my movie odyssey

Classic Movies You Need To Watch

Here’s my Classic Movies Pick From 39′s to 79′s, Here goes:

Gone With The Wind (1939)

Ben-Hur (1959)

Breakfats At Tiffany’s (1961)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

The Sound of Music (1965)

The Graduate (1967)

2001: A Space Oddysey (1968)

The Godfather Trilogy (1972)

The Jerk (1979)

My Neighbor Totoro (1988, Japan)

Studio Ghibli was off to a flying start with Castle in the Sky (1986). But like Walt Disney Animation Studios in its formative years, Ghibli would also encounter early troubles. For Ghibli’s second feature film, producers Toru Hara and Toshio Suzuki – Suzuki would become Studio Ghibli’s primary producer after Hara’s departure – thought they could easily convince executives at Toho Company to finance a children’s film including woodland creatures in post-War Japan. Toho executives thought the project was too risky and initially rejected the pitch; the post-War period was still associated with poverty and nationwide suffering. Soon after, Hara and Suzuki would return to Toho to propose a double bill: Totoro alongside an adaptation of the semiautobiograhpical novel, Grave of the Fireflies. They believed that Grave of the Fireflies would draw a wider general audience due to the novel’s popularity as assigned reading in schools, but then Toho executives blasted the idea: “We really didn’t want to make a film about monsters! So now you want to make a film about graves?”

Hara and Suzuki perhaps should have realized that Japanese wartime films had fallen out of favor decades ago among Japanese audiences enjoying their nation’s post-War economic recovery. Numerous wartime films and post-War films reflecting on Japan’s role in WWII – typically repentant, deeply introspective, and unfortunately unknown to most Westerners – had been released in the 1950s and 60s, but Masaki Kobayashi’s punishing Human Condition trilogy (1959-1961) might have been the breaking point. After Hara and Suzuki’s second rejection, things looked hopeless for Studio Ghibli. But the publishing house of Grave of the Fireflies, Shinchosha, and Akiyuki Nosaka (author of Grave of the Fireflies) provided Ghibli enough financial support to have both films produced simultaneously. Neither film would exist without the other. Hayao Miyazaki would direct Totoro; Isao Takahata would direct Fireflies. Where it would take almost two decades for Grave of the Fireflies to be fully appreciated by Western and Japanese audiences (the latter begrudgingly so), My Neighbor Totoro would be an instant phenomenon. Though Miyazaki’s film exists within safe confines, it is a wildly entertaining, fantastical romp through the woods, and deserves its status as an icon of Japanese animation.

It is a summer in the mid-1950s. University professor Tatsuo Kusakabe and his two young daughters – Satsuki (the elder daughter) and Mei (four years old) – have moved to a rural house surrounded by a lush forest. Satsuki and Mei’s mother is in a regional hospital, recovering from what is implied to be tuberculosis; her absence is a source of sadness underneath the girls’ frolicsome personalities. Minutes after arriving at their new house for the first time, the girls encounter hundreds of dark dust-like mites with eyes. On another day, Mei runs into two leporine creatures that lead her inside an enormous tree where she finds “Totoro” – pictured above, and is described by Miyazaki as, “not a spirit,” but, “only an animal… [that] lives on acorns”. Totoro – this name is derived from Mei’s mispronunciation of “torôru” (”troll” in Japanese) – takes Mei and, later, Satsuki on a variety of wild adventures. A few of these adventures include Catbus – a form of transportation bound to give some riders a nasty allergic reaction (when the great Akira Kurosawa met with Hayao Miyazaki and expressed how much he adored Catbus, Miyazaki was speechless to hear that from one of his cinematic heroes). Among their new human friends includes Kanta, who is Satsuki’s age, and Kanta’s grandmother, “Granny”.

