George Miller

Three Thousand Years of Longing

04/09/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

First, a little bit about George Miller. I’m a big fan.

He is, of course, the Antipodean director who gave the world the Mad Max movies – and who, after an interval of twenty-seven years, did the near impossible by returning to the franchise and delivering what is arguably the finest action movie of 2015 – Mad Max: Fury Road. But wait, there’s more! What about The Witches of Eastwick? Brilliant film! And what about Babe? And, er… okay, I haven’t seen Happy Feet but it was a massive hit with the kids.

I guess what I’m saying is that Miller is no one-trick pony. And if nothing else, Three Thousand Years of Longing is proof of that. Co-written by Miller and based on a short story by AS Byatt, this is a film about the enduring power of storytelling. It wears its literary credentials with pride – indeed, the film is divided up into ‘chapters’ – and the result is enchanting in the most literal sense of the word.

Alithea (Tilda Swinton) is a narratologist (it’s a real thing), who has devoted her life to the study of stories. At one point, she makes the brilliant observation that “all gods and monsters outlive their purpose and are reduced to the role of metaphor”. On a trip to Turkey, where she’s been booked to speak at a literary conference, she buys a souvenir at the old bazaar in Istanbul, an ancient glass bottle. Whilst attempting to clean it with an electric toothbrush, Alithea accidentally releases its occupant, The Djinn (Idris Elba), who has spent a lot of time locked up in a variety of similar vessels.

It isn’t long before he and Alithea are exchanging extracts from their respective life stories…

I love this film, which offers a magical, Arabian Nights-style odyssey through a series of exotic landscapes, peopled by a host of fascinating characters. It would be so easy to get this wrong, ‘othering’ the various magical creatures who stride through the ensuing adventures, but Miller never puts a foot wrong and there’s a delicious fluidity to John Seale’s epic cinematography and Margaret Sixel’s editing, which mean the unfolding stories are never allowed to stagnate. Elba gets to escape from lion-thumping duties (see Beast) to prove his acting chops, and Tilda Swinton is as delightfully enigmatic as ever.

“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” is a well known adage, but apparently you can, as The Djinn learns to his regret. Also, faithfulness is so often taken for granted by the people who receive it. One other thing: this may be the first movie I’ve seen where the COVID pandemic is visually referenced with crowds of people in an auditorium wearing face masks. This was a big event in world history and yet most film makers have chosen to ignore it. Why?

Three Thousand Years of Longing probably won’t put a huge amount of bums on seats (I suspect that it’s too thoughtful, too labyrinthine to be a big hitter), but it’s nevertheless a gorgeous, exciting slice of cinema that’s clearly the work of a director who, in his late seventies, is at the peak of his powers.

Next up, Furiosa! Can’t wait.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Mad Max: Fury Road – the Black & Chrome Edition

31/04/17

Fury Road was easily my favourite movie of 2015. George Miller’s long awaited addition to the Mad Max series surpassed all my expectations – so much so, that I found myself going back for a second helping only a few days after the initial viewing (something I hardly ever do). For my money, this is the consummate action movie, a brilliant piece of world building with a visceral kinetic edge that had me on the edge of my seat, from its opening moments.

And now this: a black and white re-release! What the actual hey? But don’t jump to conclusions. What could at first seem like a mere act of vanity on Miller’s part quickly fades away when you discover that this is how he always intended the film to be shown. But his backers evidently didn’t see the wisdom in limiting its projected audience and insisted that he stick with colour. Now, after the original film’s well-deserved success, Miller finally gets to have his cake and eat it. And boy, what a glorious, delicious confection it is!

A quick resumé of the plot. Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by a war party belonging to disfigured despot, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), and soon finds himself appropriated as a portable blood supply for young war-boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) decides to abscond with several of Joe’s captive wives, a furious chase ensues… which lasts for pretty much the entire film’s duration.

From the opening shot, it’s apparent that this is going to work – big time. The razor sharp monochrome landscapes lend the film a vintage epic feel, evoking memories of John Ford’s Western vistas, while the many close ups of faces in crowds put me in mind of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. Sequences that I really didn’t think would work at all in this format are actually lent an added dimension. And in black and white, you are even more aware of Miller’s incredible attention to detail, from the costuming of his characters to the welded-together interiors of Imortan Joe’s war jalopies.

