Mad Moana: Fury Cove


Disney’s Moana (2016) was a jarringly alienating experience for me in a way I haven’t felt since venturing to the theater to watch John Waters’s brief cameo in Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip (although the raucous laughter at my screening of the brutally unfunny Deadpool ranks as a close second). I just had no business being there, to the point where I have no business rating or reviewing the film in any traditional way. I’ve had positive experiences going out of my comfort zone to watch highly-praised Disney productions this year, namely Zootopia and The Jungle Book, but with Moana I was way out of my league. The buffoonish sidekicks, the uncanny valley CGI, the constant indulgences in  *cringe* musical theater: Moana was mostly just a reminder that Disney’s princess mode, no matter how highly praised, is just not for me. Brave, Mulan, Frozen, and so on have all alienated me in the same way (with The Little Mermaid being a rare exception to the rule) and not even song & dance numbers from the likes of a pro wrestler (The Rock), a Flight of the Conchords vet (Jemaine Clement), and a Godzilla cameo could turn me around on an experience that was so uncomfortably foreign to every fiber of my being. Moana did feature one isolated gag that spoke directly to me, though, an extended homage to Immortan Joe & the War Boys, just about the last influence I expected to find in a Polynesian Disney Princess action adventure.

The filmmakers behind Moana (an extensive team that has included names as significant as Hamilton‘s king nerd Lin Manuel Miranda & comedic genius Taika Waititi at some point in its production) have acknowledged in interviews that the film’s homage to Mad Max: Fury Road was indeed intentional, so I’m not just grasping at straws for something to enjoy here. The homage is brief, however, and although the film was not nearly as much of an obnoxiously undignified experience as Road Chip, it did remind me of mining the entirety of that work for a pitifully minuscule glimpse at the Pope of Trash. While on their quest to restore order in the world via a pebble-sized MacGuffin, Moana & [The Rock] are at one point pursued by a tribal army of Kakamora, a fiendish crew of mythical spirits who take the physical form of coconut War Boys, complete with their own coconut Immortan Joe. The Kakamora approach Moana’s puny-by-comparison boat in massive warships, attempting to board her ship & rob her of her all-important MacGuffin Pebble. Moana doesn’t directly reference Fury Road with any specific visual cues; it instead tries to mimic the feel & the scale of George Miller’s massive accomplishment in a more general way. The Kakamora appear in ocean mist the way the War Boys appear in the kicked-up dust of desert sands. They tether their ships to their target vessel as a means to both board it and slow it’d progress. Most tellingly, they play themselves into battle with a live music soundtrack of tribal drums. All that’s missing from the scene is a blind little Kakamora threateningly riffing on a coconut guitar.

If history has proven anything it’s that I’ll continue to shell out money for any new theatrical version of Fury Road that achieves distribution: 2D, 3D, (most absurdly) black & white. I doubt I’ll ever stop returning to that well and, alongside its stellar reviews from those more in tune with the merits of the Disney Princess brand, just the mere mention of a Fury Road homage was enough to drag me to the theater for a CG cartoon musical I had no business watching in the first place. In some ways it’s tempting to read into how Moana & Fury Road communicate plot-wise. Both films center on a female badass trying to welcome back Nature to a crumbling society  by employing a storied male warrior sidekick & the restorative help of water to defeat an evil presence and convert a longtime patriarchy to a matriarchal structure. In both instances, success also hinges on a race to a narrow physical passage that seems impossible to reach in time. These shared sentiments are likely entirely coincidental, though. Borrowing a little of Immortan Joe’s War Boy mayhem for its coconut pirates was simply a means to an end. Besides being a delightful nod to a property you wouldn’t expect to be referenced in this context, it also affords a key action sequence the sense of scale & visual specificity that makes George Miller one of the greatest visual minds of the genre. So much of Moana was Not For Me (which is obviously my fault and not the movie’s), so it was kinda nice in those few fleeting minutes to mentally return to a property that is a continuous source of personal pleasure. Moana was smart to borrow some scale & adrenaline from Fury Road in a scene that desperately needed the excitement (despite the Kakamora never registering as at all significant to the overall plot). Honestly, though, I was just glad to have the film’s more alienating musical theater & CGI sidekick buffoonery broken up by something familiar & genuinely badass that offered me a moment of escape from what was a personally misguided ticket purchase.

