366WeirdMovies.com Proudly, or Not So Proudly, Presents: Eaker vs. Eaker
Eaker vs. Eaker is the latest “send Alfred to the summer blockbuster movies so that he can curmudgeonly complain” event, but with a twist, cinema fans and friends! For the first time (without even knowing it), you voted to send Alfred and his wife, Aja, to the flicks and have them duke it out, publicly, about each so-called-blockbuster. Everybody here knows all about Alfred’s cinematic savvy, and his cranky-old-dog approach to film critique. Now, you get 2-for-1: Aja is Alfred’s beloved clinical and counseling psychologist partner, who loves to counter just about every cinematic point Alfred makes. And you, kind reader, chose to send us first to Mad Max: Fury Road.
Aja: Ladies first, shall we? Lets.
“What is this thing?” I asked, reluctantly glancing at the poll that sealed our afternoon’s fate.
“Well, dear, they have voted to send us to Mad Max first.”
“Who bestowed this power? Jesus.” I shot Alfred an incredulous smirk. I counted the tallies again. “This is rigged,” I bemoaned.
“Actually, the critics are giving it rave ratings, so who knows?”
This did nothing for my internal motivation to pay money to see this.
On the other hand, it meant spending more time with Alfred, and there was a good chance that we would end up with interlaced fingers for two hours, so okay. “You are going to have to fold the laundry as penance for this,” I plainly announced, “You know, for putting us in this position.”
With his left eyebrow raised in mock indignation, Alfred nodded once and quickly retorted, “I do love and fear my wife,” smiling, “it starts at 4:50pm, and just as consolation, critics are proclaiming it to be highly feminist.” Part of what is so difficult about saying ‘no’ to Alfred is his adorableness. He is frankly beautiful, with long eyelashes and a perfect smile. It gets me every time. Alfred can talk me in or out of just about anything with that look and that flashed, crooked grin. I rolled my eyes like a bratty teen, put on my coat and grabbed the car keys.
“Let’s just get this over with,” I said, calmly and rationally.
“You might actually like it,” he said. Ignoring his verbal petting, I walked out into the rain toward the car.
First, let us set the scene: it was a rainy Friday afternoon and we stood in a long line to get matinee tickets—but since it was an opening day, we had to pay full price. It isn’t that I’m cheap, I’m just fiscally conscious, especially when it comes to the splurge of a movie theater visit. I’m definitely the type to stop at a gas station along the way, pick up Twix and a can of Coca-Cola, and smuggle in my snacks in a Mary Poppins style satchel.
Once settled in our seats and well into the previews, I whisper to Alfred, “There are 46 men in the theater, and…me. I am the only woman here!” Alfred scans the crowd briefly and shrugs, returning his gaze to screen. I feel utterly alone.
And so it began. The opening sequence was one of three total (quite brief) stationary scenes. The rest of the 2 hours and whatever minutes painfully zoomed, clamored, soared, rattled and drug along at warp visual speed, but at an agonizingly pedestrian clock time.
To be fair, I did enjoy the feminism, however flawed, as any effort toward unifying a gender disassociated psyche gets a thumb up from me. Charlize Theron did kick ass, literally and metaphorically, in her performance. It was her character that stole the show and left me—and maybe others too—to wonder, what the hell is the storyline here regarding Max? Oh, that’s right, there isn’t one.
Many elements were not narratively grounded. Alfred has accused me in the past of being anti-Dadaistic. How absurd. I like my visual acid trips, just neatly organized into digestible clips that integrate into a cohesive experience. Unlike Alfred, I do not find the absence of an accountable narrative enjoyable. Call me OCD, call me uncultured, uncool, lest we forget you are reading the thoughts of a Jungian trained psychologist. I get symbolism and metaphor and myth and poetic license, sure. What I did not get, however, was what was up with the entire albino-like race of adrenaline-pumped-eager-to-terrorize-or-die populace. So, were they painted white as a show of solidarity, or is this a commentary on genetic mutation? Is this because in the desert everyone looks more ivory? Huh?
The costumes were spectacular! I will give the movie that much credit. Especially the apparently evil leader, who was never really named clearly, nor his wardrobe explained—but whatever, let’s not get distracted. The clothing of all lead characters were, for the most part, understandable. Why Charlize Theron was an amputee, that much was never illustrated, however cool her mechanical prosthetic provided interesting viewing and a heartstring pull. Only having one boot was a big deal in this flick, again; a symbol of the culture at large, perhaps? A sociopolitical commentary on the masses nearly crippled beneath the economic domination of a handful? So that, the population of the world is left to limp along, some making enough milk money to survive and others adapting by learning to hop through life on one good leg? Am I overthinking this?
