Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Man Comes Back to Town Alone

There's a movie starring Robert Mitchum with a screenplay by Paul Schrader and Robert Towne--that's the screenwriters of Taxi Driver and Chinatown, respectively. It's set in Japan and was mostly shot in Japan. Seductive pedigree, isn't it? Well, 1974's The Yakuza is a good movie, owing much more to American story traditions than Japanese despite the fact that it employed two prominent Japanese actors--Ken Takakura and Keiko Kishi. It's like a good Western, the story of exiled gunfighters who come to town to honour debts, who bond in ways where women can't play a part. It's American men's romance, the story belonging to an era of cinema twenty years older. The primary flaw of the film is its director, Sydney Pollack, who doesn't seem to have had a real feel for this kind of story. In the hands of maybe Sam Peckinpah or Sergio Leone this could have been a great film. As it is, it's not bad.

Harry Kilmer (Mitchum) leads a relaxed if apparently lonely life taking care of his garden in L.A. when his friend, George Tanner (Brian Keith), comes to him for help. It seems Tanner has failed to make good on an arms deal with a Yakuza clan and now he's in trouble. There's one way Kilmer can help that the cops can't--we're not told right away what it is. They fly on separately planes to Tokyo.

One of the film's problems manifests when we do get the story, a long, dry exposition by Oliver (Herb Edelman), an American who lives in Tokyo in whose home Kilmer stays while in town. Oliver explains to Dusty (Richard Jordan)--Tanner's young bodyguard sent to accompany Kilmer--and to us during a montage of Mitchum walking Tokyo's streets that, after World War II, Kilmer, Tanner, and Oliver had been part of the U.S. occupying force in Japan. Kilmer had fallen in love with a girl named Eiko (Kishi) but when Eiko's brother, Ken (Takakura), a soldier and now yakuza, emerged from hiding to find the war was over and the Americans won, was shocked to find he owed a debt of gratitude to an American for taking care of his sister. But he wouldn't approve of a marriage between Kilmer and Eiko.

All this is explained to us and it takes a lot of the wind out of the sails of Mitchum and Kishi's subsequent scene. All this stuff that could have been established through their dialogue instead leaves them with a few awkward lines of greeting and a wordless montage of the two of them laughing and getting along. There isn't much chemistry between the actors though I was very impressed by Mitchum's Japanese--he clearly studied the language a bit, at least proper pronunciation.

There's a lot more going on between Mitchum and Takakura, reminiscent of Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott in Ride the High Country, and their mutual respect and simmering rivalry evolve into a genuine friendship as they fight their way through a plot of double crosses and hidden motives. Mitchum generally wields guns while Takakura's character, a kendo master, wields swords. Most of the action scenes aren't impressive, the sword stuff in particular drawing on compositions that were already pretty well worn in Japan. I recognised some from the exploitation film, Sex & Fury, released two years earlier.

But there are some interesting visuals. There's a strange bath house Kilmer and Dusty go to with a fish tank in the middle and a glass partition so the men's and women's sides can see each other--there's something Kubrickian about the place.

I also love shots of 1970s Tokyo, a time and place that somehow to me seems rather rich in a kind of rough romance.

And Mitchum at the centre of the film is just as solid and possessed of that zen-like, melancholy anger that fuelled so many of his films of the 40s and 50s. It's rather a pleasure seeing him work so well in this context.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

It Takes the Right Pants

This is a recent set photo from the filming of an upcoming Doctor Who episode. I can't begin to say how strongly I approve of what looks to be tartan trousers. I sure hope it's not just Capaldi's civvies. Now if they'd give him some spectator shoes, lose the t-shirt and hoodie . . . Well, I guess they can't just dress him like the Seventh Doctor. It would be great, though. Surely spectator shoes wouldn't be too much to ask--the Fourth Doctor also wore spectators in Seeds of Doom.