-Brandon Ledet

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)’s Black & Chrome Makeover

When I first reviewed George Miller’s high octane action spectacle Mad Max: Fury Road last summer, I was a little late to the table and the film had already been relegated to cult classic status, earning high marks from fans & critics, but failing to beat out less memorable films like Tomorrowland & San Andreas at the box office. Before reviewing the film I watched it twice in the theater in two different formats, 2D & 3D, and contextualized it by plowing through Miller’s entire catalog for perspective (for the record, it was just slightly bested by Babe 2: Pig in the City & The Witches of Eastwick as a career high for me). Despite all of that effort I floundered to find anything new or interesting to say about the film that wasn’t a mere echo of the praise it was already lauded with. Over a year later, I’ve now seen Fury Road reach its third theatrical format, the colorless Black & Chrome edition, and I still have nothing significant to add outside an echo of how wonderfully bizarre & overwhelmingly kinetic this film is. It’s still one of the best action films in recent memory. Immorten Joe is still a total fucking nightmare. Not much has changed in this most recent theatrical release but the color, so don’t beat yourself up if you couldn’t catch it in theaters (especially since there’s a Black & Chrome release on BluRay & VOD currently available for the still curious).

All that being said, I absolutely loved returning to the theater to witness this bizarre work unfold for a third time. Catching Fury Road in three distinct formats has been illuminating in that it allowed me to appreciate different aspects of the film in each run, while I still don’t believe I’ve seen it enough times to fully take it all in. While the campy, drive-in spectacle of watching it in 3D was my personal favorite way of experiencing the film, there was a definite novelty to the Black & Chrome version that highlighted aspects of what Miller accomplished I don’t remember noticing before. The story goes that while screening a work print of Fury Road without a score & without color, Miller found his preferred version of the film. The studio obviously rejected the idea of releasing the film in that state for fear of scaring off general audiences, but a year later a home video & brief theatrical release has made its way into the world after this production anecdote piqued fans’ interest (although with the score intact). As the title suggests, the black & chrome Fury Road is a little shinier and higher contrast than a traditional colorless film is presented, particularly in details like when Immorten Joe’s “war boys” spray that mysterious chrome substance across their teeth as a pick-me-up. This aspect of the print is emphasized in-film by lines like “Look at that! So shiny! So chrome!” and “You will ride eternal, shiny & chrome.” Although the color change doesn’t entirely alter the film’s DNA (how could it?), it is a shift that’s often justified & accentuated by the script.

I caught the black & chrome Fury Road at the only theater in Louisiana (and one of only a few dozen in the nation) that was screening a print. A little dazed by catching Moonlight earlier that afternoon & enjoying a few cocktails downtown in the meantime, I was confronted with two major annoyances at the cinema: a very talkative older couple who were brazen in their interruptions since there were only three of us “witnessing” Miller’s glory & a loud, hideous whine emanating from the projector. In an attempt to escape both distractions, I moved to the very front row of the tiny theater, completely immersed in the black & chrome madness blasting before me. Although I was mostly annoyed by the talking, I was a little amused when, after the glorious dust storm finish to the first chase scene, a man exclaimed, “Son of a bitch. I’m worn out! That was fucking genius.” As long as I’m echoing already-expressed sentiments here, I guess I have to whole-heartedly agree with that drunk man-child. Fury Road wore me out every single time I’ve seen it long before the end credits rolled. And, despite my exhaustion, it was indeed “fucking genius”. There’s an undeniable, infectious “how did this get made?” quality to Fury Road (as if it’s something Miller got away with, not just something he filmed), that strikes me every time no matter what row I’m sitting in, how disruptive the audience is, or in what state it’s being projected. There was something especially cool about watching it a few feet away from the screen, though. I’ll readily admit that, even if it wasn’t my first choice.

