Monday, June 8, 2015

Escaping the Dog & Pony Show on Fury Road


It's intermission time and you are primed and ready. Smuggled in snack food? Check. Overpriced soda the size of an old school Buick's headlight obtained officially on theater premises? Check. Your eager film-going tocks firmly in place in your cush, stadium setting multiplex chair? Check. Mass exposure to a barrage of advertisement and trailers that stink of crass come-ons and hucksterism like a dead dog in the Texas heat? Sad in its absoluteness.

What I am listing here is the lego-block-steps that many of us go through when we actually venture out of our home/caves and crave something bigger than our monitors, phones or TV's can provide. Steps one and two are touch and go hence interchangeable, but the last two are inescapable. Advertisement is a necessary beast for businesses, so if it is cloying or cheesy or IQ-drowning, it is simply the nature of things. It is what it is. Where the true scares begin is when the film trailers start rolling.

Going to see George Miller's latest, the incredible and powerful right down to its very core MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, I got a big faceful of the death throes of American mainstream cinema. (MAD MAX is spared because it is essentially an Australian film made by an Australian director, albeit with big American press, money and distribution behind it.) The first two trailers were both based on characters from Marvel Comics, with the first being ANTMAN and the second being yet another version of THE FANTASTIC FOUR. (Never mind the fact that the last two attempts at bringing the latter comic to life have failed pretty tremendously.) There are amazing films based on comics. In fact two of my favorite films ever, THE WATCHMEN and GHOST WORLD, were both based on equal but differently brilliant graphic novels. However, I feel like Hollywood is really starting the tap the Marvel/DC archive bone dry with this business. You can hear the execs practically ejaculating in their well tailored slacks at the merchandising dollars alone. You too can have an ANTMAN burrito from Taco Bell! (Note: I have no idea if that tie-in will happen, but would it surprise you? Yeah, me neither.) 

Even worse, both trailers looked basic as basic could be. There might as well been flashing text cuing all of us blank-faced living dead rubes on when to laugh, gasp or ooh and ahh. At this point, they are banking on if they slap a comic book hero emblem on a monkey trying to suck its own weiner, there will be enough suckers to fork over their hard earned dough for the second saddest breads and circuses bullshit fiesta ever. (The first being reality TV, of course.)

It didn't get any better with the next trailer, another dog & pony paranormal show in the form of THE GALLOWS. Bad lighting, hackneyed horror cliches, a cast that are blander than the wardrobe selection on Dawson's Creek and the use of a cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that put me in the mindset of hoping that Kurt Cobain will haunt everyone attached to this banal looking horror film. In short, it does not look promising. In this age of legitimately eerie “creepypastas” and indie horror directors who are trying to add new chrome to a jet lagged wheel, THE GALLOWS looks both dated and about as scary as NEW YEAR'S EVIL. (And if you have seen that film, first of all I'm sorry and secondly, you know exactly what I am talking about.) 

Lastly, there was arguably the best of the bunch, Guy Richie's remake/reboot/regurgitation of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E It looks well shot but incredibly arch. Plus Henry Cavill's Napoleon Solo reads less Robert Vaughn and more like George Lazenby in need of a tall glass of Metamucil. Realistically, it's probably going through the motions as much as the other three, but is a little more stylish. It is like the jaded stripper who cares enough to look a little put together and nice, but is still going to bump and grind with all the internal eroticism of a POW camp.

The divine yang to the awful yin was Miller's latest addition to the Mad Max universe. FURY ROAD is everything that those trailers are not. Truly invigorating, visually stunning with some scenes echoing shades of the most vibrant surrealists coupled with the metal-on-dust hyper realism of a post-apocalyptic universe, characters who stand out, composition that echoes masters like David Lean and Sergei Eisenstein and best of all, an actual and beating heart. A film as good as MAD MAX: FURY ROAD feels as fragrant and sweet as the best love letter. Not that the film itself is that light and airy. Far from it but it is so incredibly well made by a cast and crew who clearly cared enough to treat us, the viewer, with actual respect and affection. The fact that this film is cliche-less seals the whole envelope with a blood and tear stained kiss. I will write more in-depth about this extraordinary film at a later date, but needless to say, it has left a huge imprint on me.

