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Brief Hiatus!

I love me a dated pop culture reference. Anyway, as this article suggests, while I was intending to get another article up this weekend, time has sort of run out on me, meaning that coupled with a week of exams, there won’t be any articles for a little while. But don’t worry, loyal 5 daily readers! I’ll be back in a New York minute, whatever that is.

The next article will be my gushing thoughts on two of my favourite shows of 2015, The Flash and The 100, and it should be up next weekend.

Until then… hang on, no-one’s reading this? Oh.

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A World of Fire and Blood: Thoughts on Mad Max: Fury Road

If you’re an internet-dwelling loser guy like me, then chances are you’ll have heard some people on your internet travels raving about Mad Max: Fury Road. In the past few weeks, the Tom Hardy starring action flick has been subject to a hype train so ferocious it actually caused several volcanic eruptions across the globe. Because of this immense amount of hype and excitement over a movie not many people probably expected to have a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (okay, they may have guessed 97% or 99%, but the point still stands), dozens upon dozens of much more interesting internet bloggers than myself have spilled gallons of digital ink ruminating on the themes and motifs of this strangely meaningful blockbuster. Since every inch of the movie has been scoured over online, and there is almost nothing new to say at this point, I’m writing about it anyway, so here are my vaguely coherent and mostly unoriginal thoughts on Mad Max: Fury Road.

Your average $150+ million blockbuster nowadays has a lot to accomplish in two and a half hours. A story needs to be told, obviously, but a bunch of major franchise movies are required to pack in teases for future instalments and spin-offs, service a small army of named characters with some form of development and so on – the case study I’ll use is Avengers: Age of Ultron, which included almost certainly studio-mandated sequences teasing the sequel set to release in 2018 as well as teeing up some of the solo movies to come before then, as well as a romance subplot between Bruce Banner and Black Widow, on top of visions and crises for each member of the increasingly expansive team. Despite all that content making the movie a little overstuffed, and not entirely satisfying on its own, I enjoyed it. It’s a fun, well-made popcorn movie with interesting themes and several terrific moments – it’s not quite at the premier league for blockbusters, but it’s a solidly enjoyable sequel nonetheless, even taking into account the overstuffed nature of the movie.

Mad Max: Fury Road is almost the antithesis of that. If Avengers was the War Rig from Fury Road, packing a ton of power and mostly working well, but often getting stuck in the mud and running out of gas, then Fury Road is a stripped down kit car – lean, dynamic and breathlessly fast. It’s a movie that basically just has one ongoing action sequence, and a few breaks to catch breath at certain points in the sequence, and a movie where the plot can pretty much be summed up in a couple of brief sentences (which I won’t include here, because of spoilers). Yet because of this, Fury Road is one of the best blockbusters in ages. It packs in compact character arcs that are more powerful and effective than in most blockbusters yet unfold in a fraction of the time, and packs a surprising amount of thematic depth, with several meaty, rarely touched-on topics explored in genuinely interesting and creative ways (there are people who’ve gone into far more detail than me, so I’ll leave my praise of Fury Road‘s depth at this point).

Fury Road‘s main trinity of characters – Max, War Boy Nux and Imperator Furiosa have relatively little dialogue between them, yet each goes through a meaningful and powerful character arc. Max learns to trust and be a hero, but can’t quite shake his past demons, Furiosa gains redemption and finds a new home, and Nux finds renewed purpose and importance after his entire belief system is torn to bits. All of that is packed into efficient, brief drama scenes and often in the midst of the action itself, and each arc, though not always perfect in execution, has a sizeable and satisfying payoff at the end. The fact that a lot of the big, defining character moments are incorporated into the action scenes gives Fury Road‘s balls-to-the-wall action a clear meaning and purpose rather than simply serving as an eye-candy feast of CGI. The other characters don’t quite live up to these powerhouse figures, but  Fury Road still does an admirable job of giving all of its sprawling cast distinctive qualities and characters, and ensuring that the clusters of people Max and Furiosa meet don’t blur into one weird entity like the 12 dwarves in The Hobbit.

