Review the Old School: Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Let me be absolutely clear about something right from the beginning. My most recent viewing was of the Director’s Cut. The glorious, three-hour-long Director’s Cut. Did this make a difference? No clue, I watched the original cut way back when it came out and I wasn’t about to rewatch the same movie just to find out what parts they cut out. I’m not that masochistic. I have a job. And other shit to write. Moving on.

Directed by Ridley Scott and released all the way back in 2005, Kingdom of Heaven stars Orlando Bloom as Balian (later de Ibelin), the blacksmith for a Lord in France who finds out he’s the bastard son of a well-regarded Crusader recently back from the Holy Land, Godfrey de Ibelin played by Liam Neeson, shortly after his child dies and his wife tops herself out of grief. At first seemingly angry that Liam Neeson is his father (God knows why), Balian soon decides to join dad in the family business of killing the enemies of the leper King of Jerusalem (voiced by Edward Norton). Him killing his half-brother priest may or may not have helped in the decision making. Dad doesn’t make it past Italy, unfortunately, but makes sure to make Balian his heir and a knight before carking it. Balian gets to the Holy Land, hijinks ensue. These included Balian bedding the King’s married sister Sibylla (played by Eva Green), sparing and impressing a Saracen Cavalier (played by Alexander Siddig), killing a decent number of Christians and Muslims, building a few wells and, of course, taking command of the defence of Jerusalem against Saladin’s overwhelming forces after the new King of Jerusalem (spoiler, Edward Norton dies) starts a war then promptly loses it, all while learning the true meaning of knighthood. Good times.

This is a good movie, but it’s far from a perfect one. Orlando Bloom plays the role surprisingly well. There were one or two moments where I felt he was channeling Legolas or Will Turner, but I’d blame some awkward and clumsy moments in the script more than anything (a moment before the final battle when he’s giving everyone a pep-talk stands out). His character was a little too perfect though. It was lampshaded at the beginning of the film that he’d fought for lords before joining his dad on horseback and in the engineers, had participated in the building of powerful siege weapons, but we see him the movie as one of the best fighters, a skilled tactician and an expert in irrigating deserts. I mean, is there anything this guy isn’t good at? Similarly the villains are cartoonishly bad. Or specifically Guy de Lusignan played by Marton Csokas, the man who would be king and fuck everything up. Don’t get me wrong, Csokas plays the role well enough, but he’s just such a fucking stereotype with no motivation beyond “I’m gonna start a war and kill me some Saracens.” This worked with Brendan Gleeson’s character, Reynald de Chatillon, the insane commander of the Knights Templar, but he’s played as the mad attack dog whose entire purpose is cutting down people who don’t deserve it for his twisted faith. Guy is supposed to be the one who stands to gain the most and lose the most, but we see no reason for him to be such an arsehole. He doesn’t seem to want to conquer, doesn’t seem to give any shits about the faith or crusades beyond providing him with support or troops. There’s some vague hope for winning glory on the battlefield, I guess, but it just seems shallow. Maybe I’m not reading enough into the character, but it seemed like he was acting the arsehole simply for the sake of being an arsehole who we can blame him when the Kingdom of Heaven all goes to hell, and the audience can say, “See? Should have listened to Balian.”

The direction is mostly good, Ridley Scott knows how to cut together an epic and visceral battle, the combat is clear, bloody and wider shots are used to great effect. Smaller skirmishes meanwhile are lonelier, more intimate affairs, but their setups (long shot of a single knight at an oasis) reminded me of showdowns in old westerns. There were a few moments where the editing made me cringe. One in particular, where Balian first meets the king of Jerusalem seemed badly and unnecessarily cut together. They start out talking over a chessboard then are suddenly looking at plans for a fort, which Balian gives his advice on, then awkwardly shifts to the king with him. It’s meant to feel like a long conversation but instead just feels like they decided to skip half a sentence. It’s weird and unnecessary. But not common. As for the music, well, the only time I really noticed it was during the big battles when I realised it was the same theme from The Mummy. Take that as you will.

