Labor Day is more than a time to honor the needs and rights of workers, and is more than just a long weekend off from work (except for the emergency services people, and restaurant/grocery workers). It's also the start of college and pro football, it's the last leg of baseball's regular season, it's kids back in school and Halloween supplies in stores.
It's the end of the summer movie blockbuster season. Traditionally it starts Memorial Day, peaks on the Wednesday before the 4th of July, and ends Labor Day. Granted, the market's shifted to where the blockbusters can get out in mid-April (Easter) and impact the early weeks, but Labor Day is a given end (the market dries out because the middle-high schoolers that buy the entertainment tickets are distracted with homework).
With that, on this Labor Day I wanted to look back at this summer, yet another round of mindless sci-fi laden thrills, some that worked - Jurassic World - some that surprised - Ant-Man was all set to be a bust but it proved well-sized (pun intended) to its ambitions - some that brought emotional heft - Inside Out is the best movie about emotional angst of ALL TIME - some that equaled expectations - Age of Ultron and Minions - some that fell short - Tomorrowland - and some that crashed and burned like the unwanted debacles they were - Sigh, Fantastic Four reboot.
And there was one that blew them all out the water.
Mad Max Fury Road.
It wasn't the box office winner - Jurassic World proved people want to see badass Dinosaurs eating people - but Fury Road was the most-talked-about movie the second it was released. The reviews for it put it in the masterpiece category. The fanbase among sci-fi / fantasy / comic-book geekery exploded with fanart and fanvideos and cosplay.
Even sports geeks got into it: (be warned this is all in CAPS LOCK)
THAT'S WHERE THIS STARTS. THERE'S NO 'OH, REMEMBER WHEN THINGS WERE GREAT,' NO, NO, NO: YOU JUST ROCKET RIGHT INTO THE SEVENTH CIRCLE OF HELL FIND THE ELEVATOR AND MASH THE DOWN BUTTON UNTIL YOUR THUMB BLISTERS.
...AND YES THERE IS A POLITICAL MESSAGE IN HERE THAT MOST MEN ARE STUPID AND BAD AND WOULD RATHER KILL THE ENTIRE WORLD KIND OF AS A DEFAULT MISSION STATEMENT AND THAT'S ENTIRELY ACCURATE AND NOT AT ALL SUBTLE BECAUSE NOTHING IN THIS FILM IN SUBTLE AND THAT IS FAAAAAAAANFUCKINGTASTIC IN EVERY WAY. THERE MIGHT BE SIX PAGES OF DIALOGUE IN THE SCRIPT. MAYBE TEN IF THEY WROTE OUT TOM HARDY'S GRUNTING. IT'S GOOD GRUNTING, DON'T GET ME WRONG BECAUSE MOST OF TOM HARDY'S WORK HERE IS DIALOGUE WITHOUT DIALOGUE. MAX SAWS AT THE BACK OF HIS MASKED HEAD WITH A NAIL FILE SO FAST AND WITH SUCH INSANE ANGER THAT IT BECOMES A LINE. YOU COULD HAVE TOM HARDY COMPLAIN ABOUT HIS FACE BEING STRAPPED INTO A METAL MASK, SURE, BUT IT'S SO MUCH BETTER TO HAVE THIS HEATHEN OUTCAST GRUNTING AND TWITCHING AND PULLING AT EVERYTHING FOR THE FIRST 45 MINUTES OF THE MOVIE LIKE HE'S A STARVING RACCOON LET LOOSE IN A RESTAURANT WALK-IN FREEZER. HE SAYS HIS NAME ONCE AND I CRIED WHEN HE DID EVEN THOUGH I'M PRETTY SURE HE KILLS LIKE 80 PEOPLE FOR JUST DOING THEIR JOBS AS RIPPED ALBINO DEATH RIDERS.
I MEAN, IT'S A JOB, MAX. THE CITADEL'S EMPLOYMENT INDICATORS ARE SHIT AND THE BENEFITS INCLUDE FREE BLOOD WHICH IS SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW PERSONALLY.
