Mad Max: Fury Road – Film Review

11110866_658246694280855_1682386295316885693_oIt’s rare that I see a film these days that reminds me of what it was like to watch films when I was younger, before I began to overanalyse everything – to look for the joins that hold the movie together, if you will.

I remember watching action movies, and being awed by the spectacle – being lost in it, without reservation. It was only after the film was done that you could look back on it, and begin to wonder.

The best films are not films at all – they’re stories that live on in your heart and mind, for years. You see them, absorb them, and they become a part of you.

That is what Mad Max: Fury Road is like.

I know that I’ll watch and re-watch it again and again; and no matter how many times I see it, it’ll still fill me with a visceral thrill and a sense of wonder at the depth that George Miller has managed to incorporate into his imagined, post-apocalyptic world.

For those who don’t know, Max Rockatansky is a character who has been with us since 1979, when George Miller and Byron Kennedy, an Australian director and producer pair, dreamt him up. He’s a former police officer who bears witness to the collapse of civilisation (the cause of which is never fully specified) and loses everything in the process, becoming a wanderer and “Road Warrior”, scavenging to survive and fighting to hold onto the last shred of his humanity and the world sinks further and further into chaos, anarchy and depravity.

The first film, Mad Max, was followed by Mad Max 2 (called The Road Warrior in some markets) in 1981 and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985.

Now, Max is back, 30 years later and no less iconic. Although Mel Gibson has been replaced by Tom Hardy in the role, he handles it admirably. So does George Miller for that matter, who makes sure to frame the story of Fury Road as a mythic narrative. In this way, it is neither a true sequel nor a reboot – it’s just another story that stands alongside and apart from the others.

The plot is surprisingly strong considering that the majority of the film’s 120 minute running time is taken up by chase and action sequences, so that there is hardly a moment for the audience to draw breath and process the chaotic mayhem that dominates the screen.

It starts with Max being captured by the War Boys of Immorten Joe, a brutal dictator who uses water and the quasi-religious fervour of his followers to dominate the Wasteland.

Hardier than many of the others who have grown up in the irradiated, plague-ridden desert of the future, Max is initially used as a “blood bag” – a forced donor – to preserve the life of Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a young driver in Joe’s army who is on his last legs.

At the same time, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is planning an escape from Joe’s world, across the desert to a dimly-remembered “green place” where she was born and stolen from as a child. With her, in the “War Rig” she drives, are five stowaways – Immorten Joe’s young wives, forced to nothing more than baby factories to help him produce healthy heirs.

None-to-pleased about losing his prized “breeders”, Joe sets off in pursuit of Furiosa, and with him are Nux and Max.

And that’s where things get really interesting.

635560680919636292-MAD-MAX-FURY-ROAD-MOV-jy-1019-There has already been (and will continue to be, I’m sure) a lot said about Fury Road’s message, themes and tone. Sexual politics play a part, to be sure. But for me, it’s as much a story about the concepts of survival, hope and redemption.

As he has done before, Miller proves himself a master at pacing and tone, while the cinematography, stunts and practical effects combine to draw the audience into a world that is at once both terrifying and compelling.

Hardy and Theron inhabit their characters so fully it’s impossible to tell where the acting ends and the living begins, while the others (especially those portraying the more outlandish denizens of the Wasteland) do equally as well.

All in all, Mad Max: Fury Road is the rarest kind of film there is – one that works on many levels, not just as an action film, but also as a philosophical musing on life and a commentary on the failures of humanity.

Watch it, and be changed forever.

Verdict: 5 stars (out of 5).

Posted in Films | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mad Max: Fury Road – Posterific

mad_max_fury_road_ver13_xlg

Old-school movie poster for the new-school Mad Max.

I’m officially psyched.

Posted in Films | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem

1270656Just recently I had the opportunity to read Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem, a book I’ve heard much about but never managed to find a copy of.

Until now.

It was well worth the search, and the price.