Regardless, the cast is stellar. And I mean, really fantastic, putting excellent actors in even minor roles. Liam Neeson has a major role but doesn’t make it through a third of the film, Kevin McKidd has about three minutes of screentime before being killed off and is billed only as “English Sergeant” and Michael Sheen plays the priest I mentioned above. The one who gets stabbed by Balian not even ten minutes in. A special mention should go to The Hospitaller, played by David Thewlis. While remaining nameless, The Hospitaller actually manages to survive most of the film and plays a sort of mentor and father to Balian. He’s a man of faith if not religion, and acts as conscience for Balian in his harder moments with good humour and sincere kindness.

But the characters I really wanted to see more of were the Muslims. I remember when I first watched this not long after it came out for the first time on DVD feeling that the Muslims were treated unfairly, and they may have been. But rewatching it, I felt like this was one of the best possible portrayals of an Arab conquering Christians that we could’ve gotten out of 2005. The Christian folk who want peace always remark that it requires both the King of Jerusalem and Saladin to maintain the peace. Firuz, his retainer spared by Balian in the beginning of the film, is a good man and remarks that it was because Saladin was his teacher. Saladin, played excellently by Ghassan Massoud, does a solid job as the stoic general, who doesn’t really want to go through the trouble of taking Jerusalem but has his own fanatics to deal with. He shows disappointment when he meets a captured Guy, and good humour after treating with a worthy opponent. Not a perfect portrayal, but two years into the Iraq War and four years after 9/11 from an American director? Not bad. Not bad at all, and I wish we saw more of it.

Strange to think that this was directed by the same guy who’s now in so much trouble over fucking Exodus: Gods and Kings. What happened Ridley? You used to be cool.

Reviewing the old school: Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Do you remember this film? I didn’t remember this film until quite recently, and I can’t for the life of me think of why. Thinking back to when Thank You for Smoking was released all the way back in 2005, it was a pretty big deal. Not like in a blockbuster, Transformers or The Dark Knight kind of way, but, I mean, I was in fucking high school and I was hearing about what a brilliant film it was. That’s not normal, is it? I don’t think that’s normal. This film though, this film was special. This smart little indie film all about arguments and talking, without any explosions and only a little sex, had us teenage Aussie millennials talking or at least my circle of friends, and for good reason. Because my friends are weird. And it’s a great film. So why’s it so forgettable?

The film, fantastically written and directed by Jason Reitman, stars Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor, the chief spokesman for what is essentially big tobacco. Nick is suave, charming, good at what he does and loves his job. Since his job is convincing as many people as possible to smoke cigarettes, in most other films he’d probably be the bad guy. And he sort of is. But he’s so rationally proud of it that you can’t help but cheer for him and his cohorts to win over that bastard senator from Vermont who’s only thinking of the children. The film follows Nick at his highest (getting the film industry involved in making cigarettes cool – cooler – again) and lowest (an article is released revealing all the secrets he’d told to the writer, who he’d been sleeping with… also kidnapping and attempted murder) points while clearly explaining how political argument and debate work, the art of lobbying and the importance of making informed decisions.

The acting is fantastic. Aaron Eckhart owns the role of Nick Naylor, and you never for a moment doubt his sincerity or self-awareness. Katie Holmes as the above mentioned reporter who really shouldn’t be trusted with sensitive information plays her role with a casual, professional glee. JK Simmons and William H Macy carry their roles with skill, as always, as Nick’s boss and sorta nemesis respectively and deliver some of the best lines in the movie, as do Maria Bello and David Koechner as Nick’s best friends Polly Bailey and Bobby Jay Bliss (alcohol and gun lobbies respectively). Smaller roles are perfectly cast, like Robert Duvall as The Captain and Rob Lowe as Hollywood fixer Jeff Megall. Even Cameron Bright, the (at the time) child actor playing Nick’s son Joey does a great job (though there was one or two moments that felt a little flat). Jason Reitman did a fantastic job with this. The dialogue is well written and the editing switches from long, drawn out moments to rabid flashes expertly. The music is excellent, and I loved the song playing over the opening credits.

