuring crazy War Boys, a typically excellent Tom Hardy and his gravely voice, Charlize Theron with a mechanical arm attachment (and a wicked awesome character name in Imperator Furiosa), and some psycho rocking out on an electric guitar/flamethrower on top of a massive vehicle with rows of drummers on the back – can’t stay fresh forever.

While the cinematography was sneakily beautiful, making a conscious decision to show a colorfully violent world of bright oranges, reds, and browns, there are only so many shades on that side of the color spectrum before everything starts to blend together.

The novelty of the violence also started to wear off and it didn’t help the sandstorm scene came so early in the film. In the trailers, it looks like the climax, showing vehicle parts being stripped and bodies whipping through the sandy air. Instead, it was almost a prelude to the actual car chase – not a disappointment, but not the best placement either.

The real excess of the film wasn’t in the over-the-top ridiculousness of the post-apocalyptic world and all its quirky cronies. No, the problem with Mad Max: Fury Road is how long it is for what we see. Even if you don’t factor in the fact that we all know how the movie will end before we’ve started it (hint: good guys win, bad guys lose), a car chase limits the potential for diversity to a certain extent.

It’s almost counterintuitive if you think about it, because a mobile action sequence would theoretically create more options in a more organic manner. Instead, a lot of the action is your standard business, albeit crazier based on the context of the film (and George Miller’s twisted mind). Honestly, some of the best moments showed up in the trailers, including one part where a War Boy dives onto a car as it explodes. Or the aforementioned sandstorm. But having said all that…

To grade this movie on a curve because it’s a long car chase would be unfair, especially since it brought the challenge upon itself. But I have to reiterate: Mad Max: Fury Road is really good for what it does. I challenge you to make any movie (THAT ISN’T ABOUT SEX OR PORNOGRAPHY) that lasts for two hours and is about one very specific thing and keeps the audience’s interest for 100% of the time.

The fact that I got bored after 75% of the movie shouldn’t be considered a knock against it. It’s the opposite, really. I give kudos to the film for sticking to its guns and especially for choosing to overstay a very enjoyable and exciting welcome rather than introducing heinous plot devices like silly romance or other superficial drama fillers.

That’s right, you heard it here: Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron DO NOT get it on in this movie. Even in Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt kissed at the end (which received a lot of controversy, even though it was unscripted and Blunt just went for it).

If Mad Max: Fury Road was twenty minutes shorter, I think it would have been a legitimately great movie and a contender for many people’s “Best Films of 2015” lists in December. For me, I think it was immensely entertaining and more importantly, yet another sign (John Wick is another example) that action films may enjoy a resurgence towards old-school practical effects and come back down from the CGI mountain next to the destroyed city that was ravaged by superheroes and mutants and natural disasters.

Diamonds in the Rough: 10 TV Shows You Should See Right Now

Ten hidden gems in the vast world of television that you should see before something tragic happens to you. Hey, I’m just saying.

When I scroll through Netflix’s offerings, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed. It happens all the time, actually, and has gotten so bad I try to limit how much time I spend on the app (or website, if I’m on the computer).

It’s definitely a first-world problem, this anxiety of having too many options, and in the category of digital entertainment, no less. But I’m not here to place some kind of ethical value on our society’s luxuries, or prance around on a high horse. In fact, I’m here to exacerbate the situation.

You see, I know you feel the same way I do. I would even go as far as to say it’s worse for you, because I actually don’t watch any TV at all in the traditional sense. So if you own a TV, and if you have cable or satellite or whatever the kids call it these days, you must be bombarded all the time with ads, suggestions, and recommendations.

Unfortunately for you – and perhaps for me – it’s about to happen again. But before you click the top right corner and run screaming for the hills, these ten TV shows are quality creations that don’t get the attention they deserve.

Just stay by my side; I’ve been good to you so far, haven’t I?

THE BRITISH

Say what you will about the British, what with their snobby attitudes and raised pinkies, but they know how to make some damn good TV series. In honor of our superior brothers and sisters, the first five shows hail from the other side of the globe.

