Archive for category movies

Date: May 19th, 2015
Cate: movies
1 msg

On Fury Roads

Spoiler alert:
Stop reading this if you haven’t seen Mad Max Fury Road yet.


Mad Max Fury Road just came out. There’s a lot of things going on in this film.

Some thoughts:

  • In an early sequence, Furiosa swerves the convoy off the main road. She diverts toward a rogue direction. A trooper swings over to Furiosa’s window. He asks what’s up. Furiosa barely acknowledges the trooper’s existence. The trooper may as well be a fart in the wind.

I found this to be a wonderful bit of storytelling. The crew follows Furiosa’s lead without an inkling of hesitation. Absolute commitment in the blink of an eye. Oh, Furiosa is going off-road for mysterious reasons? Crew, I guess we’re going off-road for mysterious reasons.

With so little, it says so much. We instantly grasp who Furiosa is. We grasp this group’s hierarchical structure. We believe Furiosa’s crew would follow Furiosa off a cliff. We fill in the blanks of how she achieved this respect.

And all of this is achieved

with smart visuals

and using dialogue as a last resort.

  • In the first sequence, we see Max jetting around in his V8 Interceptor car. It’s his Millennium Falcon, a storied supercharger, the iconic vehicle of the Mad Max universe.

And a couple minutes after the film starts, the V8 Interceptor is flipped like a turtle on its back. Undriveable. Dead. Kaput.

The V8 Interceptor next appears in the climactic showdown, having been refurbished by the bad guys. Max spots the car. He shouts “that’s mine!”

Moments later, the V8 Interceptor explodes. I love this.

Destroy the icon. Then, just for good measure, destroy it again. Burn it all down. I thought I wanted Max and his continuing adventures with his cool car, but, well, I got something a helluva lot better than what I wanted.


  • Prior to Furiosa going rogue, many things have already happened.

She busted the fugitive wives out of the vault. She composed an elaborate plan. She made a secret deal with a motorcycle gang for safe passage. She gathered up supplies for her operation. She rose up the ranks of the clan to become Imperator.

And right when the film starts, all that is skipped. The film begins by jumping straight to the final act. This is the boxing movie where the first scene is the climactic final fight. This is a Star Wars that opens with the assault on the Death Star.

Mad Max respects the viewer’s time by starting the story as close to the end as possible. The film excises as much as it possibly could, leaving nothing but the lean bare essentials of the story it wants to tell.


  • Admittedly, I had high expectations for Mad Max Fury Road. The director had previously made one of my all-time favorite films. So, I was tickled to find myself smitten within the very first few seconds of Mad Max.

Not the two-headed lizard scene. I liked that, but I’m talking about what preceded that.

I’m talking about the opening billing: “TOM HARDY as MAX ROCKATANSKY / CHARLIZE THERON as IMPERATOR FURIOSA” in grungy hard-core angry font.

Look at those names. Look at that presentation. For goodness sakes, look at those names. Rockatansky. Imperator Furiosa. Completely over-blown. Over-the-top. Over-loud. It’s a perfect fit for what this film is.

And somehow, the film maintains this tone. Every frame, from frame one to frame last, shouts that shred-metal aesthetic. Every frame feels like grungy hard-core angry font. Fury Road knows exactly what it wants to be, doesn’t care about what you want, doesn’t care about what other films are doing, and is unapologetic about it.

Date: May 16th, 2014
Cate: movies

On Thunder Lizards


I saw Godzilla.

stop reading this if you haven’t watched Godzilla yet.

stop reading this. I’ve never made a movie. This is me talking out of my butt.


Things gonna get crazy

The movie establishes multiple mega monsters roam the earth. You know what this means:

  • they’re gonna meet.
  • they’re not gonna see eye-to-eye on various things.
  • things gonna get crazy.

At some point in the middle of the movie, two mega monsters finally converge at the same location. It’s night time. It’s flooding. Tourists are running willy nilly. The military is launching everything. The two beasties, mano-a-mano, finally. They posture. They warcry. I prepare to experience every variety of shattering building. Things gonna get crazy.