Miyazaki’s previous two films, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Castle in the Sky (1986), established a mode of storytelling that the director would carry into many of his later films: a headstrong, morally unimpeachable girl that possesses or accesses magical forces befriending a boy that never really develops as a character but is there as support. Totoro is, along with Porco Rosso (1992), the only early Miyazaki Ghibli film that approaches the narrative in a different direction. Instead, this film concentrates on the sisterhood between Satsuki and Mei. With no villains threatening to tear up the countryside or post-apocalyptic monsters on a rampage, Miyazaki allows these two girls the freedom to express their youthful curiosity and sense of fun. That lack of conflict extends to Mei’s first meeting with Totoro. Instead of recoiling in fear from the heaving mass of whiskered gray and white with lengthy claws snoring in a tree’s hollow, Mei squeals with delight, climbing onto Totoro’s body, and beaming at her newfound sleepyhead friend-who-doesn’t-know-he’s-about-to-make-a-new-friend. Watching that scene, whatever cynicism I carried with me into my first viewing of the film ceased to be. You just know that, no matter what kind of sticky situations these girls mind be in, Totoro and company will be there to make things right. This is a rare children’s animated film without villains, malice. Few films are as reassuring as Totoro is.

A scene waiting a bus stop illustrates some of that delight. Satsuki and Mei are waiting for their father at a bus stop in the woods on a rainy day – the trees block out a considerable amount of light during the daytime, and dusk is soon turning into night (pictured above). Their father is late, and there is a single light around. Totoro drops in quietly, with a single leaf on his head – ostensibly, to stay dry. It’s an absurd, comical moment, dispelling with any simple equations of darkness with danger. For first-time and hundredth-time viewers, the feelings here are not of dread for their father’s tardiness and the children’s loneliness, but of comfort.

However, that does not mean My Neighbor Totoro is without pain. The real world calls Satsuki and Mei home through the health of their mother. With no macro-themes to depict, no humanistic messages to espouse, the pain that Satsuki, Mei, and their father go through is largely beyond their control, and is deeply personal. Perhaps there is no greater fear a child might have than to lose a parent or guardian. That fear is a backdrop, a faint current that remains even in the most joyful scenes. Not that this fear of potential loss distracts from Satsuki and Mei’s play, but it informs both girls’ desire to escape and be themselves where adults might not be able to.

What both Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies accomplish in very different ways is their ability to adopt a child’s perspective and stay there. Some children’s films where children are central characters initially adopt a child’s perspective but, by design, must later incorporate adult sensibilities (2006′s Akeelah and the Bee, 2011′s Hugo). Other children’s films probably could benefit if they remained exclusively from a child’s perspective (1964′s Mary Poppins, still fantastic nevertheless). But Totoro, like The Learning Tree (1969) and Children of Heaven (1997, Iran), is one of very few films that keep with Satsuki and Mei’s views of the world surrounding them. How they interpret new people, places, things, and animals is what Miyazaki is interested in. When they speak of their curious experiences with Totoro to their father or Granny, the adults smile and question Satsuki and Mei about their adventures – never condescending, mocking. They accept these stories as true, even if the girls’ father never witnesses Totoro’s dramatic seed-growing ceremony out in his own front yard late at night (here, I gesticulated at the screen, whisper-shouting, “Dad! Look outside!” There is a magic there long lost on adults, but those adults are never discouraging of those views (sparing viewers from a tiresome “my dad doesn’t think so-and-so is real, so I have to prove him wrong” subplot). Totoro is no innovator in its depiction of children – even when just counting animated films – but the formula it uses for those depictions is just right.

