Down From the Shelf ~ Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A former Australian policeman is rescued by a tribe of children when he is banished from a desert town and sent into the desert to die by the desert town’s evil queen.

Stars: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence, Angry Anderson

Director: George Miller & George Ogilvie

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: It’s interesting to look back at Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and realize that it arrived in theaters before Mel Gibson ever took up with Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon films.  Though the actor had increased his street cred with roles in dramatic films, he wasn’t yet a household name as an action star…but he sure was on his way when the third film in the Mad Max series was released in 1985.

Some have turned up their noses at director George Miller’s second sequel to Mad Max, his landmark film of 1979.  While Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior had done good business in 1981, it had a shiny little R rating to keep the violence high and make it a more enticing option for teens to sneak into.  With the arrival of the PG-13 rating in 1984, studios realized the value in a movie that could be given the stamp of approval as more than a tame family film but less than an adults-only affair.  So Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was shot with a PG-13 rating in mind…and while certain fans scoffed at Miller going soft with his mythological hero Max Rockatansky, I found this to be the best of the Mad Max films starring Mel Gibson.

Admittedly, the film is probably the most dated of all with its synth score (from Maurice Jarre, taking over for Brian May) and cineplex friendly three act structure.  While Mad Max had the most story to tell, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior eschewed most plot contrivances and just became a locomotive of action scenes and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome falls somewhere in the middle.  It’s been said that Miller was less focused on this film after the tragic death of longtime friend and producing partner Byron Kennedy and it shows.  The overall effect of the film feels handled with less care than its predecessors, though it still advances the legend of the cop turned seeker of vengeance.  Miller actually shares directorial responsibilities with George Ogilvie who helmed the action-less scenes, freeing up Miller to add his flair to the over the top chase sequences that had at that point become the calling card for his Mad Max adventures.

The first half of the film is arguably better than the latter, with Max entering into Barter Town and meeting up with Aunt Entity (a marvelously game Tina Turner) who enlists his help in regaining control over rogues that threaten her rule.  When the deal goes south and Max takes a spin inside the death match of the Thunderdome, it sets the stage for an unexpected detour into a tale that involves a lost band of children who see Max as their champion (inspiring Turner’s closing credit jingle We Don’t Need Another Hero, one of two good sound tunes she contributes to the proceedings).

Though the film stumbles a bit on the way to its soft ending, I still found myself engaged more than ever with Gibson (The Expendables 3) and the plot cooked up by Miller.  It may be rather typical fare, especially considering the era, and it’s too long but it’s an enjoyable example of the mid ‘80’s summer blockbuster offerings.  Plus, it has a fabulous poster…the last one created by legendary artist Richard Amsel.

Down From the Shelf ~ Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

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The Facts:

Synopsis: In the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland, a cynical drifter agrees to help a small, gasoline rich, community escape a band of bandits.

Stars: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston

Director: George Miller

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: With 1979’s Ozploitation epic Mad Max being made on the cheap and going on to become the highest grossing film in Australia, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that a sequel would find its way to cinemas Down Under…but what about the United States?  The original had a release that was famously bungled by its indie studio so when Mad Max 2 made its way stateside Warner Brothers was ready to snap it up.  They had a problem though…how do you give a profitable wide-release to Mad Max 2 when most audiences hadn’t heard of Mad Max?  The answer, rename the film The Road Warrior.

When I was young and started browsing the video store shelves, I never could remember which came first, Mad Max or The Road Warrior but the differences between the two films is totally clear.  Where Mad Max was a revenge tale (a genre popular with the Death Wish-heavy 1970s) The Road Warrior cantered on the fine line between car chase action and apocalyptic sci-fi.  Also, with the central character of Max (Mel Gibson, The Expendables 3) getting his revenge at the end of the first film (sorry, was that spoiler?) screenwriter and director George Miller chooses to bring Max forward as less of a man and more of a myth-based savior for a band of rebels fighting to protect their stash of the now-rare gasoline from a band of outlandish psychopathic thieves.