Overall, I am saying that the Black & Chrome edition of Fury Road isn’t an entirely unique experience, but that doesn’t mean nothing changed for me in that format. In a lot of ways, the black & white digital grain makes the film feel more 90s, recalling Aronofsky’s π or, once the supermodels appear, the world’s craziest perfume ad. A lack of color also called attention to the film’s dust & grit, as if it were a feature length adaptation of a White Zombie music video (the Russ Meyer-inspired “Thunderkiss ’65,” specifically). The horror of the zombie-like war boys popped off the screen more in the opening capture & detainment sequence. A little of the CGI is clouded without the color, making it play like a forgotten relic, maybe along the lines of Hardware or, hell, even Metropolis. All of these elements were already lurking in Fury Road to begin with, though. All switching formats does is make them more obvious. Some would even argue that the original version of the movie is near-monochromatic to begin with, so the difference is negligible at best. Personally, I would miss the bright reds & purples of details like the dust storm or the guitar goblin if this were the only version of the movie available, but thankfully it’s not. There’s now three versions of Fury Road out there waiting to impress & confound you as to how something so goddamn insane was ever made in the first place. I’m lucky to have seen it even once, let alone from so many angles & shifted perspectives. If nothing else, the black & chrome flavored Fury Road is at least worth seeking out to add that extra layer of appreciation to something we all already knew was wonderful. When you seek it out, though, just try to avoid the whining projectors & talkative drunks out there aiming to distract from it. There are many roadblocks to avoid on the path to Valhalla.

-Brandon Ledet

The Swampflix Guide to the Oscars, 2016


Including short films, there are 57 movies nominated for the 2016 Oscars. We here at Swampflix have covered less than half of the films nominated (so far!), but we’re still happy to see so many movies we enjoyed listed among the nominees. The Academy rarely gets these things right (last year’s Birdman Best Picture win comes to mind in that regard), but as a list this isn’t too shabby in terms of representing what 2015 had to offer to cinema. Listed below are the 19 Oscar-Nominated films from 2015 that we reviewed for the site, ranked from best to . . . least-best (*cough* Fifty Shades *cough*) based on our star ratings. With each entry we’ve listed a blurb, a link to our corresponding review, and a mention of the awards the films were nominated for.


1) Ex Machina, nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Visual Effects

“There’s something about Ex Machina’s straight-forward, no nonsense approach to sci-fi storytelling that struck a real chord in me. It’s not likely to win over folks who are looking to be surprised by every single development in its plot, but for those willing to enjoy the movie on its own stripped-down terms there’s a lot of intense visual rewards & interesting thematic explorations of, among other things, masculine romantic possessiveness that can be deeply satisfying.”


2) Mad Max: Fury Road, nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (George Miller), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects

“In a time where a lot of movies, such as Zombeavers & WolfCop, intentionally aim for a cult film aesthetic, it’s refreshing when something as authentically bizarre as Fury Road comes along and earns its rabid, isolated fan base naturally. Although the movie is less than a month old, it’s already gathered a cult following so strong that I doubt that there’s any praise I can throw at it that hasn’t already been bested elsewhere. I loved the film. I thought it was fantastic, wonderfully distinct, up there with The Road Warrior, The Witches of Eastwick, and Pig in the City as one of the best things Miller has ever released onto the world. I still feel like that’s merely faint praise when compared to some of the more hyperbolic reactions out there.”


3) Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, nominated for Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects

“The overall feeling I got while watching The Force Awakens is “What more could you ask for?” Abrams has successfully walked the Star Wars tightrope & delivered something sure to please both newcomers & skeptics and, more importantly, something that’s deliriously fun to watch when divorced from the burden of expectation.”