In a way, the creative success of this film and its contrast to so much of the trite and bait and hack of mainstream American cinema has tapped into something I have long suspected. The era of big budget American directors crafting true masterpieces is dead. There's a 1% exception, as there is for almost everything in life, but in the bigger picture, forget it. The waves upon waves of “reboots,” which is just another word for remake, is proof of this. There are good remakes out there, but for every John Carpenter's THE THING, we get Michael Bay's colostomy bag of horseshit.

Don't get me wrong, nostalgia is a dangerous and fetid emotion and Hollywood was and will forever be about the bottom dollar. To quote Bobbi Flekman from THIS IS SPINAL TAP, “Money talks and bullshit walks.” The only problem is that the bullshit is the thing, again with some exceptions, bringing in the money. The more bloated things get, the more apparent it is that the true viable hope of American cinema is in the hands of two specific types. Those who are currently in the belly of the beast, slaving to get out from the inside and pull some beautifully subversive cards from their deck and the true blue independent artists out there. And I'm not talking “Miramax” indies either. I am talking the men and woman who are working class artists writing, editing, producing and directing out of a true need and want to do something that is their own. There is always hope in this life and with American cinema, it is resting firmly in these two divergent but similarly-goaled twin hands. 

Copyright 2015 Heather Drain


  1. Hollywood's increasing dependency on CG and green screens has made it very difficult over the past few years to tell the difference between a TV spot for a new film and a new video game so I suspect that seeing AD's for whatever the latest overblown piece of shit in a theatre and knowing instantly that its for a new movie is even more depressing.

    I'd never heard of The Gallows before this post (Thanks a lot! :)) so I watched the trailer. That one hurt. You know its bad when your thinking "Not this AGAIN!" within the first five seconds. This goes far beyond beating a dead horse. The horse had long been decomposed when the filmmakers decided to resurrect it only to kill it again so they could start beating it again with this garbage.

    1. Tom, I agree with everything you just wrote. The sad thing is that CGI can be tastefully done but 99% of the time, it does look like a video game. (And not a good one at that!)

      Sorry about leading you down the rabbit hole with The Gallows trailer. Note though that I have zero links to any of the aforementioned trailers. I tried, Sir. I tried. ;)

    2. No, its my own fault for looking for that damned trailer. Although your description did make me ask myself "Is it really that bad?" I think we both know the answer to that. I've been seeing some TV spots for it lately. Its hilarious how the marketing team behind it are trying to sell it. "Jason had his machete. Freddy had his glove..." Yeah and these dumbasses have some shaky cams. Terrifying.

      One thing I neglected to mention is your point on comic book based films. I think all the superhero crap clogging the market is giving comic films a real bad name because as you said there are great ones. And the thing is there still are comics that in the right hands would probably make brilliant films. Its just that they're not mass appeal so they'd never get funding unless perhaps it were an animated feature. Even those all look like PC games these days

  2. I have not been in a movie theater in over a year, and a lot of it is for the reasons you lay out so well here. Too many flashy things trying to sell me anything other than the movie I paid to see, and movies so forgettable I can't recall what I just sat through by the time I get home.

    I hear nothing but positive things from people I respect when it comes to the new Mad Max, though. I feel like maybe I should check it out before it leaves the theaters...

  3. Katy, we go once a year, twice at the max. Between the advertisements and most of the pap that plays, it is usually not that enticing of an experience. But Mad Max was worth it. Let me know what you think of it when you see it.

  4. Last time I went to the movies was Ridley Scott's "Prometheus". My only reason for staying away now is ill health which does not allow me to travel. We have a terrific indie cinema just 15 miles away, and I would have loved to have gone to see the likes of "Holy Motors", Miguel Gomes' "Tabu" (the one with the crocodile) and "Manglehorn", rather than just waiting for the disc. It's a great cinema to watch films in, but my experiences of multiplex cinemas have sometimes been horrendous: latecomers shown to their seats by searchlights; folks pissing about with their mobile phones and talking for most of the film, or eating throughout the performance. For me plexes had become a cross between The X Files and a trip to Burger King. "Fury Road" does sound well worth catching. Heard a lot of good things and your own endorsement, Heather, has me waiting for the Blu with bated breath.