It’s 94 minutes of near non-stop action, with Miller using his added budget and resources to focus on creating death machines that race through a dystopian Australian Outback where no one is safe.  There’s precious little in the way of dialogue (Gibson has about 20 lines) or special effects, a formula Miller would use on all of his Mad Max tales.  While the central bad-guys may lack a little of the terrifying nearness of Mad Max’s Toecutter, it’s a muscle-bound lot of crazies that bring purposeful color to Miller’s barren wasteland.  Ending with a whopper of a chase, The Road Warrior is what Aliens was to Alien…a film that takes a valuable character and enriches them.

Check out my review of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome!

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Down From the Shelf ~ Mad Max

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A vengeful Australian policeman sets out to avenge his partner, his wife and his son.

Stars: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh-Keays-Byrne

Director: George Miller

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Ozploitation: a type of low budget horror, comedy and action films made in Australia after the introduction of the R rating in 1971.

Released in 1979, Mad Max is one of those rags to riches indie film success stories that film historians love to cite as a high water mark of its era, with good cause.  The highest grossing film in Australia for that year, it became a cult classic in the U.S. in spite of the fact that its distributor screwed up its release and relegated it to mostly drive-in theaters.  Though the film would really take off with the release of its 1981 sequel (Max Mad 2 AKA The Road Warrior) there were the dedicated audiences that got the word out on this little engine that could of an Ozzie mini masterpiece.

It’s hard to view the film today without comparing it to its admittedly superior sequels but if you’re truly able to separate it from what came after, there’s a heck of a fun ride that awaits you.  Having recently seen all of the Mad Max movies in quick succession, what I appreciated most about the one that started it all were the quieter, more humane moments that are largely absent from subsequent installments.  I say humane because it’s only in this film that we see the family of policeman Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson, The Expendables III) and come to understand why and how he becomes the force of vengeance that will stop at nothing in his quest for retribution.

Though the next films in the series increasingly paint Max as more myth than man, director George Miller and Gibson give the character some necessary nuance that allows the audience to be on his side, even when he’s committing acts of violence.  Of course it helps that Miller has created such disgustingly evil villains (the main baddie is called Toecutter for pete’s sake!) for Max to feast upon.

With chase scenes that were revolutionary in 1979 and still look dangerous now, Mad Max may be pushing 40 but it works like a charm.  It’s not my favorite overall of the bunch, but it scores highest on the drama quotient which helps movie-goers appreciate what’s up next.

Check out my review of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior &  Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome!

Movie Review ~ The Expendables 3

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Barney augments his team with new blood for a personal battle: to take down Conrad Stonebanks, the Expendables co-founder and notorious arms trader who is hell bent on wiping out Barney and every single one of his associates.

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell, Kelsey Grammer

Director: Patrick Hughes

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 126 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: I believe that part of being a balanced critic is to a) see most every film that comes your way and not just the latest blockbuster and b) being able to view a film for what it is and try to put yourself in the place of its intended audience. As a child of the 80s that grew up with action films featuring the headliners of these films, I was amped to hear they’d be brought together for The Expendables. When I finally saw the much-hyped film in 2010 I was awed by how ugly a film it was and how its one-joke premise stalled out before the first reel was done. Though 2012’s The Expendables 2 showed signs of improvement, it too faltered when it came to being more than the sum of its muscly, scar-tissued parts. It would be great to report back that the third film of the franchise finally knocked it out of the park but it’s actually a step backward, proving that logic, decent effects, and convincing performances are the true expendables on display.

Clocking it at an astounding 126 minutes and devoid of the CGI blood that pushed the first two entries into silly R-rated territory, The Expendables 3 feels neutered into a PG-13. Nothing much happens and nothing is truly at stake for our rag-tag bunch of mercenaries and certainly not for audiences. At least its predecessors had a little bit of loss to overcome…here the overstuffed script just puts everyone through the motions while making sure that every one of the hardly recognizable yet oddly familiar action star faces gets at least one zinger in.