4) Straight Outta Compton, nominated for Best Original Screenplay

Straight Outta Compton is not a particularly great example of a historical document, but damn if it didn’t achieve an incredible Cinematic Aesthetic in every scene, somehow managing to squeeze out a great biopic with exactly zero deviations from the format (unlike more experimental films like Love & Mercy). The cinematography, provided by longtime Aronofsky collaborator Matthew Libatique, confidently supported the film’s surface pleasures (including an onslaught of still-great songs & pandering nostalgia) to the point where any & all faults were essentially irrelevant.”


5) Anomalisa, nominated for Best Animated Feature

Anomalisa is a great film that draws you into its headspace with compelling imagery. While the plot may not be as much of a technical masterpiece as its cinematography, its potentially played-out story is sufficiently fleshed out (again, no pun intended) that it will likely remain culturally relevant long after the genre of paint-by-numbers privileged-white-guy-versus-ennui has receded back into the ether from which it came. If not a masterpiece, then the film is definitively a cinematic experience that demands to be seen.”


6) Creed, nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Sylvester Stallone)

“The pugilist protagonist (played by an all-grown-up The Wire vet Michael B. Jordan) of Creed‘s narrative may go through the motions of successes & failures the audience sees coming from miles away, but the movie is visceral enough in its brutal in-the-ring action & tender enough in its out-the-ring romance & familial strife that only the most jaded of audiences are likely to get through its runtime without once pumping a fist or shedding a tear before the end credits.”


7) Carol, nominated for Best Actress (Cate Blanchett), Best Supporting Actress (Rooney Mara), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design

Carol is a handsome, but muted drama about homosexual desire in a harsh environment where it can’t be expressed openly. The subtle glances & body language that make the film work as an epic romance are very delicate, sometimes barely perceptible. In fact, if you had no idea what the film’s about going in, it’s possible it’d take you a good 20min or so to piece it together. That kind of quiet grace is in no way detrimental to the film’s quality as a work of art. It’s just that the critical hype surrounding the picture puts an unnecessary amount of pressure of what should be experienced as a collection of small, deeply intimate moments shared between two star-crossed lovers.”


8) Inside Out, nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Animated Feature

“The way Inside Out visualizes abstract thoughts like memories, angst, imagination, acceptance, and abstract thought itself is incredibly intricate & well considered. Its central message of the importance of sadness in well-rounded emotional growth is not only admirable, but downright necessary for kids to experience. Even if I downright hated the film’s visual aesthetic (I didn’t; it was just okay), I’d still have to concede that its intent & its world-building were top notch in the context of children’s media.”


9) The Hateful Eight, nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Best Cinematography, Best Original Score

“At one point in The Hateful Eight, Samuel L. Jackson’s balding, ex-military bounty hunter says, ‘Not so fast. Let’s slow it down. Let’s slow it way down.’ That seems to be the film’s M.O. in general. Tarantino is, of course, known to luxuriate in his own dialogue, but there is something particularly bare bones & talkative about The Hateful Eight. It’d say it’s his most patient & relaxed work yet, one that uses the Western format as a springboard for relying on limited locations & old-fashioned storytelling to propel the plot toward a blood-soaked finale.”


10) Joy, nominated for Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence)

“Expectation might be to blame for what turned a lot of audiences off from Joy. Based on the advertising, I know a lot of folks expected an organized crime flick about a mob wife, not the deranged biopic about the woman who invented the Miracle Mop that was delivered. Even more so, I believe that audiences expected a lighthearted drama from the guy who made Silver Linings Playbook. Instead, Joy finds Russell exploring the same weirdo impulses that lead him to making I ♥ Huckabees, an absurdist comedy that might be the very definition of “not for everyone”.”


11) Sicario, nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing

“Much like how the recent Johnny Depp vehicle Black Mass gets by purely on the strength of its acting, Sicario might be a mostly predictable film in terms of narrative, but it creates such a violent, foreboding atmosphere that some scenes make you want to step out in the lobby for a breath of fresh air (or to puke, as the cops who discovered the early scenes’ in-the-wall corpses couldn’t help doing).”

