Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS. 

Five minutes into the movie, you were probably marveling, as I was, at the way production designer Colin Gibson created an entire civilization that looked (dys)functional to every last detail. (Gibson and his team also created the movie’s insane lineup of vehicles.)  -Detroit Free Press

I know what you’re thinking (esp. if a regular reader): Why did YOU watch this movie!?  It’s definitely NOT my type of film, BUT I heard several positive reviews (podcasts, radio,  online folks, etc.)  Also, I know almost nothing about the Mel Gibson films- played Max first.  I wanted to see Tom Hardy (who appeared in Wuthering Heights shown on PBS years back).  I  saw this reboot on HBO this past SAT, when the channel premiered it. 

In those days, we were far removed,  They’d ship everything over, so you’d get magazines like four months after they’d been released in the United States and Europe, so we were always quite a way behind the trends. But Kiwis are really innovative people, and we try to make up a lot of our own things.  -Lesley Vanderwalt (Hair & Makeup Designer)

The FIRST thing you will notice is the wild, wacky look of the film- TRULY like nothing I’d seen before!  As for ALL that sand- it was shot partly in the desert of Namibia.  The music is quite effective, and unusual.  Over time, you discover that Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is the REAL lead of the story; she is seeking some sort of redemption after years of being the right-hand of the warlord, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, an Australian veteran actor who also appeared in the original films).  Nicholas Hoult (a young Brit) does a fine job as a Nux, a formerly fanatical supporter (“War Boy”) who learns that there is MORE to life than fighting to get into “Valhalla” (Heaven).  

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Mad Max: Fury Road should be recognized for the ground it broke: slipping in a feminist, elaborately constructed world in a moment, and a genre, where those things are typically at odds.  -Katharine Cusumano (Bustle)

So, is this a feminist film (as MANY critics have commented)?  Well, that’s up to YOU to decide!  Max (the loner) helps Furiosa (a take-action gal w/ NO apologies) on her quest to get the wives of Immortan Joe (including Zoe Kravitz) to a place of safety.  There is NO romance between them, BUT a gradual growth of respect- how refreshing!  This film was mainly about world-building (Ali Mattu, a fan of this film, agreed w/ me on that); he replied (tweeted) that there will be sequels in the near future.  Even if you’re skeptical, give Fury Road a shot. 

Bajirao Mastani: The Love Story of A Warrior

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Background & Trivia

The film was first announced in 2003. Sanjay Leela Bhansali initially wanted to cast Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, but plans fell through when the real life couple had a messy, highly publicized breakup. Bhansali then kept Khan on and approached Kareena Kapoor to play Mastani and Rani Mukerji to play Kashibai, but shelved his plans and moved on to other projects. Over the following decade, several major actors were rumored to be linked to the project (Shahrukh Khan, Ajay Devgan, Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif).

Coming out on the same day as Dilwale (2015), this marks the third time that a Sanjay Leela Bhansali directed film and Shahrukh Khan starring vehicle were released on the same day after their common Devdas (2002) in July 2002, and later the competing Saawariya (2007) and Om Shanti Om (2007), both released on Diwali 2007.

Production designers created more than 21 sets, which required extensive research.

Priyanka Chopra (star of the ABC drama Quantico) followed a 15 day coaching course to learn the Marathi language as spoken during the time of Peshwas.

The narrator of this film (Irrfan Khan) may sound familiar to some viewers; he has appeared in many American/English language films (including Life of Pi; The Namesake; New York, I Love You).

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Disclaimer

This film begins and ends with a lengthy disclaimer:

The Filmmaker fully acknowledges and respects other perspectives and viewpoints with regard to the subject of the film. The Filmmaker does not intend in any manner to belittle, disrespect, impair or disparage the beliefs, feelings, sentiments and susceptibilities of any person(s), community(ies), society(ies) and their culture(s), custom(s), practice(s) and tradition(s).

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SPOILERS: Don’t read from this point if you don’t want to know details from this film.

Set-Up of the Film

Love is its own religion.

In early 18th century India, a proud/respected/ young warrior Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) is chosen as the new Peshwa (the equivalent of a modern day prime minister) by a Maratha king.

While traveling, an emissary (dressed as a soldier) infiltrates Bajirao’s tent and demands his help in fighting invaders to her land.  She is a bold/gorgeous/warrior princess called Mastani (Deepika Padukone).  The audience soon learns that she is the daughter of a (Hindu) Rajput King and his (Muslim) consort.  Since her parents are of different faiths, their union is illegitimate, as is Mastani herself.   Also, she is considered a Muslim, like her mother.  (Here lies the crux of the controversy of this film-  Muslims  and Hindus in love relationships.) 