It was two Eighth Doctor audio plays I listened to this past week, The Creed of the Kromon and The Natural History of Fear, two stories following up from Scherzo where the Doctor and Charley are stuck on a planet without the TARDIS. The Creed of the Kromon introduces the companion C'rizz--pronounced "Kay riz" somehow--played by Conrad Westmaas. I gather he stays with the series for a very long time though from his introduction I can't think why. He's not a particularly interesting a character, reminding me of a watered down version of the Fifth Doctor's companion Turlough--he's a bit cowardly and he's not human, the first non-human companion the Doctor's had since the Sixth Doctor's companion, Frobisher, that I know of. Not counting robots, that makes only four non-human companions to appear on the television and audio shows, unless I'm forgetting someone. Of all of them, C'rizz looks the most non-human though only in that his skin changes for his environment like a chameleon and he has some forehead ridges. Considering the audio format, I don't know why they didn't go all out and give him wings and tentacles or make him a big amoeba or something.

The Creed of the Kromon is a correspondingly dull audio, being perhaps the most default Doctor Who story I've heard--evil alien civilisation, female companion is captured, the Doctor is forced to help some sketchy group but manages to make plans and friends, etcetera.

The Natural History of Fear is far more interesting, introducing a totalitarian civilisation where all questions are outlawed, forcing the characters to communicate entirely with statements--there's a lot of "Tell me what you heard" and "Report on the current status." Among the people are, inexplicable, the Doctor, Charley, and C'rizz, or at least their voices but all of them have other identities and are integrated into the society--Charley is a nurse and the Doctor is someone called the Editor, an inquisitor and enforcer of sorts. The play rather nicely takes advantage of the audio format in constructing its mystery and the ending is wonderfully nightmarish.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Clouds and Ceilings

Sounds like my upstairs neighbour is sharpening pencils the size of submarine sandwiches. Actually I think it's workmen remodelling the room and my upstairs neighbour has moved out. At least they've left off hammering and drilling at 9am, though I got up at 9:30 to-day anyway after going to bed at 3:30am. I feel like wherever I go in life there'll be someone pounding a hammer into board while I'm trying to sleep.

But I'm tired of having to sleep. I like staying up late and I like getting up early. I like to think if I burn the candle far enough at both ends I'll create dark matter. I haven't left the apartment since Tuesday, I've been reading all day and I still didn't get all the reading done this week I wanted to. Which means I'll probably start my comic a week later than intended. Gods, I hope nothing else occurs to me that I must absolutely read. To-day I must finally venture out to replenish my oatmeal supply. I also need fruit. I'll probably have to go again to-morrow to get the stuff I forget to get to-day. I ought to make a list, I suppose.

I suppose it doesn't help that, among other things, I'm reading about seventeenth century English scholastic standards. We have really fallen behind. I don't know any Greek or Latin. Well, I guess that's not true, I know "Spanakopita" (it's a spinach pie).

Anyway, here are some pictures from the time when I went out.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Ubiquitous Tooth

"Whereas the conservative philosophy is the exploitation of man by man with the socialists it is exactly the other way round."

This clever bit of cynical nonsense is spoken by the narrator to introduce the political world of Britain portrayed in 1959's Left Right and Centre. A romantic comedy by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, it's one of their milder achievements; entertaining and good for smiles more than chuckles. Still, there's an appreciable lack of formula to the story.

Robert Wilcot (Ian Carmichael) is the conservative candidate for MP while his Labour opponent is Stella Stoker (Patricia Bredin). Everyone's name sounds almost like a joke except for Wilcot's campaign manager whose name, Harding-Pratt, sounds exactly like a joke. He's played by the character actor Richard Wattis, a solid supporting player in so many films. Harding-Pratt finds himself forced into an unlikely alliance with Bert Glimmer (Eric Barker), Stoker's campaign manager, when Wilcot and Stoker fall in love, thereby endangering the whole process to which Harding-Pratt and Glimmer have dedicated their lives.

It's mainly Carmichael's movie, playing a hapless, goofy straight man to the absurdities that happen around him, even to his own unexpected infatuation with his opponent. A running gag is "love at first sight" after Wilcot and Stoker both scoff at a women's magazine story about a young woman seems to hear bells as everything but the sudden object of her affection goes out of focus. Wilcot's flustered disconcertion as this happens to him while watching Stoker give a speech is one of the funniest bits in the film.