If you enjoyed the original film (and if not, why not?) you’ll relish the opportunity to view it with a fresh set of eyes – and if you hated it, well, this isn’t going to change your opinion one jot. Will there be another film in the series? Given that Miller is now in his seventies, that might not be a likely prospect, but, if the sequence does stop here, I have to say, it’s a pretty formidable, adrenalin-fueled swan song.

To paraphrase Nux: “What a film! What a wonderful film!’

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Mad Max: Fury Road

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17/05/15

I have to declare from the start that this has been my most eagerly anticipated film of the year. I’ve been a devoted fan of the Mad Max franchise, from its humble B movie origins in 1979, through the awesome action tropes of The Road Warrior in 1981, and on to the inventive storytelling of Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. Through the intervening 35 years… can it really have been that long?… I, like many others have been keeping alive the hope that director George Miller would stop concentrating his talents on anodyne nonsense like Babe and Happy Feet and revisit his glorious, testosterone-fuelled past. And by jove, he’s finally done it – although this time out, he’s added a welcome dash of oestrogen too!

It’s a tough act to follow and a tough act for newbie Max, Tom Hardy, to step into Mel Gibson’s boots – so I’m delighted to report that this is a triumphant return to form and that Fury Road not only equals those earlier efforts but in many ways surpasses them. It’s a blitzkrieg of stunning vehicular chases, amazing stunt work and unforgettable dystopian visions, but it’s also backed up by a compelling central story. As ever in Miller-land, dialogue is kept to a minimum (Hardy doesn’t get to utter so much as a word for the first twenty minutes or so) but there’s so much going on up on the screen, you barely notice.

In a nightmarish, desert landscape, evil dictator Imortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) has founded an empire built on toil and the exploitation of the weak. (Max fans will remember Keays-Byrne as ‘Toecutter’ in the very first movie.) When one of Joe’s war parties brings in a bearded, half-conscious Max, the captive is summarily shaved, tattooed and branded, and is then assigned to ailing suicide-warrior, Nux (a barely recognisable Nicholas Hoult) as a living blood transfusion unit. However, when one of Joe’s most trusted lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) decides to abscond with Joe’s five young wives (or his breeding stock, as he so delicately refers to them) Nux is one of the team despatched to bring them back and Max duly finds himself strapped to the front of a truck and hurled headlong into a terrifying chase. We’re taken along for the ride.

And what an unforgettable ride it is! The film leaps effortlessly from one frantic chase to the next, as Miller’s welded-together juggernauts collide, accelerate, swerve and explode in jaw-dropping style. There’s barely a sign of CGI to be seen, everything’s done pretty much for real and it’s little wonder that the closing credits feature what looks like hundreds of stunt performers. But it’s more than just action. Miller’s futuristic world is fully thought-through and dazzlingly captured amidst the stunning Namibian landscapes (this is the first of the series not actually shot in Australia) and there’s so much here to delight and surprise the viewers. Key among them are the manic lead guitarist chained to the front of a truck and pumping out death metal and fire in equal amounts; Joe’s breast-milk pumping parlour, where pregnant women are er… pressed into service; and the tribe of aged motorbiking female warriors who turn up to prove that when it comes to a fight, they’re more than a match for the younger men.

I loved this to pieces. The Mad Max films, though, are cinematic Marmite. If you don’t like what Miller does, this is going to feel like putting your head in a tumble drier and pressing the on switch. If however you like action cinema at its most inventive, this one is for you. One thing. The film was actually shot in 2D and for the 3D version, the process has been retroactively applied, which never makes for a good transfer; but trust me. You won’t need 3D for this. It’s eye-popping enough without.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

03/06/15

Ahem! Time to eat a few slices of humble pie. After my suggestion that there was no need to see Mad Max; Fury Road in 3D as it hadn’t actually been shot that way, a couple of friends contacted me to say they’d seen it in 3D and it looked pretty damned good to them. So I broke the habit of a lifetime and went back to the cinema to check out their claims. I have to admit that my friends were absolutely spot on. Not only does this movie bear repeated viewing (it really is that good) it also looks eye-poppingly brilliant in 3D and effortlessly leaps into the ranks of my favourite films in that format – Gravity, Hugo, Avatar and er… Piranha 3D. In fact, if i see a better film this year than MMFR, I’ll be very surprised.