07 June 2015

Cindy and Maynard take it to the Max: The "MAD MAX" Quadrilogy reviewed

Haven't done a proper collabo in quite some time, so I invited my old buddy Cindy Prascik (writes reviews on FB) to participate in a massive "Mad Max"-quadrilogy review which resulted in a somewhat unconventional and unexpectedly contrary write-up by two film geeks who both have certain troubles with certain films of this odd franchise. Enjoy!

(Everything Orange/Yellow written by Cindy, everything Red/Light Red written by moi.)



Dearest Blog: Given Hollywood's seemingly-endless succession of prequels and sequels, remakes and reboots, it came as a surprise to exactly no one to hear a new "Mad Max" movie was in the pipeline, three decades removed from the last one. Not having seen the original trilogy since it was in cinemas all those years ago, a refresher was in order anyway, but when my pal Maynard asked me to contribute to his Mad Max blog... how could I resist? Without further ado...

The firstborn: "Mad Max".













In which our hero pays the price for taking on a brutal motorcycle gang.

Well, there's no manual for parenting, is there, dear reader(s)? You do the best you can, but you've probably screwed up every which way from Sunday by the time that kid hits preschool, and you think he's pretty perfect anyway. That's "Mad Max", an unmitigated disaster that has miraculously achieved cult-classic status. It's a film-school project... from someone who flunked out of film school. You'll find better acting in those telenovelas constantly presenting themselves for ridicule on "The Soup". The movie is graphically violent, but lingering shots of people overacting, cut with a comically melodramatic score, turn it laugh-out-loud funny, and the Big Bads are less menacing than that gang on roller skates from "The Warriors".

"Mad Max" runs 88 minutes and is rated R for "violence, brief language, and some sexuality." If you're into watching Mel Gibson grunt for an hour and a half, then, by all means, check it out; otherwise, take a pass. Of a possible 9 Weasleys, "Mad Max" gets 1.


 










(How I felt 30 minutes into Mad Max.)




MAD MAX

Australia, 1979
Director: George Miller

8,5/10











Well, Cindy... I have to disagree with you. I love it! "Mad Max", the debut feature of ex-medical-doctor(!) George Miller, is not just THE cornerstone for all post-apocalyptic films to come, it is also THE film which further opened up the global market to Australian cinema a.k.a "Australian New Wave" or "Ozploitation" - AND it was also THE film which laid the foundation for Mel Gibson's international stardom, delivering a terrific performance as "Mad" Max Rockatansky, a Main Force Patrol officer who tries to maintain some kind of law & order on the roads of a dystopian Australia, until a gang of bonkers and criminally insane bikers kills his wife and son, which turns Max into a vengeful one-man-army.


I'm surprised about the hate it gets from Cindy, as well as from many other people who claim it didn't stand the test of time. Made on a budget of only A$400.000, Miller and his crew created a terrific action romp, full of fantastically developed car chase scenes, staggering stunts and memorable characters. Of course, the low budget is obvious, the story isn't exactly original and the whole thing is definitely far from being perfect. However, "Mad Max" is so solidly directed, so splendidly paced, it's hard to believe that this was actually Miller's very first feature. The movie possesses a raw, rough and powerful energy, combined with an unexpectedly high amount of subtlety, with a bleak atmosphere that reminds me a bit of Aussie-classic "Long Weekend", with great deals of intense suspense, with believable love, emotional drama, badass revenge and lots of fun.

Brian May (no, not the curly weirdo from Queen) delivers a bombastic and barnstorming violins/trumpets-score with lots of nods to the works of Bernard Herrmann. The editing is simply amazing, the cinematography is simply ace (David Eggby perfectly captures the bleak-looking Australian wildlife), and the scenes where Max is visiting his dying fellow in hospital, where Max' wife and son get killed, where the biker gang destroys the young couple's car, as well as the opening car chase and the final revenge sequence (incl. a somewhat "Saw"-like kill)... awesome, just awesome! Also, great performances by Hugh Keays-Byrne (simply bonkers), Steve Bisley (hilarious) & Geoff Parry (even more hilarious).


I conclude this review with the words of The Cinema Snob:
"The one that I've (...) seen the most is probably the first one. (...) I love the first two, but there is something about the whole slow-burn of the first one. (...) I love everything about the first one. It's a kinda near-futuristic "Death Wish". (...) It's got that big set-up at the beginning, but once... in one scene, he loses his family (...) probably at the 50-minute-point of the movie, (then) it just turns into this rock-hard driving-revenge-movie (...)
That movie so pays off for me."
That's all there is to it.