Stallone (Escape Plan, and looking like he’s getting into character to play the title role for a live-action Droopey Dog) is as mush mouth as ever as the leader of The Expendables who are found as the film opens racing alongside a prison train to free Doc (Wesley Snipes). It’s one of the least exciting openers of any action film I’ve seen, though director Patrick Hughes tries to flash it up with a lot of flying fists, kicking legs, and a whopper of an explosion.

Hurtling into another mission that puts the crew face to face with a turncoat from their past (Mel Gibson, gleefully camping it up, whether you like it or not), Stallone and his men spend the rest of the film waxing nostalgic about the past, lamenting the fact that they’re getting older, and taking to task some new whippersnappers that are the next generation of Expendables…all the while being fired at by thousands of armed men that continually miss their shots.

Shot in Bulgaria (and numerous cockpit sets that appear lifted from a mall arcade), the film isn’t as dreadful to look at as the first film but achieves a new dullness thanks to lame green screen effects (I’m positive several of the big name stars weren’t in the same room when they filmed their scenes) and a non-existent visual style that renders the film almost black and white. Everything on screen feels cheap, from the cardboard sets to the CGI effects…leading me to believe that most of the budget went to the star salaries.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have a few things that keep it from being total crud. Snipes is a refreshing addition to the cast and he gets a nice moment of self-mockery that you’ll see coming but still enjoy. While it may have been a coup for Stallone to land Gibson and Harrison Ford (Working Girl), their presence is more of a curiosity to see than anything really exceptional. Speaking of exceptional, Antonio Banderas (Haywire) should get substantial credit for nearly walking away with the film as a hilariously eager strong-arm for hire. The rest of the gang and especially the new recruits are better left unmentioned, lest they take it as encouragement to continue in their acting careers.

With a built-in audience I expect we haven’t seen the last of The Expendables…and as the film dragged on I started to think of names that could be tossed around to star in future installments. I’ll keep those to myself so I can check off my own personal list, but if the goal is to continue to feature faded names from the past…Stallone is just getting started.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Expendables 3

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Synopsis: The third installment of the action-adventure franchise that follows the exploits of Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, and their associates.

Release Date: August 14, 2014

Thoughts: I can’t tell you how nice it is to actually see a true teaser trailer pop up.  As I’ve lamented recently (check here for an example), the art of the teaser trailer appears to be totally lost with most previews clocking in at a spoiler heavy 2:30.  So it’s nice to see the latest entry in the profitable The Expendables franchise giving audiences a whet whistle before the final hours of 2013 tick away.  Though it’s not releasing until halfway through 2014, this is a nice way to announce the return of a series of films that have worked almost in spite of their BDL (big, dumb, loud) origins.  And you have to hand it to Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 2); he sure knows how to rally the troops to get a cast that continues to makes 80’s/early 90’s action movie nerds salivate.  The Expendables 3 features a huge roster of stars: Stallone, Jason Statham (Homefront), Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Last Stand), Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas (Haywire), Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford (Working Girl), Kellan Lutz (The Legend of Hercules), Robert Davi (Licence to Kill) and Kelsey Grammer

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Machete Kills

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Synopsis: The U.S. government recruits Machete to battle his way through Mexico in order to take down an arms dealer who looks to launch a weapon into space

Release Date:  September 13, 2013

Thoughts: Though 2010’s Machete was far from a blockbuster, director Robert Rodriguez is bringing the character back that was first introduced in a faux trailer attached to his Grindhouse collaboration with Quentin Tarantino.  I found the first film to be typical Rodriguez: messy, over-the-top, and exactly the kind of film that it was advertised to be.  This sequel looks to be more of the same with craggy faced Danny Trejo being surrounded by busty babes (including Sofia Vergara, Amber Heard, and Lady Gaga in her film debut) and lots and lots of weapons of physical destruction.  Its grimy feel fits right into the throwback movement that Rodriguez and Tarantino have such an affinity for so expect another small win for the loopy duo.