What’s great about this film is the moral ambiguity of its theme: mainly, to make your own informed choices and come to your own conclusions. Nick Naylor may be working for the ostensible bad guys, a big corporation that cares more about profits than human lives, but he does so with surprising moral conviction and (I think mostly because of his frank narration) far more honesty than what we’d normally expect. He definitely seems more honest than the manipulative Senator Finistirre. But what I love about this film, what I really love about this excellent piece of satire, is that it is incredibly self-aware. The information it is providing is nothing new, and it knows that it’s nothing new. Admits to it cheerfully and wittily. At the end, at the climax of the movie when Nick sits in at a hearing about putting a skull and crossbones on all cigarette packs he acknowledges that he knows cigarettes are bad for you. In fact everybody knows cigarettes are bad for you. Similarly, the audience already knows about what the film is apparently revealing. We know that big corporate powers use films and celebrities to sell their products. We know that they use misleading scientific studies to continue lying to the consumer. We know that they have huge teams of lawyers to tie down opponents in legal red tape. We know that they lie, cheat and bribe. And the film knows we know. Thank You for Smoking is not about revealing the dangers of the world. It treats us more intelligently than that. The film is about the power of argument and persuasion, and whether you’re right or wrong depends on how convincing you are. Nick Naylor is the hero of this film because he is the best at arguing. That’s all. Mind you I’m a fan of arguing (love a good fight), so maybe I’m just reaching my own conclusions (see what I did there?)

So, you remembering this film now? Maybe saying I’d forgotten this film is going a bit too far. I don’t know what made me think of it the other day, but I remembered it immediately, and enough where I was able to start thinking about what I was gonna write down before the rewatch. But it still feels like it should be far better remembered than what it is, up there with other political satires like Wag the Dog or… shit… I can’t think of any similar enough examples at this exact moment. Point is, if you haven’t you should watch this film. If you have, watch it again. It’s an easy film to over-analyse and under-analyse, and it’s a great piece of smart cinema regardless. Funny too.

Reviewing the Old School: The Castle (1997)

It’s not just a house, it’s a home. Just like how this isn’t just any old movie, this is and likely will remain one of the most iconically Aussie movies you can possibly watch. At least that’s the conclusion that one of my best mates and I came to watching it on Tuesday afternoon, hungover from Monday’s Australia Day revels and trying to sufficiently recover for round two in the coming evening.

Released in 1997, The Castle tells the story of the Kerrigan family, led by patriarch Darryl (Michael Caton), and their fight against the corporate powers trying to seize and bulldoze their home in order to build a new runway at the nearby airport (as in literally right next door). Told through the narration of youngest son Dale (Steven Curry) this film both reflected and informed Australian culture. On the one hand, the Kerrigans and their neighbours are a collection of stereotypes of bogan culture in the late nineties (and now). They own five cars, make casually racist remarks without any malice, have generally atrocious hair, have no wish to move outside of their insular little community, gamble, spend more time reading the trading post than the newspaper and think that the only show funnier than Hey, Hey it’s Saturday is The Best of Hey, Hey it’s Saturday.

On the other hand, it’s also informed Australian culture. If an Aussie says you should “tell him he’s dreaming” or remarks upon the “serenity” of a particular location, they’re referencing The Castle. And we reference it a lot. Seriously. Y’know how much I talk about the Borderlands games? There’s a location in the Pre-Sequel called ‘So Much Serenity.’ That’s a reference to The Castle. Shit, while doing HSC English it made up the Australian required viewing on a syllabus that included Nobel Prize winning poets. Few other films have had such a lasting effect on Aussie culture. It makes you ask the question: why has this moderately funny and heartwarming film remained so important in the national consciousness while other moderately funny and heartwarming films fallen out of it?

I think it’s because of the sincerity of the script and cast. I think that while it isn’t exactly the prettiest reflection, we do like what we see. The Kerrigans are working class, unworldly, uneducated, the eldest son is in prison, and all of them are good people without question. The Kerrigans hold to principles of mateship and community that are often pushed as being quintessentially Australian. Darryl’s first thought upon finding out that the airport is seizing homes is to run to their neighbour Jack’s house, the oldest on the block. Their lawyer, Dennis Denuto (played wonderfully by Tiriel Mora) spends much of the film terrified and out of his depth. He knows he can’t win, knows how badly they’ll lose, even remarks that he’s “shitting himself” when they have a fighting chance, but he jumps into the ring anyway because his mate’s in trouble and asked him for help. Even the ending is something sincerely, positively Australian. They don’t Erin Brockovich or Miracle on 34th Street their way to victory, pouring through pages of legal notes themselves until they find a loophole or performing some gesture that warms the heart of the judge that’ll save their homes, like in so many American films. They win because Darryl meets a retired deus ex machina… I mean QC who was an expert in constitutional law named Lawrence Hammill (played also wonderfully by Charles Tingwell) and they bond over shared pride in their children. It falls upon the idea that Australia is an egalitarian society, that mateship crosses boundaries of class, wealth and education, and that when you see a mate down on his luck you do every fucking thing possible to help him. Darryl is a good bloke, and in Australia we help good blokes.