12) Steve Jobs, nominated for Best Actor (Michael Fassbender), Supporting Actress (Kate Winslet)

“Between Sorkin & Fassbender’s work here, the myth of Steve Jobs is most certainly an arresting contrast between genius & emotional sadism. He’s a true to form Sorkin protagonist who’s better judged by his work than his persona. I’m not sure I left the film knowing any more about the real Steve Jobs than I did going in, but I’m also not sure that matters in terms of the film’s failure or success.”


13) Room, nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Lenny Abrahamson), Best Actress (Brie Larson), Best Adapted Screenplay

Room is not all broken spirits & grim yearnings. The film can at times be quite imaginative & uplifting, thanks to young Jack’s warped sense of reality & Jacob Tremblay’s wonderful performance. Room‘s strongest asset is how it adopts a child POV the way films like The Adventures of Baron Mucnchausen, The Fall, and Beasts of the Southern Wild have in the past. Because Jack has only known life inside Room (which he refers to as a proper noun, like a god or a planet), he has a fascinatingly unique/warped perception of how life works & how the universe is structured.”


14) Amy, nominated for Best Documentary (Feature)

“By giving so much attention to a person who obviously did not want it, Winehouse’s unwitting fans made a market out of her gradual death. Again, it’s very similar to what slowly killed Kurt Cobain as well & I’m sure there are to be more examples in the future. A lot of what makes Amy interesting as a documentary is not necessarily the details of Winehouse’s personal life that it turns into a fairly straight-forward narrative, but rather the way it subtly makes you feel like a murderer for wanting those details in the first place.”


15) The Revenant, nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects

“At times the film itself feels like DiCaprio’s broken protagonist, crawling & gurgling blood for days on end under the weight of an over-achieving runtime. Shave a good 40 minutes of The Revenant by tightening a few scenes & losing a shot here or there (as precious as Lubezki makes each image) & you might have a masterful man vs. nature (both human & otherwise) revenge pic. As is, there’s an overbearing sense of self-importance that sours the whole ordeal.”


16) The Martian, nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Matt Damon), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects

“Despite facing almost certain death in The Martian’s first act, Watney logically explains the details of exactly how/why he’s fucked as well as the practical day-to-day details other films would usually skip over, such as the bathroom situation in a Martian space lab. Speaking of the scatological, there’s a surprising amount of poop in this film. You could even say that poop saves the day, which is certainly more interesting than whatever control room shenanigans solve the conflict in Apollo 13 or other similar fare.”


17) Shaun the Sheep, nominated for Best Animated Feature

“As always, Aardman delivers fantastic stop-motion work here, but although their films are consistently entertaining, there’s something particularly special about Shaun the Sheep that makes it feel like their best feature at least since 2005’s Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Because the movie is largely a non-verbal affair, its success relies entirely on visual comedy that feels like a callback to the silent film era & it’s incredible just how much mileage it squeezes out of each individual gag.”

18) Brooklyn, nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Best Adapted Screenplay

“Outside Saoirse Ronan’s effective lead performance, I mostly found Brooklyn entertaining as a visual treat. Its costume & set design are wonderful, particularly in the detail of Eilis’ wardrobe – beach wear, summer dresses, cocktail attire, etc. That’s probably far from the kind of distinction the Brooklyn‘s looking for in terms of accolades, but there’s far worse things a film can be than a traditional, well-dressed romance.”


19) Fifty Shades of Grey, nominated for Best Original Song (“Earned It,” performed by The Weeknd)

“The best-selling erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey recently made its long-awaited debut on the silver screen and, as a fan of the book series, I was very curious to see how this film could possibly be tame enough for movie theaters. What could have been one of the most iconic movies of the year turned out to be a total snoozefest. Literally. People in my theater were sleeping so hard they were snoring.”