The earliest Studio Ghibli films – from Nausicaä to parts of Only Yesterday (1991) – boasted watercolor backgrounds that invited viewers into each film’s artistry, and My Neighbor Totoro is no different. Kazuo Oga served as art director for his first of many Ghibli films – whether as art director or a background artist – and uses softer colors, as well as pastel-like browns for thicker foliage in the foreground. This colorful softness gradually disappeared from successive Ghibli films, as this would have clashed with the violence seen in Princess Mononoke (1997) and with the advent of computer animation and digital paint – which was not advanced enough at the time to replicate the watercolor backgrounds of the earlier Ghibli films. For the animators working under Oga, many were staffers that were pulling double shifts for Grave of the Fireflies and Totoro – at work, many of these animators found themselves confused about which movie they were working on that day. That only serves to speak for the superior animation found in both works.

Influenced by Japanese pop and the electronic music emerging from Japan in the 1970s and early ‘80s, composer Joe Hisaishi’s first three Ghibli film scores are synthesizer-heavy (Nausicaä, Castle in the Sky, Totoro). That fusion of electronic and Western classical music sources is most apparent in Totoro, which is the last Hisaishi-scored film with a heavy electronic presence. Though the title song, sung by Azumi Inoue, is a delightful, earworm-developing listen, one of the most dated parts of the movie is its music. Numerous electronic-heavy film scores from the 1970s and 80s have aged poorly (see most anything composed by Vangelis; among Ghibli films, Nausicaä’s experimental electronics are distracting), and the film’s setting of the mid-1950s does not help matters. But the motif established in the title song helps a largely episodic plotline, and Hisaishi knows exactly when to use Totoro’s theme in his score for the first time after the opening credits.

In North America, My Neighbor Totoro had a troubled distributive history. For Miyazaki – who has always maintained a distance from Western film distributors –  various cuts made to Nausicaä’s Western release saw the Ghibli co-founder adopt a hard-knuckle approach to Totoro’s North American distribution. The issue stemmed from a scene where Satsuki, Mei, and their father are all bathing together – a Japanese cultural norm. For 20th Century Fox, 50th Street Films, and the now-defunct Streamline Pictures, this would not do. Totoro would not be distributed in North America until 1993 and, as far as I could find, may or may not have been screened without cuts. If American studios thought Nausicaä and Totoro were controversial and offended the morality police, this is not even beginning to delve into Isao Takahata’s films.

But in Japan, with the box office failure of the Totoro-Fireflies double bill, Ghibli needed a box office hit to stay afloat. Financial salvation came the year after, as Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) outgrossed all previous Studio Ghibli movies combined and was the top draw at the Japanese box office that year. Takahata’s Only Yesterday would cement Ghibli’s existence as it also became the highest-grossing Japanese film of its year. Like Walt Disney Animation Studios before it (the costs of Fantasia and Pinocchio and the loss of the European box office to WWII nearly bankrupted Disney, with Dumbo and The Reluctant Dragon to the rescue), a difficult infancy was overcome, with even more beauty yet to come.

No other Studio Ghibli movie, arguably, has had a greater impact on popular culture than My Neighbor Totoro. Its appeal to children and adults is self-evident. And though this is not a work that pushes any cinematic boundaries (Totoro is meant for animation – would you want to see Totoro in live-action remake?), this is as comforting and entertaining as movies get.

My rating: 8.5/10

^ Based on my personal imdb rating. Half-points are always rounded down. My interpretation of that ratings system can be found here.

Wadjda (2012, Saudi Arabia)

No matter what is written in the coming decades, Haifaa al-Mansour’s Wadjda will always be remembered as the first feature-length film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia – a nation without a film industry as of 2015 (Wadjda was financed in Germany and many of its crewmembers are German). It is also the first feature-length film directed by a Saudi woman. Almost three years after its debut at the Venice Film Festival, Wadjda has not even received an official release in its country of origin – which has only one cinema: an IMAX theater that screens documentaries as part of Scitech, a science-technology museum in Khobar. Reaction from religious conservatives to the very existence of Wadjda has been hostile; for the foreseeable future, Wadjda will be more warmly received abroad than at home. If one eliminates all of these historical precedents, Wadjda is a rather simple, personable story with a typical rebellious, assiduous protagonist you can’t help but root for.