Now, is that necessarily true? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s part of how we like to think about ourselves. And the film plays it with a perfectly straight face. The acting helps. Everyone puts out a great performance, Michael Caton in particular bringing a lot of emotion to his character. Special props go to Stephen Curry as our narrator, youngest son Dale. Dale is a character who absorbs every detail and is bluntly obvious about things, and Stephen brings a fantastic and positive honesty to the role.

The script is excellent. The editing and camera work are solid. Rob Sitch, the director and one of the writers, know what he’s doing with this kind of comedy. The soundtrack was a bit forgettable. If there’s any flaws with the film, it’s that the few female characters occupy the background a little too much, and that the comparisons between the Kerrigans’ legal battle and the issues of Aboriginal land rights, the Mabo Decision and Terra Nullius varied between hamfisted and a little cringeworthy. They’re not huge flaws, especially when compared to other Australian films, but they’re worth mentioning (and if you think I’m underplaying them right now, drop a comment, the discussion would be great).

Anyway, long story short, great film. Iconically Australian. Definitely worth a watch even if you’re not from the land down under. At the very least it’s worth mentioning as being Eric Bana’s film debut.

Reviewing the old school: Die Hard (1988)

So I wanted to do a Christmas movie this week since, y’know, Christmas. Took me a little while to decide which one, since there are quite a few of them (many of them actually pretty shit). Then I remembered I hadn’t watched the original Die Hard in a while, and the choice was made. I procured a copy, ordered a curry and sat back to watch what remains one of my favourite action movies ever.

Released in 1988, the film stars Bruce Willis as John MccLane, an NYPD cop visiting his estranged wife at her work Christmas party (in an incomplete skyscraper in Los Angeles). Then a bunch of mostly European thieves masquerading as terrorists take all the party guests hostage. Hijinks ensue.

But you should already know all this, because you should have already seen this movie by now. In all honesty this should be on that 1001 Movies to See Before You Die list if it isn’t already. It’s a classic action film that holds together incredibly well nearly three decades later (holy shit Die Hard turned 27 this year). The fight scenes are appropriately brutal, the set pieces are spectacular and the coincidences never feel as contrived as they do in a lot of other films (including, if I’m being honest, Die Hard 2). The music, as well, is fantastic. It’s something I hadn’t really paid much attention to until I rewatched it this week, but it manages to add tension in the necessary scenes and avoids the unnecessary synth-rock that’s left the soundtracks to so many other movies from the 80s so dated. Best of all it manages to keeps a Christmas theme going throughout the film.

It’s little stuff like that which makes this movie so much fun and the it never treats the audience like an idiot. It talks through particular scenes without feeling like it’s spoon-feeding us through Bruce Willis’ conversations with the Hans Gruber (the villain), Al Powell (his lifeline on the outside) and himself (you’re only crazy if there’s someone around to hear you). It also has a surprisingly high opinion of intelligent characters. John MccLane is not an idiot. He’s good at improvising and working through problems. Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is witty and charming, very capable of getting his hands dirty, able to think clearly, rationally and keep an eye on the prize throughout. Idiotic behaviour, however, usually results in the death of that idiot, as we see with Ellis and the FBI agents Johnson and Johnson (no relation). Going in guns blazing doesn’t work, and I wish more action movies would take this lesson to heart.

There are flaws, of course. Holly Gennaro, played by Bonnie Bedelia, has little to do aside from being someone for John MccLane to save. Reginald VelJohnson’s character Sergeant Al Powell tells a story about shooting an unarmed 13 year old boy, meant to garner sympathy for the cops, comes off a little sour given recent events (and probably should have given contemporary events as well). Some guns never seem to run out of bullets until it suddenly ‘matters’. The territorial police commissioner trope, furious about property damage and glass, is a little overdone. As is the henchman who just will not fucking die.