Speaking of those clusters of characters that the heroes meet; they’re almost entirely composed of women. Yep, Mad Max is unashamedly and proudly a feminist movie, with a pretty clear message against female objectification, over a dozen female heroic characters and a woman, Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, who plays the de facto lead role.  While the Daily Mail comments section is probably furious at this, Fury Road‘s feminist message is not only completely appropriate (just take a look on the internet for 5 minutes, and report back), but it’s delivered in a way that isn’t remotely condescending or obnoxious (even mens rights activists may struggle to find issues, because, of course, that’s important). In other words, despite having a mainly female cast of heroes and a 100% male cast of villains, Fury Road promotes and showcases the widely-held version of feminism that can often be overshadowed by the overblown vocal minority Tumblr nonsense; complete gender equality, and that’s pretty damn impressive in a market where gender equality is a hard-to-reach myth. It also shows how easy it is to make interesting and unique femalecharacters as engaging as their male counterparts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other major blockbusters began to follow suit and learn some lessons from Fury Road‘s use of female characters.

Moving away from the morally complex rabbit hole that is gender equality, let’s talk about pretty explosions. Fury Road is about 80% action – one super-extended car chase, yet the action continues to be astonishing and surprising from the first to the last scene. It’s coherently and professionally shot, only falling into rapid-cut territory a few times, and is utterly batshit insane in a way that’s actually kind of endearing. There’s a scene where Max does battle with a man wielding a massive electric guitar that shoots fire, and I think that pretty much sums up how good Mad Max‘s action is. It’s insane, but in a characterful way that makes the action terrific to watch even in 2D on an average sized screen.

If this review sounds a bit breathless, it’s because Mad Max is genuinely exciting to talk about – there’s so much to say about it that a full and in-depth review would be reaching into the several thousands of words. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly the best movie I’ve seen this year – with exhilarating action and a surprising amount of narrative heft, Mad Max: Fury Road brings George Miller’s post-apocalyptic franchise roaring vigorously back to life.

Oh wait, that’s the Rotten Tomatoes summary. I told you this review would be unoriginal.

In short, if you haven’t seen this movie, go see it as soon as possible. If you have seen it, go see it again. And so on. It’s a good film.

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Future Articles

After that one post followed by a five month hiatus, I’m pleased to announce that Screen Machine is back in business, meaning that anyone who stumbles across this site on the wastelands of the internet will have to put up with more of this! Speaking of that, here’s some nonsense that should be heading to a blog near you (i.e. this one) at some point in the near future. Feast your eyes!

  • How to Make a Good Comic Book Villain ft. Wilson Fisk
  • Serialisation vs Standalone
  • Gotham: Where Did it All Go Wrong?
  • TV Hall of Fame 2015: The Flash
  • TV Hall of Fame 2015: The 100
  • The Walking Dead: A Comics-Flavoured Preview of Season 6
  • Too Many Cooks: Is Comic Book TV at Saturation Level?
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A Super Early Supergirl Pilot Review (Spoiler-Free)

Supergirl_CBS_1

A couple of weeks back, the major US TV networks gathered for the annual round of musical chairs with their TV shows – cancelling, renewing, and ordering a whole ton of mostly uninspired glorified cop shows new and interesting shows for next autumn. Pretty much first out of the gate for a series order was CBS’ Supergirl, the latest addition to the the ever-growing behemoth that is DC Comics on TV (with this new addition, DC are growing tentacles and are closer to total subjugation of Earth than ever), and soon after that renewal a six minute ‘trailer’ was released, outlining the entire plot of the pilot for lazy viewers. The trailer had a pretty lukewarm internet reception thanks to some plot elements that some thought looked like they were airlifted right out of a terrible romantic comedy probably starring Adam Sandler, so the furious buzz expected from Supergirl after the trailer materialised as a slightly half-hearted murmur from some corners of the internet.