Published in 1970, Eagle in the Snow tells the story of Paulinus Gaius Maximus and his command of the XXth legion in defence of the Rhine frontier at the beginning of the 5th-century AD, a period of fragmentation and decline for the Western Roman Empire. “The Fall” is still some seventy years away, but the seeds of the empire’s destruction were planted long ago.

Now those seeds have grown, and are beginning to bear a terrible fruit. For Maximus, this means he must witness the destruction of everything he holds dear. Accompanied by his friend and cavalry commander Quintus, he sets out from his home in Britain to aid the Magister Militum of the West, Stilicho, in stemming the tide of barbarian invaders that threaten to overwhelm the empire. With a single legion of six-thousand men, he is tasked with defending a frontier – and by consequence, the entire province of Gaul – that once took eighty-thousand men to pacify.

Outnumbered, but not outclassed, Maximus pursues every avenue, and uses every trick he knows, to stop the likes of the Vandals, the Quadi, the Suebi and other migrating barbarian tribes from sweeping through the Roman world like a storm.

But even he cannot contend with nature.

I won’t ruin it for you by telling you what happens next, but suffice to say the ultimate confrontation occurs in the winter of 406AD; and if you’re familiar with late Roman history, that date should be significant to you.

What’s really interesting about Eagle in the Snow – other that than the story of a heroic defence against impossible odds, played-out against the backdrop of the crumbling Roman Empire – is the way Breem manages to balance the macro and micro-elements of the story. Individuals like Maximus and his cousin Julian, Quintus and the other officers, soldiers and allies of the Twentieth legion are never lost or forgotten amidst the apocalyptic chaos of war. And because of that, I enjoyed the battle-scenes all the more.

I also enjoyed the private battles that punctuated the action: between belief in the Christian God and the old pagan ways of Maximus and his devotees of Mithras; between personal loyalty and duty; and between realism, and idealism.

Eagle in the Snow is a treat for historical-fiction fans. Some will cry-foul over its inaccuracies, and there are some (though not quite as many as I had first thought there would be, considering some of the reviews I had read), including but not limited to the fact that many characters of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds can understand each other with little difficulty; and the suggestion that anything even approximating an old “Imperial” legion could exist in the 5th-century AD. But these are minor faults when viewed against the book’s monumental triumphs – putting us, the readers, into the shoes (or caligulae, as the case may be) of a Roman general, and making us care about his beliefs, his struggles, his hopes and dreams. And allowing us to share his love for a thing – an intangible thing – called civilisation; called Rome.

You will feel it, if you read it.

Verdict: 5 stars (out of 5), and one of my new favourite books of all time (that’s no joke).

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hiatus

For a long time now I’ve been considering taking a break from this blog and starting a new, different project.

Although writing here does not take up a huge amount of my time, my personality requires that I continue to contribute regardless of whether I have much to say.

This compunction, I feel, is contrary to the ideal of writing. Writing for writing’s sake, while potentially fun and informative, is not always desirable.

That’s why I’ve decided to take a break and consider where I want to go from here.

I hope my meagre contributions have been enjoyable, at the very least. And there may come a day when I’ll return and continue where I left off. I may even migrate some of the content I have published here to another site, if things work out the way I hope they will.

If that happens, I’ll endeavour to let you know.

In the meantime, I just want to thank all those who have viewed, visited or commented on my blog since I began writing it in April, 2013. Your encouragement, voiced or not, has been much appreciated.

Thank you.

Posted in Personal, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Quote of the Day

“Courage may be taught as a child is taught to speak.”

Euripides.

Posted in Quote of the Day | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quote of the Day

“Quick decisions are unsafe decisions.”

Sophocles.

Posted in Quote of the Day | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quote of the Day

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Posted in Quote of the Day | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Battle of Bunker Hill

Historical content on this blog has been scarce lately.

Sorry.

It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love with history, it’s just that I’ve been waiting for inspiration to strike.