But it’s easy to overlook these flaws. Especially ’cause this movie gave us Alan Rickman. I mean, yeah, Bruce Willis was also a fairly fresh face known for his TV and commercial work propelled to Hollywood fame by this film, but he didn’t play Severus fucking Snape in the Harry Potter films. Without Die Hard Rickman may have remained a relative or complete unknown. And that would have been tragic.

So, yeah, watch this film if you haven’t already. But I expect just about everyone likely to read this already has, so, watch it again I guess? Yeah, watch it again.

Have a Happy Christmas (or Chanukah or Winter Solstice or just a grand public holiday for the many people who don’t celebrate it). Let’s see if I can think of a good New Year movie for next time.

Worth not stepping on: Thoughts on Ant-Man

Not the easiest thing to do anyway.
Not the easiest thing to do anyway.

One of the most unfair criticisms leveled against Ant-Man (the latest superhero film from the good folk over at Marvel), well before the film was released, was that it was a movie no one asked for or wanted. I recall one re-blog that did the rounds on Tumblr when the titular blogging site had a “Ask the cast of Ant-Man” going on, “How does it feel starring in a movie no one asked for?” or something along those lines, receiving plenty of the internet equivalent of snickers and backslaps at such a brilliant witticism. Personally I found it all a bit fucking disingenuous. I mean, I understand where a lot of these detractors were and are coming from. I too would have really liked to see a MCU film with a female or POC lead a lot sooner than they’re coming (and am bloody stoked for the Captain Marvel and Black Panther films, both due in 2018). And, hell, there has been a pretty large voice crying out for a Black Widow led film (though it seems a lot of that’s cooled off a bit since the arguably disappointing character arc and dialogue in Age of Ultron).

But it feels like this ignores three key points. First, I’m sure there were plenty of people who were overjoyed to see the Ant-Man film. I mean, the guy had to have had some fans (and there must of been a few disgruntled fanboys and girls crying foul when Tony Stark constructed Ultron in the MCU instead of Hank Pym). Second, films are regularly made that aren’t asked for. We frequently don’t know what we want. Shit, I didn’t know how much I wanted a Captain America movie til it was made and looked awesome. In fact we’re normally overjoyed when a film is made that isn’t a sequel (even if it is part of a larger franchise or broadly shared universe, like the Pixar films). Third, why can’t we have both? Marvel studios and their Disney overlords are an enormous empire with plenty of talent to choose from, the millions to spend and an audience that is still eating out of the palm of their hands. Getting a She-Hulk, Spider-Woman or Falcon movie out between AoU and Ant-Man would not have been impossible. Blaming Ant-Man for being made when other possibly great films aren’t just doesn’t sit well, ’cause it is not the film’s fault that they weren’t made.

Mind you, it doesn’t much matter. The film still topped the Friday box office and will likely do very well this weekend. It’s had pretty decent reviews by critics and the public. I also doubt very much the pre-release criticism had anywhere near the attention on social media that the abso-bloody-lutely delightful advertising campaign for the film managed to spark (tiny bilboards? Brilliant!) Most people who’d read this would probably even be surprised that this non-issue came up at all, anywhere. It’s a criticism I wanted to quickly address, however, because the aim was right even if the target was wrong.

I went and saw Ant-Man Friday with one of my housemates. It was good. Sharp dialogue, plenty of physical humour, a creative and satisfying climactic battle. Paul Rudd is funny in his non-threateningly charming way, with a strong emotional range that leads to a light-hearted pay-off. Corey Stoll’s character Darren Cross (eventually the Yellow-Jacket and villain through the entire film) is appropriately menacing and more than a little crazy, with his abandonment issues and desire for Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) respect (though I can’t help but feel he’s a bit of a copy-paste of Iron Man 3‘s Aldrich Killian). Evangeline Lilly is competent as Hope van Dyne, Hank Pym’s sort-of estranged daughter. But the father/daughter relationship could have used a lot more fleshing out. There’s supposed to be an enormous rift between the two but we never really see it (both characters coming off pretty one dimensional in the process) and the predictable confession and forgiveness scene doesn’t have any serious punch. Some of the best laughs come from Michael Peña’s role as Luis, the fast-talking, surprisingly-cultured ex-con/still-a-bit-crooked best friend of Ant-Man. He plays the role of comically stupid without ever appearing incapable, incompetent or unlikeable, and that is a true skill (and mark of a well-scripted character).