Impressed by her skills as a warrior, Bajirao assists her with his army and defeats the invaders to her land.  Mastani and Bajirao develop feelings for each other and he presents her his dagger, which is always at his waist. This is also a symbol of marriage among her people, the Rajputs.  Of course, Bajirao doesn’t know this tradition!

After this battle, Bajirao departs for his opulent estate in Pune, where his beautiful/childlike/adoring wife Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra) awaits him.  When they joke about her husband being away so much, she proudly declares to her servants that “he has never looked at another woman.” No wilting wallflower, Mastani (with only one complaining young handmaiden), decides to pursue Bajirao- a love triangle is formed!  

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My Thoughts

I went to see this film in my neighborhood Regal theater (rare to see Bollywood films there) w/ one of my gal pals (also Bangladeshi-American and near my age) and my mom (who rarely watches these types of films; she prefers Indian indies).  The theater was nearly packed- a BIG surprise to us!  Being desis, we knew it was going to be long (duh!) and have dance/singing (a staple), BUT were still impressed w/ the scale of the production, costuming, and even the acting (Chopra can’t ruin this).  I’d never seen Singh or Padukone before, but they did a good job w/ the material.  Padukone is very graceful and strong in her role, but also has a VERY innocent/other-wordly aura about her (maybe it’s her FAB skin).

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One of my other gal pals (South Indian heritage) LOVED the film and all the 3 leads; she saw it the week after it debuted on DEC 18th. This is one of those epic films that knows it’s an epic, so the music can be bombastic and lines are proclaimed (not merely spoken in a natural manner).  However, I think that it’s a LOT better than Bollywood films I’ve seen in the past (several years ago, so may NOT be the best judge).  I liked the dances, BUT my friend wasn’t impressed w/ the songs (she watches Bollywood films once in a while).  I suggest you check it out IF you have an interest in Bollywood (BUT take it for what it  IS, don’t put TOO much interpretation into this genre)!

Related Links

Emma’s Faves of 2015: Film

99 Homes

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99 Homes shouldn’t be described as the typical tour-de-force, but more of a tour-de-fact cinematic achievement.

Holding his own against a larger than life acting force that is Shannon, Garfield’s Nash allows himself to feed off Carver’s greed and sinisterly convincing monologues with scenes of heart-wrench, grit and sensitivity.

-Comments from a viewer from Canada (IMDB)

I saw this film at a pre-screening (w/ my movie Meetup group); I wasn’t expecting it to be this good!  Michael Shannon (who portrays a quite realistic villain) is a shoe-in for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  (FYI:  Broadgreen acquired the film late in OCT ’14, then tried to squeeze in a release before the end of that year to qualify for the Oscars.  They decided they didn’t have enough time to mount a proper marketing campaign, so it sat on the shelf until OCT ’15.)

Read my review of director Ramin Bahrani’s first film, Man Push Cart.

Read A.O. Scott’s comprehensive NYT review here.

Ex Machina

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…if the test is passed, you are dead center of the greatest scientific event in the history of man.  -Nathan

If you’ve created a conscious machine, it’s not the history of man. That’s the history of gods.  -Caleb

Quiet dialogue scenes between two characters are filmed in such an impactful way, making them feel hauntingly austere, sweet and innocent, or terrible and frightening, through meticulous use of composition, light and sound.

The performances are excellent, most notably Alicia Vikander as the beguiling Ava, who absolutely passes for being ‘almost human.’  Domhnall Gleeson also delivers a quiet and focused performance as Caleb. Like Ava, he is relatable… in complete contrast to the boorish, reckless Nathan (Oscar Isaac).

The dialogue feels real and non-cliché. The ending probably will not satisfy everyone…  Overall I found it to be enthralling and disturbing stuff.

-Comments from a viewer in Ireland

This year, I’ve been listening to a few different movie podcasts; ALL of them reviewed and praised this sci-fi film.  I FINALLY saw it 2 weeks ago and was VERY surprised (which is rare these days- stories becoming more and MORE repetitive, cliched, and just plain boring).  Alex Garland, the writer and director, is going to be one to watch in the future (no pun intended).  This is more like a 3-person play, as one critic noted, NOT a typical sci-fi film.  Even the music is out-of-the box!  You can watch it on Netflix; don’t forget to recommend to your friends who don’t usually go in for sci-fi (they’ll thank you later).

Do y’all remember when I FIRST wrote re: Issac?

Inside Out

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When I was asked to do this, the script was amazing. I went up to Pixar and I cried. I was just in a meeting with these guys and they showed me the story and I started weeping.  -Mindy Kaling

This is another film I saw at a pre-screening (w/ my movie Meetup group): I went in knowing almost nothing about it, aside from the fact that Kaling, Amy Poehler, and Louis Black were playing some of the voices.  It ALSO turned out to be a pleasant surprise (Bing Bong was one of my faves)!  The crowd was moved throughout the animated film; we were almost ALL grown-ups from 20s-50s.  You can see this film w/ the entire family- each person will get something different out of it!   

