Friday, May 24, 2024

Film Reviews: “Furiosa’s” Revenge Is an Enjoyable, if Lukewarm Dish; “Challengers” Is an Entertaining Ménage à Trois; “The Garfield Movie” Is Undercooked Lasagna

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (c) Warner Bros. Pictures

Film: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga 
In Cinemas 

Although Anya Taylor-Joy is Furiosa (taking the mantle from Charlize Theron from Mad Max: Fury Road), she doesn’t inhabit the role until halfway through Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’s hefty two-and-a-half-hour runtime. For the first half, Furiosa is played by newcomer Alyla Browne in a more impressive turn since Taylor-Joy is a known quantity and in fact is intensely unshakeable in her section. The young Browne uncovers the heart (and ultimately the rage) of Furiosa’s origin story. Reminding me of a young Millie Bobbie Brown, this Browne holds her own as she is tossed out of Eden (one of many religious symbolism) and into the desert wastelands of a lawless, future Australia being run by many violent factions, including a gang led by the silly “unobtanium”ly named Dementus (Chris Hemsworth). Hemsworth chews up the scenery for the majority of screentime, even though he is first seen as calm, messiah-like figure. I was not a huge fan of Mad Max: Fury Road, although I admired the technical aspects like its gorgeous cinematography and post-apocalyptic costumes with the story feeling almost secondary to the action. Does it matter who’s fighting whom when huge trucks and flaming guitars are barreling down the desert? For Furiosa, there’s more backstory which I appreciated because after a while, the action set pieces, and there are many, sort of blend together in their sameness. Director George Miller and cinematographer Simon Duggan know how to bring vitality to a chase scene, including the use of parachutes in one and a red gas explosion that tints everything in another, but with five chapters to get through, I felt less hype and more exhaustion when another car chase started up again. My audience was mostly silent when cheering seemed to be the goal. Where the film does work is in the much-needed human kindness interaction between Furiosa and her mentor Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), whose resemblance to Mel Gibson’s version of Mad Max is certainly not a coincidence. Even with these reservations, this is still a fun rollercoaster ride for the start of summer movie season. It just doesn’t have the unexpected boldness of Fury Road or, to be blunt, the campiness of a Tina Turner. 

Challengers (c) Amazon MGM

Film: Challengers 
In Cinemas 

One film I knew I had to catch up on (after an avalanche of Broadway opening) was Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers, one of the best reviewed movies this year, but I wasn’t sold on it from the trailer and was disappointed by Guadagnino’s recent, gimmicky, genre films: Susperia (teen witches) and Bones and All (teen cannibals). I was happily wrong. This is the visually sumptuous and swoony Guadagnino of his early films like Call Me By Your Name and my favorite of his films, I Am Love. With an unhinged and infectious score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and whirligig cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, this is the most viscerally overwhelming film about, essentially, a love triangle. Art (Mike Faist) and Patrick (Josh O’Connor) are young tennis players and best friends who win the junior doubles match at the US Open when they meet Tashi (Zendaya) a rising star, and both decide to pursue her. The film, however, starts thirteen years after their first meeting with a match between Art and Patrick and Tashi is watching from the stands. What happened during these intervening years makes up the action of the film through inventive flashbacks, and like tennis, advantages and faults can change the trajectory of this love triangle. It’s not a spoiler to say there is a gay element in the film and Faist, who played Jack Twist in the London stage production of Brokeback Mountain, and O’Connor, who played a closeted farmer in God’s Own Country), make this aspect of their character’s relationship both casual and underlyingly important. Their chemistry together is heightened by Guadagnino’s use of imagery (the sexiest churro ever in film) and body language. But it’s Zendaya who commands your attention in this film. As both the object of the boys’ affection and the goal of their unwritten challenge, Zendaya is confidently sexy and complex. Why is this famous player so fascinated by these two friends, leading to a soon-to-be-famous line, perfectly executed by Zendaya – “I’m taking such good care of my little, white boys.” Except for that line, the script by Justin Kuritzkes is a bit ordinary, which is why I appreciated all the bells and whistles from Guadagnino and his collaborators (including Marco Costa’s frenetic editing) as they throw everything but the kitchen sink onto the screen, making Challengers one of the wildest and sweatiest rides in the movies this year. 

Garfield (c) Sony Pictures

Film: The Garfield Movie 
In Cinemas 

One of my favorite Garfield related media is the fan created "Garfield Without Garfield,” which takes the newspaper three-panel comic strip and takes out Garfield the cat when he is interacting with his owner Jon, creating a surreal, existential take on Jon’s sanity. One game anyone above the age of ten can play while watching the latest, almost sleep-inducing all-animated film about the fat, lasagna-loving, Monday-hating cat, is to perform the same erasure with any scene that Garfield is in (ie 95% of the film) and you will realize, that in terms of plot, Garfield is almost unnecessary. In The Garfield Movie, the story doesn’t revolve around the title cat (voiced by Chris Pratt as dull as his Mario in The Super Mario Bros Movie) but his father, Vic (Samuel L. Jackson), and his task to right the wrong he did to another cat, Jinx (Hannah Waddingham), who spent many years in a pound for Vic’s mistake. Why Garfield and his loyal servant, Odie the Dog (pets sound provided by Harvey Guillén), are brought into this scheme is poorly explained, but there they are, out of the familiar house of Jon (Nicholas Hoult) and into the factory of Lactose Farms to steal a ridiculous amount of milk (don’t ask). Nothing during the heist is engaging or unique (even with a Top Gun needle drop) except for an all-too-short appearance by the no-nonsense Lactose Farm security guard Marge (Cecily Strong, hilariously channeling Amy Sedaris). In fact, the only fresh sequence in the entire film is the first meeting of Jon and Garfield at an Italian restaurant, which was essentially spoiled by being shown in almost its entirety in the trailer. I am not, however, waxing sentimental for Bill Murray’s lackadaisical Garfield movies of the early aughts, although Breckin Meyer’s charming Jon is sorely missed as Jon is more or less a cameo here. Thankfully, the end credits didn’t include a blooper reel or the cast singing a random song (Stray Cat Strut would have been painful), but it does take a joke from the movie that Garfield likes to stream videos on Catflicks and takes it to the logical, if pandering conclusion. Kids will still love the film’s silliness; the rest of us can take a 90-minute catnap.

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