BUT THAT'S NOT EVEN THE MOST BADASS PART OF THE MOVIE. THE FIRST MOST BADASS PART OF THE WHOLE BY-DESIGN SUPREMELY BADASS MOVIE IS CHARLIZE THERON AS FURIOSA THE WAR RIG DRIVER. SHE GETS A SMOKY EYE EFFECT BY SMEARING GREASE FROM THE WAR RIG'S STEERING COLUMN ACROSS HER FACE. SHE HITS DUDES IN THE BRAINPAN WITH A SNIPER RIFLE IN ZERO LIGHT FROM EIGHT HUNDRED YARDS AWAY WITH EASE. AT ONE POINT SHE USES MAX AS A RIFLE MOUNT. I CANNOT EMPHASIZE HOW HARD IT WAS NOT TO HOOT OUT LOUD IN THE THEATER WHEN THE MALE PROTAGONIST OF A FILM WHO HAD JUST COME BACK FROM A FRACAS WITH DESERT VILLAINS WAS TOLD TO CHILL FOR A SEC WHILE CHARLIZE THERON USED HIM AS A PIECE OF MILITARY FURNITURE BECAUSE MAX, IT TURNS OUT, IS A LOUSY SHOT WITH A SNIPER RIFLE. CHARLIZE THERON'S EYES ARE EASILY HALF THE DIALOGUE IN THE MOVIE AND MOST OF THE LINES THEY SAY ADD UP TO SOMETHING LIKE "I'M ONLY GOING TO USE ONE BULLET ON THIS SHITPILE OF A WORLD BECAUSE THAT'S ALL IT DESERVES AND ALSO ALL I NEED TO KILL BECAUSE I AM THE MOST LETHAL TWO-HEADED LIZARD PROWLING THIS CURSED EARTH." SHE SHOULD GET AN OSCAR. I AM NOT KIDDING AT ALL.
OH AND THERE'S ALSO A PACK OF MOTORCYCLE-RIDING GRANNIES WITH SNIPER RIFLES AND PURSES WHO ARE THE GRANDMOTHERS I NEVER KNEW I WANTED. I HAVE INVENTED AN ENTIRE NEW BIO WHERE THEY ARE MY FAMILY. THEY ARE NOW MY FAMILY AND I'M GOING TO GO SEE THE MOVIE AGAIN TO SEE THEM AND SAY HELLO AND MAYBE TEAR UP WHEN I LIST MY TRIBAL AFFILIATION TO THEM.
THE SECOND FIRST MOST BADASS PART OF THIS ENTIRE MOVIE IS THAT IT FUNCTIONS COMPLETELY ON A LIMBIC SYSTEM LEVEL. THE NEW YORK TIMES GETS A LOT OF THINGS WRONG AND THEIR STYLE SECTION IS WRITTEN BY ALIENS AND EVERY OPINION WRITER THEY HAVE IS STRAIGHT TECHNOCRAT TRASH BUT A.O. SCOTT SEEMS LIKE SOMEONE WHO NOT ONLY LIKES FRIED CHICKEN BUT UNDERSTANDS YOU HAVE TO EAT IT WITH YOUR HANDS. HE SAID FURY ROAD WORKS ON THE LEVEL OF A ROAD RUNNER CARTOON AND OH MAN, IS THIS ACCURATE BECAUSE THIS FILM IS A SYSTEM AND THERE IS NO REACTION WITHOUT AN OPPOSITE AND EQUAL REACTION IN THE OTHER DIRECTION. THE WHOLE MOVIE GOES ONE WAY AND THEN BACK...
...BUT THEN SOMETHING HAPPENED WHERE THE RHYTHM AND PACING AND RELENTLESS KINETIC VIOLENCE JUST PRYS ALL THAT META-SHIT OFF AND BEGINS TOSSING YOU AROUND THE THEATER BODILY. I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THEY CHOREOGRAPHED ANY OF WHAT HAPPENS IN THE LAST 30 MINUTES OF THE FILM BUT YOU HAVE TO BE BORDERLINE OCD AND FASTIDIOUS TO THE POINT OF MENTAL ILLNESS TO CREATE ANYTHING AS COORDINATED AND YET COMPLETELY CHAOTIC AS THIS FILM. YOU LIKE TO THINK YOU ARE A VERY SOPHISTICATED PERSON WITH DEFENSES AND THE ABILITY TO PROPERLY DISTANCE BUT THIS MOVIE SAYS NO NO, YOU ARE NOT, AND THE PROOF IS THE 10 OR 15 MINUTES OF ACTION TOWARDS THE FINALE WHERE YOU CANNOT SEE ANY WAY EVERY PERSON YOU MIGHT CONSIDER GOOD WILL FIND ANY WAY OUT OF AN OBVIOUS ROLLING DEATHTRAP.
IT STARTS AS YOU WATCHING A MAD MAX FILM FOR THE MILLIONTH TIME AND ENDS WITH YOU GOBSMACKED AFTER WATCHING A MAD MAX FILM FOR THE FIRST TIME AND WANTING TO WATCH IT AGAIN IMMEDIATELY ON THE BIGGEST SCREEN YOU CAN FIND WITH THE BIGGEST SOUND SYSTEM AVAILABLE AND DEFINITELY WITH LIKE EIGHT RED BULLS AND NO SNACKS BECAUSE YOU WANT THE EDGE OF HUNGER TO MAKE YOU AS MEAN AS THE BOMB-BLASTED LANDSCAPE.