10-year old Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) lives in Riyadh with her mother (Saudi TV actress Reem Abdullah) and dreams of purchasing a new green bicycle so as to race her friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani). Girls should not be riding bikes, so the Islamic scholars and self-appointed moral police – her parents, other elders, other men, teachers, etc. – say. Wadjda’s traditional mother is distracted by her husband’s (Sultan Al Assaf) philandering and attempts to secure a second wife. She is not only a rebel in the streets or the household, but also the classroom. Though not raising hell for hell’s sake, she often finds herself in trouble with her Koran teacher (Nouf Saad) and the headmistress of her school Ms. Hussa (Ahd). Later on, Wadjda learns that there is a Koran recitation contest with a cash prize that could pay for her fgreen bike and then some. Guess who wins? I’ll give you three tries.

How much of a rebel is Wadjda? Where the rest of the girls at her school wear traditional shoes, Wadjda prefers to take along her worn black Converses. She listens to heavy English-language modern rock and sells mixtapes of that music for her bicycle fund. When other girls follow custom and head indoors when there are men present, Wadjda continues to play outside, finishing a round of hopscotch without a care in the world. She speaks up when she is supposed to stay silent – “A woman’s voice is her nakedness,” Ms. Hussa insists as she sees a bit of her rebellious past in Wadjda; Wadjda’s elders and teachers believe her behavior is just a phase and will be unsustainable as childhood falls away. A rebellious young girl defying gendered and religious expectations is no longer groundbreaking; only the setting of Wadjda prevents the film from being mired in more cliché.

What surprised me is the fact that Waad Mohammed, who played Wadjda, is a non-professional actress in her first – and, at this moments, appears to be perhaps her only – film role. Recalling Italian neorealism’s commonplace practice to hire non-professionals, the practice works here. Never does Wadjda feel needlessly precocious or overly nasty. Instead, Mohammed retains a playfulness and determined face in spite of all the men and women telling her character how she should behave, dress, and speak. 

A more contemporary influence on Mohammed’s performance and how Wadjda is written can be found in certain children’s films of Iranian and Japanese cinema. In Iran, filmmakers have long realized that concentrating their narratives on children allow them to insert more social commentary than typical as they hide their messaging under the guise of a supposedly well-meaning children’s movie. Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven (1997, Iran) and Abbas Kiarostami’s Where Is My Friend’s Home? (1987, Iran) are Wadjda’s cinematic spiritual predecessors. Go even further back and one might find the likes of Yasujiro Ozu’s I Was Born, But… (1932, Japan) and Ozu’s color (partial) remake in Good Morning (1959, Japan). In all of these films, children are the mobilizing dynamos of their personal desires and – for their respective eras and political climates unconducive to freedoms of dissent – embody the anxieties and fears of their parents and other elders. Notice how little agency – if not agency, than motivation – the adults have compared to their children to promote positive societal change. Yet in those small snippets where Wadjda and her mother are out shopping, Wadjda interacting with the store owner who has the bicycle she wishes to purchases, and sliver of regret in Ms. Hussa’s voice as she reminds her students of Wahhabist norms and how they should not be broken.

Could Wadjda have been a bolder political statement? Perhaps, but over-politicizing a girl’s desire to purchase and ride a bicycle could have touched nerves within the Saudi conservative camp that might have turned public opinion against the film and any sense of a newfound Saudi film industry (even now, any notions of a Saudi film industry are a distant dream). Al-Mansour, who has been living in Bahrain with her American diplomat husband for the last several years, elects instead to concentrate on the mundane. Her film is positioned towards a foreign audience, not a Saudi one. Instead of sociopolitical commentary, Wadjda would rather show ordinary life episodes to show what Wadjda and her mother do around and outside the household. Whether her mother is trying out a new red dress she couldn’t possibly wear outdoors, her father partaking in violent video games (it’s a PlayStation 1 of all things), taking kettles off of stoves, or getting ready for school, this is a film that a leisurely pace. Some of these moments are as seamlessly integrated as they should be. Supporting characters are one-dimensional and Wadjda herself is a relatively static protagonist whose insubordinate brilliance is a constant means to an end.

