Funny story: I’ve seen Mad Max: Fury Road twice now (yes, it’s that good; more on that later). On my second viewing, this time with my girlfriend in tow, we had the “good fortune” to sit in front of a group of about eight 20-something guys, all of whom were unfamiliar with the concept of shutting-the-hell-up.

These were the type of gents who were either completely oblivious that they were talking almost as loud as the film, were entitled enough that they didn’t care, or genuinely thought their commentary was anything other than excruciating (the standout comment coming when a character drinks breast milk — “that’s not pasteurized”).

The reason these lovely people were there was seemingly obvious: to watch the latest R-rated action blockbuster to get their fill on car chases and carnage.

However, having seen the movie once before, I knew the joke was on them. This was not like other films of its ilk. See, while Mad Max: Fury Road is undoubtedly one of the best pieces of action cinema to be released in the modern era, it’s also one of the smartest. It not only entertains in every aspect, it also has a little something to say on social affairs, including the very machismo displayed in that theater.

The best, or maybe, worst part? Those guys probably didn’t even know they were what the film was denigrating.

Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) continues to roam the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Australia with one goal: survive. After being captured by marauders known as the War Boys, Max gets caught in a struggle between Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a fearsome warlord and leader of the War Boys, and Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a hard-as-nails warrior and one of Joe’s lieutenants gone rogue on a mission to smuggle his wives/breeders/slaves away from him to freedom. Now it’s up to Max and Furiosa to escape an army of madmen on hundreds of miles of wasteland road in search of respite.

Having not seen any of the previous Mad Max films, it’s important to point out that Fury Road completely stands on its own. Beyond a a few early minutes of necessary backstory from Max, the film pulls its own weight in establishing the latest iteration of the world director George Miller set up almost 40 years ago with the first film. If it was nutty then, Miller spectacularly conveys just how bananas things have gotten now. There’s a palpable frantic energy to the film that shows Miller is not afraid to go as off-kilter as the film’s title suggests.

And god is that amazing to watch.

Stripped down to its most basic element, Fury Road is a two-hour car chase that is executed with more skill and raw excitement than almost anything you can find today. Miller blows all current action fare out of the water by embracing the revolutionary concepts of “practically blowing up cars”, “composing shots/sequences so that you can follow what is going on” and “not cluttering the screen with a ton of CGI garbage”.

You know… stuff we don’t see any more.

The result is an action film with enough class and creative wit about it to keep things exciting throughout and somehow top each consecutive action set piece in madcap awesomeness.

Among other tropes Miller isn’t interested in indulging in, Fury Road does not hold the audience’s hand in almost any regard.  The director/writer has confidence (rightly so) that people will be able to understand and accept the quirky intricacies of his world. We don’t need a sluggish voiceover to guide us through the War Boy’s rituals; we can find out on our own.

Everyone in the cast is great, Miller and his cinematographer John Seale capture some surprising beauty in their desert setting, and Junkie XL’s overwhelming score gets your pulse up.

This happens too. It's pretty dope.
This happens too. It’s pretty dope.

These factors alone would have made Fury Road a very good movie and a standout of the summer season; it’s the film’s social consciousness that makes it something even more substantial. Miller’s hidden message of the film is that people are not things and in embracing that belief he has made one of the more female-empowering pieces of action cinema in… maybe ever.

While Hardy’s Max is great (his accent featuring echoes of the Bane voice), it’s Theron as Furiosa where the film really shows progress. With both her and the wives, Miller shows that women in action films can be developed, three-dimensional, proactive, sympathetic, and arguably more kickass than the male protagonist. Furthermore, they don’t have to do it while being objectified by the camera, like in other supposedly empowering films.

While it may, at worst, feel like Max is sidelined in his own film, the dynamic between Max and Furiosa is a completely logical one, with each character handling the responsibilities that best fit, instead of the male lead insisting on doing everything due to sheer machismo.