At the risk of oversharing, I will keep the rest of my Mad Max: Fury Road experience brief: it sucked. It sucked because it is yet another apocalyptic, depressive, noisy, flimsy attempt at a half-assed statement (let us hope) about the failure of the patriarchal model: a runaway train in the history of mankind, pushed to fisticuffs to reform lest all hope die and women remain as cattle, with no sense of empowerment or purpose in existence aside from being a receptacle by which later produces the milk needed for more greedy bastards to survive. And on that note, on to Pitch Perfect 2.–Mrs. Eaker.
The “Mad Max” movies have not dated well, but Mad Max: Fury Road is an overall improvement over its predecessors.‘s machine is well constructed for the audience that crave this sort of thing and, indeed, expect movies to be just this.
However, amidst all the adrenaline, carnage, inflamed gums, and threadbare narrative, Miller literally splatters us with a dose of visceral poetry and social commentary, delivered in slivers so as not to become too preachy (or to bore the masses it caters to).
Of course, this is the same punk, post-apocalyptic world we saw in the previous outings. Naturally, there is diesel engine choreography (a whole caravan of it), FX, and golden nuclear dust clouds aplenty. Only this time, it is not primarily gasoline, but water that is obsessed over in this scorching, desert panorama, and the masses are dying of thirst (we half expect Moses to make an appearance, opening up the temple granaries).
Lording over the water is warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who, covered with mask, looks a bit like Bane from the last Batman movie. Like Darth Vader or Dr. Doom, Joe’s decaying skin is covered in scars, but we only are afforded a glimpse of his flesh underneath all that armor. He has a harem (more like livestock) which he impregnates. He could almost be a villain, or a hedonistic king culled from Biblical lore. Yet, we are only afforded a glimpse of Joe himself as well. Unlike earlier prototypes, as promisingly colorful as he seems to be, Joe is a snarling, two-dimensional stock villain; and, as with any solid action movie, the lack of a compelling antagonist poses a problem.
The ex-Bane himself () is cast as Max and, as unfathomable as it may seem, I missed . Max is even less sketched out than Joe, and our hero begins the film locked under a mask as well. He is a crucified Christ, strapped to an engine until he is sort of rescued by Furiosa ( ). When Max does speak, he is almost as unintelligible as he was with Batman, and his personality is also a few cans short of a six-pack. One could make a (perhaps) convincing argument that such cool-toned characterization will date the film less than the nostalgic hammery which Mel and company unquestionably supplied in Miller’s previous sagas.
Yet, that coolness has it less welcome side, making the conflict between Max and Joe far less engaging (think of the great chemistries of Charlton Heston vs. Stephen Boyd, Burt Reynolds vs. Jackie Gleason, or William Shatner vs. Ricardo Montalban). Tina Turner was more interesting than Mel’s Max in the previous outing. It seems Miller took that concept further here and, fortunately, Furiosa almost makes up for what the boys are lacking, although one wishes it could have been “both/and” instead of “either/or.”
However, within that choice we discover Miller’s intent, which is, I assume, why a men’s rights activist group (!?!) has called for a boycott on Mad Max: Fury Road as “feminist propaganda disguised as a guy flick.” (Just when you thought the world could get no more ludicrous.)
Furiosa has taken Joe’s harem and is heading for a promised land of milk and honey, free of rapists. Predictably, Joe is a tad angry. Cue epic chase. Along the way, Max and Furiosa meet up, team-up, and she rids him of the mask (which does nothing for his elocution). One-armed, determined, smart, and a good rig driver, Furiosa is the film’s authentic protagonist.
With our first glimpse of the harem, one anticipates a Hugh Hefner-styled photo shoot. Fortunately, Fury Road does not reduce itself to that. There are indeed statements aplenty regarding historically oppressive patriarchal structures, but the characters, via Miller and his fellow writers, resist utilizing a sermonizing baseball bat. Rather, they show us. Yet, Miller’s treatment of the male characters is also too subdued compared to the relentless pace. Most of the film is, as expected, on wheels, which leaves us feeling distanced. Apart from Furiosa, we fail to care much about any of the remaining characters.
There are two scenes of pop poetry. In the first, Max’s shoulder is used as a rest stand for Furiosa to make a kill shot. In the second, Max has just returned from an altercation. There is blood on his face, but as Furiosa observes: “The blood is not his.” As Max washes the blood off, it is not water that cleanses him, but mother’s milk.
Although the Eden is not as expected (is it ever?) Furiosa, Max and Joe’s wives wind up in the company of a matriarchal biker culture and the film becomes a testament to defiance against being reduced to the status of property.
Since this is a belated sequel, Miller does not invest the film with much backstory. We are treated to evanescent flashbacks of Max’s past. In place of that, Miller ups the ante on visual weirdness. At times, Fury Road looks like a Chuck Jones Road Runner Looney Tune directed by. Eccentric, unexplained face paint and elaborate set designs, all lensed in John Seale’s sterling camerawork, add up to a ferociously paced opera of chrome and sand.