Sorry for putting this up a day late, but this was a very slow week.
Tuesday, 7/28 – Since I watched this in the wee hours of the morning, I could count this for Monday, but for accuracy’s sake, I’ll count it for Tuesday.
“This”, by the way, is The Road Warrior. Since I had just seen Beyond Thunderdome, I figured it was time to go back to it; I had first seen it a few years back and had given it a lukewarm review, but watching selected scenes since then, realized I had been too hard on it. My mom had always praised it, while dismissing the first Max film as a violent trifle, and the raised expectations might have worked against it at first.
Certainly I thought more highly of it this time around, although I still wouldn’t consider it an unalloyed masterpiece. But it really is the definitive Max film, containing all the elements popularly associated with the series, namely the post-apocalyptic punk aesthetic and automotive action. And if the far greater budget made Fury Road the more epic, it’s impressive just what Miller and co. were able to do on a tight budget.
Interestingly, despite the advance rumors that Fury Road would be nearly dialogue-free, The Road Warrior is really the closest the series got to silent cinema, at least for certain sequences, like the long sequence where Max and the Gyro Captain stake out the refinery. The dialogue is good when it appears–the bookending narration is especially powerful, and Humungus’ big speech is awesomely villainous (you also have to love the introduction “the Ayatollah of Rock-and-Rollah!”)–but much of The Road Warrior‘s strength lies in its imagery…and the sounds of the vehicles.
Dean Semler’s cinematography is excellent, especially in the oft-overlooked scene where Humungus burns several of the settlers alive as punishment for their defiance; the scene is set at night, and the flames and headlights set against the darkness, with Humungus raging in front of them, make for a truly striking sight. Brian May’s score adds to the thrills and chills at every turn.
Mel Gibson gives his best performance as Max, Bruce Spence is amusingly goofy as the Gyro Captain (yet, at least not on repeat viewing, to the point of annoyance), and Kjell Nilsson is an imposing presence as the Humungus (though he should have had more to do). Mike Preston as Pappagallo has the kind of face that tells you everything about the character without saying a word. And Emil Minty’s Feral Kid is properly feral. Not exactly an actor’s showcase, but they generally do well.
Of course, the action is the highlight here, and there’s a lot of fine work here. The opening and closing chases are the best, of course, and doubtless someone else has written more eloquently about them. At times exactly what is happening is not entirely clear, but it’s thrilling anyway, no?
I initially scored this a 73. That’s obviously far too low. I don’t think it’s quite a great film, but it’s a very good one, just missing my ****½ range. I’ll go 84/100. The first film is an 82, FYI–also very good and very exciting, but let down just a bit by the low budget–and the heavier emphasis on traditional narrative.
Wednesday, 7/29 – Again in the wee hours, I put on Gordon Parks’ The Learning Tree. I ended up writing so much about it that I gave it a full review elsewhere. But to sum up, it’s a very beautiful film at times, but dramatically it doesn’t quite cohere. It’s worth seeing for its place in film history (the first studio film directed by an African-American), but as entertainment goes there’s many more and more memorable coming-of-age stories to choose from.
Later in the day, I went to see Magic Mike XXL. I’ll say more about it later, but for the sake of sounding epigrammatic, I’ll say it’s what would happen if Busby Berkeley made a male stripper film. It’s also one of the better portraits of male camaraderie I’ve seen in a while. I’ll go 80/100, which isn’t too bad, given that I gave the first film an 85. Also, I’m just throwing this out there: Soderbergh had a major hand in directing this film. He shot and edited it; I have to imagine he had quite a bit of input on the mise en scène as well.
Friday, 7/31 – I had a choice between Ant-Man, Trainwreck, and Mr. Holmes, and not wanting noisy action or crude comedy that night (being pretty tired), I went with Mr. Holmes, and I’m glad I did. I’m also going to give this a full review, so I won’t dig into it too much now, but I’ll say this: go see it, but don’t expect a typical Sherlock Holmes story. This film (and presumably the novel it’s based on) are much more about Holmes the man. The mystery is less what Ann Kelmot is up to than why Holmes so abruptly left the detective business–and the solution is a simple but powerful subversion of the Holmes mythos.
Ian McKellen is, of course, incredible as Holmes; it may be strange to praise a 76-year-old man’s portrayal of old age, but McKellen’s depiction of Holmes’ decrepitude is immensely impressive. Laura Linney and Milo Parker are nearly as good. The production values are spot-on, right down to the deft editing. Bill Condon handles it all quite gracefully (I really need to get around to seeing Gods and Monsters). It’s easily one of the best films of the year so far. 87/100
Sunday, 8/2 – I put on The Wolf of Wall Street for some late-night relaxation. I didn’t finish it, so I won’t change my 88/100 score, but I do think it’s definitely a notch below Scorsese’s best work. It’s really good, no doubt–it’s a very generous, overstuffed bacchanalia of bad behavior, and DiCaprio is incredible (he probably should’ve won the Oscar), but it lacks a certain extra dimension to make it resonate like GoodFellas, which it resembles a little too closely for comfort.
But still: Benihana. Benihana? BENI-FUCKING-HANA?!!?