THERE'S FIRE AND GUNS AND MORE GUNS AND SPEED AND BLOOD AND A FAILED WORLD DOMINATED BY IDIOTBOYS AND CHARLIZE THERON DESTROYING EVERYTHING IN HER PATH AND AAAHHHHH IT'S SO GOOD. EVERYTHING THIS FILM IS DESIGNED TO DO DEPENDS ON IT OVERPOWERING YOU WITH THE MOST BASIC ELEMENTS OF HUMAN EXISTENCE: FLIGHT, PAIN, FEAR AND MAYBE HOPE. HOPE'S A MAYBE. IT'S SOMETHING AROUND THE CORNER AND EXCUSE US BUT BEFORE WE GET TO HOPE WE HAVE TO BEAT THIS MUTANT UNCONSCIOUS WITH AN OXYGEN CANISTER AND SEE IF WE CAN SHOOT THIS BIKER OFF HIS BIKE MID-AIR LIKE SOME KIND OF HUMAN CLAY PIGEON. WE CAN TOTALLY SHOOT THIS BIKER OFF HIS BIKE MID-AIR LIKE A CLAY PIGEON BECAUSE AFTER WATCHING MAD MAX FURY ROAD I FELT LIKE I COULD DO ANYTHING EXCEPT SLEEP OR DRIVE SAFELY.Okay, I hope your brain handled the high volume noise of ALL CAPS but yeah that's kind of how people reacted to this movie.
On a personal note: I saw the movie five times in the theaters. Five times. The most I'd ever done before was catching The Incredibles three times. The original Star Wars? I think that was three times too, and that was back before VCR rentals were everywhere and they kept big movies in the theaters for years. Fury Road? Five times. It'd have been more but I'm on a budget.
Fury Road by all rights didn't have to be this good. It's been in Production Hell since the 1990s. It had to recast a new lead (Mel Gibson switched to Tom Brady). The genre that the film is a part of - Dieselpunk, or Used Future Post Apocalypse - hasn't been big on the geek scene since the Matrix rewrote the Post Apocalypse rules. (To be fair, the other genre that Mad Max belongs to - the Car Chase - has remained popular due to the Fast and Furious and Transporter series.)
It's the latest story in a series of movies from Australian director George Miller that started out as a polemic against road-rage drivers (Mad Max) in the Outback and turned into a dystopian post-apocalypse cultural phenomenon. Like most science-fiction stories, it took the fears of the era that made it - Road Warrior in the wake of oil wars and a looming nuclear showdown between global powers, Beyond Thunderdome about greed and cultural short-sightedness of the Eighties - and turned them into entertainment. And Thunderdome was 1985: it's been 20 years now and the underlying fear of Nuclear Death has been replaced by the fears of unending tribal wars.
But here's why Fury Road worked. Miller is a genuine auteur, someone who films well-crafted stories regardless of genre, who has a meticulous fervor to get the on-screen details as right as possible (he will allow for the unreal as long as it serves the overall narrative). He's also someone who takes car crashes and explosions serious (Michael Bay can only fantasize he can do it this well).
Fury Road is a believable world. Not so much that it's a world we can recognize happening in real time - a lot of the sins we see committed by the movie's villains - rape of both women and our resources, the brainwashing of boy-soldiers to fight endless wars - are all too common, but that every conceivable detail has been thrown into this movie with thought and practicality. Other than Max's opening narration of how the world broke and the people went mad with it, the audience is thrown into this place - Warlord Immortan Joe's Citadel and the surrounding desert of despair - and just by the action on-screen we're able to understand exactly what's happening and how and why.
In terms of production values, Fury Road is insane (in a great way). Has there been a movie like this that relies so effectively on the sounds, the breakneck editing, the set designs of the vehicles - the Doof Warrior's speaker-truck alone would win Oscars - to dazzle the eye and ear, and affect the mind?
Yes. Let's talk about Fury Road as an Oscar winner for Best Picture and other major awards. From The Vulture:
But are any of them better than Mad Max: Fury Road, the out-of-the-teal-blue-sky action spectacular that wowed critics earlier this year and deserves real awards consideration going forward?
That’s the question that’s been on my mind since I saw George Miller’s gonzo reboot last April. It’s become my cinematic high-water mark, the one I’ve been measuring most new movies against. I’ve previewed several of this year’s big fall films, and though some of them have great performances, I still haven’t seen anything that knocked me out like Charlize Theron in Mad Max. This year’s costume-design category will no doubt be packed with period pieces like Cinderella and Carol, but they don’t deserve a trophy over the striking postapocalyptic threads that Jenny Beavan put together for Mad Max. And while most of our Best Director candidates are likely still to come, and could include perennial nominees like David O. Russell, Tom Hooper, and Steven Spielberg, it would be hard for me to believe that any of them wrangled a more difficult and ultimately fruitful production than the 70-year-old Miller.