I can’t bring myself to give the kind of glowing recommendation to see it in the cinema that I gave to Guardians of the Galaxy. It falls into following too-predictable-cliches and  too-recognizable-tropes for that.The training montage, for instance, where the highly competent female supporting lead teaches the bumbling male how to do the role she should be doing. Thankfully it doesn’t go all the way (Hope is still a more competent hero at the end of the film, and Scott is given the role of Ant-Man over her because he’s expendable rather than ‘The Special/Chosen/Prophesied one). It’s a good film though. Funny. Clever. Worth watching. I think the best way to put is that you won’t regret it if you see it in the cinema. At the very least it’ll get a few laughs.

Parental guidance, or why I loved Mad Max: Fury Road

Max and Furiosa, sketch

As always, heads up that there are some spoilers ahead. Y’know what? Go see the movie first. Go see it. It’s brilliant.

There’s a scene around the middle of the Mad Max: Fury Road that I think sums up what makes the film so great. The appropriately named War Rig (a jury-rigged armed, armoured and supercharged oil tanker), carrying (the also appropriately named) Furiosa, Wives, a changed Nux and a less reluctant Max, has become bogged down in the wet soil and sand of what we might assume is a desolate former swamp. Behind them the war lord in charge of the Bullet Farm (an ally of primary antagonist Immortan Joe) and only one in possession of a vehicle with the treads necessary for traversing the treacherous terrain quickly, is closing in. Bullet Farm. It’s a clever name that draws upon an offhanded remark by one of the wives, the Capable I think it was, that one of her relatives used to call bullets “antiseeds. Plant one and watch something die.”

The sun set some time before, casting the world in a blue filter that marks a striking contrast against the reds and yellows of the wasteland during the daytime and forcing the (again, appropriately named) Bullet Farmer to probe the darkness with a bright white spotlight (and randomly directed shots from his enormous arsenal). Planning to slow down the progress of their pursuer Max kneels down with a scoped rifle, takes aim at the spotlight, fires, misses. Again, he takes aim, fires, misses. Is informed that he only has two shots left for that rifle. For a third time, he takes aim, fires. For a third time he misses. One shot left.

Before he can take it, before he can hit or miss, Furiosa comes up behind him. Max glances at her, back down the scope, then hands her the rifle. We, the audience, already know she’s a brilliant shot with this weapon. We saw her using it to pluck motorcyclists out of the air like clay pigeons as they jumped over the War Rig, then use it to pick off an approaching straggler well in the distance. What makes this scene something special, why it is such a fantastic demonstration of the evolved relationship between the characters and their combined strength is that Max doesn’t get up. He remains kneeling, allowing Furiosa to rest the stock of the rifle on his shoulder as she takes aim at the approaching spotlight. He doesn’t need to be told, he just does, and while he’s obviously not entirely pleased by the thought of having a gun fire right next to his ear, when Furiosa says “Don’t breath,” he doesn’t. She pulls the trigger. The spotlight shatters into the face of the Bullet Farmer. The ambient noise of the film is replaced by the high-pitched whine of Max’s dying ear cells (there’s a reason you might not be happy about someone firing a gun right next to your ear). He doesn’t complain, just gives his head a shake.

A lesser character in a lesser film, with a lesser writer or director, would have felt the need for their male title to try and reassert some dominance and masculinity after being used as a prop by the female lead. Maybe with an offhanded remark about how he “was just about to do that” himself, maybe claim that some blunt force trauma to his head which occurred in an earlier fight (while saving the lady’s arse, of course) had thrown off his aim. Not Max though, and not Fury Road. He doesn’t say much at all. Just gets up and joins the others in getting the War Rig moving again. Cause we’re not watching Max’s story, we’re watching Furiosa’s story from Max’s perspective. It is Furiosa’s ambition, strength and desire that propel the story forward and drives the action. Max’s role is to support her in this, keep her moving forward, and at the end point her in the right direction to achieve those ambitions.

