Thursday, May 7, 2015

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

"We are not things. We are not things!"

I'll be up front, I have been excited for this film for a very, very long time.


I wrangled a ticket to a public advanced screening last night, May 6th, so I have no qualms about sharing my opinion. Real-D 3-D screening, which is not something I would probably have paid for (the film is post-converted), but, hey, it was free.

Oh, man, I am so glad I got in.


This is going to be the film to beat, as far as I'm concerned, this Summer. It is the very definition of a "thrill ride," and some of the strongest action filmmaking I've seen in years. George Miller, almost 70 years old, and away from live-action filmmaking for almost 20, re-asserts himself as a master of the form without a snag. This is a director's film, without a doubt, and Miller falls seamlessly into the style and tricks that have defined this franchise since he created it (I laughed out out loud at every shot undercranked to up the speed of everything, or the quick dissolves to black at the end of scenes), and yet embraces every bit of the new tech available to him. The film is pure cinema, energy, motion, and visual splendor.

Yes, there is CGI in this film. More than I hoped, but Miller has used it in the service of augmenting live stunt work. We see real cars smashing into each other, but CG men caught and ground under the wreckage. There are a few shots that fall into the "this was put together on green screen" feel that was so pervasive in Avengers: Age of Ultron, such as about anything involving the traveling music/soundtrack that Immortan Joe brings along on his hunt. The use is, to me, tasteful and understandable. In the main, you are seeing real stuntmen doing really crazy shit with insane-looking vehicles in the middle of the desert. If we're not; the effects are even better than I'm giving them credit for.

Plot-wise, Miller has not been exaggerating much, at all, when he says the film is a "two hour chase scene." I was shocked at exactly how fast this film moves. There is no exposition, really, at all. There is a brief voice-over from Max (Tom Hardy), vaguely sketching out the world, and then...literally moments into the film, before the title appears, you are into a full-on chase. The nature of the world, and Immortan Joe's (Hugh Keays-Byrne) enclave, just sort of piles up higher and higher. The film is content to have the audience put their own pieces together.

The film is clearly a reboot, with Max's iconic V-8 Interceptor, destroyed in 1981's Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior, back in action at the start of the film. There are also flashbacks that Max experiences that seem to be about his family, but do not jibe, at all, with what was portrayed in 1979's Mad Max. Yet, even as I watched it, and knowing that the script started with the intent of returning Mel Gibson to the role he originated, I could see threads that suggested this film would fall after 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.


 What I mean by that is this franchise has presented a post-apocalyptic world that has devolved and evolved in a very interesting and linear way. Mad Max presented a world on the verge of collapse, with forces of order fighting, in vain, to keep society functional. The Road Warrior was after those efforts had failed, and humanity had re-entered a tribal phase. Thunderdome allowed us to see a very medieval city-state, based around commerce and fudal thinking.

Fury Road goes one step further, as adeptly as the best Star Wars films, just piles on throwaway detail after throwaway detail, without stopping to explain, until the world simply feels undeniably clear and undeniably real. Humanity has clearly become more and more adept at replacing what's been lost (ammunition, fuel), and within this world, Immortan Joe's enclave is a dictatorship based on religion. A religion that's never overly explained (but nothing really is), but clearly trades on Norse mythology (Valhalla is invoked over and over), and ritual suicide in battle (presented as a sure path to Valhalla, and marked by spray painting one's mouth silver). Joe maintains control of the peasantry by parceling his supply of fresh water.

He also hordes a lot of other resources. The how and why of all these things, is parceled out through the narrative. There really is never any "oh, that's why!" explanation. He's after a lot of stuff, blood (we discover Max is O-Negative, a perfect donor), mother's milk, and women. Women who might bear him a "perfect" - i.e. unmarked by the ravages of a post-apocalyptic world - son.


And it's this that really drives the story, because Max, despite the title, is not the real protagonist of this film. That would fall on Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), it's this character, and her journey, that defines the conflict, and the film itself. Max's role falls into the "Han Solo"-type second lead. He's a survivor, out for himself, who is changed by meeting the Imperator and her cargo.

(I am being intentionally vague here - plot details are easy enough to find if you wish to, but I prefer to allow you to discover them yourself while watching the film.)

The plot is dead simple. So simple that I'm sure that there will be audiences who think it has none. Plot is not important here, theme is. There is no complicated set-up, we know what everybody wants, we know who wants it, and why. What's left is action, and I don't mean that in the sense of things slamming into each other, although that is central - it is a Mad Max movie. What I mean is that the themes of this film, which are deep, compelling, and progressive, are defined wholly and completely by what the characters DO, not by talking about it. Theron, who is masterful in the film, shares everything the audience needs to understand about how she feels about Immortan Joe's society in the way she drives her war rig, and the hardness of her stare.