Alastair Sim, though given second billing, has only a very tiny role as Robert Wilcot's uncle, Lord Wilcot. Previously a conservative, Lord Wilcot has found he's become blissfully neutral after turning his estate into a theme park that charges customers at every turn. Even the room Robert stays in requires shillings to be put in a machine in order to keep the lights on.

Patricia Bredin as Stoker is fine but not remarkable, the typical, almost furniture beautiful woman who's more walking McGuffin than character in a comedy.

The real costar of this film, I'd say, is houndstooth. There's a peculiar prevalence of houndstooth in this movie, in almost every scene you can spot someone wearing a houndstooth coat. Wilcot even wears a rather ugly houndstooth fedora.

It's perhaps no surprise that when Wilcot and Stoker kiss for the first time, he's wearing a houndstooth coat and she's wearing a houndstooth dress.

This occurs in an odd hedge maze sequence with classical statues of women covering themselves, strongly reminiscent to me of the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Well, All Well Ends

Young love is more often known for its intensity than its wisdom, certainly no-one more artfully affirmed this than William Shakespeare. Which makes intriguingly controversial the title of his post Elizabethan comedy All's Well That Ends Well. The Wikpedia entry notes that this is classified as a "problem play" because centuries of assessments have discovered that there is a rather tragic quality to what actually happens in the play despite all the clever dialogue. Personally, I don't see why this element of tragedy should prevent it from being a comedy, rather I take it as another indication of Shakespeare's peculiar genius in producing something that would sit easily among works centuries newer that indulge liberally in a variety of moods and ideas while still being broadly called drama or comedy. All's Well That Ends Well is a portrait of how truly funny human ridiculousness can lead to mercurial and sad results.

I watched a 1981 BBC production directed by Elijah Moshinsky, produced by Jonathan Miller who also directed several productions of Shakespeare for the BBC. I found Miller's production of King Lear so badly misconceived I wasn't able to finish watching it and this production of All's Well That Ends Well suffers in the same way to some extent, particularly in the casting of Angela Down as Helena, the central character. I suspect it was Miller or Moshinsky who instructed her to play Helena as wise and sort of clinical as part of a deliberately provocative expression regarding the nature of the character. The result, though, is something that simply doesn't make sense. Helena as played by Down comes off as someone too cool to swoon over a handsome young nobleman who despises her and she'd definitely know better than to force the king into making him marry her. Helena is clever, certainly, as evinced by her elaborate plan to trick Bertram into having sex with her. But forcing a man who hates you to have sex with you hardly reflects the wisdom that comes through in Down's performance.

Parolles, a vassal of Bertram's, is played a bit more appropriately by Peter Jeffrey whom I recognised from the Doctor Who serial The Androids of Tara (though according to imdb I've seen him in several other things). Parolles is a bit like a more perfidious version of Falstaff; a boaster, coward, and drinker like the more famous character but much more willing to double cross his friends and much more vain. The scene where his comrades kidnap him, blindfold him, and speak in nonsense jargon to imitate a foreign language is one of the most genuinely funny bits in all of Shakespeare's plays.

Even better cast was Celia Johnson as Bertram's mother whose benevolence and love for Helena conveys the sense in which Helena marrying Bertram is actually a good idea--in that having Helena as a daughter in law might improve having Bertram as a son, though the countess is too nice to put it that way.

The production has nice costumes and the lighting seems inspired by Rembrandt, which was an excellent idea.

For a more appropriate take on Helena and a slightly less effective take on the countess, here's a clip from a more recent production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It contains some of the most obnoxious lens flares I've seen--this is a filmmaking trend that really needs to go away.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Implied Danger Vaguely Alluded to On the High Seas!