Talking seriously here about Oscars for other roles as well. Nicholas Hoult as Nux - the sickly War Boy who changes sides when he finds a genuine cause worth serving (and dying for) - and Melissa Jaffer - the Keeper of the Seeds among the badass grandma bikers that the fans adore - deserve supporting nods for their memorable roles. Art Direction (the sets), Costuming (could happen), Cinematography, Editing, Sound Editing, Sound, Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects (the blending of practical real-world stunts with CGI editing to clean up post-production), hell let's throw in Catering if they honor it.
In terms of the MTV Movie Awards, Mad Max is going to f-cking clean up. Hands down. The final 30 minutes of Fury Road alone gets you Best Fight, Best Kiss, Best On-Screen Duo, Best Villain (make it a comeback), Best Catering, all of them. Nobody else should be nominated for next year's awards.
In a way, Hollywood needs to honor action movies more often. It's not just that these movies are their bread-and-butter money makers, it's that there's a lot of legitimate craft and talent that goes into a great action movie. And a great action movie - think Bullitt, think French Connection (which DID win an Oscar), think Raiders of the Lost Ark, think Die Hard, think Speed, think Matrix, think Dark Knight - can set the standards for years to follow.
And yet Hollywood - behind a hidden wall of voting by an academy of voters who tend to be aging and ten years behind the trends - keeps going after the artsy stuff and ignoring the blockbusters that just happen to be well-crafted or ground-breaking in their respective genre(s). We occasionally get a Western film winning, and War movies are often nominated and sometimes win, but a straight-up Action Thriller rarely wins out.
Fantasy and Sci-fi Action in particular suffer greatly: the one exception - Return of the King - just happened to be a sprawling Epic Movie based on a literary masterpiece that gave Hollywood the artistic pretension to pass along a slew of Oscars.
The reason we've got extra nominations for Best Picture after 2008 (when it capped at five) is because the Academy failed to nominate THE real Best Picture in The Dark Knight, a critically acclaimed movie that just happened to be a blockbuster comic-book action epic (Hollywood also ignored Wall-E for being an animated science fiction Pixar tearjerker despite it being one of the best movies of the year, period). Now we can get between eight to ten nominees, which ought to provide room for the genres that previously suffered in the shadows come awards season... and yet, we're still seeing great well-crafted genre films like Snowpiercer and the first Marvel Avengers movie get ignored for the major nominations. Skyfall, arguably the most artistically well-made James Bond movie of all time, deserved a Best Picture nomination (and acting noms for award-level actors like Dame Judi Dench and Javier Bardem) but only received a handful of nominations (with well deserved wins in Best Song and Best Sound Editing) and a major snub for Cinematography (grrrrrrr).
I say no more. Now is the time. Fury Road is the movie. It's not just another post-apocalypse road movie: it's THE action movie stunt-spectacular thrill ride that puts all previous thrill rides - including its grand-daddy Road Warrior - to shame. It's well-acted, damn you. It's well-directed, obviously. It's got great camera work and beautifully filmed vistas and set pieces. It's about as well-edited as GoodFellas (and THAT deserved a Best Editing nomination too, you damn fools). It's got a ground-breaking heroine in Theron's Furiosa that will set the standard for action heroes for the next two decades: and Theron is an award-caliber actress so there's no shame in nominating her for Furiosa. There's no shame in honoring her with the win as Best Actress, for God's sake.
To Hollywood, to the Film Makers, to the critics and the money-backers and the street cleaners of L.A.: Fury Road is our Best Picture of the Year, with all appropriate honors for actors and production crew as well. WITNESS IT.
May you ride eternal, SHINY AND CHROME!
Update 12/10/15: the Golden Globes nominees were listed today, and Fury Road received nominations for Best Director (Miller) and Best Picture (Drama). WITNESS! However, Theron missed getting Best Actress (Drama) and the Score was overlooked as well. MEDIOCRE.
Still, this is a good sign. The Globes and the Oscars don't always match up, but the Globes are a good predictor of what the more prestigious Academy will look at for its nominations.
Update 1/14/2016: The Golden Globes came and went with Fury Road losing both awards to The Leo DiCaprio Gets Mauled By a Bear movie (boooo). Tody, however, the Oscars came out with nominees giving Fury Road a respectable 10 nominations covering Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Editing, Costume, Makeup, Set Design, both Sound and Sound Editing, and Visual Effects awards.
The Oscars did not, sad to say, nominate Theron for Actress (anguished skyward scream) nor Best Score, both deserving for this movie.
Whether or not Fury Road wins any of the major awards - Set Design and Costume are most likely, the technical awards likely but facing solid competition - like Cinematography, Editing and Director as well as Best Picture remains murky. It is up to us now to call the Academy voters every day, every LOVELY DAY! WITNESS!
Don't be mediocre, Hollywood. Give action movies their due.