But the plot has now thickened, as Supergirl‘s pilot somehow found its way onto the internet in pristine 1080p HD (as all leaks tend to do). As a self-confessed rebel who doesn’t play by the rules, I gave the leaked pilot a watch yesterday. Does it match up with the stellar Flash pilot, or have more in common with the slightly wobbly first efforts from thankfully improved Arrow and Agents of SHIELD? Read on for my 100% spoiler-free super-early Supergirl pilot review (that phrase may be trademarked in the future).

First things first: Supergirl is good. It’s an enjoyable, fun 45-minute caper with a nicely light tone and some strong performances, laying the groundwork efficiently for the full series to follow. The ‘chick-flick’ (that phrase disgusts me) elements of the trailer are pretty much confined to those scenes shown in the trailer – so while the scenes with Kara and her boss (an utterly awful caricature possibly created on a bet) and potential love interests aren’t very exciting, they’re pretty brief and therefore don’t make too much of a mark on the pilot’s quality. The tone is perfect for a Superman-universe story – light, optimistic and breezy in a similar way to The Flash, which means that Supergirl, a TV series which is terrified of mentioning Superman, feels more like a Superman story than Man of Steel, a movie featuring Superman.

Melissa Benoist is solid as the main star, Kara Danvers, bearing a few similarities to Arrow‘s Felicity (back when, you know, she was a good character) but without feeling like a poor imitation. The supporting cast are also generally decent – understandably, Supergirl‘s pilot doesn’t have enough time to develop its supporting characters beyond a few key traits you’d see on a character bio online (for example Jimmy Olsen is Guy Who Knows Superman), but there’s a solid foundation set up upon which characters can be fleshed out and developed with backstories and complexities in the future. The action is also exciting enough – there’s no stunning, stand-out set-piece, but the few set-pieces that Supergirl‘s pilot serves up take good advantage of the mythos’ science-fiction elements, straying away from the ‘grimdark’ feel of Man of Steel‘s endless beat-em-up action scenes, and showing off enough of Kara’s powers to provide some solid (TV-level) spectacle, without blowing its load and leaving nothing for future episodes to play with.

But.

There’s always a but when it comes to pilots. Supergirl has a surprising amount of strengths, and overall it’s an enjoyable first instalment. However, it does have some fairly notable issues – some that could just be pilot-specific, and some that might present a bit of a problem in the long-term. The rapid pacing means that certain elements that needed a little more time are only briefly dealt with in a cursory manner before the show speeds onto the next plot point – there’s entire, meaty dramatic conflicts that get a couple of minutes of screen-time before they’re wrapped up in an egregiously rushed fashion. Nothing gets quite enough time to breathe, and as a result certain elements of the pilot are a little undercooked, and certain dramatic reveals or moments don’t really have the impact intended.

In addition, the pilot’s plot is pretty much the definition of by the numbers, cramming in every origin story trope or cliche possible to form a narrative that’s coherent and entertaining, but almost entirely unoriginal. It follows an uncannily similar plot structure to The Flash‘s pilot, which was in itself fairly unoriginal, but at least managed to innovate in interesting ways that could be expanded upon later. Almost anything involving Kara’s boss is either boring or actively annoying viewing. And in grand pilot tradition, the villain is entirely rubbish and has the depth of a slightly pathetic paddling pool. There’s some original elements tucked away, such as the exploration of Kara being a female superhero – which is admirable, and highlights the discrepancy between female and male heroes in the comic book adaptation industry, but they’re not particularly major elements of the pilot, and likely will remain minor elements as the show progresses into a series.

The bottom line is this: Supergirl is good, but not great. It’s more confident than most other comic book show pilots, but falls a little short of The Flash‘s stellar debut. There’s plenty of promise for the show as a long-form series, given that there’s a well-established reason for a menagerie of villains of the week to show up, and a few intriguing mysteries set up to unfold over the show’s first season. The flaws are typical of a comic book series in these early stages, and there’s plenty of time to eliminate them and focus on the elements of the show that work very well. When the show premieres in November, I’d recommend giving the pilot a watch – but perhaps don’t expect greatness just yet.

Maybe don’t expect greatness ever, because the show might get cancelled. There’s a downer ending for you.