And that is where the knuckle-draggers I spoke of earlier come back into play. Part and parcel with Miller’s theme of “people, not things”, the coy director also takes a stab at the culture that perpetuates that belief — the culture that was sitting behind me. Immortan Joe and the War Boys represent the negatives of machismo — obsession with vehicles and violence, objectifying people, living with the Spartan belief that the ultimate goal in life is a good death — and how damaging that can be to society.

It takes balls to slyly throw shade at a significant demographic that shows up for your movie, but that’s just par for the course with Mad Max: Fury Road. The movie simply does what it wants and makes sense of it, and at the end of the day, is not only an immensely fun time, but a more wholesome experience because of it.

Just don’t tell the guys behind me.




It can’t be easy being the follow-up to the biggest superhero movie ever.

There’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of whoever is in charge of a movie like Avengers: Age of Ultron —  in this case, Joss Whedon once again — to craft a movie that is even more enjoyable than the first, while fulfilling even more desires from audience and studio alike, while also stepping things up a notch.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is certainly a much bigger film and it absolutely tries its best to cover as much ground as possible, but even a talent greater than Whedon’s couldn’t handle the breathtaking amount of crap Marvel decided to pack into this film.

Acting more as a patchwork for the studio’s upcoming slate, Age of Ultron, while mostly worth its weight in spectacle and zingers, is overflowing with characters and nods to the point where there is almost no satisfying story arc in the film.

After completing some heroic housekeeping from the events of The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Avengers may have finally caught a break from protecting the world. Tony Stark, now in possession of Loki’s sceptor, finds an opportunity to use his new tech to jumpstart an artificial intelligence peacekeeping program that Bruce Banner and himself have been working on — Ultron. But as these things always go, Ultron immediately sees the best route to saving humanity as destroying it. With Ultron allying himself with two scorned superhuman twins in his plan to destroy the world, it’s up to the Avengers to stick together as a team and overcome their inner turmoil to best this new threat.

As mentioned earlier, Age of Ultron is big and blockbuster-y in some satisfying ways. There are several ambitious set pieces in the film, with the whole picture peppered with memorable one-liners and exchanges. Excusing some seriously messy camerawork in areas, the fight between Iron Man and the Hulk and the finale atop a rising city are among the best moments the movie — and maybe all Marvel movies — has to offer.

With hindsight, part of the reason early Marvel films like Iron Man work so well is that they keep a core of four to five characters and develop from there. Steadily growing ever since, we reach the point of Avengers: Age of Ultron, which has almost 20 characters battling for screentime. The result is that almost no one in the film gets ample time to shine.

I realize this is an Avengers movie, and that characters are supposed to share the screen for the shared experience, but even the multiple storylines feel maddeningly shallow or sometimes not at all worth it. When the pieces feel wrong, the whole picture starts to suffer.

Really, in the realm of characters getting their due, only Hawkeye has been afforded some actual growth, probably as a “mea culpa” for his role in the first movie. His addition to the film seems to be the exception to the rule when it comes to the characters not getting their due.nY6ARxp

Iron Man has perhaps the most un-met potential among the returning players, with Whedon toying with the idea that Stark is still not terribly popular around the world and that his actions, past and present, keep coming back to haunt everyone. But that’s quickly dropped in accordance with the action quota, while reasoning behind him being his same old self after the transformative end of Iron Man 3 is not even touched on.

Captain America is mostly kept to nice character beats in the absence of an actual arc (nice character beats being more than he was afforded the first time around), while Thor gets the honored duty of heading the film’s choppy, shoehorned side story that presumably leads up to many upcoming Marvel movies — it just has basically nothing to do with this one.

Bruce Banner and Black Widow here are stuck in an even worse shoehorned element: a forced love story. One that’s not believable beyond the reasoning of “well… we need something for the girl of the movie to do and we didn’t bother with the Hulk this time. Problem solved.” Keep an eye out for the third wheel in their romance scene: the conveniently eye-catching can of Gillette shaving cream.

The twins, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, are intriguing and feel like they should hold more importance but are another casualty of an overstuffed movie, getting shoved out of the picture in their own debut.