The film is, in a very, very real way, the ultimate expression of a thesis I have long held to, in that these pulpy, simple stories are the most powerful way to make specific, powerful points about our society now than many, many other formats. They do not have to be stupid, George Miller has crafted an epic action film the like of which we have possibly never seen, and at every turn he is saying something about us and our world right now. In a world where Michael Bay can have robots slam into each other nonsensically, and where the final battle of an Avengers film can be reduced to a series of shots that seem like random and disconnected moments of flash, and it's deemed "good enough," Miller has taken the concept of the car case and made it sing. The characters are compelling, the action motivated and clear, the geography understandable, and the deeper meaning of it all right there, if you want to consider it.

This is the film of the summer, creatively. I left this film as thrilled and entranced as when I watch Raiders of the Lost Ark, which, for those that know me, is just about the highest praise I can muster. I honestly can't tell you if a wide audience will embrace it. It's exceptionally thrilling, and I had definite moments where I could feel the audience, en mass, catching their breath. However, it's also filled with Hard-R brutality (not gore, thank goodness), and the story moves so quickly that I wonder if our society, sadly disinclined to think, or figure things out on their own, will embrace it.

I so hope they do. This film deserves the widest audience possible.



Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I Grow Weary

I love Super Heroes. I love comic books. With passion, I love these things. I have been an avid reader and fan since I could read. The mythology and their place as teachers of moral codes is unparallelled and deserves respect. I am who I am because of these characters...I would never give up one iota of what they have given me in my life.

But....

I think I am completely burnt out on film and TV adaptations. I feel like I'm drowning in superheroes.

Every once in a while I get excited because something looks different or unexpected, but, in the main...It's like an obligation, not a joy. I'll see Avengers, I'll see Ant-Man, I'll see Fantastic Four (and the last one actually has been surprising me with the imagery that's been released), but I can't say I feel excited about any of them. I am also just simply bored to tears with Robert Downey Jr's shtick.

I watched Daredevil, and was left pretty cold. Darkness and noir style I can enjoy (and, in fact, I love it), but brutality and gore simply doesn't work for me. I can't get through a single episode of SHIELD, let alone a full season. Arrow is working for me, to a point...I AM excited to start watching The Flash, as a life-long fan of the character.

I admit, I didn't hate the Batman v Superman teaser, mainly because they've taken my main problem with Man of Steel and addressed it head-on. That was unexpected, and intriguing. It also, like Fantastic Four, doesn't look like any of these other films.

Mad Max makes me excited. The Star Wars stuff makes me excited. Tomorrowland makes me excited. Things that are new, or have been away for a good, long while.

But, here I am a lifelong fan...and I'm sorta bored with the whole superhero thing. I shocks me. I can't imagine what a "civilian" might be starting to feel.

Now, I know exactly the reaction that I'm going to get there...that I am wrong, that it's a golden age. That Marvel Studios is perfect in every way. If you feel that way, fantastic, but I am also pretty fed up with a fandom that resembles cheering for a sports team.

I often wonder if that isn't my problem. I feel inundated with stuff I am supposed to be excited about because everyone else is, and if I don't agree, or offer mild criticisms, I'm "the guy who hates everything." Well, maybe I am, but so be it.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hayoth: Vol. 2 - Uptown

It's as done as it's gonna be. Free to stream and download on Soundcloud.

Have at it.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Stuck in My Head 4.9.2015 - All My Life

Meditating on what it all means lately. Why do I throw myself after creative endeavors, again and again, when my goals seem to move farther and farther away?


All My Life
By The Foo Fighters

All my life I've been searching for something
Something never comes never leads to nothing
Nothing satisfies but I'm getting close
Closer to the prize at the end of the rope
All night long I dream of the day
When it comes around then it's taken away
Leaves me with the feeling that I feel the most
Feel it come to life when I see your ghost

Come down don't you resist
You have such a delicate wrist
And if I give it a twist
Something to hold when I lose my grip
Will I find something in there
To give me just what I need?
Another reason to bleed
One by one hidden up my sleeve
One by one hidden up my sleeve

Hey don't let it go to waste
I love it but I hate the taste
Weight keeping me down

Weight keeping me down

Will I find a believer
Another one who believes
Another one to deceive
Over and over down on my knees
If I get any closer
And if you open up wide
And if you let me inside
On and on I've got nothing to hide
On and on I've got nothing to hide
 

Hey don't let it go to waste
I love it but I hate the taste
Weight keeping me down