It reminded me of my parents. The supporting relationship, I mean, not the gun play. Both of them have their own plans, dreams and ambitions. When one needs to do something to achieve their goals, the other is there to provide the moral and physical support necessary to do it. Of course a big part of those ambitions was raising me and my siblings right. Making sure we achieve what we want to achieve.

The movie is a master-class in ‘show, don’t tell‘ and it’s what makes this film such an absolute joy of stoic characters and insane action. One of those important things is the relationship between Max and Furiosa. It is Furiosa’s desires and ambitions that are ultimately achieved, but I believe she could not have achieved them without Max’s help. Right here I want to be very clear that this is not a statement against Furiosa. Some would call her the best female action hero since Ripley in Alien and Aliens. I would call her better. She’s smart, fierce and amazingly capable. As I said, she drives the action, the plot and the motivations of the other characters. Furiosa is the knight errant rescuing the princesses from the tower, but Max is her squire. An important part of a more important character’s story, providing an extra pair of hands to maintain their steed, an extra fighter when she’s driving, a driver when she’s fighting, the hardened reinforcement to keep moving forward when she desperately wants to turn around but knows it would be folly (you know the scene if you’ve seen the film… “under the wheels”) and in the very end the herald announcing the end of her quest and displaying the trophy of her victory. In return for helping the hero on her journey Max receives the things he lacked travelling alone through the wasteland. Respect. Companionship. Hope. A cause worth fighting for beyond survival. Identity. Someone to witness who he was, who’d also understand what he was. Empathy. The Wives.

Fuckin’ hell, I cannot stress just how important the wives are to both Furiosa and Max. I’d call those two each other’s moral compasses, but it is the Wives who are the north that both end up trying to reach. A few commentators and reviews of Furiosa have missed the fact that in her first face-to-face meetings with both Max and Nux she tries to put them both down. Unsurprising, considering the context in which she meets them (threatening her and the women she is protecting with a shotgun and sneaking through the Rig to kill her, respectively). In both cases, it is the Wives that influence her actions during and afterward. It is the fact that Max, a feral dog after years in the wasteland with only his hallucinations for company, only bares his teeth (and nicks their ride, admittedly) even after Furiosa presses that shotgun against his head and pulls the trigger. He doesn’t harm the girls beyond what could easily be argued was necessary for his own survival, and so she sees the potential in trusting him to protect the Wives in the next scene. Between this she is ready to gut Nux but the Wives stop her. They call him a confused boy and his death as unnecessary. After this, it is the empathy of one of these wives that sees a scared, lonely and confused Nux (who knows he cannot possibly rejoin the society that was his whole identity, his whole existence) change sides and fight to protect the women who showed him compassion. In the end he does not desire to ride through Valhalla, shiny and chrome, he wants to be remembered by someone who genuinely cared about him.

As for Max, well, by the end of the movie he may not be sane but his experience with the Wives has reacquainted him with a sense of justice that he thought was dead at the beginning of the story. He sees Furiosa, who wants to do more than protect them, and grows from that. She wants to give the girls a chance to grow, live, make their own decisions, be more than just property, live up to their true potential. Is it Maternalism? Maybe. Probably. It certainly contrasts pretty sharply against the toxic paternalism and patriarchy of Immortan Joe and his hyper-masculine death cult. But isn’t that what all good parents want regardless of gender? For their children to live, thrive, and reach their own potential? To be happy? I bloody think so.

That’s what I think this movie is about. Two parents helping, learning from and supporting each other to give their adopted children a chance that they never had (or in Max’s case, was never able to give to his biological child… if we assume this is the Max from the original). A victory of Parentalism over Paternalism and Patriarchy. That is wonderful.

It also has a guy playing a flame-throwing guitar on the back of a giant doof wagon. That is also wonderful.

Go see Mad Max: Fury Road. It is wonderful.

Gladiator is not an appropriate metaphor for the welfare state

For the past couple of weeks my sister has been writing an essay about one of the most quotable blockbusters of the turn of the century, Gladiator. The assignment’s one of those standard “let’s make learning fun and cool… er… bro” that any high school history student knows and loves, where you ‘analyse’ primary and secondary sources and write what’s historically accurate and what’s not. Anyway, one of her friends sent a bunch of links to websites that may or may not have been useful in her search for the truth behind the fiction, and I went through them quickly to sort through what she could use and what she couldn’t. Amongst the links was this one here that gave me a good chuckle, then annoyed me.