But none of this should take away from the fact that Wadjda and her mother have a joyous, beautiful bond. They have shared moments of subversion from Saudi gendered cultural norms and a lot of their understanding is communicated without dialogue. There’s a familiarity between these two, a mutual adoration that is an immense pleasure to watch.

Perhaps Haifaa al-Mansour may not be the one female auteur from the Middle East that will come to define a generation of filmmakers in the region. Geez, talk about hyperbole and unhealthy expectations. What should be celebrated instead is that Wadjda simply exists and that it is a good film that depicts a sphere of life many who will see the film have never even seen before. Other than literature, I have always believed that cinema is one of the most democratic art forms; its youth compared to other art forms has made it the offspring of economic and sociopolitical internationalization. From its onset, film allowed for a diversity of voices never encountered before. Wadjda is one of many milestones in a need for ideological and narrative diversity. Just because it is one of many does not diminish its achievements; in fact, the circumstances surrounding its existence and lack of an official premiere in its country of origin makes it all the more remarkable. 

As Wadjda pedals her bicycle out across an empty, sand-strewn Riyadh street, for the first time, there is a gleeful, infectious smile on her face as bright as the cloudless sky above her. It may take time, but there needs to be more cinematic stories with a remorseless independence to consume, whether they be intended for Saudi audiences, foreign audiences, or one of the world. It should be the wish for anyone who loves cinema that it is so. May Wadjda lead to the blossoming of something of extraordinary beauty and meaning.

My rating: 7.5/10

^ Based on my personal imdb rating. Half-points are always rounded down.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

George Miller waited almost twenty years to bring the fourth Mad Max film into existence but was postponed due to the attacks on 9/11. The original Mad Max (1979), which is the only other film of the franchise I have seen, has almost no connection to the newest edition except for the name of the central character, the Australian setting, and the appearance of a few weathered, dusty V-8 Interceptors as seen in the provided picture. Mad Max: Fury Road is neither a reboot or sequel to any of the films in the original trilogy (Miller says Fury Road exists in parallel with the other films); it is instead a reconfiguring of the vehicular chaos of that trilogy where Australia has moved into the post-apocalypse, water has replaced oil as the commodity of scarcity and one that begets violence, and where the main villain has a tireless fellow with a guitar that ejaculates flames as his hood ornament. You don’t have to be a psychologist to get that one and, yet, that isn’t even the wackiest thing in this damn movie. 

Despite what has been written, Fury Road is no cult classic. “Cult classic” necessitates that the film be obscure, known by few. Get rid of the “cult”. Mad Max: Fury Road is an action classic, perhaps the best action film of the young century. Its 120 minute runtime is essentially a pursuit film from the opening seconds; its plot paper-thin. But the thing is, cinema – more so than other art forms such as literature and especially television – is a medium of ideas, not narrative. Fury Road is a monument to that very idea and executes it so terrifyingly well.

Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is a former police officer who finds himself in the captivity of the War Boys, pawns of dictator-cum-deity Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the villain in the original Mad Max). Joe has a stranglehold on an aquifer in which he exerts control over his penurious populace in a place called the Citadel. During what was supposed to be a routine expedition for gasoline, Joe realizes Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has driven off with his five wives – sexual slaves, but Joe has naming rights – in hopes to escape Joe’s tyranny. Joe checks on his wives’ quarters, releases the requisite baddie-is-furious scream, dons beskulled battle armor, and joins a war party to bring his wives back. Furiosa is able to escape the pursuing parties save a War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who has strapped Max to the front of his car. Max will join forces with Furiosa and the wives – Capable (Riley Keough), Cheedo (Courtney Eaton), The Dag (Abbey Lee), Toast (Zoe Kravitz), and the pregnant Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) – in their attempt to escape from Joe’s forces. And, after some time and due to circumstance, Nux will join our heroes, too.