And strike it did.

My recent trip to the United States provided me with some excellent opportunities to explore sites and learn about history that I was not previously familiar with – not in any real sense, anyway.

There is something to be said for standing in a historically significant location and imagining the events of centuries past. Previously, Old World locations like Rome, Athens, Pergamon and Volubilis were the settings for such bouts of introspection.

The Bunker Hill Monument (at Breed's Hill). (c) Ethan Reilly, 2014.

The Bunker Hill Monument (at Breed’s Hill). (c) Ethan Reilly, 2014.

This time though, it was Boston.

The capital of Massachusetts proved to be one of my favourite cities, and a large part of that was thanks to the wealth of history on show.

On one of the days that we were there, my girlfriend and I took a Freedom Trail walking tour that covered many locations significant to the American Revolution, including the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, and at the very end, the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Fought in 1775AD during the earliest stages of the American Revolution, the battle was just one engagement in the almost year-long Siege of Boston, when the Colonial forces sought to force the withdrawal of the British garrison from the (then) peninsula town.

The actual battle took place across the narrow waters separating Boston from Charlestown though, and, in one of those surprisingly common historical misconceptions, had little to do with Bunker Hill in the end, since the majority of the action took place on the adjacent Breed’s Hill.

"Array of American Forces on the Field at the Battle of Breeds Hill" (c) Charles E. Frye. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

“Array of American Forces on the Field at the Battle of Breeds Hill” (c) Charles E. Frye. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

Things got under way on June 13, when the Colonials surrounding Boston learnt that the British were planning to occupy the heights above Charlestown, thus giving them effective control of Boston Harbour and further nullifying their attempts at sieging the British out.

Determined that the no-man’s land on the Charlestown peninsula should be under their control instead, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress despatched General Israel Putnam, Colonel William Prescott and Engineer-Captain Richard Gridley, with approximately 1200 men, to capture and fortify Bunker Hill, the highest point on the peninsula. Once there though, the Colonials disagreed over whether they should obey their orders to the letter or instead fortify the heights of Breed’s Hill, which was closer to Boston and more easily defensible.

In the end, they chose (if the confusion and anarchy that the Colonial forces exhibited thereafter can be called a ‘choice’) Breed’s Hill, and began digging trenches and building fortifications.

When the British learned of what was happening, they responded (albeit somewhat sluggishly). Artillery began to bombard the Colonial positions and later, after the Revolutionaries had had over six hours to prepare their fortifications, a force of 1500 men under General William Howe travelled across in longboats and landed on the peninsula at Moulton’s Point.

Statue of Colonel William Prescott at the Bunker Hill Monument. (c) Ethan Reilly, 2014.

Statue of Colonel William Prescott at the Bunker Hill Monument. (c) Ethan Reilly, 2014.

The planned assault of the hill was further delayed when Howe decided to call for reinforcements. This meant that Prescott was also able to call for additional troops, amongst whom were popular patriots Joseph Warren and Seth Pomeray.

By the time the assault was ready to get under way at 3PM on June 17, approximately 1500 Colonials occupied the heights of Breed’s Hill (with some holding back at Bunker Hill itself), with more than 2400 British infantry advancing up the slope to meet them.

The first assault was repulsed with heavy losses. The second assault fared no better, as the Colonials, despite not having the advantage in training and discipline, used volley fire and the cover they had constructed to best effect.

It was during one of these two assaults that someone – no-one knows who for certain – on the Colonial side is said to have uttered the immortal line, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” Less a bravado-filled rallying call, and more an appeal to conserve ammunition until it could be used most effectively, this saying has become synonymous with the battle, although it echoes many earlier sentiments in military history.

"Battle of Bunker Hill" by Howard Pyle. This work is in the public domain.

“Battle of Bunker Hill” by Howard Pyle (1853 – 1911). This work is in the public domain.

With mounting casualties, the British called for another contingent of reinforcements before attempting the assault for the third time.

