The Great Predator Cities

Mortal Engines seemed like it could’ve been the next big book to film adaptation. Turns out not even Peter Jackson could keep it from becoming a massive critical and financial failure. When I first saw the trailer, I was intrigued by the idea. My only hesitation was how overdone post-apocalyptic movies like this are. Still, the massively detailed special effects and small possibility of a hit were enough to get me to go see it. What I got was a complete mess that squanders its visual appeal. Mortal Engines is based on the first book in a series of five books. Peter Jackson’s first mistake was handing the directing reigns to a visual effects supervisor. Mortal Engines centers on a post-apocalyptic future where mankind has turned enormous civilizations like London into mobile predator cities. They’re highly impractical, but there’s no denying how eye-catching they are. The biggest problem is definitely its characters. None of whom are played by recognizable actors (except Hugo Weaving). Hester Shaw is the scarred hero seeking revenge, Valentine is the villain with an obvious twist, and Tom is the reluctant tag-a-long who becomes the obvious love interest. The rest of the world is bland, unimmersive, and I was immediately turned off by an early joke about certain yellow icons. The only thing I was sort of interested in was Hester’s relationship with an undead cyborg named Shrike. It sounds ridiculous, but I think they really had something there. Other than that, Mortal Engines never stood a chance.

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Hester Shaw and London

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The Legendary Legend of Legend

Legend is weird. Whenever I see lists of character actor Tim Curry’s best performances, Legend always came up. In Legend he plays a red devil-like creature with humongous horns named Darkness. It’s an image I recalled seeing long before I even knew what movie it was from. Now that I do know, I kinda wish it was in a better movie. Legend is the kind of fantasy that exists purely in its creators own imagination. With barely any explanation given to the viewer. The title doesn’t even explain what it’s about. Legend is Ridley Scott’s follow up to to Alien and Blade Runner. You can tell by how visual it is with its dark interiors and complex makeup. Specifically Tim Curry’s makeup. There’s also a directors cut and a few alternate endings. Plus the plot has to do with unicorns (Ridley Scott’s weird fascination). Sloane herself Mia Sara stars as the princess and so does Tom Cruise as the hero. Though this was long before he really made a name for himself as an action hero. Darkness is really the big stand out in the movie. And he doesn’t appear until the third act. Legend is really only worth it for it’s imaginative visuals.

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Darkness

The Na’vi of Pandora

Avatar is the best movie I’ve ever gone to see by myself. Today is the 2 year anniversary of when I first started writing my blog. So I figured I’d talk about what is currently the highest grossing film of all time and what James Cameron considers to be his magnum opus, Avatar. After 12 whole years of not directing a single movie since Titanic (save for a few documentaries), no one knew if James Cameron would ever return. Turns out he had been developing Avatar since 1994. Rather than work with the technology available at the time, he waited nearly 2 decades for the technology to catch up to his vision. By the time it was released, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I remember when I first saw the trailer. The giant blue aliens were so bizarre that I wrote off the movie without giving it a chance. After about 2 weeks into its release, I decided the attention was just too much to ignore. So I was the first person in my family who made the leap to see it. And I became instantly obsessed with it. I went to see Avatar a second time with my brother, I bought the movie on DVD, and then I bought an extended collector’s edition where I watched the special edition and extended cut. Avatar became an instant phenomenon…

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Neytiri (right) teaches Jake (left) to shoot an arrow

Avatar takes place in the distant future of 2154. A small colony of humans has set up shop on the alien world Pandora. As natural resources have greatly depleted back on Earth. In order to gain new resources, the military has set up a fierce mining operation with the goal of obtaining unobtanium. Meanwhile, scientists have developed a more peaceful solution involving avatars. Remotely controlled bodies mixed with human and native DNA. The native race of aliens are known as the Na’vi. 10 ft. tall blue striped humanoids with reinforced bones, pointed ears, a catlike nose, big yellow eyes, sharp teeth, a tail, four fingers, and black hair with a long braided ponytail that connects to life on Pandora. Like Native Americans, they dress in primitive attire and use knives, bows, and arrows. Their overall appearance made them instant icons. Jake Sully was just your average Marine until he lost the use of his legs. He’s taken to Pandora when his DNA turns out to be a perfect match to his deceased twin brother’s avatar. Jake works with scientists Dr. Grace Augustine and Norm Spellman. Who help him to link with his avatar and possibly help reestablish a trust with the Na’vi. When things go wrong, Jake meets Neytiri. An accomplished Na’vi warrior and daughter of the chief. After a sign from Pandora’s deity Eywa, Neytiri takes Jake to the Na’vi hometree, and reluctantly teaches him everything about their culture. She teaches him to speak the Na’vi language, how to shoot an arrow, how to ride a Direhourse, how to tame a Banshee, and to understand Eywa’s connection to nature. It brings them close together, until they inevitably mate for life. All the while the ruthless scared Colonel Quaritch gives Jake three months before tearing down hometree. Like most movies released in the late 2000’s, Avatar has a strong environmental message. As well as the usual James Cameron motifs. Such as military and anti-war themes, strong female characters, science fiction technology, and aliens. Now that you know the story, this is why it’s the best movie I went to see by myself…

