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What Keith's Watching: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

I was really skeptical of Mad Max: Fury Road going into it. Mainly because I'm skeptical anytime people rave about a movie and tell me it's the Movie of the Year. Especially when it's an action or sci-fi movie. I had similar issues going into John Wick which was proven very wrong. Which brings me back to Fury Road. It was great. I wouldn't call it the Movie of the Year, but it's pretty damn close. It's a film that is fun and entertaining, extreme in every sense, but masterfully done.

Fury Road perfectly captures the craziness of the original Mad Max universe and it's style without taking it too far because of the special effects now available. The stunts and action pieces fit into the story rather than the story trying to string together all these stunt sequences. (i.e. It doesn't feel like a Fast and Furious movie.) It would've been easy to take the eccentric characters to new levels in this day and age thanks to CGI, but that's avoided. Instead today's special effects are meant to take the world itself to a new level and make it on a grander scale so that the characters seem to fit. The movie itself is on an epic scale the likes of which haven't really been seen in a long time.

Now even though it's epic in scope and scale, the theme is quite narrow and spot on: Survival. How to survive in a barren wasteland with you back against a wall. Or in this case, with your back against hordes of people coming to kill you in ridiculous war machines. It feels very much like a Western on steroids and nitro.

The movie was praised for it's feminism. Which again, was kind of a turnoff for me. I was surprised because the trailers didn't seem like a feminist film. But I'm not a fan of movies that try to push agendas down the throat of the audience. Fury Road doesn't do this though. It's a feminist movie because it handles it's female characters right. It doesn't make them one-dimension or treat them as women in distress that need saving. There's the sense that Furiosa and the wives she is traveling with are strong characters. They have this plan, they are escaping from Immorten Joe, the evil dictator of this little corner of the wasteland. There's the feeling that they might be okay on their own. But when Man comes along, it might be mutually beneficial for them to team up. Max needs their help as much as they need him.

The only reason to not watch this movie would be if you didn't like action movies. Fury is the epitome of action movies. There's maybe twenty minutes of set up and then an hour and forty minutes of action with a few nice breaks to the help the story along and let the audience breath.

There's one excellent break in here that really adds to the Mad Max mythos. Max goes off and clearly kills a lot of people, but the audience doesn't see it. It adds to the idea that this is a legend being told and because no one lived through experience, there's no one but Max to tell the tale. Also, it presents the idea that there are things Max is capable of that are too violent to see. What we see is just a fraction of what he's able to do when he needs to. At first, I thought this was a strange choice, but it's really quite brilliant.

Like I said, the movie is straight action. It almost borders on my issue with Man of Steel, which was too much action at the end and not enough beats to let the audience process what's going on. For me, too much action can become boring and hard to stay interested in. Fury Road does a decent job of building those beats in and not crossing that line. It's absolutely worth seeing. Maybe not Film of the Year worthy, but it's pretty damn close. Which is big praise for a movie that's a franchise's fourth installment.


What Keith's Watching: Love & Mercy (2014)

Love & Mercy is a great biopic because it doesn't feel like a biopic. It doesn't take you through Brian Wilson's childhood and the hardships he had to deal with from an abusive father. We don't see that moment when he first started playing music. We don't even see the rise of the Beach Boys. We see a very specific aspect of Brian Wilson's life, how it started, how it may have affected his creative process and how he overcome it.

The film mainly revolves around Brian Wilson's mental health starting in the sixties and eventually how he was properly diagnosed and treated in the eighties. One of the things that really makes Love & Mercy stand out is that these two stories/time periods are covered in parallel. We bounce back and forth between sixties Brian Wilson (portrayed by Paul Dano) and eighties Brian Wilson (portrayed by John Cusack) This seems like a style that would cause problems, but it really works for Love & Mercy. We see how the disorder starts and how the disorder is taken advantage of later in his life.

It's a powerful story that I wasn't really aware of. I know parts of it, but I guess I didn't know the extent of the abuse towards Brian Wilson. Seeing it play out has a more profound impact. I encourage anyone that sees this movie though to read up on the real events. Some of the details were tweaked and for the sake of the story, some characters were marginalized focusing mainly on his second wife, Melinda Ledbetter. Although Brian Wilson did refer to the film as "very factual."

Love & Mercy is part biopic, part music, part drama, part romance and has little something for everyone. Even if you aren't a big Beach Boys fan, I highly recommend it. Maybe it'll turn you into one or at least appreciate Pet Sounds a bit. It definitely got me back into their music and gave me a greater appreciation for Brian Wilson's talents.

[Note: The session musicians Brian worked with for Pet Sounds is also known as The Wrecking Crew and are infamous in the music world. They have a documentary about them, currently on Netflix appropriately called The Wrecking Crew.]


What Keith's Watching: Green Lantern (2011)

I only saw Green Lantern once, when it first came out on DVD. So glad I didn’t spend the money in theaters. It only came out in 2011, but it feels very much like an early-2000s movie. Compared to the superhero movies of the time, Green Lantern misfires on almost all cylinders. There’s a couple gems of what might have been a good movie, but otherwise it fails and I’m not sure why I watched it again.

The characters are all around underdeveloped. Hal Jordan as an adult seems to carry no weight from his father’s death. He’s a little too much of an aloof class clown. He’s a rogue that plays by nobody’s rules, not even his own. Up until the ring chooses him, we have no reason to think the ring would choose him. He seems to be a womanizer who chronically runs late, only thinks about himself and is unable to see the big picture. I wonder if they were trying too much to model Hal Jordan after Tony Stark. The problem is, Tony goes through a tramatic event and sees the big picture, but Hal just kind of realizes the ring picked him for some reason, so he should probably be a hero.