We instantly cut to the next day. Morning sunbeams on a kid. He hangs out on a couch. The living room is sensibly-furnished.

Did totally awesome monster punching happen? Yes. We’re fed scraps of the mega monster battle on a television broadcast.

But who beat up who? Who won? What variety of shattering building was there? Were there suplexes? Who cares. We’ve seen destruction porn before. We know it’s early enough in the movie that both monsters will handily survive. They both gotta do stuff for one more hour, right? Nothing of consequence would’ve happened. A fuel truck might’ve gotten exploded.

The movie trims this fat. You don’t get your greasy junk food fix. You’re left a little unsatisfied, hungry for more. It’s surprising, it refuses to give you what you want, and we carry on.

That one shot

There’s a shot that (irrationally) got stuck in my craw. I’m going to ramble.

Because monsters are soon visiting town, Elizabeth Olsen dumps her kid into an evacuation bus. The bus door closes. Through the windows of the closed door, we see Elizabeth Olsen wave bye to her kid. A waving Elizabeth Olsen is outside the bus. The camera is inside the bus. Totally fine.

The bus starts moving. The camera remains where it is, staring at the closed bus door. Through the windows of the closed bus door, a blur of city passes by. This is where I get bothered: I couldn’t figure out how to read the shot. I interpreted it a few ways.

Maybe the shot is from the perspective of Elizabeth Olsen. Let’s go with that. But once the camera gets whisked away with the moving bus, this doesn’t hold water.

Maybe the shot is from the perspective of the kid. The kid is not in the shot, but we infer he’s close to the camera’s location. Okay, let’s go with that. He looks at the closing door, he looks at his mom waving goodbye, he… continues staring at the closed door as if he suddenly entered a catatonic state. I would’ve expected the kid to continue looking at his mom as the bus pulled away, but maybe I’m being a softie.

Maybe it’s from the perspective of the bus door. To which I ask: the bus door now a character? And: cool, bus door character.

“Geez Brendon, not every shot has to be from someone’s perspective.” Agreed.

I guess this shot stuck out to me because the characters are going through very emotionally-charged stuff. Elizabeth Olsen will possibly never see her child again. The kid is suddenly dumped on a bus with strangers on their way to who-knows-where. But we’re left with this lingering shot of nondescript city features whizzing by. We don’t necessarily need to see a person in order to feel something; I just don’t know what’s being said here.

“Geez Brendon. It’s just a shot.” You’re right! I’ll stop.

Baby arms

Godzilla is a tall lizard. Godzilla swims like a champ. Godzilla is positioned as a monster lizard mother nature, bringing balance to the world.

Yet in a fight, I don’t think I’d bet on Godzilla. At the finale, we finally get an uninterrupted view of the Godzilla vs. Big Mantises showdown. And what does Godzilla do? Godzilla uses his baby arms to kinda push the Mantises around. It’s not unlike high-school push fights where both parties shove one another with “you wanna fight?” threats until the lunch bell starts 4th period.

Okay, so Godzilla’s arms aren’t his strong suit. Godzilla has a mouth with teeth. He does some biting. He gnaws and wiggles, but ultimately his clompers just aren’t anatomically suited for chomping bad guys. Godzilla can’t quite squeeze enough flesh in his mouth.

He has a tail and can swat things, which is like an insistent push.

He atomic laser breaths. It’s effective. And that’s the thing. It’s Godzilla’s ace in the hole – scratch that, it’s the only card he has – and it’s a bit jarring when compared to his mega monster foes, who can fly, have scary pointy talons, are agile with their lanky articulated legs…

But they’re not armored against atomic laser breath.

There was a disconnect. I suppose I wanted to see some push and pull between the mega monsters.  I wanted to feel the give and take of a good conversation, but said with jumbo-sized hostilities. Instead, there’s a physical altercation before Godzilla decides to press the “I win” button a couple times, zapping the Mantises.


Human characters exist in the Godzilla universe. The movie admirably frames the mega monsters from the characters’ perspective. It does get a bit weird at times. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is apparently the center of these mega monsters’ lives, as he has literal face-to-face encounters with the beasts about half a dozen times.