With the three previous Mad Max films produced on shoestring budgets, Fury Road seems to be the film that Miller was destined to make. Despite the expectations that Max will be the central character, he is instead a supporting character swept by the merciless dust storms of history that embrace this rocky, deceased land. The dictatorial patriarchy that Max is hinted to have fought has emerged victorious; the counter-order that Max came from has been destroyed by climate change, thermonuclear war, and the disintegration of a monopoly on violence. As the laconic Max and others like him (wherever they may be) are no longer in a position to affect change, that task falls upon Furiosa – sporting a shaved head and a prosthetic arm – who, to me, is the central character of this motion picture. Theron is up to this task, giving the film’s best performance. Through grunts and facial expressions suggesting past griefs and traumas, she endows our heroine with a mistrust of men without ever having to say a word about it. Furiosa is driven by one thing alone (permit me to be a sappy bastard as my write-up to Inside Out follows this) – the future of the women she has promised to protect and deliver to safety in this radical, perhaps fatal, act of defiance. It is almost as if Theron is channeling the ghost of Maria Falconetti, whose shaved head and nuanced facial expressions in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, France) surely must have influenced Furiosa’s characterization and, subsequently, Theron’s performance. Stay tuned silent film fans, I’ll be name dropping another silent film shortly!

The screenplay by Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris is skinned of exposition. The psychology of Immortan Joe and the indoctrination of the War Boys are never explained; the dissolution of identifiable law and order as seen in the original Mad Max trilogy is only mentioned in the prologue and never suggested again. We don’t know to what extent Immortan Joe has been physically/sexually violent to the five women Furiosa must hide in the belly of her War Rig when Joe’s cacophonous caravan of carnage draws near. When the time comes to fire back and plunge makeshift weapons into the abdomens of onrushing War Boys, Furiosa maintains an appearance of eerie, unearthly calmness – not tears, not despair. There will be time for that later. More than any of the Mad Max films that preceded Fury Road, the newest entry is more concerned with liberation – not simply political liberation or sexual liberation, the latter being more problematic than most of its proponents will admit. Furiosa nor any of Joe’s five wives know what lies beyond the oil rig where Furiosa occasionally ventures towards. The plan is to simply escape from the sexualization and violence that has followed them all their lives. As one would imagine, such violence is stubborn as it cries for bloodlust and the diaphanous objectification of those who might continue Joe’s lineage. Who knew that one could mine so many feminist ideas in an ultraviolent, saturated action movie (just note that the presence of feminist ideas does not necessarily mean a film is feminist)?

Also, if a film can anger men’s rights activists, it must be doing something right!

Fury Road shares structural storytelling similarities to Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton’s The General (1926) – mostly because both films are centered on a life-and-death pursuit – and shares more in common with Looney Tunes antics than the action found in 1979′s Mad Max. The film is covered in as much shameless batshit as the most violent Looney Tunes shorts and the wackiest Buster Keaton comedies. It’s as if Furiosa and Max’s War Rig was Roadrunner and Joe’s forces were collectively Wile E. Coyote. But Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote exist within the confines of wholesome, anvil-dropping animation. I would have no idea why, if you have not seen the film, you will have read this far into the write-up but some spoilers will be divulged from now until the end of this paragraph. From the chrome paint that is applied before the War Boys attempt to enter Valhalla, all the masks, the milk, War Boys who don’t mind cackling and dangling over the sides of cars while they speed upwards of 100 mph, and War Boys hanging on massive poles in hopes to throw explosives and land on Furiosa’s War Rig, thank goodness Miller never feels the need to explain all these cockamamie details because there is no conceivable way one could concoct a serious explanation to these eccentricities. Needless to say, WTF meters will be broken. Fury Road takes the pursuit scenes, throws in too many flashing lights in an early example (those who are sensitive to such moments, please be warned that these lights occur within the first half-hour and never appear again), raises the stakes, and de-digitizes the effects to elevate the gravity of this desert chase. Yet within the traditions of Wile E. Coyote-Roadrunner shorts and silent films, the madness of Fury Road is content to express anti-oppression ideologies through the actions the characters choose to take, displaying their evolutions in characterization without lecturing.