Also not getting their moment in the sun are Ultron and The Vision. The Vision is a cool new element to the team, and has a couple standout moments, but this is just his introduction in a movie that already had enough going on. Ultron, meanwhile, is hard to dislike because of James Spader’s menacing charisma, but again isn’t afforded the proper time to become one of Marvel’s few multidimensional villains.

And that’s not even touching on Nick Fury, War Machine and Maria Hill, who are in this movie for… some reason…, Baron Strucker, and our South African arms dealer, Ulysses Klaw, who essentially appears to preview a movie than is more than three years away.

Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t one of the stronger Marvel movies, even among Phase 2, but it’s still not necessarily bad. The film’s positives still make it worth catching on the big screen. I can honestly say I had fun watching a lot of it.

Still, it’s an odd occurrence when a movie so stuffed with stuff feels so empty. Ultimately, that’s what makes Ultron great promotional material instead of a great movie.



Let it be noted that in a world where everything seems to be falling to shit, movies can be the thing that still delivers. And in my humble opinion, 2014 was indeed a good year for movies.

The films of the past year were a roulette wheel of emotions; there were movies to make you laugh, cry, lean forward in your seat, nearly fall asleep, tremble in excitement, get infinitely frustrated with, drop your jaw in shock and maybe come away feeling like you’ve learned a little something about life.

For me, the following list is comprised of movies from the last 12 months that delivered on so many fronts and stand out because of it.

As a rule of thumb, this list is pretty much the “subjectiviest” subjective thing a writer like me can make. You may agree wholeheartedly or scoff at certain picks. Coolio, since it’s all my preferences listed. No absolutes here, much as I would like them to be. 

As a college student with limited time and resources, I can’t say I’ve seen every single thing to gain release this year, but honestly, who has? [Notable 2014 films like A Most Violent Year, Inherent Vice and Selma won’t hit theaters outside New York and L.A. until the coming weeks. How unfair is that?!] 

At the very least, it’s my secret wish that you, the reader, seeks out some of the movies here you haven’t yet seen and find that a pleasant surprise awaits ye.

Without further ado, here are my picks for the 10 best movies of 2014.

Just missed: The LEGO Movie, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, Birdman

10. The Babadook
Most of 2014’s horror movie offerings made me weep as opposed to scream, so maybe that’s why The Babadook stands head and shoulders above the rest. That, or it’s just a great little spook film. The monster may be terrifying but simply knowing he’s there is somehow even more bone-chilling. Atmosphere is such a huge part of The Babadook and the anxiety felt throughout is what helps separate it as a true champ. Even more impressive, there’s a real, thoughtful human story going on underneath the otherworldly happenings and lead actress Essie Davis brings it forward wonderfully. 

9. The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game is a tried and true awards-bait, prestige pic. Here’s the thing: it’s far from a hollow one. Putting aside that it contains exactly what awards voters love, at its heart, this is an appropriately moving story of a brilliant, tortured man. Benedict Cumberbatch absolutely excels as Alan Turing, perfectly capturing the man’s brilliance and standoffishness that masked some deeper secrets. The story has consequences and urgency while Graham Moore’s script fills the characters with life and personality. It won’t reinvent the genre anytime soon but it will certainly deliver a highly satisfying look into someone who changed history.

8. Interstellar
Problems with the general roughness of the film aside, Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic is undeniably ambitious filmmaking. You want a big movie? This is it. You want a movie where scientific theories are presented in an attainable and practical way — and are arguably something of a hero in the story  — and there’s still room for an emotional core that works? This is it. Also, they threw in waves that are hundreds of feet tall just for good measure. Shepherded by what might be Hans Zimmer’s best score in recent memory, Interstellar pushes past its relative shortcomings on the virtue that it actually tried. How does that incredibly ironic saying about shooting for the moon and ending up among the stars go again? 

7. Boyhood
“I think I might have witnessed something profound,” is what a movie like Boyhood leaves you saying. Funny since the film, excluding the unprecedented detail of filming a boy’s life over the span of 12 years, doesn’t really carry a self-important vibe to it. It’s a movie made up of the smaller moments in life; conversations that may end up shaping us without us realizing at the time. Because of that, the movie comes off as completely naturalistic. Again, this is all putting aside the fact that they filmed the same kid over the span of 12 years. I’m not a betting man but something tells me that you won’t see that become Hollywood’s new go-to production method.