How do you cast a great Irish actress? In almost anything, it seems. Maureen O'Hara was cast as a Spanish noblewoman in 1945's The Spanish Main, two years before she'd play an Arabian princess in Sinbad the Sailor, which was not the last time the great redhead would be cast as Arabic. I guess it's a little easier to buy her as Spanish, that's hardly the biggest flaw in the 1945 pirate film, though The Spanish Main has quite a lot going for it. Unfortunately, its screenplay is beyond mediocre.

Certainly, though, it suffered from a miscast male lead--Paul Henreid is believable enough as the respectable Dutch immigrant to the Carolinas he's introduced as but after the goods from his wrecked ship are confiscated by a Spanish governor, Juan Alvarado (Walter Slezak), he becomes a terribly dull and unconvincing pirate.

Particularly next Maureen O'Hara. "That red hair of hers is no lie," as Barry Fitzgerald says of her in The Quiet Man and, yes, her quick reflexes and obvious physical strength would have made her a great action star. There's a long list of male stars from the time I'm fully confident she could've taken easily in a fight but unfortunately that's a side of her too rarely seen. Here we're meant to take her as defenceless and too weak even to cock a flintlock pistol.

This is from a duel between her and Anne Bonny--a real life pirate who is here played by Binnie Barnes, physically slighter than O'Hara and with not half the fire. She's jealous that Laurent (Henreid) has taken Francisca (O'Hara) to wife and in one of the many stupid plot contortions Bonny becomes part of a group of pirates intent on taking Francisca away from him for his own good.

Though it's not as dumb as how Francisca and Laurent were married in the first place, this being around fifteen minutes of film given over to placating the Hays code as Laurent and his crew take O'Hara's ship en route to Juan Alvarado and force her to . . . marry Laurent! But only with her complete consent! And then, when she leans back in bed, hoping he'll take her in his arms he . . . refrains! Yes, he's become a real wild man.

O'Hara had played another damsel in distress in another pirate film a few years earlier, The Black Swan, which is superior in just about every way. But The Spanish Main has some amazing costumes, I'll give it that. O'Hara's dresses are all fantastic, this one was my favourite:

Twitter Sonnet #753

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Monday, May 25, 2015

The Watchers of the Television

I think in honour of Ireland I'll be calling it Game O'Thrones to-day.

Last night's episode seemed primarily to consist of connecting scenes between last week's episode and next week's--lots of plot stuff, big developments to get characters to new places for next week to digest. Some of it I liked, some of it felt a bit rushed, as the io9 review says. There were some dumb things but mostly they were because of already established dumb things.

Spoilers after the screenshot from Brazil.

I guess Peter Vaughan (left) won't be reuniting with his costar from Terry Gilliam's 1985 film, Brazil, Jonathan Pryce (right) because, in my favourite scene from last night, Vaughan's character, Maester Aemon, passed away more peacefully than just about anyone else in Westeros.

Aemon, reminiscing through slight hallucination, seems to find himself back with a more innocent version of his brother, the long dead mad king. The line where he says he dreamed he was old ranks with Ciaran Hinds' death earlier in the season.

Meanwhile, Pryce is miles away in King's Landing sparring with Diana Rigg.

I'm not really sure if the High Sparrow is very badly written or completely delusional. Olenna (Rigg) says she can spot a fraud a mile away and I thought, yeah, this guy isn't exactly subtle. As Olenna points out, out of all the people in King's Landing he could have condemned, he chose politically significant people. It's so obviously a power play. But he stays committed to the role, giving Olenna a rap about how the commoners outnumber the aristocrats and how he's with "the people". "Well, if that's so," I thought, "and you don't believe in VIPs, why are you scrubbing the floor of this huge room by yourself?"

One thing that generally goes along with being popular is that people want to be around you. I guess if I worked hard for the show, I could say that scrubbing the floor is a form of meditation and the High Sparrow asked to be alone. But then, despite being the guy who says religion is supposed to be for the people, he's basically shutting everyone out of the holy place on his peculiar prerogative. It makes his threat to Olenna that he's somehow going to turn her own subjects against her seem really lame. George R.R. Martin has said in interviews that the Sparrows are inspired by the Reformation. If that's so, he or Benioff and Weiss have a pretty hazy grasp on that chapter in history. Neither the Catholics or the Protestants limited the people they denounced for heresy to prominent figures.