Okay, so Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a monster magnet. That’s fine. What do the other characters do?

  • Juliette Binoche and Elizabeth Olsen serve as motivations for other characters. The movie hints at Elizabeth Olsen having survival adventures during the mega monster showdown, but it’s never explored.
  • Ken Watanabe warns the military they’re being silly. His decades of research is ignored.
  • Sally Hawkins warns the military they’re being silly. Her decades of research is ignored.
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a bomb defusal expert. He claims he can defuse the nuke in sixty seconds. He never defuses any bomb at any time.
  • David Strathairn is intent on destroying Godzilla. At the conclusion when Godzilla slinks back into the ocean, David Strathairn doesn’t make a peep. I can only guess he had some off-screen epiphany where he changed his mind about Godzilla.
  • Bryan Cranston is an effective character. He makes decisions, he’s proactive, he has a character arc. In terms of contributing to the story, he doesn’t. He gives Ken Watanabe data that leads to the Nevada monster, but ultimately I think someone would’ve spotted the mega monster trampling casinos without the aid of Bryan Cranston’s data.

So what do the characters offer to the story? They’re a framing device for the monsters.

Soon after the monsters are established, military experts surmise the beasts are heading toward San Francisco. The beasts end up in San Francisco. The military devises a plan to lure the monsters with a nuke. This plan does not come to fruition, and in fact puts San Francisco in great peril.

Ultimately Ken Watanabe is correct in saying “let’s just bug out and let things sort themselves,” because human intervention just ends up complicating things.

Fine – it’s a disaster movie, and honestly, humans are gnats buzzing around forces of nature. What got me was how grim the characters all were.

Okay, it’s possibly the end of the world. Okay, things aren’t looking so hot. But I have to think people would still wear more than one feeling (harried). I’m not looking for a comic relief character. I’m not looking to have a joke quota be filled. I’m looking to have the humans be more human.

Face hurting

With all that said, I enjoyed the movie. Some things I thought the movie completely nailed:

The monsters themselves were masterfully realized. There’s mass. There’s scale. They movie delivers on them being towering deities. And that sound design – oh god, those wonderful roars.

The opening credits were wonderful. We get some conspiracy, some super science, some historical appropriation, and all of it conveyed so frictionlessly. Scientists at the Bikini Atoll shot atomic super guns at a mega monster? The government covered it up with a flim-flam story about nuclear weapon testing? Got it. I’m so on-board with this. It hurts my face how much I’m on-board with this. I love what’s being said and how it’s being said.

I most appreciated how much restraint there was. The mega monsters tangle on multiple occasions. These tangles happen off-screen. When we finally get to see actual monster punching, it’s the tail end of the last encounter. It’s the only battle that matters, and the movie is all the more satisfying for doing this.

Mantis sex

When the male and female mantises finally meet, I can’t possibly be the only one who was expecting crazy mantis sex.

Et al

Godzilla is a summer blockbuster. I went in wanting to see mega monsters do things that mega monsters do. The movie delivers that.

I’ve been involved in large game productions. It always felt like in order to make the project work, we had to win the lottery 1000 times in a row. Gotta win the gameplay lottery, gotta win the audio lottery, gotta win the art lottery, gotta win the tools lottery, gotta win the pipeline lottery, and so on. On top of that, you had to win them in every developmental stage from conception to release.

For something of Godzilla’s scope, the amount of required winning lotteries was a magnitude I can’t begin to imagine. When I see a production totally nail a specific aspect, it’s an amazing feat. When I see a production nail everything, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

But ultimately, when someone wins a game or reaches the end of a movie or book, they never think: “that one part was super bad. But you know what? I bet the creators were going through a rough patch in their personal life. And the investors flaked out on that promise. And the equipment malfunctioned that day because of that awful snowstorm.”

Instead, they think: “that one part was super bad. The creators are super dumb.” And that’s valid. Not true, but completely valid. What you deliver in the final release is the one and only thing that matters.

Go forth. Make things. The only person who’ll know the full story of that project is you. And that’s fine.