Weight keeping me down

All my life I've been searching for something
Something never comes never leads to nothing
Nothing satisfies but I'm getting close
Closer to the prize at the end of the rope
All night long I dream of the day
When it comes around, when it's taken away
Leaves me with the feeling that I feel the most
Feel it come to life when I see your ghost
 

And I'm done, done and I'm on to the next one
And I'm done, done and I'm on to the next one
And I'm done, done and I'm on to the next one
And I'm done, done and I'm on to the next one
And I'm done, done and I'm on to the next one
And I'm done, done and I'm on to the next one
And I'm done, done and I'm on to the next one
And I'm done, done and I'm on to the next one 

Done, done, on to the next one
Done I'm done and I'm on to the next one

Done I'm done and I'm on to the next one

Hey don't let it go to waste
I love it but I hate the taste
Weight keeping me down

Weight keeping me down

Done, done and on to the next one
Done, I'm done, and I'm
On to the next.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

RIP Stan Freberg

One of the true greats of American comedy, but I will always remember him for this...where Stan, instead of Mel Blanc, did all the vocals.


Rest in Peace, Pete Puma. I will always take three lumps because of you.


Stan Freberg
August 7, 1926 - April 7, 2015

Hayoth Vol 2 - Uptown

Recording on Uptown, the second album from my musical project, Hayoth, is complete.

It will be a 12 -track album, and I hope to have it out for public consumption by a week from today.

As always, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about my work. I certainly think that among the 12 tracks is some of the best playing, writing, and singing I've done. I think the tracks represent a pretty good cross-section of what I can do as a musician, but...as always...the certainly show the limitations of working alone.

Once again, I played every instrument on this release, and sang every note.

Once again, I'm not 100% overjoyed about my singing. Yer, this is my voice, and I use it the best I can. There may come a day when I find a vocalist who I am comfortable working and collaborating with, and I can turn these tunes over for them to interpret. Until that day, I am the vocalist I have to work with, and I will do my best with what I have to work with. I also feel my playing has jumped forward. Not every track is as perfect as maybe I would like them to be, but I feel like I did some good work.

So, what does the track list look like?

1 - "Burn": A pretty straight ahead rock track. I am pretty fond of my guitar playing all-around on this one. I also think the recording is really in the sweet spot, the instruments are balanced without being too loud or too quiet.

2 - "Uptown (Moody's Blues)": A ballad inspired, in part, by the character I played in Golden Boy. It was a long time coming, putting this one together. The lyrics went from specific to extremely general, and landed in the middle.

3 - "Warp": This may be the most accomplished track on the disk. Keyboards appear for the first time, ever, with a Hayoth song. I think the guitar solo is solid, and I really dig how the intensity ramps up after the solo break.

4 - "Keeps Rollin'": Another rocker, this one tied in to my own frustrations with my creative development, and fears about where the life I've chosen will lead me.

5 - "Against the Wall": Frankly, a bit of a nonsense song. Just playing with words over the riff I had, but a little bit of commentary about the know-it-all world of the internet.

6 - "Waitress": A weird one. It was a pretty naked attempt at a Springsteen-esque story song, and ended up feeling like a Tom Waits-like boozy bawler. I'm not 100% sure if it really works, but art is risk, right?

7 - "Running Out of Time": I wrote this song in about 6 minutes. If Little Steven Van Zant is to be believed, it's probably pretty good. I tried to get pretty loose in my guitar playing, bearing in mind Eddie Van Halen's quote, "I play guitar like I'm falling down a flight of stairs, and I hope to land on my feet." I'm certainly no EVH, but I liked the image. I think the main progression, and the evolving riff, is pretty sweet.

8- "Uptown (Acoustic Blues)": A slightly shorter, acoustic version of track #2. I think I like this version better.

9 - "Predator": A bit of twang on this one. Used my telecaster.

10 - "Whiskey": Another rocker, with a liquor-derived lyrical bent. Again, I am quite fond of the riff.

11 - "Pyre": The last rocker for this batch. Regrets, guilt and loud guitars.

12 - "Nightbird": The mandolin and the telecaster, along with acoustic bed tracks. I was trying for a country-influenced ballad. Short and sweet.

My fervent hope is that my next project like this will involve more collaboration, but Uptown will be released upon an unsuspecting world before you know it. As always, my home recording is a work in progress. I welcome comments, constructive criticism, and offers of money.

While you wait, please download Hayoth Vol 1 ...And Getting Dollars Back for free at soundcloud.com.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Of All The Souls I Have Ecountered In My Travels, His Was The Most....Human


Leonard Nimoy
March 26, 1931 - February 27th, 2015

 

  Desiderata - Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.