I did kind of like Pryce's speech about the age of the altar. But the character is far more effective if you look at him as a fringe cult figure, more like the Ranters or the Hussites than John Calvin or Martin Luther. The fact that Jan Hus was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church reminds us that crazy religious establishments tend to spend a lot more time killing smaller groups of people with other crazy religious ideas.

In Winterfell, we find Sansa locked away having suffered many more cruel nights at the hands of Ramsay. She begs Reek to help her--if anyone was expecting Theon to reassert himself and do so they must have forgotten about the time he had a straight razor to Ramsay's throat and did nothing but shave. Ramsay cut Theon's dick off, by the laws of bro-hood or something Theon has to do everything Ramsay says now.

You know, I should really stress this again in case Snoop Dogg is reading; you can't make a guy your thrall by cutting his penis off. It won't work.

I kind of wondered how Ramsay knew it was the old woman who told Sansa about the candle in the window signal. But I guess he could have interrogated all the serving staff. I guess he's not exactly following his father's advice about trying to win the hearts and minds of the north. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Roose kills Ramsay.

Not too far away, Stannis is plotting his attack on Winterfell despite Davos' misgivings. I really liked that Melisandre wants to sacrifice Stannis' daughter. I look forward to seeing how this plays out.

In Dorne, meanwhile, one of the Sand Snakes uses one of Melisandre's favourite persuasion techniques by taking her clothes off in the middle of a conversation with a guy though instead of sexually inexperienced Jon Snow who's caught flat-footed it's Bronn--rather out of character for him.

But I guess the big news from last night was Tyrion meeting Daenerys. This was the end of a segment featuring a series of very unlikely things--Tyrion managing to talk himself into being bought by the same guy who bought Jorah, the same buyer being rather careless with his slave gladiators, Daenerys apparently forgetting she'd outlawed slavery or somehow not understanding she was witnessing slaves fighting right in front of her, and Jorah managing to knock out half a dozen fighters without killing them. Tyrion, for some reason the only slave who was chained down, is set loose by another slave and promptly introduces himself to the queen, taking us well and truly outside the territory of the source books, by all accounts (I haven't read them). Well, to Benioff and Weiss, I say good luck. It would be nice if this works.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Poseidon Never Forgives Ulysses

Considered one of the greatest stories ever written, you'd think the Odyssey would have generated more film adaptations. The oldest one I've seen is 1954's Ulysses starring Kirk Douglas as Ulysses (in recent years more often referred to by his Greek name, Odysseus) although it's an Italian film. The dubbed dialogue presumably crudely translated from an Italian screenplay--though Douglas dubs himself in English--and certain decisions to economise the story diminish the film a little but it is an effective adventure tale in beautiful colour.

As in Homer's original poem, an effective through line of tension in the film is that while Ulysses is having his various adventures at sea his wife, Penelope, back home in Ithaca, is beset by suitors who've basically taken over her home. It's only a matter of time before everyone finally decides Ulysses died in the Trojan war and one of them claims her. In Homer's version, Ulysses is more leisurely about getting home because he's unaware of the situation. In the film, he's still unaware but the filmmakers take more opportunities to make the story about Ulysses' desire to see Penelope, such as making the song of the sirens an imitation of Penelope's voice that torments Ulysses for being unable to reach her while tied to the mast. This is a bit disappointing, though of course composing a song that actually drives people mad may not have been a task composer Alessandro Cicognini was equal to. I would have preferred perhaps switching to the POV of a crew member with wax in his ears witnessing an agonised Ulysses with a muted soundtrack. That would have preserved some of the mystery which is much more effective than the idea that Ulysses was duped by a sound-alike.

Perhaps the biggest change the film makes, aside from a whole lot of omissions, is in combining the characters of Calypso and Circe, called Circe, and making her look exactly like Penelope--both characters are played by the beautiful Silvana Mangano.

I can't blame the filmmakers for wanting to her on screen as long as possible. Though, being only one year older than Franco Interlenghi, who plays her son Telemachus, she was quite visibly too young for the role.

