STORY WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For Digital First Media
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
Once upon a time, there was this obscure actor by the name of Mel Gibson. Then came “Mad Max,” a 1979 post-apocalyptic action flick set in Australia. In it, Gibson played the titular protagonist, Mad Max Rockatansky. The film became a worldwide blockbuster. Its success catapulted Gibson into superstardom. He played the iconic, leather-clad character in two sequels, 1981’s “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” and 1985’s “Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome.” Gibson seemingly owned the role in perpetuity.
Gibson went on to win an Academy Award for directing “Braveheart.” In it, he also starred as the 13th century Scottish warrior, William Wallace. He subsequently helmed the oft-maligned, albeit nevertheless brilliant, “The Passion of the Christ.” Gibson then followed up by directing “Apocalypto,” another stunningly crafted tour de force, set in the pre-Columbian Mayan kingdom.
By 2003, the fourth film in the “Mad Max” series was green lit with a budget of $100 million. Alas, it entered development hell. An unprecedented rainfall had transformed the once barren Australian desert into a lush landscape, full of foliage. It no longer could be used as the desolate setting for the film. Location scouts came up with a virtually unpopulated, desert section of Namibia to serve as a plausible replacement for Australian outback. However, in the aftermath of 9/11, security concerns deterred the mounting of a big budget film in a remote, third world country.
After a hiatus of nearly three decades from the last film in the series, the new chapter was finally ready to shoot. In addition to his other woes, with all the delays, Gibson simply aged out of the role. George Miller, the series’ visionary co-producer, co-writer, and director, deemed Gibson too old to reprise the role.
As a consequence, we now have Tom Hardy in the lead role. Those, who savored his compelling performances in films, such as “Bronson,” Locke,” and “The Drop,” are excited by the new casting. In support of Hardy, we have the likes of Charlize Theron, in the role of Imperator Furiosa.
Trailers promise a film that will be chocked full of action. In a studied contrast to the current trend in motion pictures, Miller has vowed to use a minimum of C.G.I. and instead rely upon practical effects.
Look for a bravura resurrection of a once proud franchise!
R (for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images) 120 minutes. Warner Brothers
“Pitch Perfect 2”
In his non-fiction book, “Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory,” Mickey Rapkin provided a sobering, behind the scenes perspective on the highly competitive world of amateur singing competitions. In her first screenplay, Second City alum, Kay Cannon provided a very loose adaptation of the tome. It was transformed into a jocular fictionalized cinematic vehicle.
In the film version, Beca (Anna Kendrick), was a freshman at Barden University. Succumbing to peer pressure, she was cajoled into joining The Bellas, her school’s all-girls singing group.
In the screenplay for the sequel, also penned by Cannon, the one-time neophyte, Beca has risen through the ranks. Now, she has become music director of the Bellas. Although Kendrick is the putative protagonist of the film, look for plenty of screen time for Rebel Wilson as the wise-cracking Aussie, Fat Amy.
Indeed, an opening scene features a faux pas by Fat Amy. The group does a command performance at Lincoln Center, with President Obama in the audience. Fat Amy has a wardrobe malfunction and her pudendum is exposed. The unfortunate incident is disparagingly labeled “Muffgate” by wags. The video goes viral on the internet. As a result of the unwelcome publicity, the Bellas fall into disfavor.
Das Sound Machine, a co-ed German group titivated in fetish apparel, fills the void. They provide heavily accented renditions of such ‘90s era tunes as, “Insane in the Membrane” and “This Is How We Do It.”
The sequel introduces a new character, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld from the Coen Brothers’ remake of “True Grit”). She is a second generation Bella, whose relationship with an overzealous mother (Katy Sagal from “Married With Children”) forms a new narrative thread. Emily tries to prod the group into augmenting their somewhat tired collection of covers with some of her original compositions.
The film marks the directorial debut by actress Elizabeth Banks. To enliven the proceedings, you can expect to see cameos from rapper, Snoop Dog, and members of the Green Bay Packers.
PG-13 for innuendo and language) 115 minutes. Universal Pictures
Written and directed by Estonian filmmaker, Zaza Urushadze, “Tangerines” is set in a remote village, nestled in the Caucasus Mountains. With the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., the 1992 War in Abkhazia breaks out. The government of the former republic of Georgia is laying claim to the area. However, local Abkhazian ethnics are fighting for autonomy.
A number of Estonian immigrants have set up farms in the area, where they cultivate tangerines. However, with the outbreak of war, most of them abandon their farms and return to their ancestral homeland.
Two stubborn Estonian farmers, Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) and his friend, Margus (Elmo Nüganen) defiantly remain behind. Despite the warfare being waged around them, they are intent on remaining until they can harvest the season’s crop of citrus.
An intense firefight ensues between two rival bands of soldiers. The only survivors of the confrontation are Niko (Mikheil Meskhi), a Georgian, and Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze), a Chechen mercenary fighting in support of the Abkhazian separatists. The Estonian farmers discover the bodies of the two wounded men and carry them back to Ivo’s farmhouse. The elderly man is intent upon nursing them back to health.
Consumed with an appetite for revenge, the two recovering soldiers foreswear revenge on one another. Ivo extracts a reluctant promise from each man that they will spill no blood under his roof. Despite the temporary truce, the interpersonal tension between the rival warriors remains acute.
Lembit Ulfsak is virtually unknown to American audiences. However, in his native Estonia, he is acclaimed as one of the county’s leading actors. Fueled by his performance, “Tangerines” was nominated for the 87th Academy Awards and 72nd Golden Globes as Best Foreign Language Film.
No MPAA rating. 89 minutes. Samuel Goldwyn Films. In Estonian with English subtitles.
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at email@example.com.