6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier / Snowpiercer
Aka, the Chris Evans entry. Evans starred in two notable action adventure pics that, while on different ends of the spectrum, are both worthy of note. (Definitely not a coincidence they’re sharing the same spot, though).

Winter Soldier is the transcendent Marvel movie for me because it manages to be a) one of a small handful of the studio’s superhero offerings that feels like the events of the movie have lasting consequence, b) is socially aware and spun an engaging story from real-world concerns and c) found a perfect balance between their brand of humor and keeping the stakes high. Props to the film for having ScarJo be the least robot-y so far as well.

Snowpiercer, meanwhile, has just as relevant a message but is a little more tongue in cheek about its intentions. In a dark, messed up way. Keep in mind this is a film with a large section of ax murder and school children reciting the catchy tune “What happens when the engine stops? We all freeze and die.” It’s frequently silly and preposterous but doesn’t bat an eye as it barrels forward in its sci-fi action goodness. Satire, ladies and gentlemen.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I’ll be the first to admit I have my problems with Wes Anderson. Maybe that’s what kept me hesitant towards this one. I’ll also be the first to admit I laughed my ass off at Grand Budapest. Anderson didn’t let his quirky obsession with symmetrical staging get in the way of delivering an interesting story (that’s actually about storytelling) and letting Ralph Fiennes truly shine in the limelight. The pastel pinks that engulf the movie are deceiving, as GBH is a dark comedy and nothing works for me quite like a dark comedy done right.

4. Nightcrawler
Character studies can be painful if you don’t give a crap about the character you’re watching. All the more impressive that Nightcrawler focuses on a man who is truly reprehensible, but very watchable due to his charisma, and keeps the film fascinating throughout. Add in the murky world of shock journalism in L.A. and the movie is a powder keg of salaciousness. Jake Gyllenhaal is in absolute top form as the slimy Lou Bloom and Rene Russo is great as well. Nightcrawler isn’t a movie you walk away from feeling joy or hope for humanity, but it is a film that is engrossing throughout.

3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Dawn is the next entry in the “sequels that are better than their already good predecessors” cannon. And what an entry it is. Not only did things go bigger this time around, they went more emotional and certainly more tense. Just from the title (and about 50 years of material) we know how things will end up, but Matt Reeves crafts a well plotted film that focuses on the similarities between ape and man that pushes the technical wizardry that Rise is known for even further. Simply, Dawn is 2014’s blockbuster that concerns itself primarily with being a great film. Mission accomplished.

2. Gone Girl
I can’t recall exactly what I was expecting from Gone Girl besides it probably being a pretty good movie. David Fincher directing and all. I certainly didn’t foresee it being an absolute gut punch. Without getting too spoilery, the first 45-50 minutes of the film contain a great mystery set-up premise where we’re given as much info on the matter as the characters. Then the twist hits and all bets are off. The film completely shifts gears into something amazingly wicked while remaining an impeccably written piece of work. [Venturing further into SPOILER territory, Gone Girl is, ironically, a great piece of work about the piece of work the title alludes to. Rosamund Pike so epically delivers in the role of the narcissistic and calculating Amy Elliot that it’s stunning. Stunning.] Fincher’s latest had my head spinning and heart pumping as I left the theater, which I didn’t think was possible anymore.

Then one other film did the same…

1. Whiplash
Whiplash is as much a war film and horror picture as it is a music film. Only in this case, the anxiety level is so much higher than in any film I’ve seen in those genres. Maybe any film ever. Director Damien Chazelle must have had quite an experience as a music student because he perfectly conveys the pressure of striving to improve and ramps it up to 11 where the film stays for the remainder. The big band sequences are beyond amazing in execution. J.K. Simmons is a boss in every sense of the word as the tyrannical jazz band leader and Miles Teller hits a new high here. Sometimes films with high emotions leave you drained. Whiplash is the opposite and leaves you feeling alive. 

Check back later for individual awards for the year.