Quick note: some of these British shows are “diamonds in the rough” only to a reading audience that is primarily American – or you, statistically speaking.

Blackadder (1983 – 1989)

Before Rowan Atkinson was Mr. Bean, and before Hugh Laurie was House, they starred on a BBC period sitcom that was collectively called Blackadder. The four seasons/series were all set in a different historical time period, with Atkinson, Laurie, and others like Stephen Fry reprising their same general roles.

This is a sharply sarcastic comedy, with Atkinson portraying Blackadder, a scheming and conniving individual who is the very definition of an anti-hero. It’s truly a shock seeing the contrast between Blackadder and Mr. Bean.

Hugh Laurie is a pleasant shock too, since most people know him from the American show House, and not his previous comedic endeavors (the legendary Stephen Fry and Laurie were actually something of a comedy duo back in the day – the more you know).

It’s really funny and has aged well, like a fine wine or Asian women. Wait what!?!?

Black Mirror (2011 – present)

Technology and humankind are bound together for better or for worse. Black Mirror explores the “worse” part and does it in some of the most twisted ways imaginable. It’s an anthology, which means each episode features different actors, actresses, and stories.

Highlights include the Prime Minister fucking a pig, a special “grain” or implant that records everything you see in HD, and a robotic Domhnall Gleeson.

Just be warned, series creator Charlie Booker is infamous for his harsh and often grotesque satirical views. In Black Mirror, he has complete freedom to explore those views and this isn’t for the faint of heart. It is also fairly depressing, so again: pace yourself.

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (2004)

Darkplace is a perfect horror parody of what low-budget television was like in the 1980s. The acting is deliberately terrible, with the cardboard of the bunch being Richard Ayoade as Dean Learner, Garth Marenghi’s publisher, who in turn portrays Thornton Reed on Darkplace.

The six episodes are shown as kind of a documentary reflecting on Darkplace‘s cultural impact, with each episode starting with an inadvertently funny intro by Garth Marenghi (Matthew Holness), an “author, dream weaver, visionary, plus actor.” His role in Darkplace is Dr. Rick Dagless, who has a tendency to fire a Magnum revolver at (in)appropriate targets.

But the funniest character might be Todd Rivers (Matt Berry), an actor who portrays Dr. Lucien Sanchez. Berry/Rivers delivers his lines in an inexplicably deep voice and tends to fail at lip-synching all the time.

Look, that was a terrible explanation. I guess I’m still in a daze over how cheesy this show is.

Bonus: all episodes are on YouTube!

Luther (2010 – 2013, 2015?)

Inspired by the skills of Sherlock Holmes and the inverted detective format (shows the crime actually happening) of Columbo, Luther is a dark and gritty interpretation of London crime and the people with the thankless task of stopping that crime. The excellent Idris Elba portrays the titular detective and received Golden Globe and Emmy nominations every year.

Even better, the opening credits are dope.

Peep Show (2003 – present)

This cult hit features comedy duo David Mitchell and Robert Webb and uses a cool gimmick where every camera shot is a point of view angle (POV) from a character, even if that character has no lines and no relevance to the show’s larger picture in any way, shape, or form. That means a common theme will be a main character walking down the street and the audience getting a view via a random pedestrian passing by.

But aside from interesting cinematography, Peep Show is your typically sharp and witty British comedy. The chemistry between Mitchell and Webb is excellent and I personally like how Webb’s character is a total idiot, while Mitchell’s character is much more uptight and paranoid about the silliest things.

It’s a tradition for them, I suppose, since that’s the general gist of their roles in That Mitchell and Webb Look, a sketch comedy series that is also worth a… look.

 

THE AMERICANS

Say what you will about the Americans, what with their greasy attitudes and fat thumbs jammed up their asses, but they know how to make a lot of TV shows. In honor of, um, ourselves, the last five shows hail from pretty much here. Right here. Or there. Somewhere!

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013 – present)

Our country’s current relationship with the police is dubious at best, so it may come as a surprise that a comedy(!) about cops is more than just something to fill a time slot for Fox. With an excellent ensemble cast rivaling historically consistent comedies like Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine regularly delivers.

