Saturday, January 9, 2016

Mad Mad Max: Fury Road - Notes from a Q & A with George Miller

George Miller was incredibly gracious after a Q & A post a screening of Fury Road on January 8.  Below are a few notes I took away.

--"Now my kids are grown up and I could finally get back to Mad Max."

--Tom Hardy was 6 six weeks old when they shot the first Mad Max.

--"It's obviously an action movie.  But we tried to put as much 'under the tit' as we could."  (At least I think that's what he said, meaning, of course, substance/subtext.)

--Miller talked about loving Breaking Bad and having just met Vince Gilligan and seen a clip of Better Call Saul at an AFI Awards event earlier, and how great it was to watch it and laugh with an audience--that just doesn't happen when you're watching at home, which is why he loves going to the movies.  

--Miller stated that everything--even the vehicles, the Citadel, the guitar player--in the film had a backstory, and that Max's backstory might be told one day.  (I've also read that we might get Furiosa's backstory as well.)

--He disclosed that he viewed the flashbacks Max has to the boy as not Max's own lost child but a boy he met afterwards, along the way.

--Miller extensively storyboarded (approximately 3,500 boards) the entire film around a room with collaborators before he contemplated a single word of dialogue.  There was also a bit of improvisation on the set.

--Cinematographer John Seale was building his own sailboat when Miller lured him out of retirement to do the film.  Seale turned 70 during the filming, and did much of the camera operating himself, including under and inside the truck, using new, smaller, digital technology.

--The editing process with Margaret Sixel (Miller's wife) was like "visual music," like doing a "massive Rubik's cube."  (For the record, I'd read that the film has over 2800 cuts--something around 1250 - 1500 is the norm for most films.)

--Someone in the audience asked about frames that appeared to have been dropped out "when things get wild" (hah---most of the time).  Miller smiled and said they initially did it accidentally on The Road Warrior, liked it, and then deliberately did so in this for a "staccato effect."

--And finally, Miller said he values "the movies that follow me the longest out of the cinema"; i.e., the ones he never forgets.  When I asked him later what a few of those movies are, he told me Godfather II, How Green Was My Valley, and Kubrick.  No wonder I like Miller's films so much!

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Top 10 Films of 2015


Mythic action opera.  It's smart, stunning, soulful.  God bless 70-year-old auteur George Miller, who left his younger peers largely in the dust this year.  And Charlize stole it.


Kept me on the edge of my seat in Cannes with its thrilling unrelenting perfection.  If its title or subject matter kept you away, your loss. Everything about this film is exceptional.  My full post here.  


A film of gorgeously effective restraint on the part everyone involved, no doubt thanks to Todd Haynes's vision, from an adaptation of Highsmith by Phyllis Nagy.  Impeccably made in every respect. 


Aaron Sorkin's formally audacious adaptation, Danny Boyle's perfectly matched kinetic direction, and Fassbender's intense performance:  a crackling, exhilarating psychological interpretation.


A small, soulful sci-fi from Alex Garland in the Frankenstein tradition. Great climax.  Plus that starkly beautiful house.  The dance number with Kyoko and her creator (played by Oscar Isaac) is an unexpected quirky delight: "I'm gonna tear up the fucking dance floor, dude, check it out."  (Side note:  both main actresses were dancers.)  This is a film that exemplifies that less is more--it's meticulously written, designed, and directed, with Kubrickian visuals (particularly the corridor shots).


Worth seeing for Christian Bale's performance alone, though the ensemble is terrific.  Smart and entertaining...and horrifying.


Never dreamed this would be my cup of tea, but with Nick Hornby adapting Colm Tóibín's novel....It's a beautifully modulated, moving film.  

8.  ROOM

Trauma, endurance, survival, resilience.  The power of attachment and a mother's relentless love.  All shot in an 11 x 11 shed.


I'm not a hip-hop fan, but I became one, at least for the duration of this film, made with a lot of verve.


Even though the film is, as critic Justin Chang aptly put it, "emotionally stunted," (perhaps too meta to be affecting) it's audaciously shot (talk about meta--DiCaprio's breath fogging the camera lens) and directed, and has a beautiful, balefully spare, atmospheric score (by Ryûichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto [aka Carsten Nicoai]), my favorite after Jóhann Jóhannsson's ominous, propulsive heartbeat for Sicario. 

RUNNERS UP/HONORABLE MENTION:  Disorder (Maryland), Clouds of Sils Maria, Joy, The Wolfpack, Diary of a Teenage Girl, The End of the Tour, The Martian, While We're Young, Anomalisa, Love & Mercy, Beasts of No Nation, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:  The Hateful Eight-- a 3-hr. 70mm drawing room Western?  

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Disorder (Maryland)

Perhaps my favorite genre is the paranoid thriller (my top being, as one might expect, the 70s films The Parallax View and Three Days of the CondorMemento [2000], being a more modern version, and more of a mystery than a thriller).

Disorder (Maryland--the name of the estate in the south of France where most of the action takes place), by a young (age 39) auteur, Alice Winocour (she directed and co-wrote with Jeane-Stéphane Bron), is an ultra-contemporary paranoid thriller told from the POV of Matthias Schoenaerts' character, Vincent.  He's an Afghanistan vet trying to cope with PTSD while on leave, working a private security gig protecting a Lebanese businessman and his family (which includes the businessman's trophy wife Jessie, played by Diane Kruger, and their son).  "The main plot is of the camera," as the French Winocour describes the POV.

Winocour's film is intense--she dials it up to 11 and sustains it.  She got the idea for the story from speaking with veterans, and in a Q & A after a screening of the film at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles, also confessed, "I put all my fears in the film."  She specifically wrote the film for Schoenaerts, whose character "witnesses everything and at the same time feels powerless."  Is it his PTSD-induced paranoia and hypervigilance, or is someone really watching and following them?  I have to say that, as a psychotherapist, I think that Winocour gives us an amazingly realistic portrayal of PTSD.

Winocour uses sound design, and specifically silences and the music of techno artist/DJ Gesaffelstein to recreate Vincent's "mental landscape" and stimulate a heightened sense of dread in the viewer; the use of sound here is stunningly effective.  Winocour said she listened to Gesaffelstein every morning during the shoot and that his music helped her to create the rhythm of the film.  (She also shared that Schoenaerts prepared by sleeping only two hours each night.)

Perhaps the most incisive point Winocour made during the Q & A is her belief that "doubt is the principal ingredient of the paranoid thriller."  One viewer in the audience asked a question about what had happened to the family dog.  Winocour initially answered, smiling and slightly shrugging, "he disappeared."  Then she elaborated that she intentionally left that in doubt.  As she pointed out, in a conventional thriller, the audience would see the dog killed in the garden.  But this is not a film that deals in the usual tropes.

Disorder is also an unconventional "kind of" love story.  There's a wonderful scene that substitutes for what in a traditional genre thriller would be a sex scene (it's as singular as Faye Dunaway's line in Condor, as she's handcuffed by Redford to the toilet, "The night is young," but Winocour's scene is subtle, evocative, and moving--and that's all I'll say so as not to spoil it).

The ending will no doubt (pun intended) frustrate a few--those few who need to be told what happened to the dog.  Or whether the top ever stopped spinning in Inception.  Disorder (Maryland) induces the viewer to expand his/her capacity for empathy, and along with that, imagination.

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