The middle child: "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior".













In which our hero helps a (reasonably) peaceful colony escape those who would harm them to get to their riches.

So... by the time that second kid comes along, you've realized that children are pretty much indestructible. They eat dirt and fall down stairs and beat each other with Transformers action figures and keep right on truckin'. As a parent, that's your cue to grab a cold one and check out the game while they do whatever they please. Ladies and gentlemen: "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior". Okay, who let this one out unsupervised? Not ten minutes in, you're wondering if you've accidentally happened upon BDSM club... or a GWAR show... or some unholy combination of the two. Nice assless chaps, bro. "The Road Warrior" is no less chaotic than its predecessor, but thankfully it's ever-so-slightly more engaging. The ridiculous baddies remain not-at-all-threatening; however, a feral child who laughs manically at horrible goings-on is legitimately disturbing. Like the original, the movie doesn't so much end as it just seems to get bored and stop. Wish I'd done likewise at least 80 minutes sooner.

"Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" clocks in at 94 minutes and is rated R for "violent images and brief nudity." It's a marginal improvement over the first one, but on my death bed I'll probably still wish I had my 90 minutes back. Of a possible 9 Weasleys, "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" gets 2.














(Have I heard of A Flock of Seagulls? No, why do you ask?)




MAD MAX 2

Alternate Titles:
The Road Warrior / Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

German Titles:
Mad Max II - Der Vollstrecker / Mad Max - Der Vollstrecker

Australia, 1981
Director: George Miller

7/10



Well, Cindy... I have to disagree with you again. I highly enjoyed it! "Mad Max 2" (in North America retitled "The Road Warrior" because its predecessor had only been released there on a limited basis and wasn't exactly popular yet), undoubtedly the most popular and highest praised entry in that wacko franchise, taking place 5 years after the first film, following Max into the hindmost wastelands where he discovers an oil refinery, protected and occupied by a group of denizens. When suddenly a gang of marauders tries to take over the refinery, he decides to help the refinery people and fight the baddies.


Nearly everything in "Mad Max 2" is bigger and louder and faster and more.
More cars, more explosions, more villains. Everyone wears super-cool clothes, everyone owns badass weapons, the good guys are all badass and the bad guys are all insane to the max. There's more gore and more violence, bigger settings, longer car chases and a lot more testosterone. Unsurprisingly, Miller got a much higher budget this time (A$4,5 million!) and he used it very wisely, creating a movie that feels a tad more Hollywood, while at the same time, it's still as rough and dirty as its predecessor.


Brian May returned to compose a score that is way more epic, way more bombastic, yet almost as intense as the music he composed for the first part. Same for camera work (genius as fuck), editing (pitch perfect), set/costume design (simply amazing) and the direction; damn, Miller just knows (erm, knew...) how to create a post-apocalyptic action flick. No wonder that this one was even more influential as the first part. There would be no "Fast & Furious", no "Waterworld", no "Demolition Man", no "Doomsday"... damn, there even wouldn't be an ice-hockey-mask-wearing Jason Voorhees without "Mad Max 2".


Still, there are a few reasons why I prefer "Mad Max" over "Mad Max 2":
#1. The pace of "Mad Max 2" is a bit slower and far from being as suspenseful as it should have been. | #2. Max' transformation from 'normal guy' to 'killing machine' is more interesting and works better for me, just like "The Godfather" works
better for me than "The Godfather Part 2" | #3. The finale in "Mad Max 2" is great, but it's far from being as awesome as entire the payoff in "Mad Max".
Nuff said.



The baby: "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome".













In which our hero fails to play by the rules, is banished to the desert, and is rescued by the most annoying group of children since Annie.

Ahhh...that youngest child. You'll spoil him rotten, give him anything wants, and he's never the better for it, is he? "Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome" is way too much of a good thing... or just a thing... depending on your point of view. With a big-name Big Bad (Tina Turner), a rock n' roll soundtrack, and a Hodor cage match, Thunderdome runs it all up the flagpole to see who salutes. Unfortunately, the whole thing plays like a regional-theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and the most I got out of Tina Turner's presence was finally figuring out where Jada Pinkett-Smith stole her entire Fish Mooney routine. I did enjoy the third "Mad Max" somewhat more than one and two, simply because it ceased even attempting to take itself seriously and went for one-hundred-percent balls-out insanity.

"Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" is 107 minutes long and is rated PG13 for "some intense sequences of action violence, language, and some partial nudity." If ever you have a hankerin' for "Beyond Thunderdome", just watch Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero" video and be done with it. You'll be 103 minutes to the good, and you'll hate yourself less, I promise. Of a possible 9 Weasleys, "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" gets 4.










(Hodor!)



MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME

Alternate Titles:
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

Working Title:
Mad Max 3

German Title:
Mad Max - Jenseits der Donnerkuppel

Australia, 1985
Directors: George Miller & George Ogilvie

4/10


Well, Cindy, this time we're quite on the same wavelength... though while you somehow enjoyed Max' third adventure, I was highly disappointed by it, mostly because it hugely differs from its predecessors - and not in a good way. Max stumbles through desert and ends up in the Methane-powered Bartertown where he does some fighting in a pre-"American Gladiators"-arena called 'Thunderdome', gets exiled to the wastelands (awkwardly called 'Gulag'...) by a glamorous amazon, finds an oasis inhabitated by primitive teenagers who think he's a god-like Boeing 747 flight captain, leads them to 'Tomorrow-Morrow-Land' (which is actually Bartertown) and finally ends up in a semi-Mario-Kart-like fun vehicles-vs-train-truck race. The end. Dafuq?


A "Mad Max" film that starts out with a Tina Turner song ("One of the Living"), ends with a Tina Turner song ("We don't need another Hero"), and even has Tina Turner acting in it (even though she delivers a pretty neat performance) can't be good. It's all too polished, too PG-13 and feels more like a family adventure movie. Post-apocalypse my ass. This is more like something in the vein of "Hook"
or "The Goonies".

The first half hour is solid with many great-looking settings and an ace fight scene in the Thunderdome with chainsaws and spears and shit. The finale with all the train and buggy action is also pretty fun. Everything else in between is just meh. Shitloads of annoying kids talking crap and playing with toys. Too much talk, too much walking around through seemingly endless deserts, too much boredom, too many scenes that drag on and on and on. It's totally dreadful and it has basically nothing to do with "Mad Max". How Roger Ebert could give this a perfect 4/4 is completely beyond me.


Cinematography and art direction are great as always, though the direction is clumsy and all over the place. Reason is simple: Miller was grieving after his friend and producer Byron Kennedy died, so he asked his friend George Ogilvie to help him finish the film. Word has it that Miller only did the action-related scenes (which are good) while Ogilvie did the rest (which isn't that good). Also, Brian May was replaced with Maurice Jarre who did an okay job, but compared to May's awesome compositions, his music is a massive letdown. Hype Williams' music video for 2Pac's "California Love", which was massively inspired by "Beyond Thunderdome", is way, way better.




The happy accident: "Mad Max: Fury Road".











In which our hero turns into Tom Hardy, and plays second fiddle in his own film.

All these years later, you thought you were done with this, but that little stick shows a plus sign and you're right back at it and hoping you've finally got it all down pat. If only.... The first trailer for "Mad Max: Fury Road" was as encouraging as Aragorn's best speech, and--despite a middling recollection of the original trilogy--I was more than happy to hop on that Internet bandwagon. Unfortunately, the finished product is an exhausting two hours of desert car chase that'll make you wish you were facing off with the Witch King of Angmar at the Black Gate. "Fury Road" is, in appearance, an extraordinary work of art. Full marks must be given for cinematography, art direction, locations and set design, wardrobe, and makeup. The acting is notably better than the original trilogy, but that's as backhanded a compliment as calling something "the best show on the CW" or "the cleanest Applebees." Mostly, the movie just feels interminable, and I was more than done with it before it even ticked the halfway point.

"Mad Max: Fury Road" runs a bloated 120 minutes, and is rated R for "intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images." Even though it's a huge disappointment, it is gorgeous and worth seeing in 3D on the biggest screen you can find. Of a possible 9 Weasleys, "Mad Max: Fury Road" gets 6.















(Max Who?)



MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Working Title:
Mad Max 4

Australia / USA, 2015
Director: George Miller

5/10








Ha, Cindy, the only "Mad Max" film that you kinda enjoyed, is the one that disappointed me the most. Although I liked it more than "Beyond Thunderdome", it was still a massive, massive letdown for me, especially considering the insanely positive reception from... well, from everone. High-profile critics, average cinemagoers, hardcore-action fans - EVERYONE loves George Miller's "Mad Max: Fury Road", a weird movie that somehow could be described as sequel, mid-quel and reboot at the same time, although IMO it's actually more like a mere mix of "Mad Max 2" and "Mad Max 3" with some more insanity thrown into.


The first 40-45 minutes were indeed terrific (apart from the meh intro that felt like it was straight outta some "Riddick" flick): nonstop badass action, tons of amazing-looking cars, motorcycles and trucks, amazingly designed buildings and caves, hot chicks and tough babes, a super-bad villain with a badass skull mask, uber-insane peeps masks spraying chrome spray-paint on their mouths, racing through the desert, into desert storms. Spike-equipped vehicles and a demented guy on a wagon full of speakers constantly playing a flame-throwing e-guitar - wow! It's all beautifully filmed and edited, the vast amount of practical effects is incredible and the high-speed pacing is simply breathtaking.

Then, after the scene where a pregnant woman gets road-killed, the movie becomes slower and slower until it seems to stand still completely. Some character development happens, but nothing that made me actually care about the characters. A few supposed-to-be-oh-so emotional moments that feel forced and clich├ęd, and sadly, a great deal of immensely unbearable boredom. I'm not kidding: during that whole uber-tedious middle part, I was so bored, I was close to stand up and leave. It really took me out of the movie. When the movie finally went back into action mode, I couldn't get back into it, not just because I was already annoyed by it, but also because now I realized how shallow the whole thing actually is. Storyline? Likable characters? Pfff. It's just action, action, action, loads of boredom, and then some more action.


But there's more: Junkie XL's music was too loud and way too over-the-top (pity, especially considering how great his contributions to "Divergent" were), and the over-use of the "Shutter Island"-music (Krzysztof Penderecki's "Symphony No. 3: Passacaglia - Allegro Moderato") was unnerving as hell. I hated the fact that Max himself was degraded to a mere side character (just like Bilbo in "The Hobbit 3") and I also think that Tom Hardy was completely miscast for this role. He's an amazing actor, but his Bane-meets-"Lawless" take on Max (incl. lots of highly unnerving grunting) was just bad, at times cringeworthy. The movie would have worked so much better without him, though I'm not sure if it would have worked better if Miller focused solely on Charlize Theron's bland "Furiosa"-character. At least, her performance is so much stronger, so much more appealing than Hardy's. More great acting by Nicolas Hough as war boy Nux and Hugh Keays-Byrne as sicko Immortan Joe. That's it.

"What a lovely day" - nah, this day wasn't as lovely as I expected it to be. Bummer.




So, Mad Max fans, you may say the Mad Max movies are exactly what they're meant to be and I'm missing the point. I wouldn't even bother to argue with you on that, but the next time I'm in the market for something Australian, I'll carry out a Bloomin' Onion from Outback Steakhouse and rent Crocodile Dundee. Thanks again to Maynard for letting me jump in on his terrific film blog! Until next time...

Big thanks to you, Cindy, and big thanks to everyone who made it through the whole post! :-)


6 comments:

  1. Regarding Fury Road, M, I might disagree regarding the pacing. I would flip it around and say the first half slightly for me while the third act--the final chase in particular was damn good and Junkie XL provided a hell of a score that worked for me. Just my thoughts, but glad to see you and Cindy taking on the whole Quadrilogy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A buddy of mine thought the same about the pacing as you, and he also enjoyed it way more than me. I dunno. That just wasn't my kind of Mad Max.

      Delete
  2. How on earth did I miss this?! You need to tag me in these things as I am too lazy to scroll through facebook lol

    The original Mad Maxes never appealed but if they are "Soup" worthy maybe they are a look albeit for all the wrong reasons?

    I love that you both disagree with each other's opinions in all four films!!

    Great write ups to you both! Well done for sitting through all of the films

    K :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ok, from now on, I will tag you in everything I post ;-)))

      Thanks, we both worked very hard on these posts, especially Cindy!

      Delete
    2. Make sure you do! You both put too much work into it for me to miss it.

      Sometimes I am too lazy to scroll through and see what I miss after I log off

      Delete

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