None of the other characters are fleshed out either. Sinestro is well-played by Mark Strong, but besides disagreeing with people a lot, I get no feeling that he’s a bad guy when he puts on the yellow ring. The most developed character is Hector Hammond because you at least understand why he acts how he does. He’s been bullied his whole life by people and his father, so of course when he gets a little power, he’s going to go crazy with it. But he’s not even the main villain. He’s not even a henchman. He’s basically just a beacon for the creative, I think, is the villain.

The problem of Parallax is that he’s just a monster. He – like the rest of the cast – has no character. He has no beef with Hal Jordan. He’s pissed off at Abin Sur (Hal Jordan’s predecessor), but Abin Sur isn’t what brings him to Earth. Parallax is also pissed at The Guardians of Oa, but instead of going there, he decides to pass a bunch of other planets and end up at Earth. Hal doesn’t even do much to fight Parallax, he just uses gravity and the sun. Not even sure how that works because I don’t even understand what Parallax is made of. He’s just a weird cloud of dust and rocks with a face. Terrible design.

Speaking of that, the costume has to be mentioned. Who’s bright idea was it to CGI the costume? By this point we had Superman Returns and the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy. Nobody considered taking that material and making a Green Lantern suit? It’d make sense in 2004, but 2011? Come on guys, you’re better than that. And ontop of that, a shitty CGI domino mask.

I think I mentioned something good, didn’t I? Mark Strong as Sinestro is perfect. I enjoyed Kilowag and all the other Lanterns. I also liked the idea of Sinestro wearing the Yellow ring and the allusion to the other Lantern Corps. That would have potentially made for a good sequel. I also liked the fact that Hal felt the need to bury Abin Sur. It was perhaps his only character note.

If you haven’t seen Green Lantern, don’t bother. Just wait for the reboot in 2020 or his appearance in another DC movie. Having watched this movie twice, I don’t want any more hours of anyone’s life to be lost.


What Keith's Watching: Big Game (2014)

I went into Big Game assuming it would be stupid. Samuel Jackson as the President of the United States is rescued by a small boy when Air Force One is shot down over Finland. From that synopsis alone, it sounds like a ridiculous premise and it is. But damn, it is kind of a fun movie.

There are a lot of scenes in the movie that are only there because someone said, "You know what would look really cool?" Like when the main henchman jumps out of Air Force One and the missiles all shoot right around him for no good reason. And it's not necessarily a bad thing, because it does look cool, but you know it's the whole reason they're doing it. Some of the things the kid does to help the President are this way too -- completely unbelievable, but fun to watch.

Let's talk for a minute about the President. He's a wuss. He is the opposite of Harrison Ford in Air Force One. Can't fight, can't fire a gun, can't even stand up to the kid when the kid refuses to take him out of the woods. Not to mention that at a couple moments the kid seems to have a bigger set than he does. No wonder there's a plot to kill him. Even though none of the reasons are ever really made clear. There are a lot of people doing things, but we never really know why. And the "main villain" if you can call him that, is just a crazy person that seems to have no motive other than shits and giggles. We know he's crazy because he wants to actually have the President stuffed and mounted. Which even the other bad guys think is sick, so we know just how messed up that is.

 He's so evil though, he actually does get justice and dies. But that's about the only justice done in the film. Everyone else that's involved in the plot doesn't quite get what they deserve and one of them seems to get away with it completely. And that guy is even more sadistic than the taxidermy guy. The main henchman is killed by a fluke, leaving me with the same disappointed feeling I had when Catwoman killed Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.

It's a fun action movie that I probably would've liked more when I was a kid/tween. It borrows from every action movie, especially Die Hard: villain kills some poor innocent guy to establish just how bad he is, the President is forced to walk around missing a shoe, they use an ejection seat, and the main henchman is the last one alive. It's pretty cookie cutter up until the last three minutes which feel like they were added at the last minute just to fuck with the audience.


What Keith's Watching: I Am Chris Farley (2015)

It's the sad truth that when someone passes suddenly, it's usually the method of their passing that people remember most. Especially in the public eye. That's the case, I feel, for even the greatest performers - John Belushi, Robin Williams, Chris Farley. And that's what I truly appreciated about I Am Chris Farley. The documentary focused more on his life and his contribution to art and comedy, than his tragic death.

The documentary starts with his childhood as told by his brothers and childhood friends. We walk through his interactions in school and college. The foundation is built for who he will become and how he started in Second City. And we eventually see his start into Saturday Night Live, told by his fellow cast memembers who were obviously his close friends, too.

The overwhelming themee we see in the stories told is that not only did Chris have big style in comedy, but he had a big heart. He cared about hte people he worked with, he cared about the overall product he was working on and he cared about bringing joy and laughter to everyone. Sure, this sounds cliche, but watching people talk about Chris, you know this is a hundred percent true.

The story that stood out most to me was a story one of his friends told about Chris early on. Chris told him he wanted to become so famous that he could show up at hospitals to cheer up children. Come on! How many people say that?

Today, the answer is probably no one. Most people want fame to see their name in lights, to make money, to just have fame. Period. I'm almost positive that no Kardashian said, "I want to be so famous, I can make a sick child forget he's sick for even a minute." I doubt even the people that are famous and regularly visit sick children - Chris Evans or Chris Pratt - had that thought early on. It's a sentiment so pure, it puts the rest of us to shame.

The documentary doesn't end with the details of Chris's passing, but it does acknowledge it. It ackowledges the impact it had on his friends and the industry. The film leaves the viewer with a bittersweet feeling. Chris Farley's death was tragic, but we were all pretty lucky that a person like Chris Farley shared himself with the world.