It isn’t the most sophisticated comedy… which is to be expected since Andy Samberg is involved. But have no fear: the fictional NYPD 99th Precinct is ready to make you laugh with humor that stems from your typical banter to physical acts of incompetence.

Also, this show is more realistic than you might think, which makes sense (that’s what I read somewhere, although I can’t find the source now). Imagine trying to work in an environment like Criminal Minds. Gross.

With two Golden Globes under its belt already, I think Brooklyn Nine-Nine is here to stay. You know, as long as Fox doesn’t fuck up like they did with Arrested Development and Firefly.

Bob’s Burgers (2011- present)

Speaking of Fox, there’s an animated show out there that’s a little weird and a little quirky, and that show is Bob’s Burgers, which many people know about because H. Jon Benjamin voices Bob and he also happens to voice Sterling Archer from Archer.

If you’re an oddball, you’ll like it. I like to think of it as one of those shows where you watch an episode and you think nothing happened, but then you think about it and there was a plot after all.

To be honest, an appropriate comparison might be a show like King of the Hill or even Louie. It’s a comedy, but sometimes it’s about that daily grind more than trying to make you bust a nut laughing.

Portlandia (2011 – present)

Speaking of weird and quirky, there’s a show on IFC that takes Portland, Oregon and really brings out the city’s, um, unique qualities. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein star in what basically amounts to sketches, although some episodes do carry an actual arc.

Look, this is definitely a polarizing show that ventures dangerously close to hipster territory. I’m a huge weirdo, so obviously I’m a fan, although that’s not an excuse for you to skip this secretly awesome spectacle.

At the very least, check out the show’s opening credits which features “Feel It All Around” by Washed Out.

So choice.

Real Husbands of Hollywood (2013 – present)

Yes, I said it. Real Husbands of Hollywood is a seriously underrated reality TV spoof starring Kevin Hart, Nick Cannon, Nelly, and other BET-appropriate celebrities. The best part about this show is probably the benefit of experiencing Kevin Hart’s frantic energy in short doses, as opposed to a full feature film.

I hate reality TV just as much as the next person, which is why this spoof is so funny. They absolutely nail it and a continuous feed of celebrity cameos makes it that much more awesome.

The Americans (2013 – present)

I swear this isn’t hyperbole: The Americans, as of the first three seasons, is a show with just as much depth and character as the first three seasons of The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. I mean it completely and I think FX has something truly special here.

Just like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Americans seems like a show that’s just there to take up space and time. Call it an error in marketing or blame the general public for being so focused on shows with less substance like American Horror Story, but it’s a damn shame that this intriguing and thrilling drama about Soviet spies living in America has gone unnoticed for so long.

It might end up receiving belated accolades like The Wire (which I haven’t seen yet, but will eventually).

The real meat of the show comes not from the action, but from the relationship between Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys), who are highly trained Soviet spies pretending to be Americans. They not only need to hide their true intentions from the Americans, but from their own two kids as well.

That’s why I love the comparison with The Sopranos. They are both about people doing illegal things, but there’s an incredibly strong focus on family dynamics as well. The angst between the couple/partners is often tangible, as they try to come to terms with their initially artificial relationship, their training, and their actions in enemy territory.

Perhaps the most important distinction is the humanization provided by The Americans. It gives us the other side of the story and shows us the Soviets were people too; they were just as passionate about their cause as the Americans felt about their own cause.

While neither side was perfect, I think we have to admit the US did some pretty unseemly things during the Cold War, such as orchestrating coups d’état against democratically elected governments in Central/South America – perfect material for The Americans.

To sum it up: great acting, great directing, an unflinching resolve to show some disturbing things because those things definitely happened to real people at some point in history, and a commitment to a huge number of wigs. What a show.

Stupid Horoscopes (May)

It’s almost summer, so let’s review some Vegas etiquette.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

Your persistence will not be in your favor. Somebody may break your legs with a baseball bat.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

Use that incredible wit to good use. Prepare to write down lots of phone numbers (and hotel room numbers too).