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Jake flies a Banshee for the first time

Avatar was simply too big to ignore. For one reason or another, it has a $2,787,965,087 box office gross. Making it the first movie to cross $2 billion internationally. Topping Titanic in the process. Turns out James Cameron can only be topped by his own work. The main reason being for his innovative use of 3D and motion capture technology. A process that worked well in the past, but hadn’t been nearly as photo realistic as the effects in Avatar. Another reason for its success was all the time James Cameron spent working on it. He put his 16 years’ worth of development to good use. Working on every minute detail of the universe in Avatar. As I saw in countless makings, he spent a lot of time working on the Na’vi culture. He met with real native people, he had a linguist develop the Na’vi language (so ftue a skxawng could nume it), he had the actors train in jungle environments, and he had thousands of clothes and weapons made even though they’d be digital in the film. And that’s just what made it into the movie! There was also an extended dance sequence and a vision quest that got cut. Then there’s the human world filled with Aliens style mech suits, scanners, hovercrafts, breathing masks, and of course avatar pods. The extended cuts include things like more of Earth, the Na’vi school for learning English, and more of the infamous ponytail sex scene. Of course financial success, good reviews, a Golden Globe win for Best Drama, and several Oscar wins/nominations couldn’t stop it from being labeled overrated. Which I do understand, but I still love it as much as when I first saw it. Avatar has been accused of many things. One being that it’s just a rip-off of several other films. Dances with Wolves for its “outsider betrays his own people for natives” premise, Pocahontas for its “male outsider-female native” romance, or FernGully for its “outsider helps save the environment” message. It’s true they are very similar, but the presentation is what’s unique. Like how it makes the humans invaders instead of aliens. Then there’s the criticism of the writing and characters. Zoe Saldana delivers the best performance in Avatar. Going blue this time in a role solidifying her sci-fi princess designation. Meanwhile Sigourney Weaver continues her status as sci-fi queen. Stephen Lang shines and typecasts himself as the villain. Then there’s stock characters like Tsu’tey, the stubborn native or Trudy, the badass tough girl (of course played by Michelle Rodriguez). Sam Worthington was big for the time, but his star power didn’t last long. Which is why I felt he was perfect for Jake. He’s meant to be like the audience. In awe of his surroundings. That’s why I felt like Avatar didn’t need to have a strong story, writing, or even characters. Beautiful visuals like floating mountains and a fully realized world are enough to make Avatar fully deserving of all its admiration. “I see you” Avatar.

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Jake vs. Quaritch

We Find the Defendant…

12 Angry Men is one of the absolute greatest courtroom dramas of all time. It’s also a movie everyone should see. Whether you care about the judicial system or not. 12 Angry Men begins with the end of an unseen first-degree murder trial. The defendant is an 18 year old foreign kid who lives in a slum. He’s charged with killing his father with a switchblade. The entire 1 hour 36 minute movie takes place primarily in one room, in real-time, and with nothing but 12 angry men attempting to argue their verdict. It may sound boring, but it’s actually quite riveting and extremely effective. They don’t even have names, yet you’re still able to distinguish between every character. There’s the foreman whose primary job is to keep things organized. The first time juror with a meek attitude. The hothead who won’t change his mind no matter what. The factual bespectacled one. The man with the most in common with the defendant. The white collar reasonable guy. The baseball fan who just wants to get out of there. The initial hold out who votes “not guilty” because he has doubts. The old man who spends most of his time listening. The prejudice one with a nasty cough. The foreigner with a love for democracy. And the unfocused man in marketing. They all argue in a hot room where they go through every bit of evidence and possible scenario they can. Until they slowly but surely change their opinions. In the end, everyone goes their separate ways, never seeing each other again, but knowing they’ve made an impact on each others lives. 12 Angry Men is a case I will be more than happy to take again.