Read my full review.

Brooklyn

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I went to see this film w/ my mom- we BOTH loved it!  And can you believe that Saoirse Ronan is ONLY in her early 20s!?  Emory Cohen (who I’d never seen before) does a FINE job as Tony; I think he was channeling a young, BUT more low-key version of Brando.  This is another film w/ Domhnall Gleeson- here, he plays Jim, the handsome (check out that darker red hair and preppy wardrobe), well-settled Irish bar owner; this is a far cry from his roles in Ex Machina and the new Star Wars film. 

Read Virginia’s VERY well-written review here.

Listen to Me Marlon

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A MUST-SEE for fans of classic films!  It has been playing on Showtime for the past 2 wks or so; it will be on WED, 12/30 at 10PM EST.  It kept me glued to my seat past midnight, even though I should’ve been sleeping.  

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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By now, you ALL must have seen this movie- maybe some saw it twice!  There were quite a FEW surprises for me, even though I’d (partly) been spoiled by the time I saw it last week.  Gleeson is here again (getting to REALLY like him), as are Isaac (LOVE him already) and Adam Driver (mostly known for his recurring role on HBO’s Girls).  Harrison Ford is onscreen for a good amount of time- my mom and lil bro BOTH liked that.  The two newbie leads (Daisy Ridley and John Boyega) did VERY well; they also had GREAT chemistry.  My mom also liked the new robot (BB-8).  Go check it out if you haven’t yet- you’ll have a GREAT time for sure! 

Listen to Zaki & Brian’s podcast review here. 

AFI Latin American Film Festival: How to Win Enemies (Argentina)

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review. 

como-ganar-enemigos-posterLucas Abadi (Martin Slipak), a humble/soft-spoken/kind young lawyer w/ a love for detective novels, is pulled into his OWN real-life crime story in this “neurotic thriller” directed by Gabriel Lichtmann.  The director (in a Q&A after the screening) said that his wife assisted him in writing the final version of the film.  He was influenced by the work of Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen, who he thanks in the closing credits.

Como ganar enemigos_brosLuqui (as he is nicknamed by those close to him) has been saving to buy his own apartment.  He’s also to be the best man at his big brother’s (and fellow law partner) wedding.  Luqui is (pleasantly) surprised when a tall/blonde/pretty secretary, Barbara, flirts w/ him, then gives him her card in a local bar.  His friend urges him to go after her.  Of course, drama (and trouble) ensues!

como-ganar-enemigos_spyingThis was a FUN, crowd-pleasing movie (as noted by critics from ALL over the world).  The leading man is VERY likable, even when he gets into shades of gray behavior (to help a needy client).  WHO could be HIS enemy, we think!?  The music suits the film also very well- it’s got a BIT of tension (when needed); that’s a nod to Hitchcock, I’m sure.  Another thing I liked- the Jewish heritage of the main characters is in the background, BUT not a big point in the story.

 

AFI Latin American Film Festival: Marshland (Spain)

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NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.  DC area folks can see this film tomorrow (SAT, 9/19/15) at 9:15PM at AFI Silver.

Marshland shows us a world where everyone is out for themselves.  -Gareth Wood (Maverick Film)

We’re quite familiar w/ the set-up already: missing girls, small town w/ secrets/corruption, and two VERY different homicide detectives (from the big city) brought in to help solve the case.  However, this film is set in Spain in 1980, soon after General Franco was overthrown and the country (struggling economically) became a democracy.  The missing teens are two sisters, Carmen and Estrella, who were known to “have a reputation.”  The cops from Madrid are idealistic father-to-be, Pedro (Raul Arevalo), and jaded, hard drinking Juan (Javier Gutierrez). 

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Some frames of the film are based on photographs of Atín Aya, whose work impressed the filmmakers when they knew his work in a retrospective exhibition. -IMDB

I recommend this film for fans of Southern Gothic stories, character dramas, and those who like suspense (NOT only action).  Don’t worry, there are a FEW well done action scenes. On the way, the cops are assisted by Jesus (a local guide), who provides some of the humor in his dark tale.  Jesus gets caught hunting a deer (“Bambi,” he jokes) w/o a license.

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The cops work together, BUT also on their own following different leads.  The cinematography in this film is VERY good, as my friend commented.  The location is almost like a character in the story- we see desert, marshes, rivers, and (in the climax) a rainstorm.  If you liked HBO’s True Detective (S1), this is for YOU.