-The Swampflix Crew

Babe 2: Pig in the City (1998) as a Key to Understanding George Miller’s Oeuvre as a Cohesive Whole


At first it might seem strange that the same dude who brought this summer’s intense fever dream Mad Max: Fury Road to the screen also directed August’s Movie of the Month, Babe 2: Pig in the City. In fact, any quick glance at George Miller’s list of feature films could leave you scratching your head, but his range of work is not nearly as disparate as it may initially seem & there’s something special about Babe 2: Pig in the City in particular that helps make the connections between his films all the clearer. Much like how Babe was an unlikely choice for a prize sheep herder in the first film that bares his name, Pig in the City is an unlikely, but oddly effective gateway to understanding Miller’s oeuvre as a cohesive whole.

It’s probably safe to say that the Mad Max franchise is the property most closely associated with Miller’s name. It’s at the very least where Miller started the strange path of his career. The first Mad Max film created a charmingly handmade & genuinely dangerous-feeling post-Apocalyptic universe that’s been retooled, reinvented, and redefined in each of its three subsequent sequels. Pig in the City may not immediately resemble the Australian wasteland depicted in the original Mad Max film, but its decidedly urban landscape is populated with the same kind of wild, frothing-at-the-mouth cretins that terrorize what remains of Mad Max‘s small town victims. The world of Pig in the City is similarly lawless & cruel, with its own uncaring authority figures & gang leaders holding their boots to the necks of the poor & defenceless.

The similarities in their world-building aside, it’s not until the second Mad Max film that the franchises connections to the Babe sequel become explicit. Just as Miller tossed out the “That’ll do” philosophy of the first Babe film out the window when he made its off-the-wall sequel, he abandoned much of the first Mad Max film’s aesthetic with Road Warrior & each subsequent entry to the point where their only connective tissue was a titular performance by Mel Gibson. And even that connection was severed with Tom Hardy’s headlining performance in Fury Road. The sequels also link up closer to Babe 2‘s central idea that solidarity & communal sharing are the only way to survive life’s seemingly pointless onslaught of cruelty. The hippie dippie gasoline hoarders of Road Warrior, the feral tribe of children in Beyond Thunderdome, and the runaway sex slaves of Fury Road are all echoed in the gang of talking animals Babe assembles in Pig in the City simply by being pure of heart & wanting to share the wealth.

Of the Mad Max sequels, it’s fairly safe to say that the one that most readily resembles Pig in the City would be Beyond Thunderdome. Beyond Thunderdome is a strange bird of a film, initially creating a strange corporal-punishment based society (headed by Tina Turner, because why not?) whose titular thunderdome arena is used to settle any & all major disputes. That world is largely left behind when the film goes beyond those Tina Turner-ruled boundaries (for some ungodly reason) and devolves into a version of a Peter Pan & the Lost Boys dynamic much more closely related to Spieldberg’s Hook than it is to any of the preceding Mad Max content. Pig in the City somehow touches on both halves of Beyond Thunderdome, both recreating the bungee chord-aided thunderdome battles in its climactic ballroom scene & further easing Miller’s catalog into the realm of children’s media. On a less superficial, but also less easily-recognizable level, Babe 2 is echoed in the unhinged, live-action cartoon of Fury Road. Both films have a fevering, relentless intensity to them that not only compliment each other, but combine to exemplify the detached-from-reality heights that tinge nearly all of Miller’s film, even when that absurdity is relegated to the margins.

It’s a little more difficult to pinpoint Pig in the City‘s similarities to the films Lorenzo’s Oil & The Witches of Eastwick, but far from impossible. Both Lorenzo’s Oil & The Witches of Eastwick are at the very least filtered through the visually wild eye Miller overindulged in with Fury Road & Babe 2. They look especially strange for their genres (the medical drama & the rom-com, respectively) and they both have a relentless never-look-back-or-question-the-rules pacing to them that takes the audience hostage for their intensely eccentric runtimes. This lack of restraint is wicked fun in The Witches of Eastwick, a surprisingly cruel mix of black magic & sexual energy that always catches me off guard as one of my favorite movie-watching experiences. However, that same manic energy is absolutely brutal in Lorenzo’s Oil.