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12 angry men

What a Lovely Day

Mad Max: Fury Road reignited a dead franchise in spectacular fashion. Ever since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome came out 30 years ago, it seemed like the series was long over with. George Miller stuck mostly with directing family friendly films like Babe: Pig in the City & Happy Feet, Mel Gibson was slowly losing it, and most blockbusters were filled with CGI. So no one was ever expecting to see any sort of continuation. The idea for a fourth film was actually in “development hell” for a long time. George Miller lost the rights, but gained them back. Mel Gibson was definitely out due to age and an unwillingness to return. Real life war got in the way, Happy Feet almost made the movie animated, and several actors were in consideration to play the new Max Rockatansky. Eventually Mad Max: Fury Road did find footing and it began filming in 2011. Not releasing until 2015. Coming as a shock to just about everyone, Mad Max: Fury Road received widespread critical acclaim, several Oscar wins/nominations, and even the label of “greatest action movie ever made…”

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Max Rockatansky keeps watch

Mad Max: Fury Road is either a sequel or a reboot depending on how you look at it. Max Rockatansky is now played by gruff grumbler Tom Hardy. He’s built for action and makes a fine replacement for Mel Gibson, but even though his name is in the title, Max is arguably not the star of the movie. Max continues to roam the Australian wasteland as a man with no name who just wants to escape his past. His and most everyone else’s attire is much more grey and tan. Max gets captured by War Boys (sick young men with white skin) and is imprisoned in the Citadel. A mountainous civilization run by the ruthless Immortan Joe. Who has long blonde hair, white skin, and wears a skull mask that acts as a breathing apparatus. He’s also played by the same actor who played the villain in the original Mad Max. Max is left out of commision most of the time acting as a “blood bag” for a War Boy named Nux. As I said before, the real star of the movie is arguably Imperator Furiosa. The strong willed war captain who turns against Immortan Joe. She has a shaved head, war paint, and a robotic arm. Her general badass appearance and Charlize Theron’s performance helped make her one of the best action heroine’s of the decade. She helps to free Immortan Joe’s five wives from enslavement. In hopes of taking them to a safe haven called the “Green Place.” All wives are played by semi-familiar supermodels (most notably Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in her second and final acting role). They help to bring a surprising amount of female empowerment to the movie. The biggest achievement in Mad Max: Fury Road is definitely its action. The even more impractical vehicles (one with a guitar player) take part in some truly astounding car chases. There’s explosions, sandstorms, and a whole lot jumping from vehicle to vehicle. Even in a time with mostly CGI, Mad Max: Fury Road uses good ol’ fashion stunt work. Earning Mad Max: Fury Road a total of 10 Oscar nominations. Winning the most Oscars in 2015, for Best Costume Design, Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. It was even nominated for Best Picture. A rare feat for an action movie, let alone the fourth installment in a franchise. Mad Max: Fury Road is a furious spectacle of pure road rage.

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Max and Furiosa take aim

Preceded by: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Tomorrow-morrow Land

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the weakest installment in Mel Gibson’s run as Max Rockatansky. While Mad Max was just getting started and Mad Max 2 was a huge step up, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome makes some odd choices. Maybe George Miller working with another director has something to do with it. Max continues to to roam the desolate Australian road, when he encounters another problem he has to help solve. Once again centering around fuel. Only this time the fuel is pig sh*t (that they like to keep reminding us of). One of the best decisions made for the sequel is the casting of Tina Turner as the villain Aunty Entity. She’s already a wild rockstar that she fits right in. While the weakest decision made was the inclusion of lost boy children in the second act. They’re not always the best actors and it doesn’t help that Max spends most of his time with them. The safe haven plot is also underwhelming. The most memorable part of the movie is in the title. Thunderdome is a gladiatorial cagelike dome where fighters duel to the death using a series of weapons. The phrase “welcome to Thunderdome” has made its way into pop culture. It’s a shame that it’s only a small part of the movie. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is fun but it can use a little more grit.