Also in the film is Anthony Quinn as Antinous, the most prominent of Penelope's suitors, and he does a great deal for that through line of tension. Though impertinent and aggressive, he's nevertheless charming and seems sincere in his offer to protect Penelope if she becomes his wife.

The end of the film is, of course, not the orgy of gore depicted in the poem, neither is the encounter with the Cyclops as bloody but Kirk Douglas makes both episodes pretty entertaining, his steely glee just right for Ulysses' cleverness and bloodlust.

Ulysses' encounter with Nausicaa on Scherie is modified to give Ulysses temporary amnesia so he can fall in love with Nausicaa who's played by Rossana Podesta. She and the other women of her court appear to buy clothes in Victorian England and hats from a bakery.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

People Merging

Congratulations to Ireland becoming the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. Well done. Maybe one day you'll even have Doctor Who.

For some reason in the entire history of the television series the Doctor has never once visited Ireland despite going to Scotland all the time and also paying visits to France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and the U.S. For some reason the country right next door with the beautiful filming locations has never drawn a Who production. Well, maybe this is the beginning of an era of positive change.

As it happens the only Doctor Who audio play I managed to listen to this past week, Scherzo from 2003, is about marriage and stars Paul McGann, who I think is of Irish decent (he was born in Liverpool), as the Eighth Doctor and India Fisher as companion Charley Pollard--and no-one else. The story is about marriage in a rather grisly, allegorical way as the Doctor and Charley find themselves stripped of most of their senses--left only the ability to speak and hear--and find their bodies are gradually merging over a period of perhaps months. Every now and then they're permitted the return of their senses in order to feed on some mysterious, rapidly evolving organic mass.

This is the fourth audio play I've heard written by Robert Shearman who has impressed me a great deal with his previous three, The Holy Terror, The Chimes of Midnight, and Jubilee. Scherzo is quite explicit in its metaphorical sex, if that makes sense, the Doctor and Charley having much dialogue about how they're becoming one as they find their hands and then their faces are growing into each other accompanied by moist meaty sound effects. Even more frightening and weird is what amounts to their offspring which seems to indicate Eraserhead levels of anxiety regarding procreation. But ultimately, the story is sweet and the biological stuff seems a stand in for the worries of two people whose lives are merging. It's certainly an interesting predecessor to the relaunched television series' focus on romance.

I also rewatched the Seventh Doctor serial The Silver Nemesis starring Sylvester McCoy who partly grew up in Ireland. This serial seems to have gotten a bad reputation but I still rather like it. The Doctor and Ace are delightful together as always, even slightly over the top moments like where Ace asks the Doctor if he's lost his marbles and he immediately produces a handful of marbles from his pocket. This is largely sold by Sophie Aldred delivering the setup with an impression of complete natural candour. The Seventh Doctor and Ace have a chemistry that continues to surprise me in its depth in small moments like that. Sometimes she's the Abbott to his Costello, and then the Doctor has a dark look and it seems he's the Jacob Marley to her Scrooge. It all fuses together in something really vital, a clever comedy routine that's a precarious lid on something really volatile.

DOCTOR WHO - Silver Nemesis - (PART ONE) by TimeLordWannabe69

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Isn't It a Lovely Day to be Caught In a Sandstorm

It's been a long and some might say furious or even Furiosa road. From cop movie to western to Sci-Fi and now, finally, to fantasy in 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road. More than any of the previous films, Fury Road focuses on themes, particularly ideas of heroism, self-worth, and altruism, at times quite successfully. Invariably successful are the action sequences which dominate a whole lion pride's share of the film and through it all is that distinctive aesthetic weirdness that you only get with George Miller's Mad Max.