A drama about a child dying of ALD, a disorder that devastates his mind & body, Lorenzo’s Oil is a deeply angry film that bucks the bureaucracy of scientific research that slows down the chances of survival for individual patients in favor of longterm studies that could potentially help future generations. This is not at all unlike the cold, heartless bureaucracies that keep Babe’s gang & owner down, but it’s all the more depressing in that the movie is based on a true story & the on-screen pain has more readily recognizable real-life pain attached. Babe 2 may be occasionally depressing in an arresting way, but it has nothing on the relentless emotional wrecking ball of Lorenzo’s Oil’s dissent into the madness that strangles the parents of a child dying of ALD. Pig in the City‘s connections to The Witches of Eastwick are much more fun; both films feature magical worlds that play like distorted versions of our own and, more artificially, fill their screens with brightly colored balloons in their more surreal moments- pink in Witches & blue in Pig the City. Lorenzo’s Oil offers very little in means of escape, instead using its surreal undercurrent to create a hard to stomach look at the real-life devastation.

On the opposite end of the silly-serious spectrum, George Miller’s Happy Feet films could not be further from the emotional destruction of Lorenzo’s Oil. Pure, unadulterated candy, the Happy Feet franchise can, however, feel just as difficult to stomach. From the first film’s opening scene, when a CGI penguin seductively performs a karaoke version of a Prince song with a come-hither look in her eyes, I wanted to puke, or at the very least give up on watching the two films to come. I instead bravely soldiered on through both Happy Feet pictures, finding very little respite from the sexy penguin karaoke Hell that persistently broke my spirit in both. For every pleasant element in play (Matt Damon & Brad Pitt’s domestic partnership as a pair of krill, for instance) there was twice as much content to hate (Robin William’s politically uncomfortable caricature of a Hispanic penguin immediately comes to mind).

You would expect that the only other children’s media Miller was involved in would most closely resemble his Babe sequel but there really isn’t much else connecting the films outside genre & vague political overtones.  In both the Happy Feet films & Pig in the City, Miller takes a spoonful of sugar approach to political philosophizing. Just as Babe 2 sneaks a positive representation of communism in action in its talking animal adventure plot, Happy Feet (much less covertly) hides its environmental activism behind a shroud of cute animated penguins & some of the worst karaoke ever committed to film. Besides the political Trojan-horsing I don’t see much else connecting Happy Feet to Pig in the City. Even more so, I find Happy Feet to be an outlier in Miller’s ouevre at large, both in terms of quality & content. It’s a pretty terrible stain on an otherwise perfect record.

George Miller is a strange success story in terms of typical auteur career paths. His films wildly vary in terms of genre to the point that he initially seems to exist outside the auteur theory entirely, but once you squint a little closer, his personal touch shines through in each disparate property. As unlikely as it sounds, Babe 2: Pig in the City not only serves as a Rosetta’s Stone of understanding Miller’s career in its glorious entirety, but it also exemplifies the dreamlike intensity he’s still bringing to his films in his 70s. Fury Road felt like the energetic work of a director attempting to prove his worth, but that same energy has somehow been consistent since his 1979 Mad Max debut & already reached its fever pitch in Pig in the City. Let’s hope the runaway train of his imagination leads to a ton more of completed projects in his remaining years, even if that means suffering through the pain of another Lorenzo’s Oil or (more painful yet) Happy Feet one more time around. He’s given us more than enough joy to earn a few of our tears.

For more on August’s Movie of the Month, George Miller’s Babe 2: Pig in the City, check out last week’s Swampchat discussion of the film.

