Movie reviews: Mad Max: Fury Road , Pitch Perfect 2, Clouds of Sils Maria

TOM Hardy stars as Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road (15A), the fourth outing for the ‘road warrior’ struggling to survive in the bleak wastelands of a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Captured by the ‘war boys’ of Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) Citadel, Max faces an agonising death, until he encounters Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the veteran driver of a ‘war rig’, a heavily-armed ‘guzzoline’ transporter. 

When Furiosa makes a break for freedom from the Citadel, driving off into the trackless desert with other women, Max becomes an unwilling accomplice in her escape, with Immortan Joe in hot pursuit at the head of a small army of homicidal freaks. 

George Miller first unleashed Mad Max (played by Mel Gibson) on an unsuspecting world in 1979, following it up with Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), and he has rebooted the iconic series in spectacular fashion here.

The action is fast and furious, as the story hurtles from one action set-piece to another, the relentless pace sustained by the conceit that most of the movie takes place in, and around, vehicles bristling with weapons and explosives, and thundering along at maximum speed.

Don’t be fooled by the title, though: while Tom Hardy makes for a suitably brooding Max (and Nicholas Hoult is in terrific form as a ‘war boy’), it’s Furiosa’s story, with the steely-eyed Charlize Theron utterly compelling as the one-armed Amazon determined to blast Immortan Joe’s patriarchal world to smithereens.

Pitch Perfect (2012) was a surprise box-office smash, given its unlikely band of heroines, the acapella singing group, the Barden Bellas.

Pitch Perfect 2 (12A) opens with the Bellas at the peak of their powers: as Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), et al, have become so popular that they are chosen to perform for US president, Barack Obama — a wonderful privilege, until Fat Amy spectacularly redefines the notion of ‘exposure’.

Disgraced and humiliated, the Bellas are suspended from all competition, with only one hope of redemption: if they can win the World Championships, in Copenhagen. 

Elizabeth Banks — who again features as TV commentator, Gail, alongside the hilariously non-PC John (John Michael Higgins) — here directs her first feature-length movie, and repeats the Pitch Perfect formula, weaving entertaining acapella numbers into the lives of the delightfully quirky characters.

Kendrick is terrific in the central role, as she tries to move on from the Bellas and develop a career of her own, and Hailee Stainfeld shines as the new Bella, Emily, who wants to introduce original material to the standard cover versions. 

There is déjà vu in the way the characters repeat their foibles and idiosyncrasies from the original movie, but Rebel Wilson is worth the price of admission as she cuts loose with irreverent broadsides.

Juliette Binoche stars in Clouds of Sils Maria (15A), as Maria Enders, an actress who made her reputation decades ago playing Sigrid, a young woman who drives an older woman, Helena, to suicide. Now, Maria has been commissioned to star in a movie adaptation of the play, albeit this time playing the older woman.

Sequestered with her assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart), in Sils Maria, a remote part of the Alps, Maria — grieving for her recently deceased playwright friend — looks back over her life and achievements and grows increasingly neurotic about her waning talent, all within the context of the play she rehearses with Valentine.

Written and directed by Oliver Assayas, Clouds of Sils Maria is an intriguing exploration of our life’s narrative and how we choose to interpret it for ourselves.

Juliette Binoche is sublimely restrained as the aging, cynical and bitter actress, a woman struggling to accommodate a debilitating grief (for her dead friend, but also for herself), while still trying to maintain a semblance of the ambition without which life is pointless.

Kristen Stewart, however, outshines even Binoche in a superb turn that confirms her depth as an actress. With Maria and Valentine’s emotionally intense, claustrophobic relationship playing out against the stunning backdrop of the Alps — their majesty beautifully framed by cinematographer, Yorick Le Saux — the film is a superb meditation on aging and mortality, but with a neat art-imitates-reality twist.


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