Cinematographer John Seale and editor Margaret Sixel are the unheralded forces behind the camera. Seale, persuaded by Miller to come out of retirement to shoot the film and whose previous credits do not suggest that he would have shot anything like Fury Road, saturates the film with harsh oranges and blues reminiscent of the days in Hollywood where night scenes in color films weren’t really shot at night but instead shot with a filter. The emptiness of the desert engorges on what looks like Technicolor. It makes the outback – the film was supposed to have been shot in Broken Hill, New South Wales but, due to heavy rains that saw wildflowers spring up, was moved to Namibia – a wordless, harsh character that only contributes to an uncertainty of what lies beyond the horizon. If anything, Seale does not use the flatness of the landscapes as much as he could to maximize that uncertainty. Sixel has a difficult task in that Fury Road contains a noticeably larger proportion of action sequences than the average action film. Her rapid-fire cutting from so many different angles will make hearts race amid the minimized CGI (Miller committed himself to use as many practical effects as possible); the decisions to accelerate the frame rate in select scenes proves distracting, making Fury Road resemble too much of a silent film and allowing for some unintentional comedy. 

Junkie XL’s (the stage name of Tom Holkenborg) electronics-heavy score to Fury Road is nothing like Brian May’s work to the first two Mad Maxes and Maurice Jarre’s for the third. In line with the need to reimagine Mad Max for the purposes of Fury Road, Miller selected a Hans Zimmer disciple for this film. Now, as many of you know, I have been highly critical of Zimmer the last several years for his synthetic sameness. Junkie XL’s score to Fury Road, like Zimmer’s many scores since Batman Begins, is a brutal one. But that brutality – when mixed with ceaseless ultraviolence, slavelike drummers, and a guitarist with a pyromaniacal streak that I wanted to smash in the face with his own instrument – makes Junkie XL’s score make more contextual sense than your average Zimmer score. With pounding percussive elements, passages that are all about that bass, and strings that have nothing to do but ostinato mindlessly away, Fury Road’s score is curiously disjointed and non-action motifs rarely carry over from one scene to the next. It is a textbook example of how a film score works far better in context than heard independently. The occasional anarchy of Junkie XL’s score sees dissonance in the non-action scenes, making for an unpleasant – at least, to the bias of my ears – listen.

For its presentation of feminist ideas to an extent almost unheard of in action films, its spectacular CGI, and spellbinding performances by Charlize Theron and Hugh Keays-Byrne, Mad Max: Fury Road is a glorious action film that has more similarities to an American Western than a piece of dystopic science-fiction. Well, that is if you can picture a Western with stagecoaches with dozens of ten-foot long spikes, horses sprinting with layers of paint on them, and a steaming locomotive run by really attractive renegade women escaping a violent land baron who remains in power despite the incursions of a John Wayne-led cavalry regiment. Oh, and for extra measure, let’s throw in Gene Autry perched on top of the pursuing locomotive rocking out to “Back in the Saddle Again” (if it is possible to rock out to “Back in the Saddle Again”) on his flamethrowing guitar. As is evidenced in this last paragraph, I still haven’t recovered from the FUCK, YEAH, nearly seizure-inducing adrenaline rush that is one of the greatest action films made in many moons. 

Miller threw all the batshit he could scrape up at the fan and boy, am I grateful for the mess he has made.

My rating: 9/10

^ Based on my personal imdb rating.