In a way, the genre this film most pays homage to is the Mad Max genre. Looking back on the previous films, it's easy to see the best parts are the decadent car chases, not merely for the action but for the insane, over the top displays by the villains. Fury Road not only occupies more screen time with these, it piles on more of everything--more makeup, more engines, more skulls, and it's all topped off by the post-apocalyptic version of a piper, a rock guitarist (iOTA);

Again, we have more of the wild-grown high fashion. Despite the fact Beyond Thunderdome is widely considered the weakest of the series, Fury Road picks up a lot where its immediate predecessor left off mainly in terms of a focus on world-building. Where the tribe of children worshipping the dead crew of a commercial airline in Thunderdome was used to explore the Sci-Fi concept of a transplanted cultural evolution from our familiar culture, Fury Road goes, hmm, beyond Thunderdome with the War Boys. The focus of this hypothetical civilisation is less on how they came to be from what we know and more how they reflect basic aspects of human nature. Almost entirely male, pale, sterile, with eye shadow resembling the shaman kid from Beyond Thunderdome, the civilisation has only a handful of women mostly used for breeding or to produce breast milk.

There are various references to Norse mythology, most explicitly the fact that the endless supply of male soldiers seek glorious deaths in battle to reach Valhalla. There's also perhaps something of Wotan's relationship with Brunnhilde in Wagner's operas in how much of the plot is driven by a group of the precious few women rebelling against the leader of the War Boys, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). There's even a minor character credited as simply "The Valkyrie" (Megan Gale). But she comes from another civilisation, one to which Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) originally belonged.

One of the two leads of the film, there's quite a lot of Furiosa's story that's somewhat conspicuously left untold. An Imperator is a sort of officer among the War Boys. Furiosa explains to Max that she was captured as a child from the "Green Place", her destination in the film where the five wives of Joe, hidden in the tank of her stolen "War Rig", hope to find safety. Furiosa tells Max she's motivated by a desire for "redemption"--presumably for working as an Imperator but it's unclear.

Fury Road is indeed, as many critics have been saying, more feminist than the previous films, though really more on grounds of policy than in terms of character. The male characters are still more interesting--in fact, arguably more interesting because they're allowed to be inferior to the women in some respects. Max's wife in the first film wasn't much more than a victim, Virginia Hey's part in The Road Warrior was too short to really get going, and the female leader of the tribe of children in Beyond Thunderdome makes stereotypically dumb, emotionally motivated decisions that Max has to clean up after. Tina Turner was appreciably badass but she was also the villain so on some level Max had to trump her, too, leaving aside the somewhat enigmatic ending of the film.

In Fury Road, it's the women who have a clear idea of priorities while the two male protagonists, Max and Nux, are psychologically lost. Nux (Nicholas Hoult), despite being such an over the top character--one of the War Boy soldiers--has kind of a subtle and surprisingly rewarding arc. But, appropriately enough, the best character in the movie is Max, played now by English actor Tom Hardy. And Hardy is largely responsible for what's interesting about Max in this film.

He has very little dialogue. He explains to us in voice over how he's hunted by both "the living and the dead"--the latter being the people he couldn't save. He has a repeated vision of a child that distracts him at key moments. But it's also Hardy's performance that conveys a man tyrannised by his own mind--soft spoken, with a slight stutter and a reluctance to lock eyes with people and, when he does, it's clearly to assess physical threat. When he changes from seeing Furiosa as an obstacle to seeing her as a comrade, it doesn't seem a conscious decision but merely a shifting of ingrained behaviour pattern. Hardy brilliantly conveys a man so damaged by the loss of loved ones that his ability to empathise with new people has been reduced to almost nothing.

Alongside Hardy's performance, the film's visuals are the chief highlight. The road gangs look less punk now and more metal, appropriate for the Norse mythological references. There also seems to be an anime influence--Wikipedia quotes Miller as being influenced by Akira but I was also reminded of GAINAX productions of the 2000s. Aside from the guitarist, I generally thought the derivative score was the film's weakest point--in addition to the fact that's another modern film where almost every shot is orange or blue--but it's hard to notice when the film had so much else going for it.

After Caitlin R. Kiernan reported in her blog having such a bad experience seeing the film from close to the screen, I made sure to get a seat in the back row of the theatre and I recommend you do the same if you see it. There's a lot to take in and it moves really fast.