-Brandon Ledet

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)



So, I’m a little late to the table with my review for George Miller’s 30-years-late-to-the-table Mad Max sequel Fury Road. There are a few various reasons for this delay. Before I went to the cinema, I wanted to contextualize the film in the grand scheme of Miller’s bizarrely disparate catalog, so I watched everything he’s directed so far. During this time, I got to revisit some all-time favorites like The Road Warrior & The Witches of Eastwick, discover some new bizarre worlds like in Babe: Pig in the City, and experience the excruciating, frozen depths of Hell thanks to the Happy Feet franchise. It was a confusing time. By the time I made it to the theater for Fury Road, the excitement surrounding the film had reached a fever pitch among a dedicated few who had already seen the film many times over. It’s crazy to think that with the amount of buzz this film has earned it’s never reached the number one spot at the box office, losing out to films critics have been understandably less enthusiastic about: San Andreas, Tomorrowland, and Pitch Perfect 2. This dichotomy of ignored-by-many, obsessively-loved-by-few pretty much sealed Fury Road’s fate as instant cult classic, one that will surely be remembered for far longer than San Andreas or Tomorrowland, before I even got a taste of its ridiculous charms.

During the initial you-gotta-see-this frenzy surrounding the film, I missed a lot of opportunity to find new things to say about it. All I can really do at this point is echo the praise. Yes, it’s one of the best action films released in years. Yes, it has surprisingly satisfying feminist bent for something so thoroughly violent. Yes, it’s an incredible technical feat stuffed to the gills with impressive practical stunts & confident art design. In a time where a lot of movies, such as Zombeavers & WolfCop, intentionally aim for a cult film aesthetic, it’s refreshing when something as authentically bizarre as Fury Road comes along and earns its rabid, isolated fan base naturally. Although the movie is less than a month old, it’s already gathered a cult following so strong that I doubt that there’s any praise I can throw at the film that hasn’t already been bested elsewhere. I loved the film. I thought it was fantastic, wonderfully distinct, up there with The Road Warrior, The Witches of Eastwick, and Pig in the City as one of the best things Miller has ever released onto the world. I still feel like that’s merely faint praise when compared to some of the more hyperbolic reactions out there. Because it’s not my favorite movie of all time, or even my favorite of the year so far, it might be best if I back off a bit from saying anything even vaguely critical and just say it’s great & I’m glad so many people love it.

That only leaves room for a couple details that I feel haven’t been addressed loudly enough. Firstly, it’s been said that because Miller filmed Fury Road in 2D and the 3D release was created in post-production, the 2D release is the superior viewing choice. Having now seen the film in both formats (another reason for the delayed review), I’d advise you to ignore that common wisdom. I enjoyed the 3D version of Fury Road immensely. It not only highlighted in the impressive depth of the chase scenes’ bizarre imagery, but also added a classic drive-in aesthetic layer to the film’s cult movie vibe. I think it’s worthwhile to see the film in 3D while it’s still an option, since it’s less likely you’ll be able to once it leaves the theaters. Another aspect of the film that’s been somewhat overshadowed is the strength of its central villain. A lot has been said about the badass character design & story arcs of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, Tom Hardy’s Max, Nicholas Hoult’s Nux, and whoever the Hell played that weirdo guitar dude, but not nearly enough ink has been spilled on the central antagonist, Immortan Joe. Joe is a nightmarish brute, truly terrifying in both his abusive actions & basic look. When he gets his eventual comeuppance it’s a thoroughly satisfying moment, a fitful end to an eccentric villain who belongs to be recognized along with names like Darth Vader, Cruella DeVille and Freddy Krueger as one of the greatest of all time. Like a Jason Voorhees or a Michael Myers in their respective franchises, Immortan Joe is a large part of what makes Fury Road feel so special.

That’s about all I have to add to the already endless Mad Max conversation. I’d urge you to go see the film, but it’s likely that you already have. I’d praise its charms, but there’s little I can say that hasn’t already been hyperbolically topped. I’d pick at its (very few) faults, but there’s no point in deflating any of the air out of the party balloons. It makes me so happy that a film this strange has been exalted this high this quickly, so there’s not much left to do except to bask in its glory and try to get over these Immortan Joe nightmares. Maybe they’ll stop before I get to Valhalla, but probably not. At least I have these cans of silver spray paint to see me through in the mean time.

-Brandon Ledet