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Don’t be so clingy, because magicians really don’t give their secrets up, no matter how hard you hug their legs and refuse to let go.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Just because the bouncer won’t let you into the club doesn’t mean your bossy attitude should show up – unless you want your skull to bounce off a curb, that is.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

Modesty is great, but Vegas is really the place to let loose. Definitely blow all your winnings on alcohol and other things (just, you know, be responsible).

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Even though you’re fairly diplomatic, it’s totally acceptable to walk into the Luxor and diss it immediately. Because the Luxor is garbage.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Emotions will run high when you run into your preschool teacher getting a dance from a stripper, but just remember this: teachers are humans too!

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

No offense, but nobody cares about your philosophical musings while they’re getting their freak on.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Come on, it’s Vegas. Why are you there if you’re going to be so miserly?

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

Be friendly like you always are. Vegas is the place to make lots of acquaintances and then get psycho drunk together in a vintage montage from the 1980s.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

Sometimes being secretive isn’t good, especially if you’re being weird in casinos. Security will definitely “check you out.”

Aries (March 21 – April 19)

Be courageous and punch Mike Tyson’s tiger.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” and Our Collective Superhero Fatigue

When will it all end?

As I write this, it has been confirmed that Avengers: Age of Ultron made less in its opening weekend box office ($187.7 million) than the first movie, The Avengers ($207.4 million).

That’s still a ton of money, enough for the second-best opening over, and there are already conspiracy theories as to why the highly anticipated sequel made less than the original (boxing, anyone?), but I think we all know why the Avengers and Ultron failed to deliver.

We are slowly getting tired of superheroes.

I mean, to be honest, I was restless even before the movie began. The previews showed trailers for the loud and amusing Ant-Man and the loud and gritty Fantastic Four and I was done. While Age of Ultron was fun, often funny, and action-packed like an action film should be, it was predictable and too funny too often.

Director Joss Whedon has stated that he wanted to show collateral damage responsibly – basically show its horrific nature, unlike a movie like Man of Steel – and he did his job. But he also had every Avenger crack a one-liner every fifteen minutes, even during the fight scenes.

It was so relentless, I’m actually looking forward to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which looks very dark and very serious. On the other hand, I’m not looking forward to any more superhero movies in the near future… which is fine because Batman and Superman don’t fight until next March.

People are starting to realize, one Marvel movie at a time, that they don’t need to see every single one to figure out what’s going to happen in the ones where the ensemble cast gets together and saves the planet again.

Each movie follows a very specific formula and while the formula is competent, it is also inherently predictable. There will never be a Marvel movie where a good superhero gets his/her own movie and dies. Iron Man will never die unexpectedly and neither will anybody else of any importance.

New heroes, like Ant-Man, certainly won’t die in their first feature films, and the story in every movie is the same: person becomes exceptional in some way, another person or group is evil, good person wins over evil, cue end credits and “secret” scene at the end.

The formula has become so predictable, in fact, that the newer Marvel movies don’t wait until the very end of the credits to show their infamous sneak peaks at what will happen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s near future. Now, they go through the important credits and then show the sneak peak.

Even the big movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron are becoming increasingly unimportant in the larger picture. Many people have been saying that Age of Ultron was worth watching for the surprising and borderline unfathomable sexual tension between the Hulk and Black Widow (no, really), and for James Spader’s great vocal performance as Ultron. Aside from that? Well…

Visual effects are always going to be impressive on some level, and there were some truly phenomenal ones here, like a shot in the opening scene where our heroes leap off a snow bank at the same time and briefly hang in the air in slow motion.

But even then, it’s nothing more than a collective shrug. Marvel is running out of ways to impress the audience, but the beings in charge probably aren’t worrying about it too much. Despite a decrease in the domestic box office, Age of Ultron has already scored over $400 million overseas.

Just remember this: every dog has its day, and this massive superhero universe started in 2008 with Iron Man. That’s seven years ago. Eventually, this empire will crumble, for better or for worse.