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Max Rockatansky takes aim

Preceded by: Mad Max 2 & Followed by: Mad Max: Fury Road

The Road Warrior

Mad Max 2 (known by most as The Road Warrior) is the gritty fast-paced road adventure everyone was waiting for. Mad Max 2 takes place some time after Max Rockatansky went mad in Mad Max. Society has officially collapsed and there’s nothing left but the baron post-apocalyptic Australian outback. Oil is now more precious than anything else. As everyone left in the world roams the deserts in highly impractical cars and trucks. The now “Mad” Max rides alone with nothing but a dog and sawed off shotgun to keep him company. He now dresses in a much more tattered black leather outfit with noticeably grey temples in his hair. Mel Gibson proves himself to be a much more formidable action hero this time around. Director George Miller takes the sequel into much bigger territory. While also maintaining a simple story that centers on the retrieval of gas. Mad Max 2 introduces all of the franchises most iconic motifs. Max is now a nameless loner who reluctantly helps those in need. In this case, he helps a town oppressed by an evil warlord named The Humungus. A humongous figure in an iron mask. Most of the characters have descriptive names like that. Max gets help from the Gyro Captain, the Warrior Woman, and the Feral Kid. The overall look of the people has become iconic as well. Most everyone wears very 80’s looking punk black bondage type outfits with spikes and padding. But Mad Max 2 most importantly amps up the action with impressively complex car chases. Which are especially impressive considering the lack of special effects available at the time. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is a rare action sequel that far exceeds the original in every way possible.

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Max Rockatansky searches the wasteland

Preceded by: Mad Max & Followed by: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Before He Got Mad

Mad Max introduces us to the very very mad world of Max Rockatansky. Even if that world is still pretty close to ours. Mad Max is the first movie directed by Australian filmmaker George Miller. Despite the later success of the franchise it would spark, Mad Max was actually made on a “shoestring” budget. It was filmed in Miller’s home country of Australia and stars an all Australian cast. Making this Mel Gibson’s breakout role when he was only 23 years old. He certainly made an impression. By comparison, Mad Max is the most subtle film in the franchise. It’s something of an origin story for how the world initially descended into chaos. We also find out what earned Max Rockatansky the “Mad” moniker in the first place. Max was originally a black leather-clad Australian police enforcer. He attempts to take down a gang of berserk bikers that cause chaos wherever they go. All the while trying to protect his wife and son. Unfortunately, much like the Punisher, Max is pushed way too far. Driving him to a state of blinding madness where he mercilessly kills every last member of the biker gang. Mad Max may not have the biggest cars or the fastest action, but it’s still a very important part of the Mad Max story. Without it, we wouldn’t of had the wildly influential rest of the franchise.

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Max Rockatansky patrols the roads

Followed by: Mad Max 2

Take Me to Your Teacher

The Faculty is Scream meets The Breakfast Club meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Thing meets The Stepford Wives meets The Terminator. Scream because it takes many of the same meta cues with hip young teenagers of the late 90’s. Only the horror revolves around an alien invasion. The Breakfast Club because each teen is similar to one of the members. Casey is the nerd who gets picked on a lot, Zeke is the rebel/drug dealer, Stokely is the weird goth girl everyone thinks is a lesbian, Delilah is the popular cheerleader, and Stan is the jock who wants to quit the team. There’s also Marybeth, the new girl who also joins the group. Invasion of the Body Snatchers because the aliens are secretly replacing teachers. The Thing because anyone of them can be an alien. The Stepford Wives because the aliens make people look more attractive. And The Terminator because the T-1000 is in it. A lot of the cast consists of actors who were really big around the time. Like Usher, Famke Janssen, Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, or Josh Hartnett. The Faculty may not be totally original, the CGI is dated, and it may not completely feel like a Robert Rodriguez movie, but it’s still a blast. Never taking itself too seriously. I mean the aliens are parasites that need water to survive and the only way to stop them is with drugs. If I was old enough to watch it, I have a feeling I would have watched The Faculty a lot growing up.

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Everyone looks at their alien teacher

Let’s Go Fly a Kite

Saving Mr. Banks is the first Disney movie made about the making of a Disney movie. Why Mary Poppins? As I explained in my Mary Poppins review, it was a very long road for Walt Disney to get a Mary Poppins movie made. As Saving Mr. Banks depicts in full detail. Author P.L. Travers was notoriously difficult because she didn’t want Mary Poppins to be Disneyfied. She was against the use of songs and animation. So Walt Disney had his work cut for him trying to convince her what he was doing was right. It took him over 20 years just to get the film rights from her. Saving Mr. Banks is great if you know the history of Disney like I do. With the inclusion of the songwriters the Sherman brothers or the expression “man is in the forest.” They do a good job balancing the pre-production process with Travers own tragic backstory. One that greatly mirrors Mary Poppins. Even if it is a sudden tone shift and probably not completely factual. P.L. Travers trying to change the script is true, but she probably didn’t sing-a-long to any of the songs. Emma Thompson gives a fine performance, but the real surprise is Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. As recognizable as he is, he really works in the iconic role. Although they chose to omit his well known smoking habit. Instead they cut away any time he’s about to do it. Although Saving Mr. Banks still manages to pull off an impressive feat.

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Walt Disney (left) takes P. L. Travers (right) to Disneyland