Now, there’s a lot wrong with this article. The long and short of it is that when you say Gladiator, the author says an understated but truthful depiction of the ‘depravity and corruption’ that characterised the centralised welfare state and redistributive nature of ancient Rome and led to the empire’s inevitable downfall. I’m paraphrasing his arguments of course, and given the nature of his article it’s not a bad read. It’s conceptually flawed, of course, from the somewhat bizarre claims about historical Rome to the application of modern ideas to a society fifteen centuries before anyone had thought of them. Calling the Republic a representative democracy with free enterprise and a respect for life and property is ridiculous, as is claiming that the later Empire was a welfare state brought down by poor monetary policy and wealth redistribution.

Yeah, probably not what historians should focus on...
Yeah, probably not what historians should focus on…

Believe it or not this isn’t the point I want to make. The issue I have with an article written in 2001 about a movie from 2000 (I am somewhat behind the times) is this: what the bloody hell does a movie about a bloke with a talent for decapitation getting revenge on a bloke with unsettled daddy issues and funny feeling for his sister have to do with how fixing the price of wheat, currency devaluation and centralised bureaucracies brought down the Roman Empire? Oh, right, second paragraph says it depicts depravity and corruption. And what does this have to do with the price of grain in Gaul?

Now when it comes to the study of literature I am all for the  pulling of themes, morals, messages, ideas and subtext out of the figurative arse (you should hear me talk about underlying feminism of AC/DC sometime), but this is just lazy. The title of the article is Truth in ‘Gladiator’, but the movie doesn’t exist after the second paragraph. Instead of commenting on how Gladiator demonstrates the populist tactics of the emperors and leadership (“ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?”) or the insanity and depravity traditionally attributed to Roman Emperors as seen in the Freudian caricature of Commodus, the author gives us an Alexander Hamilton quote and Emperor Diocletian’s narcissism.

If you’re going to use piece of pop-culture to make a point, then use it. If I was going to write about how the movie Titanic is a Marxist depiction of the structural deficiencies inherent in pre-Depression capitalist society, I wouldn’t just say that “Early twentieth century capitalism was like the Titanic until it hit the iceberg of the Great Depression,” and then never mention the film again. I would use Jack and whatever the girl’s name is (let’s call her Linda) to lead into an argument about class warfare, the faith in the design of the ‘unsinkable ship’ to discuss the feeling of the growing middle class in the post-war boom, how the officers on the Titanic’s crew compare to the reckless drive of many early industrialists, bankers and stockbrokers that led to disaster… Huh, this isn’t bad. Someone should totally write about how Titanic is a Marxist depiction of the structural deficiencies inherent in pre-Depression capitalist society, if someone hasn’t already. I’m not going to, since I’d have to watch the damn film again, but someone else totally should.

Anyway, back on point. I said at the beginning of this post that my sister’s essay was one of those attempts to make learning fun and cool that the old folks who design the syllabus insist on trying. Articles like this are similar, attempting to seem topical in order to draw in a new audience for their old lessons. And it works for a time. You can bet that even in 2001 when the piece was posted there would have still been people searching the internet for information about ancient Rome, Marcus Aurelius and Gladiator. But it’s lazy click-baiting that, on the one hand robs what you’re writing of any credibility as pop-culture study or analysis (because it isn’t), and on the other hand robs you of any credibility on the topics you actually want to discuss because they’re not what was promised.

So an article from 2001 written about a movie from 2000, that the author probably doesn’t remember or care about, that I honestly had no reason to read or link to, or that I don’t particularly not like (as I said, for what it is it’s not bad) but disagree with nonetheless, has annoyed me. Because it invoked the name of Gladiator but did not use it beyond click bait, something I consider intellectually lazy.

Yeah, I know I need a life.

(In fairness here’s the URL for the article/post/blog/opinion piece again: http://mises.org/daily/639/Truth-in-Gladiator I didn’t ask the author’s or the host website’s (http://bastiat.mises.org) permission to link it or discuss it. I’ll also mention that while, as I said, this piece irritated me I’ll not pass further judgement on the rest of the site).