This time they were successful, overrunning the Colonial positions, thanks no doubt in part to the fact that the defenders were almost entirely out of ammunition at this point.

With unit cohesion quickly breaking down, Colonel Prescott led the Colonials in a fighting withdrawal. It was at this stage that Joseph Warren was killed.

"The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775" by John Trumbull (1756 - 1843). This work is in the public domain.

“The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775″ by John Trumbull (1756 – 1843). This work is in the public domain.

The Colonial troops abandoned Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill too, and withdrew across the Charlestown Neck, effectively ceding the peninsula to the British.

It was a costly victory for His Majesty’s troops though. While the Colonials lost some 115 men, with another 300 wounded, the British lost 207 “Regulars” and 19 experienced officers, with another 800 or so wounded.

It was a Pyrrhic victory at best.

View towards the Charles River and Boston from the base of Breed's Hill. (c) Ethan Reiily, 2014.

View towards the Charles River and Boston from the base of Breed’s Hill. (c) Ethan Reiily, 2014.

There were also political consequences; the outcome served to strengthen resolve for armed conflict on both sides of the Atlantic, while the unexpected resilience of the Colonial forces gave hope to many – including the newly appointed Commander of the Continental Army, George Washington – that the Revolutionaries could eventually prevail.

Visiting the site in person, now a quiet residential neighbourhood, it is still easy to see why it was chosen by the Colonial forces. Although the geography of Boston has changed dramatically in the years since that fateful day in 1775, the heights of Breed’s Hill still command a strong position overlooking the waters of the Charles River and the city itself.

A fine place then, to make a stand.

Posted in History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Film Review

wpid-the_hobbit_-_the_battle_of_the_five_armies.jpeg I actually saw this during some down-time while I was in Boston recently. It was in 3D, which, while still impressive, I find to be at best, superfluous, and at worst, distracting.

Unfortunately, this last (we think) outing from Peter Jackson in Middle Earth is a bit of a distraction from beginning to end. And not a good one, in my opinion.

I love The Lord of the Rings – both books and the film adaptions. And I didn’t mind the first two cinematic outings featuring Bilbo and his dwarven companions (‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ and ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’). They were overblown, for sure, but still hugely enjoyable, with much of the joy and love of the source material translating to the screen and replicating the magic of the first trilogy.

This last film I fear however, may have been one film too far.

Starting with Smaug attacking the (near) helpless residents of Laketown, and ending with the titular battle, much of the running time seems like one continuous action sequence. And that, despite how cool it probably sounded on paper, is not enough to sustain a movie (at least, not for me).

At times it almost seems as if Peter Jackson and co. were going to go ahead with their original plan for two films, not three. But somewhere along the line, either:

a) They decided that they could make more money out of a trilogy and that the film-going public would eagerly pay to see said trilogy, even if they had to needlessly drag things out to make it happen (which is true – I parted with my hard-earned cash easy enough!).

Or:

b) They let things get away from them during filming and shot much more “spectacular” footage than they thought they would, necessitating a lengthier overall run-time and hence a third film.

I’d like to believe it’s ‘b’ – it’s hard to blame Peter Jackson for his exuberance, even if his enthusiasm may have begun to fail at the end.

And if it is ‘a’, I can only imagine it was some stereotypically greedy film company executives who insisted on such a diabolical scheme – I’d hate to think Peter Jackson would betray his fans in that way.

Whatever the reason though, the truth is that even though it was an enjoyable way to spend a few hours, ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ falls short where it should soar. And it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth to depart Middle-Earth in such a way.

Verdict: 3 stars (out of 5)

Posted in Films | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quote of the Day

“What we now want is closer contact and better understanding between individuals and communities all over the earth, and the elimination of egoism and pride which is always prone to plunge the world into primeval barbarism and strife… Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment…”

Nikolai Tesla

Posted in Quote of the Day | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment